It seems I liked a lot of what I read this month, so without further ado:
popCULT! by David Barnett (Pendragon Press) – It’s very rare that I’m completely sold on a book by a glance at the blurb, but the second my eyes slid over the words “lost Carry-On movie”, I was reaching for my wallet. Initially centred around the quest for the aforementioned film (Carry On, You Old Devil – a bawdy tale of everyday satanism which was filmed but never released and, in the best traditions of such things, rumoured to be cursed), the novel is rich in both humour and pop culture references, and if the plot gets a little silly towards the end (think an extended episode of The Avengers, but more drugged up), that’s perfectly in keeping.
Oh, and the scene in which we finally do get to watch that Carry On movie, shows a masterful and affectionate feel for the series. The book is worth buying for that chapter alone.
The City In These Pages by John Grant (PS Publishing) – Interesting and lovingly crafted as an homage to the Ed McBain style of American police procedural, but layered with surprising perspective shifts and a more steely undertone that brings the story into line with the other elements of the author’s forceful and intriguing FORTUSA cycle.
Insha’Allah by Matthew Cook (Interzone) – This is the second Matthew Cook story I’ve come across in Interzone this year, and I’ve been impressed with the quiet sure-footedness of his writing. There may be question over whether the society of the Muslim-settled planet under threat from alien attack is enough of an extrapolation from a similar contemporary society to warrant being drawn as science fiction, but I greatly enjoyed the story nevertheless.
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone) – Most of the stories in this month’s Interzone were sharply pointed SF stories, so this longer fantasy story came as a welcome counterpoint. Structured as a classic weird tale, I found it strongly reminiscent of the likes of James, Machen or Blackwood, but at the same time its contemporary relevance was strong and the central character’s attempts to deal with the grief of her dead brother through her rediscovery of music were wonderfully evoked. One the best IZ pieces of the year by a distance.
The Machine by M. Rickert (Fantasy Magazine) – A delicate and deft retelling of the Greek myth of sisters Philomela and Procne, and their horrible revenge on Philomela’s husband, Tereus. The story is lightly embedded in a setting that questions the meaning we take from stories, but the retelling alone is so beautifully done as to be worth the read.
Swans by Kelly Link (Fantasy Magazine) – Beautiful, just beautiful, mash-up of approaches to the problems with stepmothers in which elements of traditional fairy tale and contemporary life coexist perfectly. Superb balancing act, and Link’s prose is as always stellar.