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Unsung Genre Heroes: Mark Chadbourn by Daniel Brown

Every genre has its heroes; it goes without saying (even though I just said it) and each genre is quick to point to its own heroes when discussion arises on such matters.

Age of MisruleI don't care about those writers.

The blockbusters and the hidden gems can both go and hang, for the length of this article at least. This is about the mid-lister, the journeyman (or woman) writer who toils away selling just enough copies without ever truly breaking big. The writers who turn out example after example of high quality work for far lesser rewards than the big guns and to unfairly ignored acclaim.

Today, we sing the praises of Mark Chadbourn.

Mark Chadbourn, born in the east midlands in 1960, is one of Britain's finest purveyors of fantasy. A former print journalist with a degree in economics, Mr. Chadbourn currently has sixteen novels to his name, along with numerous short stories, novellas, a foray into comic book format with his 2006 offering The Books of Shadows and a long stint writing for the BBC's perennial daytime soap opera Doctors; it might be fair to say “This bloke seems to be doing all right for himself, why is he being heralded as an Unsung Hero?” If you are wondering that, ask yourself how many of his novels you've read, how many of your friends read his work and how visible he is in bookshops. This piece seems a little more on target now, doesn't it?

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New Releases: Nicholas Royle's Regicide & Tim Lebbon's Echo City

Two very different looks at fantastic cities: Nicholas Royle's Regicide and Tim Lebbon's Echo City.

RegicideNicholas Royle's Regicide (2011) is a sultry-covered new release from Solaris. A dangerously thin book (187 pages?! That's like a Sandersonian prelude!), it introduces the mystery surrounding Carl and Annie. Carl owns a London record shop, where he mostly piddles around all day and thinks about his love life (see: High Fidelity). Annie Risk (meaningful) is a mysterious-but-alluring young woman from Manchester who bumps into Carl at a party and thoughtfully provides him grist for many a daydream. The book's slow start is like opening a (slightly stuck) window into Carl's life: his background, how he came to London, his friends and his taste in music. He's an affable gent, our Carl, and tough not to like.

At the midway point, things get a little more perplexing. Carl's been puzzling over a fragment of road map since the start of the book - he likes maps, they're just one of those things (like, I daresay, making the perfect mix-tape). The map refuses to fit anywhere, but as Regicide winds forward, Carl starts finding more evidence of a hidden city - somewhere off the A-Z entirely. It is also, judging by the scary phone calls and grim attire, something of a nasty place. As that city begins to bleed into his city, Carl winds up in a fun-house style chase - looking for escape, looking for Annie, looking for an explanation.

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Underground Reading: A (Hard) Case of the Mondays

It is hard to feel too blue on a Bank Holiday, but here are three more Hard Case Crime paperbacks guaranteed to cheer you up. Two 'cause they're cheerful and one because, well, no matter how rough your day is, this guy's is worse...

The CutieClay, the hero of Donald Westlake's The Cutie (1960, reprinted 2009), is having a classically bad day - one that starts in the early hours of the morning. Clay's enjoying a little bit of special squashy time with his ladyfriend, Ella, when he's interrupted by a freaked out junkie, Billy-Billy. Billy-Billy has been framed for the murder of Mavis St. Paul, professional mistress. He knows he's screwed, and needs Clay to sort him out. Clay, as the right-hand man to mob boss Ed Ganolese, is sadly used to this sort of situation.

Ed, oddly, doesn't ask Clay to "clean the problem up" (that is, shoot Billy-Billy twice in the head). It turns out that the neighborhood junkie has important connections. Clay puts Billy-Billy into hiding and heads off on his own. However, Mavis St. Paul had some connections of her own. As well as a host of ex-lovers, she was currently boinking the head of the city's political machine. In a misguided attempt to avenge her murder, the grieving political chieftan has unleashed the police with instructions to take down Ed Ganolese. 

Clay is at the center of the storm as Ganolese orders him to sort the situation out. The only way to get the cops to go away is to solve the murder. Clay, cold-hearted bastard and seasoned killer that he is, finds himself on the side of the angels, making him a very unlikely hero.

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Friday Five: 15 Awesome Victorians

Friday FiveAh, the Victorians. Without them, we wouldn't have sewers, terraced homes, the vote, uncomfortable piercings or most BBC miniseries. The era has never been more popular, with steampunk on the ascent like a chrome-girded, pistol-packing, heavily-corseted, goggle-wearing, largely-inaccurate zeppelin.

When it comes to discussing Victoriana, there's no better guest than Jonathan Green, creator of the Ulysses Quicksilver adventures. Pax Britannia is the world's longest-running steampunk series, and besides awing us with swash, buckle, time travel and the occasional cyber-squid, Mr. Green has always impressed us with his historical knowledge (a mention of Professor Richard Owen in Unnatural History won us over immediately). 

Without further ado, here are our individual picks for the five finest Victorians - real, imaginary and all things in-between... The Victorians didn't have blogs, but if they did, they'd be the finest blogs ever (and mildly pornographic). And they'd undoubtedly leave comments about who we missed off our list.


Sir Richard Owen - The man who gave the world the word 'dinosaur', thereby naming a diverse group of animals that has captured the imaginations of 5 year-old boys and geeks ever since. Biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist, he was often cast as the villain to Charles Darwin's hero; and yet this is the man who gave us the Natural History Museum. But never mind all that - he effectively invented dinosaurs!

H. G. Wells/The Time Traveller - I'm being a bit sneaky here but the way The Time Machine is written, you could quite easily believe that Wells himself was the Time Traveller. Many of Herbert George's ideas have become staples of modern science-fiction and have particularly inspired the Steampunk genre. Cavorite, Selenites, time travel... the man was a creative powerhouse!

Spring-Heeled Jack - A character of English folklore? Urban Legend? Apparition? Alien? Or sex pest? Who was he really? It's likely we will never know - but that's what makes him such an intriguing character and persistent presence in the national psyche.

Count Dracula - Effectively, the vampire primogenitor. Not sure if he really counts as a Victorian but he certainly sought to bring his Machiavellian plans to fruition during Queen Victoria's reign. The Dracula I'm a fan of isn't Christopher Lee's Hammer Horror version, but the Count from Stoker's original, combined with Gary Oldman's interpretation of him and Kim Newman's development of the character in Anno Dracula and beyond.

Queen Victoria - I mean the woman has a whole historical period named after her and one that saw unprecedented technological, cultural and social changes. One of our longest reigning monarchs, who ruled when the British Empire was at its height, she was as much a force of nature as anything else. God save the Queen!

Bubbling under...

Jack the Ripper
Inspector Abeline
Sherlock Holmes
Professor Moriarty
Doctor Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde

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Underground Reading: Tropical Disturbance by Theodore Pratt

Tropical DisturbanceNature always wins. That's the short form of the lesson from Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance (1961). The novel is an example of disaster fiction: a group of people are isolated by horrendous circumstances and forced to fight their way to survival. More than that, Tropical Disturbance belongs to the subset of natural disaster fiction, with all the immediate and obvious themes therein. 

The town of Coquina Beach and its many ludicrous denizens all learn the power of nature the hard way. Hurricane Jane not only crushes the seawall of the Coquina Beach, but also the walls that men build around themselves. Etc. Etc. Insert heavy-handed metaphor here (and on pages 2 - 147, inclusive).

In the land of Mr. Pratt's design, the good'uns and the bad'uns are easily distinguishable from the first pages, making Tropical Disturbance less a moral experiment and more wind-powered schadenfreude. The book opens on one of each. Jay (black hat) and Nina (white hat) are "damn Yankees", Northerners that have moved down to Florida for various reasons (stated: "vacation", implied: "rapine of the pristine coastline").

They're dating, but Jay wants more - marriage, possession and (mostly) sex. Nina, in one of those stilted conversations that only happens in mildly prurient 1950s literature, explains to Jay that she'd "like to sleep with the man I was going to marry, so we'd each know what we were getting. But I can't do that and remain a virgin." (12) 

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Graphic Novel Round-up: Kiki de Montparnasse

KikiCatel and Bocquet's massive graphic novel biography Kiki de Montparnasse has a lot going for it. It's comprehensive, to begin with, covering the life of Alice Prin (the early 20th century model and artist better known as Kiki) from her first breath to her last. The art is lovely, stylish without being mannered or fussy. Kiki's main draw is its subject: Kiki herself was a fascinating woman, and Catel and Bocquet do well by her.

As well-executed as Kiki de Montparnasse is, however (and it is well executed, don't get me wrong), it's still a problematic work, and serves to illustrate the potential – and the peril – of biography.

You're probably familiar with Kiki herself, though you may not know it. The French model, artist and muse inserted herself directly into the center of Paris' extraordinary arts culture in the early decades of the twentieth century, most famously as Man Ray's on-again, off-again lover and inspiration while he was experimenting with photography. Kiki is an appealing subject; she was wild and uninhibited and aggressive in her interests and spun madly at the center of a maelstrom of sex and drugs and the avante garde. Her appetites caught up with her in the end, but she lived her life to the fullest at a time when women were beginning to chafe at the boundaries society imposed upon their gender.

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Underground Reading: On the Road with Hard Case Crime

Killing CastroThree more Hard Case Crime novels reviewed - Richard Powell's Say It with Bullets, Lawrence Block's Killing Castro and John Lange's Grave Descend. By bus, boat or privately-chartered airplane, all three take the reader to strange and exotic locations (also, Salt Lake City).

Lawrence Block's Killing Castro (2009) is a prime example of why Hard Case Crime is such an exceptional publisher. A properly "lost" book, Killing Castro first (and last) saw print in 1961 (as Fidel Castro Assassinated), written under the pseudonym "Lee Duncan".

As well as being of interest to Block completists, Killing Castro is an astounding book - the Grand Master turns his cool, unflinching gaze to both assassins and dictators alike.

Five men are each paid $20,000 to kill Fidel Castro. The money comes from a seedy collection of expatriate revolutionaries; once middle class dissidents under Batista, they're now scheming against Castro from exile. From the start, Mr. Block creates an atmosphere of uncertainty. The revolutionaries are an unspectacular bunch, meeting in dingy back rooms.

Some of the assassins doubt the money even exists, a note of distrust that hangs over the book to its conclusion.

The would-be assassins are all American and from all walks of life. Turner is a itinerant worker; occasional trucker and part-time grifter. In a fit of anger, he killed his girlfriend and her lover. He needs the money to start a new life in Brazil. Jim Hines is a New England college boy with his whole future ahead of him. His brother fought alongside Castro, but was killed when the dictator took power. Hines is out for revenge. Garth is a thug - pure and simple. He wants the money, doesn't care about politics and has no concern beyond his next physical pleasure. Fenton is a older man and an odd fit (down to his wire-rimmed glasses). He's dying of cancer and wants to make his mark before his time comes. He's filled with a burning desire to be remembered, and sees this as his way into history. Finally, Garrison is the professional - the cold-hearted hitman with no ties. Castro is another target to him, albeit one more valuable than most.

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Underground Reading: The Rest Must Die by Richard Foster

The Rest Must DieRichard Foster's The Rest Must Die (1959) begins with Bob Foster, advertising executive, returning from a boozy lunch. He's busy dreaming up his new cigarette campaign on the walk back to the office when the air-raid siren goes off. Like the well-trained Cold War civilian that he is, Foster dives into the nearest shelter - a subway station. 

The hundreds of New Yorkers in the station stand around awkwardly, waiting to return to their lives above ground. But (drumroll) this is not to be. One rumble after another means that something is happening on the surface - and then one man stumbles down, face burned, screaming about the mushroom clouds. 

The book follows the surviving New Yorkers as they fashion a rough subterranean society underneath the radioactive remnants of their city. Initially, survival is a rough scramble for the basic necessities: food, water and shelter.

As those are sorted, the focus broadens to the group's social dynamics. Now that the world has changed, who is in control? Police officers and air-raid wardens try to keep order, but even the tiny civilisation in the subways has its malcontents. A few hardened criminals lead a breakaway group, a cop snaps and goes "bad" and, of course, there are the hundreds and hundreds of people who adjust to the new world (dis)order by turning, essentially, feral.

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The Weeks that Were

Another two weeks have gone by and they've been busy ones.

Lauren BeukesRed Tentacle winner (and Kitschies judge) Lauren Beukes swung through town and we buddied up with the Arthur C. Clarke Award to throw a little party for her and cover-guru Joey HiFi at the British Library. The turnout was amazing - thanks to everyone for coming.  (More photos over on the ACCA's Facebook page)

Our other big news - our first anthology - was also announced at the event. Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse will be out in October, and features apocalyptic musings by some of the biggest names & hottest newcomers in science fiction. For all the details on "Project Panda", see the website (and sign up for the mailing list for the latest updates).

We've still got one big corker of an announcement left, but we're hammering out the details now.

Meanwhile in the actual "business" of Pornokitsch, here's what's been happening 'round these parts.

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Friday Five: 15 Insidious Internet Distractions

Friday FivePeople definitely procrastinated in the Dark Ages, that time before the Blessed Light of the Webbernet reached out to touch our heads and our hearts. But how? Computer Solitaire, you answer confidently. But what about the time before computers? Doodling and experiments with negative afterimages, we assume. All day. Every day.


Fortunately for us, the days of competitive eyebrow-plucking are past. Today we glory in that fountain of inumerable indulgences, that garden of Earthly delights, that endless and eternally-available labyrinth of distraction and absorption: the internet.  Join us after the jump in discussing our favorite time-wasting sites, and tip us off about the ones we missed!


I'll begin with the mother of them all, Wikipedia.  My love of trivia is insatiable; Wikipedia is my go-to site for entry-level interest in everything. But Wikipedia is equal parts time-suck and frustration-inducer. The writing can be incomprehensible, the content is often lifted wholesale from other webpages, and any effort to clean up spelling and grammar is met with snarls and hissing from the psychopaths who have appointed themselves god-king-moderators of particular pages. Word to the wise: do not fuck with the Firefly-related entries, no matter aggravatingly “its” and “it’s” are confused in the article.

Teacup_KittensI like movies.  And I like knowing how movies are made.  The trivia pages on IMDB are a time-wasting goldmine.

Speaking of trivia goldmines: Snopes. Not only does it explode urban legends, it also serves as a convenient way of annoying those do-gooding relatives who insist on forwarding emails warning young women of the dangers of going home with men they meet in bars. (They'll inevitably wake up in a bathtub full of ice, their ovaries surgically removed because they've just been harvested for that rarest of delicacies - human caviar.) Hey, Aunt Em - that particular email hoax has existed since 1997!

There are so many pretty things in the world, and so many 18 – 24-year-olds uploading photos of them, one after the other. Tumblr is such a lovely long meaningless thoughtless endless stream of silent movie stills and tattoo designs and octopus photos and pictures of kittens in teacups. It’s like having someone reach into my skull and massage my brain: there, there, little winkly thing.  There, there.

Project Gutenberg.  So many books. So little time.

I should add Gmail as an honorable mention.  EVERYONE PLEASE EMAIL ME STUFF ALL THE TIME KTHXBYE

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