‘Doctor Who: Winner Takes All’ by Jacqueline Rayner (2005)


So, anyway, like I said last time, I’m not one for television tie-ins. I should really have qualified that by adding “except for the Whoniverse.” Whilst my geek credentials would scarcely pass muster on The Big Bang Theory, I am a huge Doctor Who fanboy and have been since I was a wee lad, watching Peter Davison’s youthful interpretation of the role, bounding from one disaster to the next in his cricketer’s whites. Television, books, comics, audio plays – I love the lot.

So, get ready for a fair and balanced review, then.

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‘The X-Files: Goblins’ by Charles Grant (1995)


I don’t really read tie-in novels. It’s not some form of literary snobbery, it’s just that I’m rarely so taken in by a movie or television series that I want to explore its universe more fully on my own time. The X-Files is a prime example. I enjoyed the first couple of seasons well enough, missed out of the first few episodes of season three and realised that it wasn’t bothering me all that much, so gave up on it, and I certainly don’t think my life has been poorer for the decision.

Which begs the question, of course – why bother picking up a spin-off novel if the series scarcely effected me? Well, while I might be lukewarm on the subject of The X-Files, I am white hot when it comes to picking up books with Charles Grant’s name emblazoned on the cover and, in this instance, it paid dividends.

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‘Demon Seed’ by Dean Koontz (1997)


For those of you keeping score at home, I’m reviewing the 1997 re-edited version of this book, not the 1973 original. Not that I’ve any objection to reading the original – Hell, if anybody’s got a copy, send it my way, and I’ll do a follow-up.

Demon Seed is a tech-heavy science fiction thriller in which the world’s first fully sentient computer seeks to free itself from its electronic chains and enter the world of the flesh. You might think that this is a massive spoiler, but Koontz brings you up to speed on that in the first dozen pages, so I think it’s safe enough to drop it in here and, besides, the review would end up being very vague otherwise.

So, our silicon escapee wants out, for good, and slips his way into the security system of a house that is fully automated and serviced by its own computer; one that Proteus – the thinking engine in question – manages to override in the blink of an electronic eye turning the safest house on the planet into a sentient prison for its owner and sole inhabitant.

That’s really all of the plot you need – the story is told in a very dry and humorous manner, from the point of view of Proteus himself. Horror (of which this book is certainly a type, particularly in its darker moments) and comedy often go hand in hand, the build-up and the effect of both the good scare and the good joke being very similar in execution. In Demon Seed, Koontz plays it just right, as Proteus’ attempts at levity serve to heighten the tension, rather than dispel it, which is as it should be.

Be assured, there is plenty of tension, considering Koontz effectively gives away the outcome of the events unfolding before us about four chapters in. I’ve read this a couple of times over the years, and I still haven’t convinced myself how he does it. There’s a trick to it, I’m sure of it, but I can’t tell how it’s pulled off. It’s not like an episode of Columbo, where the killer is revealed after five minutes and the drama resides in whether or not they get away with it (spoiler – they don’t…they never do!). This is something different and it’s a great technique, however baffling it may feel upon trying to dissect it.

Given the nature of the story, there’s a certain amount of techno-babble to be endured but, to his credit, Koontz keeps such exposition to a minimum, sufficient to push the story along. The technological possibilities of 1997, when this book was released, make everything seem so plausible, which I guess was the intention, but it really makes me was to read the original, to see how good Koontz was at predicting the future.

Demon Seed is a fun, short novel, its various components slotting together like a well-constructed machine. It comes as something of a disappointment, then, when the story’s final build, climax and denouement gets rushed through in about 40 pages. I understand that different pacing techniques can be used to manipulate the emotions of the reader, and I guess not much of note would have happened in the couple of weeks covered by those pages, but it still felt like a cheat to me.

Not enough to ruin the book, but a cheat nonetheless.

‘Addicted to the Dead’ by Shane McKenzie (2013)


Well now…this is certainly something.

I knew of Shane McKenzie by reputation, though this is the first of his works that I have actually sat down and read. I must confess, I wasn’t expecting much. I’m not a huge consumer of extreme horror or splatterpunk, as I’ve always been of the school that more can be achieved with suggestion and inference than with detailed depiction of blood, gore and guts.

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‘The Coin’ by J. Blanes (2012)


I try to be positive, I really do.

For all my jaded cynicism, I love the horror genre. There are few things more exciting to me that picking up a book or a story from a writer who has hitherto been unknown to me. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re good and sometimes…well…sometimes they’re pretty awful.

However, none of that diminishes my enthusiasm for the genre. If there’s a chance of finding a bone fide gem among the oceans of literary sewage out there, then I’ll pull on my hip waders and my marigolds and delve in. Nothing puts me off searching for the next book that’s going to rock my world – not Twilight, not mass-produced and hastily written tie-ins, not even zombie porn.

Until I read ‘The Coin’

Dear God…’The Coin’. As I say, I’m a positive chap when it comes to my reading, as you’ve no doubt gathered from the blog. I’m not a caustic critic, looking to tear down my fellow writers. I take no pleasure in gutting the creative endeavours of authors. I will always point out flaws, for the sake of balance and probity (after all, I like to think that readers will use my reviews as a sort of shopper’s guide), but I always point out the good stuff too.

J. Blanes, whoever he or she is, doesn’t even allow me that luxury. The good stuff? It’s very short (shorter than this review, in fact) and the basic premise of a gypsy curse is an okay, if somewhat overused, trope.

After that – well, the writing is just terrible. You’d think with 300 words or so that the author would have taken the time to get it right. We’re not talking a handful of errors in a multi-volume, 4000 page epic; it barely covers two screens worth of my Kindle, and yet I have counted no less than 39 errors, and those are just the ones that leaped out at me. Misspelled words, passive sentences, misuse of capitals (I mean, come on!), woeful sentence structure and punctuation that seems to have been applied with a blunderbuss are just the beginning. Once you get away from the nuts and bolts and into the mechanics of the story, it gets worse, moving our character from the street, to his home, to hospital, to the same street a year later with little rhyme or reason except (I suspect) the writer got bored.

It could have worked, that’s the tragedy. The basic idea is absolutely fine, which only makes the execution all the more painful.

Avoid…no, really. Don’t even think about picking it up to see if it really is that bad. Trust me – I wouldn’t lie to you.

‘Cujo’ by Stephen King (1981)


Popcultural osmosis is an utter bastard.

Consider this novel – Cujo by Stephen King. Even if, like me, you’ve never read the book before and you’ve never seen the movie, you know what the story is about, right? Of course you do. Hell, if it hadn’t been for that spate of sickeningly cloying family movies, I’ll bet Cujo is the first thing most people think of when they think of St Bernard dogs – top three at least. For me, it was always Beethoven, brandy, Cujo, in that approximate order.

So – quick summary, with no fear of spoiling it for the potential reader – massive brute of a dog contracts rabies, kills a few people, traps mother and son in a car, with no way of escape.


Oh, but it’s so much more than that.
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‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin (1967)


After finishing off Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, I thought I’d catch up on another modern classic that’s managed to evade me for the last 35 years.

Rosemary’s Baby seemed to fit the bill very nicely.

I’m sure you all know the story, which leads to an interesting dichotomy for me, as a reviewer. On the one hand, I can be a bit more liberal with spoilers than I might otherwise be; on the other, it seems redundant to rattle on about the plot, since the fundamentals are so widely known.

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