The longlist for the African Speculative Fiction Society’s 2021 Nommo Awards was recently released, and it includes a veritable feast of short stories. To make things easier for anyone who’d like to dive in, I’ve pulled together a list of links for the stories available online, and relevant anthology titles for the rest. In the process, I noticed that the official announcement seems to have gone through an overzealous autocorrect (so that, amongst other things, Rafeeat Aliyu’s “The Daemon King of Engim” had become “The Daemon King of England”) and I’ve taken the liberty of fixing any errors I came across…
From Visceral: Collected Flesh (a book that is also up for Best Collection) comes this story of a young army recruit, Travis, who returns home after months of training and revisits some old acquaintances. The friends in question are a hedonistic lot, sharing an existence of drink, drugs and sex, and their individual traits are sketched in with quick descriptions.
Chandler presides over the gathering at his home while his parents are out; Franco brags about sexual conquests that may or may not have happened; Stan is a stoner who masturbates to porn films in full view of the others; Sofia hangs around the house naked from the waist down; Britney, who enjoys filming the grosser goings-on; Lance is introduced snorting cocaine; and rounding off the group is Gwen, Travis’ old high-school fling and Chandler’s current girlfriend.
The story sets up a contrast between the discipline of Travis’ new army life and the aimless lives of his friends – although, since almost nothing of Travis’ experience at Fort Worth is described, the aimlessness is far more pronounced. He shows little affection for his social circle – white powder on their noses, white globs down their legs – yet still spends time with them in hopes of finding some sexual action:
(Full disclosure: I appeared alongside Tom Over in The Bumper Book of British Bizarro.)
The year is 2089, the place a Martian colony where a medical laboratory has been contaminated with a deadly life-form. Engineer Jacob escapes through the ceiling air duct after watching his commander and lab colleagues killed by the creatures. Jacob’s next aim is to rescue his pregnant partner Rachel, but without a working communication device his only means of finding her is by following her heat signal through the ravaged colony.
“Phylum” fits tidily into the genre of SF-horror typified by films like Alien and The Thing, the central concept being that the colony has discovered water on Mars only to find, rather too late, that the water appears to carry deadly properties. A parasitic organism spreads inside the bodies of the colonists with fatal effects:
Scully bellowed, discarding the jawbone and fell to his knees, clutching his head. Jacob put out his hands fearing another attack, but instead saw his superior’s face oddly shift, undulating over the bones of his skull like a liquid mask. Their gaze briefly met, a look of utter desperation in the flight commander’s emerald eyes, before they exploded. A hideous ripping noise accompanied the sight of Scully’s face blossoming outward like a scarlet flower. Jacob scrambled against the deluge of blood as a cascade of insectoid creatures burst out of the older man’s rupturing flesh.
Last week I covered three stories from Divided we Fall, an anthology published shortly before the 2020 election in which various conservative authors predict a dystopian America governed by Joe Biden. One detail that wasn’t immediately obvious from the first quarter of the book is that all of the stories in Divided we Fall share a single timeline: a specific event established by one writer, like Trump being torn apart by a mob of left-wingers in the very first story, may be referred to by other writers.
Whether this concept necessarily improves the project is open to debate – but if nothing else, it at least explains why the stories have already started to get rather repetitive. But anyway, here are the next three tales in the anthology…
“Delenda Est” by Leigh Smith
Here’s where the book’s shared setting comes into play. The previous story, William Dietrich’s “Dangerous Words”, was about a marine who found out that 1) conservative officers were being spirited away by the government so that the marines could be weaponised against Republicans, and 2) that his estranged father Ash McAlister was part of a resistance effort. With “Delenda Est” Leigh Smith goes over the same plot, this time from the perspective of the father.
In nineteenth-century America, a family arrives from Europe and settles into a new home. The patriarch calls himself Lawrence Orlovsky, but he has changed the family name to avoid persecution. In fact, he is the son of the notorious werewolf Lawrence Talbot – and not only has he inherited his father’s lycanthropy, his wife Regina is the daughter of Count Dracula.
The presence of Lawrence Talbot in the backstory indicates that Blood is a sequel to Universal’s Wolf Man cycle, but it has no relation to that illustrious series – not officially, anyway – and its roots lie elsewhere. The film was directed by Andy Milligan, the man who previously inflicted The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! on unsuspecting grindhouses; and his decision to go over the same ground with Blood feels like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime.
Comparing the two films, Blood can be described as a “spiritual successor” if we’re feeling charitable or an “utterly shameless rehash that only the most masochistic filmgoer could possibly find merit in” if we want to be blunt. We get another cursed family, another round of sub-Dickensian domestic strife, and another helping of Milligan’s jaw-droppingly incompetent directorial style.
Some stories have a premise simple enough to be summed up in a few words, and yet capable of encapsulating an entire narrative in which everything fits together as neatly and as satisfactorily as a jigsaw puzzle. One such premise is “a rollercoaster gets attacked by a kaiju.”
“Next in Line” opens with its protagonist queuing to enter a rollercoaster through a tunnel shaped like the mouth of an animal (“To me, it seemed like a human slaughterhouse, forcing guests through the pen and into the chute”). The opening is, of course, the build-up to the real excitement: for the characters, this is the expected ride on the rollercoaster; for the reader, it is the expected attack by a giant monster.
And yes, this will be expected, because “Next in Line” was published in Devour the Earth: A Kaiju Anthology, making it fairly certain what will happen to the hapless souls queuing for the ride. The arrival of the beast is prefigured by a strange rattling from the rollercoaster and tremors on the ground below, and then by an eerie calm and quiet – an ominous stretch not unlike the gradual curve before a rollercoaster’s plummet. And plummet things do:
Any Doctor Who fan will know that the 1996 telemovie with Paul McGann was, on the whole, not especially well-received. It did, however, pick up some unexpected praise from the afterlife when two mediums in America called forth the spirit of Patrick Troughton to pass judgment.
The mediums in question, Gerald and Linda Polley, published Troughton’s thoughts in the January 1997 edition of their newsletter Voices from Spirit. In it, Troughton not only gives his own opinion but also passes on the assessment of “all the previous Doctors” (that would be William Hartnell and the recently-departed Jon Pertwee, unless McCoy, Davison and the Bakers were visited by Troughton’s shade):
Patrick Troughton, British actor who was the second Doctor in the famous DOCTOR WHO series asked us to make some comments on the recent DOCTOR WHO movie produced by the Fox network. It was fair, but the general opinion of all the previous Doctors is they don’t like the way they changed the TARDIS. They made it look too primitive. Though it is supposed to be an older model this was a little bit ridiculous. Perhaps in future movies they can return a little bit of its character and dignity. Otherwise than that, they consider the movie a half decent effort, much better than they expected from ‘the Colonials.’
Well, now we know.
If you’d like to know more about the work of Gerald and Linda Polley, I can personally recommend the 2002 documentaryWhere has Eternity Gone?which documents their attempts to aid George W. Bush’s presidential campaign by channelling right-wing songs from the ghost of John Lennon.
So, over the next few months this blog will be awash with all manner of out-and-out literary depravity. You’re free to take that as either a warning or a promise, depending on the constitution of your stomach,
I’ve been writing a bit about independent British comics lately, and this led to me getting a review copy from the good people at Time Bomb Comics. The title this time is issue 5 of Flintlock Comics, an anthology of stories set in the seventeenth century. All of the comic’s stories are written by editor Steve Tanner, but they’re drawn a range of different artists.
The main feature is “Lady Flintlock”, the story of a highwaywoman with atmospheric artwork by Gareth Sleightholme. This particular instalment is a courtroom drama in which the authorities believe themselves to have finally unmasked Lady Flintlock – but in reality, they’ve bagged the wrong woman.
Curse of the Devil – also known under the variant English title The Black Harvest of Countess Dracula – was originally released in Spain as El Retorno del Walpurgis. This translates literally as “The Return of Walpurgis” and implies, misleadingly, that the film has a particular connection to The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, the original title of which was La Noche de Walpurgis. In practice it has little narrative relation to that film, although it does have a little bit of thematic overlap via the presence of Elizabeth Bathory.