Archive for November, 2015

Now I’ve only got a few bits and bobs left from Death Ray to put up, I’m starting to trawl through my old reviews for other places. I have, of course, done this before, but I’m going to be a little bit more organised about it from now on. This is from SFX #227.


Author: Ian Douglas

Publisher: Harper Voyager

357 pages

Battlestar Above and Beyond

Military SF is as American as testy insularity and fructose-induced obesity. There are moments in Earth Strike where you practically want to punch the air and shout “Hell yeah! America!” In a book about a multinational organisation, all the major characters are American, serving aboard a spaceship called America. But it is military SF; Douglas knows his market. Written to the best-seller beat of frequently repeated information, breathless infodumps and throttle-yanking action, Earth Strike at least has a pace that drags the reader along.

The plot is artfully straightforward: Mankind is approaching a Vingean singularity. An alien empire of extreme vintage and vast power would like us to stop, please. As nobody tells the Americans what to do, war begins.

Packed to the galactic gunwhales full of hard speculation on near-lightspeed combat, it’s superior to Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet and other war-stories that cover similar ground by dint of its crisp readability. The science is explained clearly and repeated often enough for all to grasp it – cool stuff, if implausible in parts. The characters and aliens fit into the usual slots – the aliens have lots of apostrophes, Admiral Koenig could only be played by Edward James Olmos – but it’s forgivable shorthand. And there is the exception of one of the lead characters, a technology-hating outsider, who adds a bit of freshness.

That old Republican lament about hard-working military types being undermined by politicians is front and centre, but again, military SF, isn’t it? Fun, fast-paced war.

Did you know?

Ex-serviceman Ian Douglas has written a shedload of books, including two 1980s Doctor Who titles.


25-11-beastarises-landpageTomorrow sees the Black Library event of the year – the commencement of The Beast Arises series! In a brand new venture for BL, this galaxy-shattering story of war with the orks will be serialised across twelve parts and will be released monthly for the next year. I, your humble word goblin, have penned one as you probably know. I can reveal today that I am also writing book 12 – I get to wrap it all up! It also means I know how it ends. But I’m not talking, not for all the mushrooms in Karak Eight Peaks.

This truly does promise to be a fantastic story, detailing as it does the biggest conflict after the Horus Heresy. Don’t miss out, get your subscription today! If you order now, you’ll get all twelve parts for the price of nine.



This interview with Charlie Higson was one of the very last I did for Death Ray, completed for the never published issue #22 back in 2009. Here he talks about his zombie book, The Enemy. It’s really rather good. So good, in fact, it was one of three entertainments that stopped me hating zombies and begin to appreciate them.

Life After Laughs

Charlie Higson, Fast Show alumnus, has a whole new career – children’s author, and his latest is very good indeed. It’s kids versus adult zombies in The Enemy. 

Like the Monty Python team, the guys and gals of the Fast Show went their separate ways after a handful of glorious years, leaving an hilarious cultural relic in their wake. Now they’re producing new entertainments of varying kinds for we, the lucky public. Charlie Higson (Ted and Ralph, Swiss Toni, Bob Fleming et al.) has continued writing for TV, as well as penning a series of novels for adults, but it is as an author of children’s fiction that he has found his greatest success. A huge Bond fan, Higson was approached by the Ian Fleming Estate to pen a Young Bond series. It was a storming success, and Higson decided to continue writing books for kids.

Following a similar vein of juvenile protagonists and action sequences, his latest novel, The Enemy, sees Higson strike out into horror territory. Set in London after a plague has killed the majority of adults, the remaining few left as mindless, ravening beasts, it follows a group of kids as they attempt to survive. By turns gripping and horrific, we’re sure it’ll be a hit.

Death Ray: The Enemy is a great book, it’s really quite horrifying and scary.

Charlie Higson: That was my plan, just scare the shit out of some children!

DR: What’s the ideal number of kids traumatised?

CH: Millions would be nice! It’s amazing actually, kids are into scary stuff and horror. I mean, we did a launch at the London Tombs. There’s various things to look at, but the basis of the place is a walkthrough underground, through the ancient vaults beneath London Bridge, in the complete dark, while various people dressed as zombies leap out at you. My eldest two kids were there, and they are really into horror. They were pretty blase about it, they’d been to the London dungeon, and they were sort of laughing, they came out and they were absolutely shitting themselves! But the thing was they were then on this massive high for the rest of the evening, just incredibly exhilarated, talking about this stuff, so you could see that it had really given them a jolt, and I think that’s one of the joys of scary things, it is experiencing these emotions that you are not used to. What also struck me in the queue there, was that I’m going to start getting a lot of children dressed in black turning up at signings that I didn’t used to get. You realise what a big thing horror is for kids these days.

DR: Surely sneaking off to watch a horror movie without your parents knowing, has been a rite of passage for a long time.

CH: It always has been. Growing up in the 60s, for us it was Hammer Horror films, late night on TV. I mean, those today wouldn’t be x-certificate, 18s, they’d probably be 12s. Kids do have a greater tolerance for it, Harry Potter in the 60s would have been an x-certificate! You know, the worst thing was in the queue at the launch there was this tiny little girl, she can’t have been much more than ten, and I was like, ‘What’s the scariest film that you’ve seen?’ and she said ‘Hmm, I think probably Saw‘. She was really scared by the clown, I asked her and she wasn’t bothered by the gore. And her parents were there, with her! I mean, I wouldn’t let my ten year old watch Saw. I did let him watch Alien though.

DR: I think there’s a bit of a difference between, to my mind, something that is obviously fantasy like Alien and real people hurting real people…

CH: Yeah, nasty things, like you get in Eastenders! But it’s funny, my 10-year-old will happily watch Jaws or Alien, but he was absolutely terrified of Mathilda, because the teacher in it he found really scary, it was something he could relate to his own life.

DR:  Why go for horror, you’ve done Bond…

CH: I love genre fiction, I’ve got no time for literary fiction. I love thrillers, and the scary books as well. I wanted to do something that was different to Young Bond, I wanted to do something contemporary, in a different genre, something that wasn’t just repeating the same tricks. As a teenager I loved horror movies, so I thought if I can give some of that vibe to younger kids in a book, that would be good, and if you do have a book that really has a big emotional impact on someone then they will remember it for a long time.

DR: Zombies are really big at the moment. When did they get their claws into you?

CH: I’ve been into zombies ever since seeing Night of the Living Dead in the 70s. There’s something fascinating about zombies, but this explosion of zombie stuff recently, most of that has come since I made the decision to start writing the book. And my ten-year-old, he’s absolutely obsessed with zombies, they scare him, a lot, he won’t watch the zombie films, but they fascinate him.

In a kids book, particularly mine where you are dealing with ideas of violence and death, you have to be a bit careful about killing people willy-nilly, but the great thing about zombies is that you can do what you like to them. They are a nice safe target, they’re not controversial on any level. They are a perfect enemy for a kids book, because the kids can quite happily kill ’em, without getting into trouble.

DR: Another thing that is highlighted very well is that the book is that these are the people that used to protect them.

CH: I like that idea of sort of kids versus adults, it taps into the games you play with children, the classic game of being a scary monster and chasing kids around the house and them hiding and them getting too scared, getting overexcited and crying. And then you get a little bit scared doing it, because you have scared them so much. That goes right back to fairytales, little people facing up to ogres and giants, and the ogres and the witches and the giants trying to eat the children, basically. I mean that kind of idea, of adults being scary, out to consume you, is quite a potent one.

DR: What used to scare me as a kid was the feeling of being helpless in the face of something much stronger than you, which you touch on, but your kids aren’t helpless are they?

CH: I wanted to give them a sense of empowerment through the book. It’s not like Lord of the Flies, which is about children turning into savages when left to their own devices, it’s about actually children ganging together and helping each other and being strong in the face of all this. There’s a more positive message there, it’s not utterly bleak.

Hey folks, I’m appearing at the grand opening of the shiny new Warhammer Huddersfield store on December 5th. I’ll be signing, so bring your books along, I’ll also be open to chats and questions. I’ve told my warboss and the orks are gearing up for a Waaagh! If they can get their space hulk in order, I might also be playing a few games. See you there!







Carpet bombing Goodreads

Posted: November 24, 2015 in Random wifflings

I’ll be copying over the book reviews I have on this site to Goodreads over the next couple of weeks, because – completeness and sense of rightness and such. And I don’t know, I’m running around the diginetwebhellthing like a headless chicken composed of zeroes and ones because it’s the 21st century and I was born in the Stone Age. I’ve almost put all the surviving files I have from Death Ray up here, so it seems like the right time. Soon, I’ll start posting my later reviews done for other publications here and on the aforementioned site of good reading. Now won’t that be lovely for everyone?

If this stuff crops up a lot on your Twitter and Facebook feeds, now you know why. Hey, while we’re here, why don’t you check out my Goodreads page? You may be surprised how many books I’ve written. I know I am. I wrote most of them in a post-baby haze, driven by a need for escape and cold hard cash. Who knows how many words ran from my fingers along with the tears of hysteria flooding from my eyes? Does this business warp you, or do you have to be warped to do it? That’s the kind of question I ask myself ALL THE TIME, when I’m not fending off hordes of imaginary goblins. Help.

I’ve a few more Death Ray articles left to put up here, really a bare handful. Here’s one of the last, a review of Charlie Higson’s really rather good zombie book, The Enemy.


Charlie Higson

Ex-Fastshow member leaves behind the antics of young James Bond, sets out to frighten children with thrilling zombie horror, mostly succeeds.

Like a lot of modern zombies, those in The Enemy are not dead, but diseased, like those in 28 Days Later and such. But where the adult protagonists of such fiction have to deal with the collapse of their world, the loss of their loved ones and the end of conveniently sited coffee shops, the kids in the enemy have to cope with their parents trying to eat them. It’s a hugely effective way of scaring the doo-doo right out of young-ish backsides, we expect more than a few nightmares as the result of this one.

The book, the first of a new series for the Young James Bond scribe, begins in Waitrose, where a gang of kids are struggling to survive some time after a mysterious plague killed most of the adults and turned the remainder into monsters. Led by the weary but capable teen Arran and his deputy Maxie, the gang decide to team up with the local Morrison’s kids to trek to Buckingham Palace after a messenger arrives from there, promising them an earthly paradise. Naturally, the journey is hard, and the new lad hasn’t exactly been telling the truth.

There’s enough action and scares in The Enemy to keep even the most jaded teen horror fan enthralled, while Higson writes with practised ease, moving his cast from one peril to the next, from massed adult attacks to an assault by diseased chimpanzees, finally to the rising of a zombie army under the command of a football fan whose mind is less rotted than most. If Death Ray were a more conservative publication, we’d no doubt be outraged by the book’s violence, but we were weaned on this stuff, and here it serves a purpose: despite some mildly wanton behaviour on the part of the children (smashing things up, rampant graffiti) it actually portrays youngsters in a very positive light. These are kids who band together to survive, who protect one another, sacrifice themselves for each other and are trying to build a new world from the ashes of the old, uncertain if they’re going to live another day, or if they’ll remain uninfected once they too become adult even if they dos. It’s a mirror image of Lord of the Flies, a blood smeared one, but it holds a kinder reflection of children; Higson’s kids are responsible and brave (he pointedly has one character talk about the rougher kids effectively wiping themselves out by acting like savages).

It’s perfect for teens, reminding us of the Tower King, a similar tale told in the 1980’s relaunch of Eagle, but it is way too scary for smaller children, the idea of powerlessness in the face of adult strength (though more than one overcomes this) or that of your parents turning on you is the kind that doles out long-lasting shivers with abandon – these are close to home horrors.

And it is, under its talk of Waitrose and Morrison’s kids banding together, a trifle middle-class, a little bit 70s Survivors, perhaps. Groups of nasty, bad children would remain, though his point that those who co-operated would perhaps fare better is a valid one, ne’er do wells would survive through raiding the better organised brainboxes we’d say (room for this in sequels, not doubt).

Higson does a good job, in the main, of rooting the story in the real world (he walked the route the children take, and London is meticulously described) but here and there its fantasy gets a bit out of hand and undermines the effect – a troglodytic, uninfected adult succumbing, vampire like, to the sun, and the idea that everyone over the age of fourteen becomes ill is rather specific when physical development differs from individual to individual This is a book for bright kids, and bright kids will spot that. Minor flaws, though. A gripping, and, peculiarly, uplifting, read.