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Australian Genre

Tabula Rasa

Review Copy

First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#2, 1994

Bloodsongs, issue 1, edited by Chris A Masters and Steve Proposch, Bambada Press, Melbourne, January 1994.

OK, I won't get excited and tell you this is the best thing to hit Aussie fandom since, well, Terror Australis, simply because it's getting it in the newsagents. Nor shall I go into detail of your humble editors wandering around the Central Coast looking for copies (there almost seem to be more up there than there are in Sydney, and don't some of said newsagents put them in the strangest places?) Calm, objective and professional, that's us.

Actually, I quite liked it. It succeeded in most of the places it should have, and in the writing most of all. In a sense the most uninteresting piece of fiction came from Mr Ramsey Campbell himself, though being an extract from a larger work -- The One Safe Place -- it was at a disadvantage. The same problem seems to have occurred to McDiarmid (though another angsting vampire didn't help any), whereas at a similar level of readable but not too exciting falls Mary's Blood and Love, Pain, and Self-Will (I think I missed something, here). Further up the scale you've got B. J. Stevens' A Sedative for Bosch which was a) the worst waste of a title in some time, b) based on a Clive Barker story and c) still managed to have a stupid premise -- but, having said that it read well and had a really good ending, so why am I complaining? The whole thing was opened in what my co-editor had described as an incredibly accurate, almost to the point of pastiche, rendition of the 'modern horror story'. That was good too, but the best in the collection are the last two, both Art Critic and Rawbone managed to be credible (almost despite their sub-genres -- a Jack the Ripper story? I don't even like Robert Bloch's one), readable and packing a punch.

Apart from yet another history of Australian horror fanzines (yes, I realise it was probably needed) the non-fiction was worth the read. Steven Proposch shouldn't have worried, his first ever interview (Ramsey Campbell again) worked just fine, whereas Leigh Blackmore's had some cutting (and justified) comments in his own. The rest of the non-fiction was worth reading (though I think the fictional parts of Out of the Comfort Zone worked better than the non-fiction), and both the written and visual mediums were well-covered (maybe only because of Ramsey Rambles -- I hope they keep this balance up). A point I would like to make to prospective reviewers: not only is reiterating the plot of a book/film/whatever in a review reasonably pointless, it's also really boring.

I won't mention poetry, I'm not really into it as a general rule, and the horror genre generally brings out the lurid in poets. Kyla likes Fine Secrets; me, I liked the one about the elevator in the latest Severed Head (which has mysteriously disappeared. Hmmm).

On the down side, yes, it could have been better laid out. A lot better - though the only really offensive examples is the fiction in one column per page and a small font. The art is well used but more of it would be appreciated -- best piccie in the issue goes to Rod Williams, accompanying McDiarmid.

As I said before, the magazine seems to have a nice balance to it: fiction and non-fiction, prose and film, serious and not-so writing styles, hard and soft horror (if I can use such terms without being jumped upon). I like the level to which they've pitched both the content and the pictures (and let's hope somebody tries to ban it). Just being what it is, we should all wish this magazine success. The first issue shows it deserves to succeed, and with a bit more experience with the format and a consistent (or improving) level of writing, it has every chance.

The Television Late Night Horror Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining, Orion Books, 1993.

This has to be the first book I've ever come across that recomends you read it only if there's nothing good on television. Television, it says, is the real thing. And perhaps in the case of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and a whole host of horror anthology shows you may not have heard of, it is. But to limit consideration of the book to this is to sell it vastly short.

Peter Haining has heard of these shows. Right back to the radio frissons of Appointment With Fear with Valentine Dyall, "The Man in Black"; to whom the book is dedicated. On through the American classics of the fifties and sixties, and everything done by the BBC; up to the late eighties when the cheap, cult horror show was, like everything else, syndicated. And what Peter Haining has realised is that all these shows, at some point in their need for stories, good stories for an hour or half-hour timeslot, adapted short fiction. Stories that had twists in the last paragraph. Stories with tremendously visual imagery. Stories, to perhaps be a little snide, involving single protagonists in locked rooms. The inestimable Mr Haining has gone through and not only researched the shows, with impressive detail and amusing anecdote, but tracked down the original stories that episodes were based on, and printed them here in careful chronology.

The criteria seems to have been a combination of notable author, and/or especially memorable episode. We get, for instance, Rod Serling's Where Is Everybody?; which can be considered quintessential Twilight Zone from about eight directions. Then we have Roald Dahl's William And Mary, which is an episode from Way Out that everyone, including your devoted reviewer, seems to remember- you know, the one where the camera pans round and round this woman talking until you finally see what she is talking too? It also seems to be the Roald Dahl prose piece that everyone remembers. Clifford Simak contributed The Duplicate Man to Outer Limits, Night Gallery actually managed to film Lovecraft's Pickman's Model (apparently the makeup won an Emmy), and Richard Matheson's The Doll was first picked up by The Twilight Zone but never filmed, and then used by Steven Spielberg in Amazing Stories. Haining has even managed to persuade them to let him print Gramma by Steven King.

The memorable episode criterion also introduces us to authors that may not have survived as names, but in these cases quite undeservedly. Cornell Woolrich's The Corpse and the Kid is an absolute gem of it's tightly-plotted kind. Neither had I ever heard of Margaret Oliphant, whose The Open Door was a classic ghost story. Of course there are some inclusions, and some of these by "name" authors like August Derleth, in which it can be seen a little too clearly why they were adapted for television. Television has actors and visual effects; prose is supposed to have characterisation and description -- still, I would very much like to see Boris Karloff as Derleth's Incredible Doctor Markesan. Suffice to say that all up this is wide-ranging short story collection of excellant quality. The information on all the shows is the trimming, and who doesn't like knowing that Boris Karloff played the villain, or that Way Out was taken off after fourteen episodes because it scared away it's audience?

Peter Haining's introductory essay makes you feel all warm and like hiding behind the sofa with nostalgia- even if you are too young to have actually seen most of the shows he talks about. Good fiction never dies, never becomes nostalgic either; and paper still seems to have a better survival rate than celluloid. The reccomended retail price of $19.95 seems reasonable for a solid read from a solid paperback quarto. The only difficulty, which is something Haining seems to overlook, is that these days an increasing number of episodes of old and new shows are coming out on video. So I fear you are going to have to make that decision after all, as to just which way you want to take your dose of late night horror.


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