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Super-Supernatural

4 Nov

The US TV series Supernatural (2005-) follows two brothers who were brought up in a rather unusual family business. Now a small screen stalwart, the show has also had international success that has earned it year after year of season pick-ups. For those who don’t know, Sam and Dean Winchester are monster-hunting brothers who drive around the back-roads of America in search of the things that go bump in the night. They’ve encountered everything from vampires and werewolves to pagan gods and shapeshifters, who they regularly dispatch with help from their father’s journal and fellow hunter Bobby Singer. Their father, John Winchester, taught them what it took to be hunters from childhood after the murder of their mother at the hands of a powerful demon, who the brothers finally caught up with and killed at the end of season two. For seven years the series has stayed strong, balancing the personal stories of Sam and Dean versus the increasingly ambitious narrative of evil messing with humanity on Earth. After several seasons of summoning every kind of spook, spectre, monster and angel to throw at the unlikely pair of demon hunters, the Supernatural writers finally played the literal God card at the end of series six, potentially making the Almighty himself the season villain. As ever on Supernatural, however, things did not quite turn out to be the way they at first seemed.

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Monster Mash(ups)

16 Sep

A Mashup novel (for those of you who aren’t in the know) is a work of fiction which combines a pre-existing text, often a classic work of fiction, with a modern genre such as crime, fantasy or horror. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which combines Jane Austen’s classic novel with elements of modern zombie fiction, is one of the most famous and successful works in the genre, and has been credited with spawning a rash of imitations and cash-ins, such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, which does much the same with the historical autobiography. While some see the Mashup novel as re-energising fiction and bringing it to a wider audience than ever before, many criticise it for being too safe and lazy – the literary equivalent of the current penchant in Hollywood for reboots and prequels. What is unarguable, however, is the genre’s success. Both AL:VS and P&P&Z have topped the bestseller lists; the former has already been made into a Hollywood blockbuster while a film version of the latter is in the pipeline. So what makes Mashup novels so appealing and do they spell the beginning of a new golden age in genre fiction or the end of literature as we know it?

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The President’s Vampire

7 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For 140 years, Nathaniel Cade has been the President’s Vampire, sworn by a blood oath to protect the President and America from their supernatural enemies. Cade’s existence is the most closely guarded of White House secrets: a superhuman covert agent who is the last line of defence against nightmare scenarios that ordinary citizens can only dream of. When a new outbreak of an ancient evil – one that Cade has seen before – comes to light, he and his human handler, Zach Barrows, must track down its source. To ‘protect and serve’ often means settling old scores and confronting new betrayals . . . as only a century-old predator can.

Anyone who enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will love this. Witty, exciting and compulsively readable, Cade is an (anti)hero that you won’t soon forget. Click here to find out more!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

8 Jul

Despite being almost thirty years old, Ghostbusters has weathered well and still has the ability to elicit a wistful smile from a generation old enough to remember the likes of Madness, Reaganomics, legwarmers and the glory years of Liverpool FC. That’s because Ghostbusters, being made in the middle part of the decade that taste forgot, is as Eighties as it is possible to get. You would think that in the cold, cynical world of 2012 the film would be a bit like an old Status Quo album – so many good memories, but is it wise to revisit, in case you realise it is actually a load of rubbish? Okay, for those too culturally snobbish and those too young to have ever experienced the Ghostbusters phenomenon, here’s the spiel: three young(ish) paranormal investigators are sacked from their positions at Columbia University and decide, once armed with a fireman’s pole and an old ambulance, to set up a ghost-busting service. Meanwhile, Dana Barratt (Sigourney Weaver) is having trouble with her fridge, possessed, it seems, by the spirit of – bear with me – Zuul, an ancient Babylonian and follower of Gozer, the Destructor. Ooh Er.

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Alienation

17 Jun

It began simply. “In space no one can hear you scream”, cautioned the posters. There were no name actors, no fanfare, no star-laden premieres. Just a tale of seven people, all but one of whom dies at the hands of a seemingly invincible alien life form. Simple, but brilliantly radical, Alien was the grubby flipside of George Lucas’ fairytale utopia, a future where humanity was losing the war with technology and where exploitation and boredom prevailed. Alien was the heaven-sent antidote to the vacant escapism Star Wars’ success had borne in Hollywood, and an anomalous reminder of the power of cinema to terrorise and disturb. The film was conceived by Dan O’Bannon in 1976 but it was only a few years later, with the twin successes of Star Wars and horror films like The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, that Hollywood saw the opportunity to combine the two most profitable genres of the time in one movie. Even so, Alien was a massive risk at the time, especially since the director, Ridley Scott, had only one film under his belt when he came on board. This decision, risky as it may have seemed back then, proved to be a masterstroke as Scott stamped his unique vision on Alien with the memorable quote “To me, it was more than a horror film. It was a film about terror.” Now that the saga of Alien has come full circle with the recent release of Prometheus, it is perhaps the perfect time to look at how the original film came to define the genre of sci-fi horror.

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The Nightmare Man

3 Jun

Hot off the presses! I recently managed to get my hands on Nightmare, the gripping new novel featuring private investigator Jack Nightingale – who fights the powers of Hell itself – by bestselling author Stephen Leather. Leather’s Nightingale novels should appeal to anyone with an interest in supernatural sleuths, since they follow in the great tradition of the classic occult detectives such as Hodgson’s Carnacki, Blackwood’s Silence and Le Fanu’s Hesselius, but updated for a modern audience. Although Leather is one of the UK’s top-selling thriller writers and the author of 23 novels, it was the character of Jack Nightingale which really shot him to author superstardom. Nightmare is the third novel in the Jack Nightingale series and follows Nightfall and Midnight, which were published in 2010/11. What particularly impresses me about Leather, however, is the fact that he started out as a self-published writer who became an e-publishing phenomenon after selling nearly 400,000 e-books online (Leather’s The Basement was the No. 3 bestseller in the Kindle store at the start of 2012). As such, Leather’s example should give hope to all aspiring writers out there, as well as establishing the credibility of e-book self-publishing as a way of breaking into the market.

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The Unwritten

20 May

If I mentioned a bespectacled boy wizard with an undead nemesis, two best friends and a flying familiar you might think I was talking about Harry Potter but what I’m actually referring to is The Unwritten, a clever, post-modern graphic novel series by Mike Carey. The comics follow Tom Taylor, who was the inspiration for a series of hugely successful children’s fantasy novels in the vein of Harry Potter, written by his father Wilson Taylor, who disappeared mysteriously just after writing the story’s conclusion. The Unwritten deals with themes related to fame, celebrity, and the relationship between fiction and human consciousness. Basically, Tom Taylor’s life was screwed up from the start because his father modelled his bestselling novels so closely on his son’s real life that the fictional Tommy Taylor’s fans constantly compared him to his counterpart (turning him into the most pointless variety of Z-level celebrity in the process). In Wilson Taylor’s final book it was even implied that the fictional Tommy would cross over into the real world, giving his delusional fans more excuses than ever to harass poor old Tom. Just when he thinks that his life cannot get any worse, the unfortunate Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that has secretly kept tabs on him all his life. In the process of escaping from them, Tom travels the world to discover the truth behind his own origins. Tom’s journey of discovery takes him to places where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality in all manner of forms, ranging from famous literary works to folk tales to pop culture. In the process of learning what it all means, Tom finds himself having to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy that may span the entirety of the history of fiction. Literate, absorbing and totally original, The Unwritten will simultaneously leave you wanting more and make you question everything you have ever read.

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Women of Otherworld

15 Apr

Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s novels straddle the grey borderland between horror, speculative fiction and urban fantasy, without entirely falling into any of these genres. Despite the fact that her books deal with many types of supernatural characters, including witches, sorcerers, werewolves, necromancers, ghosts, shamans, demons and vampires, there is actually not a huge amount of gore, shocks or frights in them. Instead, Armstrong’s novels tend to superimpose supernatural characters upon a backdrop of contemporary North American life, with strong romantic elements. It is perhaps inevitable, therefore, that Armstrong has drawn strong comparisons with Charlaine Harris, Laurell K Hamilton and Kim Harrison, all of whose books tend to inhabit the same genre of contemporary paranormal romance as hers. Whilst the Southern Vampire, Anita Blake and Rachel Morgan series are all well known, however, Armstrong’s Women of Otherworld and Darkest Powers series are perhaps less so. However, for their wit, verve and sheer readability, I’d recommend any fan of the aforementioned other authors to seek out Armstrong’s work – you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

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A Trap for the Unwary

18 Mar

It is interesting to note that Henry James, one of the most celebrated mainstream authors of the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic, was also, throughout his illustrious career, attracted to the much-maligned ghost story genre. However, he was not fond of literature’s stereotypical ghosts, what he termed the old-fashioned ‘screamers’ and ‘slashers’. Rather, he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality: ‘the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy’ as he put it. The Turn of the Screw – James’ most famous entry in the supernatural genre – is no exception to this formula. The novella has had differing interpretations, often mutually exclusive. Many critics have tried to determine the exact nature of the evil hinted at by the story – are the story’s ‘ghosts’ an objective reality or simply a creation of the troubled protagonist’s mind? The author himself was little help on what has become a long-standing critical dispute about the reality of the ghosts and the sanity of the story’s heroine – in famously ambiguous terms James once described The Turn of the Screw as ‘a trap for the unwary’.

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Unstoppable: Juggernaut

5 Feb

I thought I’d turn away from the classics to more modern fare in this post, specifically the advance copy of Adam Baker’s Juggernaut that I recently managed to get my hands on. You may have already come across Baker’s debut novel Outpost, which told a tale of humans struggling to survive as the world collapsed around them as the result of a plague that turned most people into zombie-like creatures. That book was set in the present day in a cold climate, whilst in this novel Baker goes a bit further south, to the remote deserts of north Iraq, and back a few years, to 2005. In many ways Juggernaut is a ‘prequel’ of sorts to Outpost. It starts out as a thriller/war story, with a bunch of mercenaries on the hunt for gold in the desert. But, in a similar vein to Aliens, Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later, these ‘professionals’ soon come upon a situation out of their very worst nightmares. They discover that they aren’t the only occupants of the desert valley and that the ancient citadel that they are looking for houses not only Saddam’s fabled treasure but also an army of enemies that quite literally won’t stay dead…

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