Monday, December 06, 2010

Snowdonia Amber Mist

I feel I must take this opportunity to recommend Snowdonia Cheese Company's Amber Mist. It's a strong, crumbly mature cheddar with whiskey in it. It tastes exceptionally decadent, very full and sweet, good with oat cakes or apple. I had the Pickle Power cheese from the same company a while back and I wasn't too keen on that, but they have really hit the nail on the head here. Good stuff, will have to get some more in.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reviews from the B-Movie Death-Dungeon

Spent an enjoyable evening with Blair "Dream Stealer" MacDougall examining some of the finest B-movie titles in history, that have been cruelly neglected by the filmgoing public at large. These particular titles were apparently left in Blair's house by an ex-girlfriend of Pot's, and never reclaimed. Well, we certainly found out why. As part of our continuing mission to trawl the depths of B-movie hell in the forlorn hope of dredging some kind of deeper meaning out of them, we watched them. God help us.

Cyclone (1987)

Rick Davenport (Jeffrey 'Re-animator' Combs) is a scientist charged with the inexplicable task of designing a motorbike armed with lasers and missiles for the US government. However, on a night out dancing with his girlfriend Teri (Heather 'BJ and The Bear','The Love Boat','TJ Hooker','Co-ed Fever' Thomas) some punk sticks a screwdriver into Rick's skull. Turns out that Martin Landau, playing Martin Landau, has sent a pair of killer assassins to whack Rick and take his bike. Unfortunately for them, Teri, who is also a barefist fighting master and motorcycle stunt rider, gets her hands on Cyclone - the ultimate motorcycle - first. Featuring laughable dialogue, and a synth led soundtrack that utterly embodies 80s naffness, 'Cyclone' is truly hilarious. It's got stunts, mostly done by girls on bikes, however, Blair and I had a good time pointing out when the stunts were obviously done by men dressed up. This was quite obvious since one of the riders simply had massive tits in one shot, and then no tits and hairy arms in the other. That wasn't the best thing about 'Cyclone' though. In the finale, when Teri finally unleashes pure motorcycle-based destruction on her tormentors, the scene in which she incinerates the lead assassin to death with Cyclone's lasers (tragically, just after his one moment of actual 'acting') is truly worth waiting the one hour and twenty minutes of the film to see. It is an absolute fucking masterpiece.

She (1982)

Starring 'Conan The Barbarian' lead actress Sandahl Bergman as the eponymous heroine, we had high hopes for 'She'. The DVD case made wild boasts about beautiful women and brutal violence. The film begins in a post-apocalyptic landscape that looks a lot somewhere in Europe with a good exchange rate, and a bunch of nazi knights laying poorly choreographed waste to a village, to the sound of utterly pumping heavy metal. This is without a doubt the most intrusive soundtrack to anything I have ever heard. It sounds like it was written for another film.
The plot: two brothers who look absolutely nothing like one another have to rescue their sister from the evil "Norks". I'm not kidding. Anyway, on the way they end up in a violent female dominated society where She is the goddess. She seems to spend most of her time essentially raping and murdering men, although this is never referenced after about the first 20 minutes. Anyway, our heroes kidnap her and force her to take them to the Norks lair. On the way they meet werewolves (read actors with large, fake eyebrows and plastic fangs), a bunch of monks and another supposed 'god' who can make things fly about on string when he uses his god power. He also has the most astonishingly hairy arms. They also meet a tranny giant with an astonishingly hairy back. I surmise the last two are brothers, although this can't be corroborated. They then meet an obnoxious sailor who multiplies as he is cut into pieces. At no time is it explained how this is possible. Anyway, they defeat the Norks, get their sister back, one of the blokes falls in love with She (forgetting she's a murdering rapist) and that's the end of the film. Holy fuck.

Sulwath Brewery

A cloudy and crisp wheat beer from Sulwath Brewers in Dumfriesshire. A very strong one at 5.5%, but very full-bodied and flavourful. Lots of sediment that requires rolling the bottle to get the last of it in. Pleasing picture of flying geese on the front. Bought this from a couple of pleasant guys at the Good Food Show who dug ice hockey. Very nice. I also had the Black Douglas, which is the same brewery's porter, and that was effing gorgeous. Very raisiny and Christmassy. Would recommend both of these.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The five greatest comic books of all time.

Because I am an enormous geek, I have taken great delight from the news that Judge Dredd is to be rebooted for another film. I am even more delighted that scripting duties are falling to Alex Garland, who in addition to being a great writer, is an avowed Dredd fan. Casting gives us even more to be happy about, with Karl Urban coming out of leftfield, and although I would never have considered him for the part in a million years, it actually makes perfect sense. And he's a 2000 AD fan as well, so he'll try and do the character justice rather than just shouting a lot like Stallone did. Man, as much as I try to like Stallone's Dredd I just can't. That film was an abomination. Stallone's performance was a little bit too reminiscent of Rocky V, and as for Rob Schneider being in it, whose idea was that? Armand Assante was the worst choice ever for Rico, and he should have been a mangled, twisted, anarchic version of Dredd, more like he was in the comics. About the only good thing in it is Hammerstein, and he's technically not even a Dredd character.

Anyway, in celebration of the 2012 Dredd film, here is a top five run down of the greatest comics of all time. I know. Poor segue.

5. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Following self-imposed retirement after the death of Robin, a middle-aged Batman returns to the fray to rid Gotham of gang violence and a couple of old enemies. The book that changed the tone of Batman forever from camp and colourful to dark and gritty, Frank Miller fills the book with questions about the rights of superheroes, much in the same vein that Alan Moore would with The Watchmen. Although you root for Batman all the way through, in some places he actually becomes something of a terrifying character. By the close, you don't know whether it's him or the Joker who's crazier. The book ends with a showdown between Bats and Superman, who has been brought in to stop him getting out of hand. But the real reveal is the twist that comes after that. Amazing, and actually quite chilling.

4. Superman - Red Son

Mark Millar, the man with the best job in the world, asks: What if Superman had landed in the Ukraine instead of Kansas? An amazing take on how the Cold War might have gone differently if Superman had been a commie pinko instead of a filthy capitalist. Featuring an anarchist Batman with quite an amazing hat.

3. Judge Dredd - The Cursed Earth

The best Dredd story by a long shot. When Mega City Two is infected with a deadly virus, Dredd leads a rescue mission into the Cursed Earth to bring in the antidote. Accompanied by Spikes Harvey Rotten, the criminal biker that he brought along with him out of what seemed to be an act of perverse cruelty, and Tweek, and enslaved alien that they free along the way, Dredd fights his way through the mental denizens of the post-apocalyptic wasteland, including Satanus the Tyrannosaurus Rex, robot vampires, and the feared Angel Gang. Starting off in an armoured tank and with an army of sidekicks, by the end of the storyline Dredd was alone, crawling on his hands and knees through the desert, everybody else having been killed along the way. And you know what? He made it. Because Dredd is that drokking hard.

2. Preacher - Alamo

The final Preacher book is all about settling scores. Jesse has a score to settle with Cassidy, and the two former best friends finally beat the shit into one another in a largely indecisive duel at the Alamo. Herr Starr, on the other hand, blames Jesse for the loss of a number of his body parts, and having eschewed his plan to install the titular clergyman as a puppet messiah, is now hell-bent on revenge. The Saint of Killers finally has a word with God Almighty, and it doesn't end well for the big guy.

1. The Watchmen

The Watchmen is the best, because from start to finish it is pure brilliance. The dialogue, characterisation, the art, are all perfect. And the unsettling questions that Alan Moore asks have never been more eloquently put. Don't worry though, superheroes aren't all fascists and homosexuals. Not really.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Underrated Rock Albums #1. Therapy? - Infernal Love

Therapy?: These men are about to rape you.

Everybody knows that I love Therapy?. I love big-boned Cairnsy and his greasy hair and incessant self-deprecation. I love mad little Michael McKeegan and his happy little smile. I even love, poor, wayward Fyfe Ewing. But even at the height of my Therapy? worship in the mid to late 90s. I had a hard time explaining Infernal Love. "It's not as good as Troublegum" people would tell me "It's only got two or three good songs on it". These are fair observations. But you have to think about the context. Infernal Love was released a year after Troublegum, their first album that hit the big time, and expectations were high. Tensions in the band were growing too, and Fyfe Ewing would soon depart the fold permanently. It was the first album that they really spent money on, and it shows in the production. It is a monster. If ever there was an album that was overproduced, this is it. It's like they went loose in the studio and just mucked about with everything. There are countless samples of helicopter noises, two-minute long keyboard intros, sequencers mucking around with the riffs at the beginning of songs, and at least one song where somebody got up and shouted "Fuck it! Horns." It probably adds about 15 minutes to the run time. It doesn't have the singles that Troublegum had either - there's not a Screamager or a Die Laughing on this album. And I think that is probably what disappointed fans most, the lack of catchier, more poppy tunes that turned on legions of new fans to Therapy? after Troublegum came out.

Despite all this, I could never really reconcile the idea that Infernal Love is a wholly bad album. It contains some of their best songs. The opener, Epilepsy, is a riff-led rocker that wouldn't sound out of place on their earlier offerings like Babyteeth or Pleasure Death. Pure rock. The riff is great and Cairnsy howls his guts out. Immediately following this, Stories provides a brief hope for the Troublegum fan of another catchy hit, but cruelly dashes it half a minute in by going all mental with a brass section that seems utterly out of place. And then there's Moment of Clarity. As a teenager, I thought this was - in its own scarily intense fashion - a brilliant love song, with very deep and expressive lyrics. But as an adult you realise that lyrically speaking, it's one of the most cringeworthy songs ever written. It's full of nonsense like the quite laughable line "lips like bruised vulva / your ass like Jesus' feet / worth kissing". It's the sort of borderline rapey bedroom poetry that has never got anybody laid. The opposite in fact. All Therapy? songs that aren't about rocking are about desire for an unattainable woman. The thing is, in Moment of Clarity, the desire just seeps through the music. The angst-riven riffing, straight and true, and balls to the wall, laying it all on the line. It's like a hopeless love note that will inevitably humiliate the writer utterly, and the they know this, but they write it and post it anyway. The song sounds like it is trying to climb down your earhole and make clumsy love to your brain. For the fourth track the band kick it down a notch for Jude the Obscene, one of the albums better songs. Lyrically, it's a bit duff and doesn't really have any memorable refrains, but the "Now you're here, they can't shut you down" bit is quite good and there's a chilled guitar solo. By this time on the album you can tell that they're phoning it in, and the cello-led Bowels of Love is beautifully arranged and has so much promise, except it's only about a minute long. It's like the band couldn't be bothered finishing it. Oh and the lyrics are also nonsense: "And you took me / naive and ugly / into your festering heart / and you poured Eros maggots down my throat / until I choked" OK, Cairnsy, I get it! A woman has wronged you! Just calm down bro, have a Jager Bomb and kiss my friend Rob on the lips (which he did the one time I met him incidentally). Track 6: Misery. No, that's just the name of the song. Despite the title it's a punchy rocker and probably on of the best songs on the album, and the mid section ("Fuck you waste my time ...") is one of Infernal Love's high points. It's imediately followed up with the lacklustre Bad Mother and the even-more-rapey-than-Moment-of-Clarity Me Vs You with its sinister vocals and eerie strings, backed up by a grief-maddened chorus. What immediately follows is the album's biggest anomaly, Loose, a straightforward punk pop song about good times and hilarity. What the fuck is it doing on an album about soured love, loss and self-loathing? Don't worry, there's a song about rape coming up. Diane is a string led ballad that manages to be affecting despite its schoolyard rhyming couplets. It's actually a cover of a Hüsker Dü song, so we can't blame Cairnsy for the lyrics this time. The final song on the album, 30 Seconds, is another lacklustre effort, and the final refrain "There is a light at the end of the tunnel", looped endlessly by sequencers, is virtually unlistenable.

So apologies if I'm not really selling this. It has some truly high points like Misery and Moment of Clarity, but it also has some truly excrutiating moments. In a way I think it's the most honest album Therapy? have ever produced because it is so utterly uncompromising in its music and the lyrics. Compared to some of their later, more polished efforts, you feel like you are getting into Cairnsy's sick, sick head. It's like you're in his dank little bedroom, watching VHS 90s porn with him, drinking tramp-juice and harbouring simmering resentment for the happy, shiny little bastard people outside. It really does lay them bare as a band, frailties and all, and that's why I always keep coming back to it, at least as often as I do Troublegum or Semi-Detached. And that is why Infernal Love has the dubious honour of being the first opus in my Underrated Rock Albums list.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: It occurs to me that no North American reader will have any idea who Therapy? are, not having been privy to some of the lesser known acts of what is occassionally referred to by NME readers as the "90s Britrock Explosion". Let me break it down for you. Imagine if somebody kidnapped U2 at birth and held them prisoner in a Belfast basement letting them listen to nothing except Joy Division, Motörhead, telling them that all women are teases and whores, and feeding them pies. Then you get Therapy?. More or less.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Column for 17 06 10

IT’S that magical time again, when the pubs pack full of football fans and English people forget how many syllables are in the word “England”. Yes, the World Cup is here again. As I said last week, I am an honorary Argentinean for the next month, due to my picking that side in our legally dubious office sweepstake. I sincerely hope that they win, because that will net me £33. However, I have a confession to make. Beyond my selfish desire to win cash money, I have no interest in the World Cup at all. Indeed, I have no interest in football at all.
I am an otherwise normal man with many other manly interests, such as videogames, kebabs, and beautiful ladies, though not necessarily in that order. Yet I don’t understand what my manly brethren find so interesting about football. The way I see it, every game is essentially the same. A lot of running and kicking, the occasional swear, ball goes in one goal or the other. The end.
Think about it. If you had a choice between watching football or the movie ‘Die Hard’ which would you choose? I would choose ‘Die Hard’. Does this make me less of a man?
I can’t understand how something as trivial as a game where 22 guys kick a ball around a field for 90 and a bit minutes can reduce a grown man sitting in his own living room to tears. It’s not you’re kicking the ball, if your team lose you haven’t personally been defeated, so who cares? Likewise, if they win, what exactly did you contribute to the victory? Why should the result of a game played by 22 other people have an effect on your own feelings of self worth? It’s only a game, and after all, surely there are more important things in the world to get worked up about.
There. I’ve said it. I don’t like football. Now why is it that every time I say that to another bloke they look at me with like I’m some kind of tragic lunatic suffered to live by a hateful God, then slowly turn away and start talking to someone else...
I must say, having no interest in the sport has been a huge disadvantage for as long as I can remember. In any situation in which you find yourself meeting guys you’ve never met before, the talk inevitably turns to football. It’s as if it’s one of the “safe” topics that men in such uncomfortable situations can fall back on, and if you kill the conversation before it starts, we don’t know where to go. It’s a huge social faux pas and it makes everybody really uneasy.
It got to the stage that I was actually genuinely ashamed of not liking football, like it was some kind of deficiency that I myself possessed, as opposed to football’s fault for being basically boring. I attempted to muster a cursory interest when people talked to me, and even attempted to learn some facts. This didn’t help though, as I became convinced people would be able to see through my ploy and condemn me as the faker I was.
Nowadays, of course, I don’t really care. I have a big bushy beard with which to assert my manly credentials, and I will quite freely admit to not liking football. If you can’t hold a conversation with another man about anything except football then that’s your problem, not mine.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Column for 22/07/10

WHEN radio presenter Jon Gaunt called an interviewee a Nazi for suggesting couples who smoked shouldn’t be allowed to be foster carers, he was immediately accused of trivialising Nazi atrocities and sacked. But in many corners of the world it was seen as a confirmation of a little known law, known as Godwin’s Law, which states that if any discussion or argument goes on sufficiently long, one party will compare the other to Hitler or the Nazis. The law was first termed 20 years ago by US lawyer Mike Godwin, after observing participants in early internet chat forums. That got me thinking: what other laws govern our lives? Obviously the laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, and other brain-boxy science stuff that I don’t completely understand, but there are a whole bunch more.
We all know about Murphy’s Law, the old adage that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, which is attributed to the American aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy, Jr. You might even be aware of Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives, which further states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.
In fact there are a whole slew of laws for various things that actually have practical relevance in our lives. For instance, there’s the Peter Principle, a law formulated by Dr Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull that states that in a hierarchy, people are promoted until they reach their ‘level of incompetence’ i.e. where they are no longer competent at doing their jobs and therefore unable to gain another promotion. This is countered by the cartoonist Scott Adams’ Dilbert Principle which states that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place they can do least damage: management. Then there’s Gall’s Law, from the author John Gall, which tells us that a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works, and states the inverse that a complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work; you have to start over again, using a simple, working system. Now if that isn’t a pertinent statement that many people would do well remembering in modern society, I’m not sure what is.
There are specific laws for any number of areas, including politics. For instance, the US democrat politician Pat Moynihan coined Moynihan’s Law, which states that the amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the number of complaints about human rights violations heard from there, i.e. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.
There are also laws for journalism. My particular favourite law is the one set out by the Australian editor John Bagsund which says that if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be an error of some kind in what you have written. This law is referred to, in tongue in cheek fashion, as Muphry’s Law.
While I doubt the idea that these celestial laws in some way govern our lives, they are worth sticking to. Many old laws and adages offer sage advice that can help us in our everyday existences. However, with all this clever advice flying around, it can be easy to get confused. After all, to paraphrase Clarke’s fourth law: “For each and every law, there is an equal and opposite law.”

Monday, May 03, 2010


On Thursday Fifers will join voters across the country in going to the polls in what is sure to be one of the most closely fought general elections in recent history. And the people of Kirkcaldy have been put in an unusual position of power. If it was the will of the people to do so, it would be us and only us that would have the power to instantly topple the Prime Minister, our MP. Even if Labour won outright across the country, hypothetically, we could still force a change in leadership by voting out Gordon Brown. That is, if the people of Kirkcaldy decide that is the right thing to do.

Indeed, some might say it is a slim chance that Kirkcaldy will vote any other way than Labour, regardless of anyone’s opinions on Gordon Brown himself, the Lang Toun having been a stronghold for the party since time immemorial. In general, the vast majority of voters don’t float, they simply vote for the party they have voted for their entire lives, vote for the party of their parents. Change is a slow process.

But it does happen. Just look at the surge in popularity of the SNP in the last Scottish elections, or even the nationwide rise in support for the Liberal Democrats on the back of Nick Clegg’s surprisingly masterful performances in the TV debates. Could either John Mainland or Douglas Chapman unseat the PM? Of course, the Liberal Democrats will want to capitalise on the sudden popularity of their leader, but it has to be said the real threat to Labour in these parts comes from the SNP. True, the Nats have taken a risk in fielding a candidate such as Councillor Chapman. He has no connection to Kirkcaldy, and may well be best known in the town for the way in which Fife Council’s education committee, of which he is chairman, relegated plans by the previous administration for a much-needed new school at Viewforth to the back burner while prioritising Dunfermline High School, which serves his own ward. However the SNP’s status as a vote against the perceived London-based “old politics” can’t be ignored.

And while the Conservatives are expected to make gains across the UK, nobody is betting on them taking too many seats in Scotland.

For the first time in the political history of the constituency, commentators (well, me anyway) genuinely couldn’t tell you with any authority who is going to come out on top. All that we know is, for good or ill, our votes matter this time more than ever. We are sitting with our fingers on a button which if pressed could change the face of British politics for the next five years, and beyond. Oh God, I can’t watch.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The pen is shiteyer than the sword

As many of you will know, I aspire to one day to write a novel. I reckon I am currently one fifth of the way there (80 pages, 30,000 words or thereabouts) by my own standards, which consisted of taking a book from my bookshelf which looked about the right size (Catch 22 - Joseph Heller) and looking up how many words are in it (150,000 odd). Writing a novel requires dedication and tenacity, because in most cases it doesn't write itself. You need to persevere, and perseverence is one of the qualities that I respect most in people. That is why it is safe to say, that if you are a published author, you have my respect. As much as I deride "train station literature", the simple act of completing a novel, whether it is a masterpiece or tripe, means you are undoubtedly a reasonably clever and accomplished person.

Sometimes I get down on myself because it takes me so long to write. I am very poorly disciplined and often find excuses not to write. Sometimes I read what I have written and think "Well, that's just shit, isn't it." But yesterday I read a few things that made me very happy about what I have achieved so far.

Let me explain. Yesterday I was at work, and happened to be leafing through the order book from Simon and Schuster, looking for books to order for review. And then it hit me. They were all terrible. Terrible, terrible books. The vast majority of them were about CIA agents, most whom were on the trail of deadly viruses, third-rate tartan noir or sub-Dan Brown codswallop. And then I thought: "Holy shit, if this nonsense can get published, then I could definitely publish Legend of Stegalodon: Dinosaur Secret Agent, Stabber or Dr Jake Solid: Nazi Hunter." Seriously, read these synopsises, they are all real. I promise.

Joan Brady - Venom
Recently released from prison, David Marion doesn't expect to find a hitman at his door. Their meeting is lethal - for the hitman. Warned that a powerful secret organisation is after him, David disappears until the moment comes for him to strike back.
Physicist Helen Freyl owns a colonly of bees with unique venom. When her lover dies, she accepts a job offer from a giant pharmaceutical company who are close to finding a cure for radiation poisoning. But when the mysteriously sudden death of a colleague is followed by another, Helen begins to doubt her employers' motives and realises that her own life is in danger, too.
Venom brings David and Helen together as they fight for their lives against a backdrop of indusrial espionage, corporate greed and human tragedy.

What? Huh? What do bees have to do with curing radiation sickness? And why would a physicist be working with bees? Are they special physics bees? That's the stupidist thing I have ever heard. And what is it with evil pharmaceutical companies? First they test make up on little bunnies, and now they're assassinating people? Not on David Marion's watch, motherfucker! What's the bet that there's an awkwardly written sex scene between David and Helen exactly half way through? Well, if you think that's daft, check this out:

Jodi Compton - Hailey's War
Twenty-four-year-old Hailey Cain has dropped out of the US Military Academy for reasons she won't reveal. She has had to leave Los Angeles and it would be too big a risk for her to return. Now working as a bike messenger in San Francisco, Hailey keeps a low profile, until her high school best friend Serena Delgadillo makes a call that will turn her whole life upside down.
Serena is the head of an all-female gang on the rough streets of LA. She wants Hailey to escort the cousin of a recently murdered gang member across the border to Mexico. It's a mission that will nearly cost Hailey her life, causing her to choose more than once between loyalty and lawlessness, and forcing her to confront two very big secrets in her past...

"Hello, Hailey Cain, formerly of the US military here."
"Hey girfrieeeend! Serena Delgadillo here!"
"Ohmigod! I haven't talked to you in like so long!"
"Oh. My. God. Are you still the leader of that girl gang?"
"Like, yeah! And I totally need you to escort the cousin of a murdered gang member to Mexico!"
"Oh my god! This is going to be so fun!"
What is the bet that it won't be? Where the hell do they come up with this nonsense? Sounds like a poorly thought out excuse to engineer some sapphic erotica to get the commuters riled up on the tube. And a bit of girl on girl violence! Exploitationtastic!

Here's another one I like. Try and count how many tired fantasy cliches you can find here:

Alexey Pehov - Shadow Prowler
After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring...
An army is gathering: giants, ogres and other creatures joining forces from across the Desolate Lands, united for the first time in history under one black banner. Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of Avendoom by spring.
Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows professional thief Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Accompanied by an elfin princess, ten royal fighters, and the King's court jester, Harold must outwit angry demons, escape the clutches of a band of hired murderers, survive ten bloody skirmishes ... and reach the burial grounds before dark.

Just for the record, the author of this one has a fantastic Freddy Mercury moustache. But that doesn't excuse him from falling out of the cliche tree and hitting every bullshit branch on the way down. First thing, why is the baddy always the Nameless One? He should be called the Can't-be-bothered-thinking-of-a-name-for-him One. Monsters uniting under one black banner for the first time in history? Don't you mean for the first time since every fantasy novel ever written? Master thief? Check. Elfin princess? Check. Magic horn? Check. THE FIRST IN A TRILOGY? Checkmageddon.

If that isn't cliche ridden enough for you, see how many horror cliches you can spot in this literary abortion:

Sarah Rayne - House of the Lost
When novelist Theo Kendal inherits the remote Norfolk house in which his cousin was murdered, he believed it will lead him closer to the truth about her death. It will also be the ideal place to finish his new book.
But the bleak Fenn House is an uncomfortable place to spend the winter. And the strange thing is that Theo's novel is heading in an unplanned direction. He finds himself writing about a young boy called Matthew who inhabits a terrifying world where people die in macabre circumstances, where they can be imprisoned without trial or reason, their identities wiped from the world forever.
And then Theo discovers that Matthew and his family really existed, part of a dark and violent segment of recent history that threatens to reach out across the years to tear his life apart. And somehow it all connects to the death of his cousin...

Tip for writers: Never, ever go to an isolated house to finish your latest novel. Haven't you ever read The Shining, Secret Window, Secret Garden or Into the Mouth of Madness? And the whole blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality thing has been done so many times. So boring.

OK, OK one more:

Michael Byrnes - The Genesis Plague
At the dawn of civilisation...
An exotic stranger appears in a Mesopotamian village and is venerated as a goddess... until she unleashes a horror beyond anything humankind has ever known.
At the sunset of civilisation...
A mercenary unit in northern Iraq, led by Sergeant Jason Yaeger, has trapped radical Islam's most wanted target in a mysterious cave that sits at the heart of the Genesis story. When a Marine platoon seeks to control the extraction mission, a threat far more ominous is found lurking beneath the mountains.
Meanwhile in Boston, Massachusetts, Agent Thomas Flaherty helps archaeologist Brooke Thompson escape assassination by a Las Vegas televangeslist intent on using the cave's deepest secret to bring the Middle East to its knees.

Love it. Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown. Mercenary units and FBI agents are the staple of train station literature. Beautiful female academics in danger from assassins? Classic. The most bizarre thing about this is the writer's bio:

Michael Byrnes is the founder and CEO of a highly successful multi-million dollar insurance brokerage firm. He lives in Florida with his wife and two daughters.

Right. So not a writer then? If I was an insurance broker, I'd definitely use my business nowse to force myself upon a hapless publisher to print my stuff.

No particular reason for me posting this, I just thought it does show that ANYONE can get published. I didn't even write about the new Jackie Collins book.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How Not To Die

If you are currently running up stairs, you are probably fucked.

I watched Zombieland last night, and I really quite enjoyed it. Funny, good characters, a few pretty good kills, Bill Murray, you can't really ask for much more. But the thing I liked best about the film was how Columbus, played by Michael Cera's Jewish cousin Jesse Eisenberg, seemed to survive simply because his OCD prevented him from putting himself at risk. A lot of his rules are common sense things that would help anyone survive a horror movie if the vast majority of characters in these films didn't just ignore them pretty much constantly. I am one of these people who will often find themselves screaming at the characters on the screen for being so stupid, and I can spot a potential kill situation from a mile off. So for the benefit of anyone who might find themselves facing down slavering zombie hordes, or trapped in an isolated farmhouse with werewolves on the prowl, or on a distant outer space colony where something absolutely frightful has devoured everybody, here are my cast-iron, never-to-be-ignored rules for surviving a horror movie. I have incorporated the most important of the principles that Professor Eisenberg has set out in Zombieland, but for the most part these will take the form of my own list, built up from years of horror movie buffery. Enjoy.

Rule 1) Cardio
Some idiots will waste their time building up muscles and trying to get strong. This is a waste of time. 100 per cent of the time, any fool that tries to go toe to toe with a monster will get slain. Look at Billy in Predator and that lunatic Geordie guy in Dog Soldiers. This ceases to matter at all if you are just really good at running away. This is why my top half looks like a burlap sack filled with jelly, but my legs are made of wrought iron - I am a genetic coward, built by God to very effectively flee any dangerous situation. As Prof. Eisenberg quite rightly points out, the first people to die in any zombie apocalypse will be the fatties. This goes for nearly any horror film. Would a fatty have been able to flee Leatherface, or Jason Voorhees? There is a reason there are no fatties in the Colonial Marines. In fact, it might even be useful to keep a fatty around just so you will have extra fleeing time while the fiends of hell are devouring him.

Rule 2) The Double Tap
More essential knowledge from Prof. Eisenberg. If you do kill a monster, make sure it is dead. And by that I don't mean poke it with your toe. I mean shoot it again. In the head. Either that or chop off its head. Fire is good also. While these methods don't necessarily work for every monster, you'd be surprised how close beheading and fire are to a monster cure-all. Note: Dracula always comes back twice. Be ready.

Rule 3) Don't Be A Hero
Being a hero never helped anybody. Make sure you always let some other foolhardy and/or brave person be the first to enter a haunted house, dark forest or derelict spacecraft. Just tell them you have their back and get ready to run away if something comes down from the roof and scoops them screaming up into a hole in the ceiling. A sub rule to this one is never go back for anybody. This includes all forms of rescue. If someone is lost, seperated and/or captured, you must NEVER go back for them. I'm talking to you, Ripley.

Rule 4) When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out
This one is self explanatory. Know your exits. Any building will have a back door, or at very least a window. If you find yourself in a bind, leave your colleagues to fight it out and flee. Note that this doesn't always work, for example, when Paul Reiser gets it in Aliens.

Rule 5) Check the Back Seats
One horror movie rule, of course, is that if something can jump up from the back seat and attack you, then it will. Always check to make sure this doesn't happen. The likelihood of the back seat attacker depends on whether or not you lock your doors. Keeping them unlocked is better for fleeing, negating that awkward moment when you have to scrabble to get the keys out of your pocket while the Hellbeast closes in on you, but will maximise the chances of you driving off thinking that you're safe, only to look in the mirror and see slavering jaws. It's a trade-off, really. There are, however, two things you can do to avoid a horrid death in this manner, the first is get a remote car key, so you can unlock the car while you are running towards it without breaking too much pace, and be safe in the knowledge that there probably isn't a vaguely humiliating death waiting for you inside your vehicle, the second is simply to get a two seater car.

Rule 6) Middle is Safest
Or to put it another way, never take point or bring up the rear. Being in front or behind is most likely to get you killed. Being in the middle gives you time to assess your situation while your friends or squadmates are being massacred, and in addition you will be surrounded by people who know how to do the fighting, or at very least present an alternative target to yourself. Also, if you're part of a military unit, it's likely the command element of the group will be somewhere in the middle enabling you to hear the order to bug out better when it inevitably comes.

Being an expert in something useful will help you survive, even if you're an obnoxious dick that nobody likes.

Rule 7) Categorise
When you're in a horror movie situation, you have to be very careful about who you hang around with. Divide your companions into two categories: 'assets' and 'liabilities'. The assets are the people with useful skills, such as combat abilities, medical expertise, monster lore, mechanical skills, telekinesis etc, whereas the liabilities will be people such as children, fatties, klutzes, the wounded and people who have lost their bottle and been reduced to quivering wrecks. Any 'carrier', that is, person who has been infected by the monsters, bitten by a zombie or a vampire or impregnated by an alien immediately becomes a liability regardless of any skills they have. When the shit goes down, you will want to stick close to the assets, and if possible ditch the liabilities. The only use a liability has is to take the heat off you by getting murdered in a lengthy and graphic fashion while you are running away. Note: while it is extremely common for an asset to turn into a liability, it is rare but not unheard of that a liability turns into an asset. Two examples I can think of offhand are Private Hudson in Aliens, who starts off as a quivering wuss but gradually gets more and more apeshit as the aliens begin to piss him off more and more, and Francine in Dawn of the Dead, who successfully made the leap from liability to asset by learning to pilot a helicopter. Which leads us to...

Rule 8) Every Day is a School Day
Of course, it is also vitally important that you are seen as an asset by your peers. If you aren't strong, you'd better be smart. Hang around with some of the assets and get them to teach you their skills. That way if the helicopter pilot gets killed, you're the next best thing. Any quiet moment you get you should be practising shooting at shit with the beefy guy in the cowboy hat or learning how to make thermite.

Rule 9) Use the Back Door, Not the Stairs
Again, this should be obvious. If you are assailed by monsters or a giant, silent serial killer and you happen to be in a house, you need to get out the back door and run like fuck. What you don't want to do is run up the stairs. There is no escape up there, and if you are lucky enough to get out the window, the chances are you will just fall and busticate an ankle anyway, rendering you basically useless.

Rule 10) Basements are Deathtraps
Don't listen to anyone who says that a basement is a safe place. A basement is a place to wait to die. You are somewhere enclosed, with usually only one exit. And there is probably the slavering reanimated corpse of a foul-mouthed old lady buried down there anyway. Fair enough, the chances are there are a lot of weapons in the basement, but if anything it's just a place for a heroic last stand. If it has got to the stage where the basement is the only safe part of the building you should have already obeyed rule 9 and pissed off out the back door anyway. Basements are not good places. See Night of the Living Dead, I Am Legend and any other horror film with a basement in it.

Rule 11) Tool Up
This should probably be higher on the list. Never ever miss an opportunity to get a weapon. How many times have you watched somebody, usually a promiscuous but not very bright teenage girl (liability), walk past a perfectly good garden strimmer and not pick it up for use on the killer that is inevitably lurking elsewhere in the shed with a pair of shears? Tool up and stay tooled up. Chainsaws, shotguns, machetes, axes, anything you can get your hands on. Don't be afraid to build your own weapons if you have time - sometimes the most effective weapon is a homemade flame-thrower.

Rule 12) Country Life
If there's been an invasion of zombies, vampires, cyborgs or alien parasites, the chances are that they are busy eating people in the large population centres. So it makes sense to get out of the city, right? On the other hand, if you're facing werewolves or Jason Voorhees, maybe it's better to stay in town. Depends really.

Rule 13) Keep Moving
Staying in the same place for too long is a death sentence in a horror film. Keeping on the move will probably stop the creeps from getting you. Probably. If you have to hole up somewhere for a while, it had better be somewhere secure, with several exits, a good field of vision, food and weapons. And no basements. God dammit.

Don't. Go. In. The. Water.

Rule 14) Avoid Water
This one is just common sense, really. If you can't see under the water, don't step in it. Sharks, crocodiles, anacondas, aliens and zombies can all swim. Vampires probably can as well, if they weren't bothered about getting their capes wet. In addition, water makes you slower, it makes noises and ripples that all allow you to be detected. Anyone who stands waist deep in water and then disappears gurgling under the surface probably deserved everything they got for going in there in the first place. See Aliens, Alien Resurrection, nearly every Friday the 13th movie, Crocodile, Jaws, Piranha and Piranha 2: The Spawning. Note: water is actually a pretty good shout when facing Terminators, as they tend to sink. Otherwise just avoid like the plague.

Rule 15) Science is Bad
Don't do science. That's probably how this mess started in the first place. And if you think science is going to make it better again, the chances are you're wrong. Also, don't waste your time looking for a cure to vampirism or a zombie virus. Science is bad. Naughty, science, naughty!

Rule 16) Have a Plan and Stick to it
Never change the plan. If you're on your way somewhere, don't stop off to get some erroneous item of supplies, like insulin for instance. Too dangerous. That diabetic is just going to have to tough renal failure out. If you meet up with someone else who needs your help, the answer is no. If the plan is to stay put until dawn in a spooky old house, you don't need to go back and get anything that you left in the car. If someone tells you there is a cure for zombies, tell them to go get it themselves. You've got a plan and you're sticking to it. And if that evil American bitch who shagged your man and then did a runner when he got impaled on flying metal spike suggests going potholing, I suggest you kill her immediately. Trust me, you'd be saving yourself a lot of trouble.

Rule 17) Don't Get Sentimental
Friends, family, lovers. If the body snatchers get them, you'd be best to gun them down just like anyone else. Likewise, dragging a buddy round who has been bitten by a zombie is foolish. You'd be best to give them one in the back of the head when they're not looking. You'd be doing them a favour. Since the chances are nine times out of ten when you're stranded in a life or death situation its with a disparate group of strangers that you don't give two shits about anyway. But if it is your buddies or your family, you might have to make some difficult decisions to survive. It really is up to you.

That concludes my rules of how to survive any horror situation. If you have read these, you are probably safer already.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Spendrups Old Gold

Yes, from Sweden! Home of flat pack furniture, snow and sexually ambiguous pre-teen vampires. This is the classic pilsner version of the standard Spendrups. It is light gold in colour, quite robust in flavour, but nothing to shout about. It has quite a suddy aftertaste. I'm struggling to think of anything to say about it. It's OK, but kind of unexceptional. It's nothing like the fruity-nutty Christmas Spendrups I had the other week. Maybe it's just because it's after the festive season and I'm just sick of beer. But then again, maybe not.