Wednesday 29 December 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


It is still a matter of wonder, to many people, how the Marsians were able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. It’s all fucking guesswork really. You know these television “experts”, though. None of them have got a fucking clue what they’re talking about, but they can’t be seen to be saying “I don’t know”, so their lips just flap for half an hour or so, and everyone comes away with an amazing impression of how clever they are.

This is exactly how weathermen started.

However the Heat Ray is generated, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

That night nearly forty people lay under the starlight about the pit, charred and distorted beyond recognition, and all night long the common from Horsell to Maybury was deserted and brightly ablaze. It was a bit like being inside a Pig Destroyer album.

The news of the massacre probably reached Chobham, Woking, and Ottershaw about the same time. In Woking the shops had closed when the tragedy happened, and a number of people, attracted by the stories they had heard, were walking over the Horsell Bridge and along the road between the hedges that runs out at last upon the common. You can imagine the teenage chavs pissed up on cheap cider with “White” and/or “Diamond” in the name, walking along to take a gander at the Marsians.

As yet, of course, few people in Woking even knew that the cylinder had opened, though a messenger on a bicycle had been sent to the post office with a special telegraph to an evening paper.

As these folks came out by twos and three, they found little knots of people talking excitedly and peering at the spinning mirror over the sand pits, and the newcomers were, no doubt, soon infected by the excitement of the occasion. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to gaze at a spinning mirror over a park full of smouldering corpses.

By half past eight, there may have been a crowd of three hundred people on the Common, besides those who had left the road to approach the Marsians nearer. There were three policemen too, one of whom was mounted (which was rather bizarre to witness, but ultimately led to a Civil Partnership, believe it or not). The coppers were doing their best to keep the people back and deter them from approaching the cylinder. There was some booing from those more thoughtless and excitable souls to whom a crowd is always an occasion for noise and horse-play. “Students”, some call them. Others, “Truncheon Practice”.

The late Humid William, anticipating some problems, had sent a message to the barracks as soon as the Marsians emerged; supposedly for a company of soldiers to protect the Marsians from violence.

The majority of people there had a far narrower escape than mine. Only the fact that a hillock of heathery sand intercepted the lower part of the Heat-Ray saved them. Had the Heat Ray Gun Type Thing been a few yards higher, all would have been destroyed in a rush of Hot Toasty Death. The crowd saw the flashes and men falling and an invisible hand, as it were, lit the bushes as it hurried towards them through the twilight. Then, with a whistling note that rose above the droning of the pit, the beam swung close over their heads, lighting the tops of the beech trees that line the road, and splitting the bricks, smashing the windows, firing the window frames, and bringing down in crumbling ruin a portion of the gable of the house nearest the corner.

It was awesome.

In the sudden thud, hiss, and glare of the igniting trees, the panic-stricken crowd seems to have swayed hesitatingly for some moments. Sparks and burning twigs began to fall into the road, and single leaves like puffs of flame. Hats and dresses caught fire.

“They’re coming!” a woman shrieked, and everyone turned and pushed at those behind, in order to clear their way to Woking again. They must have bolted as blindly as a flock of sheep.

I watched all this from my vantage point, and readied my Storm Bolter.


Tuesday 28 December 2010

Book Reviews


She heaved open the door. Darkness filled the landing, but a darker shadow filled the doorway. A huge black crow perched on the banister rail. It was massive, as big as Josie - bigger. Vicious black, beaded eyes, a long sabre beak, ragged black feathers. It cocked its head and peered at her claws click, click, clicking as it shifted along the rail towards her.

Josie is a kinfe thrower in a magician's stage act living an unusual but unremarkable life. When three terrible Aunts imprison her guardian, the Great Cardamom, Josie's life leaps into the realms of mystery and murder.

Her guardian's dying act is to pass Josie a note with clues to the secret he carries to the grave. His death also means the discovery of Josie's twin brother Alfie who works as an undertaker's assistant and appears to have a strange power over the dead.

Together they discover that the Great Cardamom was one of three explorers searching for a mystical plant with the power over life and death. Now, pursued by flesh-eating crow-like ghuls, brother and sister must decode the message and save themselves from its sinister legacy.

Mortlock is a debut novel that grips from the very first page. Sweeping across a Victorian London that could easily inhabit Sherlock Holmes and M.R. James, Jon Mayhew takes the reader on a rip-roaring ride involving stagecoach chases, a strange swamp-bound circus, and a showdown in a graveyard. Mixing gothic horror and black humour, Mortlock weaves a wicked path that will leave readers engrossed...and the next time you hear the brush of wings of the clack of a beak you may shudder!

Thanks to our friends at Bloomsbury, we've got five copies of Jon Mayhew's Mortlock to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to, with the subject line "Mortlock". The first five entries out of the electronic hat after midday on Tuesday 4th January will win a free copy each!

Don't forget to put "Mortlock" in the subject heading! Entries with empty or incorrect subjects will be discarded!

Monday 27 December 2010

My Day as a Detective('s Note Taker) Part 3

Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here

"So," I queried, "we've got two thirds of a photo of a suspect killing the person who did this before me, and you reckon it won't stand up in court once we get the third piece of the puzzle?!"

"What can I say?" Peeyai sighed. "We've got some really good lawyers here."

Unable to fathom quite how any lawyer would be that good, I decided it best to focus our attention on the active murder case. Agreeing to regroup once we'd had lunch, we headed to the cafeteria and opted to partake in the day's offerings, in this case Spaghetti Bolognese and a Crunchie bar, washed down with supermarket own-brand cola. Apparently they could pay out $200,000 for a successful third of a case (lest we forget), but not spring for a few cans of the proper stuff.

"What's on your mind, my boy?"

Not wanting to admit to cola snobbery, I racked my brains trying to think of something that would make me sound less of a wanker. To this day, I regret that the best I could come up with was "I think Seal is past his best."

Peeyai looked a little confused, but sighed and said "I have to agree with you there, mate. I can't listen to anything since he did that song for Batman Forever. I think he's great, but I'm always going to remember him for the earlier hits."

"Thank fuck, now he'll never know about the coke problem."

"What coke problem?"

"Shit, monologue error! Anyway, what do you make of this case?"

Peeyai sighed again. I was beginning to wonder if he was actually weary of the world, or whether he was just slowly deflating.

"It's a crazy one, of that I have no doubt. Don't worry though, he'll slip up sooner or later. When he makes his mistake, we'll have him. Hopefully, that'll be before you're murdered in a grisly way. In any case, I feel confident that Bjorn will keep me in a steady supply of temps until the killer is brought to justice."

"...Was that meant to make me feel better?"

"Well, yes. Did it not?"

I decided to let the conversation subject drop, and decided to get to know my employer. After twenty minutes of chatting, I had managed to successfully establish that he was married with a young son of ten years old, whose name was Megatron. When I asked why, he replied that it was a traditional family name. I ended up dropping so many conversation subjects I was surprised that they didn't make a noise as they hit the floor.

After we had finished eating, we moved back to the briefing room where the map was located. To our surprise and horror, the arrow had moved. The killer had struck again! The arrow had moved to somewhere in the shopping district in town. This was our chance. This was the opportunity that we had been waiting for; the chance to catch the killer was well within our grasp.

"Peeyai to dispatch," the detective called on his radio. "Where did the killer strike this time?"

"Dispatch to Peeyai," the voice came back. "The call's just come in. It's one of the shops in the district."

"Which one?"

"The House of Wicker."

The detective shuddered. That was the answer that we didn't want to hear. Peeyai had been struck with Wickerphilia, an affliction that meant that he was sexually aroused by anything made of wicker. During lunch, he'd told me about his travels to Marrakesh, and my eyebrows had curled.

"Rob, I don't know if I can do this. The House of Wicker is like my Spearmint Rhino. I'll need clean pants every six minutes!"

Depressing as that was, I was impressed by the exactness of his response. Nevertheless, we had to go to the crime scene, if for no other reason than because we were the only detectives in town, least of all the ones familiar with the case. With apprehension, we vowed that we would perform this task as quickly as possible in order to minimise my chief's trip to the dry cleaners.

We arrived at the House of Wicker with Peeyai looking glum as a box of depressed frogs. Thankfully, the crime had taken place outside the actual shop, and thus we didn't have to look at the stocks of baskets and chairs, and I didn't have to see him go sex-mad. Everybody won.

We found ourselves rounding up the clues faster than usual, possibly down to Peeyai trying not to let Action Man pitching a tent in his trousers. Once we'd rounded up the clues, we stood anxiously in front of the photo and waited for it to develop. All I could be thankful of is that we didn't take mid-crime solving trips to Boots to get the photos developed. Thankfully, this was one of those self-developing photos, like a Polaroid.

The photo finally revealed itself. This was what we had been waiting for. The face of the criminal was...

"Quick! Look out! There's someone shifting around inside the shop! He looks shifty! Shifting!"

We moved quickly around into the front area of the shop, and bizarrely the adrenaline rush seemed to have a good effect on Peeyai, as he wasn't filling his pants with anything but good times.

We burst through the door like a pregnant millipede, all the while aware of the possibility of an ambush. We weren't expecting more than one person though, as in the photo there was only the one person. That'd just be ludicrous.

Sure enough, by the tills just before the unusually placed vending machine that dispensed Kitkats and Skittles among other things, was a man dressed in a dark cloak messing with one of the window sashes at the back. Presumably he was setting it up for a nefarious scheme. Either that, or he thought there was too much light in the room. Either way, this looked to be our man.

"Freeze, fucknut! This is the police! Well, we're the detectives, but if this is like CSI then that should be enough to make you FREEZE!"

The evil man froze. Apparently this was like CSI and that was enough. Whirling around, we were faced with the face of the killer...face to face. Needless to say, we were surprised by what we saw.


"That's right, you found me. I had expected you to take longer, but I suppose it was my fault in a way for hanging around the crime scene long after the 'murder' had taken place."

Something he did then confused me.

"Bjorn, why the air quotes when you said 'murder'? These people are dead because of you!"

"Ha ha ha, you simple minded fool! Of course they're not dead! They moved on! They got other full-time work! They didn't want the detective to know that they found the whole Wickerphile thing too weird, so they put out their CVs elsewhere. With my help of course. I think you'll find that I can be a VERY persuasive temping agent."

"I've yet to see any evidence of that."

"Well, nonetheless, there's nothing to arrest me for! Nobody's actually dead, those outlines were painted free-hand, and all the guts and entrails were theatre props! What are you going to do about it?"

I thought hard, and punched him as hard as I could in the face. He dropped like a sack of potatoes that had been punched by an arthritic old woman - that is to say, slowly. Thinking back, it was probably more shock than force that made him drop. Shock that I would hit him? Probably not. Shock that I punched like a nancy? Possibly. Bjorn began to laugh, and produced a gun from his belt. Aiming it at me, he began to edge his way towards the store's back door.

"I think it goes without saying that I won't find you work anymore, Rob. You're just not willing to play the game."

"Suits me. What about Brad?"

"Brad's fine. Just you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way."

"I don't think so. EXPELLIARMUS!" I shouted, thrusting my hands out hoping to disarm him.

Around ten seconds of awkward silence passed before Bjorn spoke again.

"Were you expecting that to work?"

"I don't even know anymore."


And with that, Bjorn was gone. We decided to head back to the station, as the adrenaline wearing off had affected Peeyai negatively, and he needed fresh underwear. When we returned, the gravity of recent events finally hit us. Deciding that it was best that my day ended there, we headed down to the station entrance to say our goodbyes.

"Well Rob, it was a hell of a day. You've got a knack for this sleuthing business. If you ever need work again, you know where I am."

"Thanks E. I have to say I enjoyed the rush. It's made me think that maybe I'd want to do this, but to be honest I'd rather run my own team."

"Sounds good, man. If you need any help, let me know. I can recommend some team members."

"No, there's only one person who can help me now."

"Don't forget Bjorn said you can't use him anymore."

"Shit. Forgot about that. I'll ask Brad then."

Saturday 25 December 2010

DVD Reviews

Deadly Crossing
Starring: Kyle Cassie, J. Anthony Pena, Steven Seagal
Director: Like a poo under the Christmas tree, no-one’s laying claim to this one. .
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 27th December - £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

When an influx of violent and ruthless heroin dealers descend on Seattle, Elijah Kane ( could tell that just from the stupid “hard man” name, right?) leads an elite undercover squad of cops to bring them to justice. Totally disregarding the rulebook, Kane and his crack team of law enforcers storm the city streets to clean out the drug barons by any brutal means necessary.

This is obviously an abandoned or cancelled TV show. On TV it would be lacklustre and highly clichéd. When on DVD and priced for twenty quid...well...

Deadly Crossing (and whatever the TV show it was originally supposed to be was called) is a pretty shameless CSI/The Wire rip-off, but with a bizarre 1980s “heroin ring busting” mission to it, which makes it feel very out of touch, without even a dab of self-awareness to make it light hearted or enjoyable. It bumbles in and out of various clichés and botch-jobs, with even the basic film making techniques apparently handled by a pack of jackals that seem to have just wandered onto the set one day.

The only redeeming factor is that Seagal is only in about five minutes of this. Of course, it all turns out to revolve around his Black Hole of an ego, though, so it’s not exactly a total escape.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Explosions, gunfire, scuffling, and Seagal doing that lazy-old-man kung-fu that he does so well. Wearing a leather jacket, obviously. You know the drill by now.
Sex/Nudity: Some references.
Swearing: Nothing that you couldn’t say in a failed TV show.
Summary: A terrible CSI/The Wire rip-off, with a large part of the overall shittiness caused by Seagal’s non-stop narcissism. 2/10

Hetalia – Axis Powers: Complete Series 1
Starring: Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroki Takahashi & Hiroki Yasumoto
Director: Bob Shirohata
Manga Entertainment

Available Now - £17.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

The world is on the cusp of war and all the countries of the world have been personified! Axis and Allied powers as well as all your favourite countries across time join together for a series of quirky vignettes.

Did anyone really want an unfunny, flash-bang or a limited history of World War II as an anime? No? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Humour never translates well from Japan, so it’s amazing that people even try any more. Now that it’s attempting a light-hearted, comedy yet still historically accurate version of World War II...this is still too annoying to be clever, but it’s also too brave and attempt to dismiss off-handed.

The artwork, giving credit where credit is due, is pretty good, and the animation can be pretty stylish when it wants to be. It’s just as shame that the rest of the program is so shit.

Unfortunately a lot of the humour is nothing short of racism. To everyone who isn’t Japanese, obviously. A bad idea, gets worse, then ends up plain offensive. Avoid like Ebola.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some comedy warfare. Those two words aren’t adjacent all that often. Enjoy it while you can.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some mild swearing for comedy effect.
Summary: The good artwork and animation aren’t enough to save this terribly unamusing sketch show. Humour rarely translates well, and that’s certainly the case here. 1/10

Friday 24 December 2010

Dickass DM

Remember good, old-fashioned gamebooks? They promised all the fun of a role-playing game, with none of the social interaction - what more could a teenage boy desire? The thing is, that while the gamebook became a great gaming experience in its own right, the only RPG it could possibly have simulated was one being GM'd by Satan himself. 90% of decisions led to certain death, and combat was often fatal.

Satan wasn't available, so Brad is GMing Rob through an RPG based on the classic Robin Waterfield gamebook Phantoms of Fear. Brad is the DM, and Rob plays his character, Braggolas. Brad: What lies before your eyes is like a mockery of the forest you know and love.
Rob: Actively mocking?
Brad: Passive aggressively, I think. There are trees all right - although many areas have been devastated, as if by fire or by a horde of careless axe-wielding Dwarfs. In contrast to the clarity of the air where you are and in the pleasant valley below, the cursed region in the distance is shrouded by a murky haze, which rolls and seethes with a chaotic life of its own. But your observations of the scene are cut short by a sudden harsh cry, which rips the still air, silences the birds twittering in the trees above you, and sends a spurt of chill fear into your heart. You jump to your feet in alarm.
Braggolas: What the fuck was that?!
Rob: I hold my ground.
Brad: There is no sign of any living creature that might have uttered the unearthly cry you heard. While you watch from the hill, however, the swirling haze which covers the blighted forest suddenly leaps into greater motion and, even though you are far away, you are simultaneously struck by a furious blast of sorcerous wind, which knocks you off your feet.
Rob: I believe that's what's known as "an ill wind".
Brad: At the moment the wind struck, you were fortunately breathing out, so none of the evil blast entered your lungs.
McSpindle: *coughs and sputters*
Brad: You continue your journey on all fours. It is some time before you dare to pick yourself up and proceed as normal through the trees. You wonder whether the blast of wind was directed by some intelligent mind towards you in person, or whether it was the instinctive response of evil towards good.
McSpindle: Wow...ego, much?
Brad: You realise that, however hazardous your journey up to now has been, the dangers have at least been reasonably familiar. Once you reach the blighted land, however, you suspect that you will enter an uncharted region of unknown terrors.
Rob: Uncharted, eh?
McSpindle: *strumming lute*
Crawling on his hands and knees
He skulked towards his goal...
Braggolas: Someone make a map of these bits, we'll sell it to Ordnance Survey!
Brad: Before long, you are at the foot of the hills, and you enter the glade whose spring greenery you admired from above. There is no doubt in your mind that this is an enchanted place, containing the power of Good.
Rob: It is lovely greenery.
Brad: The air is fresh and sweet, small flowers dapple the sward, and the trees - mainly silver birches - are filled with trilling birds.
McSpindle: Do you think there will be power ups around here?
Braggolas: I would hope so. I'm after a +1 Skill Helmet.
Brad: You have no idea whose enchantment this place is under, but you can guess why it is there - as a bastion against the Evil of the blasted lands beyond. You revel in the pleasant atmosphere as you stroll among the trees.
Braggolas: Anyone else want a Revel?
Brad: Soon, you come to a fair-sized pool, which is fed by a bubbling brook.
Braggolas: I warn you, they're a mixed bag....badoomtish.
McSpindle: Drinking from weird pools, huh? You'll never catch me doing that.
Rob: I drink from it.
Brad: The water is clear and refreshingly cool. After drinking, you sit on the bank and gaze in wonder around you. Somewhat to your surprise, you find that your head is resting on the soft turf. You drift off to sleep.
***McSpindle has equipped MARKER PEN***
Brad: In your dream, the fairy folk who attend this enchanted garden appear to you. They tell you that they are the secret children of Galana, goddess of plants and fertility. They dance and teach you many...
Brad: ...things about plants that even the Wood Elves do not know. Finally, they invite you to stay with them, to combat evil by tending their Garden of Good. It is a sweet temptation, especially to a Wood Elf.
Rob: Plus there's probably hotties...
Brad: You harden your resolve and spurn the offer of the fairies; your destiny lies more in direct action. You awaken from the dream and find that the glade has vanished.
McSpindle: Sorry.
Braggolas: Who's nicked my air freshener?!
Brad: You are right on the border of the blighted land; all that is left of the enchanted glade is a single elder tree. The tree is obviously magical: your attention is drawn to its branches in particular, because of their regular arrangement.
McSpindle: Are we in Gondor?
Brad: You notice that there are exactly twenty-two branches
Rob: Twenty-two, eh? That's a very precise number...
Brad: All but one are normal, leafy boughs; but the other is silver and gleams with its own inner light.
McSpindle: Yeah. Nice, round number.
Braggolas: Twenty two has rounded tops, but not otherwise.
Brad: You pluck it, stow it in your backpack, and take your first step into Ishtra's cruel kingdom.
***Braggolas has acquire SILVER BRANCH***
Brad: After only a few steps in the corrupt forest, you know that something is wrong.
It is not just the sense of Evil, which you will get used to as you would to a bad smell which is not noticed after a while. There is something more...something within yourself.
Rob: Hmmmmm.....
Braggolas: Did I get rid of all those leeches from my jap's-eye?
Brad: You will find that from here on, in your adventure, you are unable to cast any spells. One of Ishtra's defences is to prevent any magic except his own being effective in his domain. You retain your Power score, however: there may yet be some use for it! As you walk forward, the evil mist which you saw from the hillside seethes around you, as if urging you to return. Lightning plays over to your right; a tall pine, throttled by ivy which is wriggling even now, looms in your path.
From your survey from the hillside, you know that his blighted part of the forest is almost circular in shape, spreading out from a centre which must be where the entrance lies to Ishtra's underground stronghold. All you have to do is follow the steady worsening of the blight and you will reach your goal. One obstacle at a time, however.
Rob: When all else fails, follow the blight.
Brad: You have reached one of the patches of bare ground, where the trees have rotted away to nothingness.
Rob: I don't follow, where's the obstacle?
Brad: I think it was a metaphor.
Rob: I walk around the bare ground.
Brad: The rot which has created the clearing has also started to affect the trees on the edge of the clearing. You step on something squelchy, and a foul smell rises; when you look down, you see that it was a root, rotted from the inside by the Evil in the soil. And then...
Rob: ...Suspense...
Brad: ...was it a trick of the shifting half-light of this place, or did that root move slightly?
McSpindle: It was a trick of the shifting half-light of this place.
Braggolas: I had hoped so.
Brad: No, it was not your imagination, for now several roots are squirming towards you, dripping noxious slime.
McSpindle: I ready my lute.
Braggolas: If it's not spiked at the edge, don't you fucking dare!
Brad: And now they are joined by a dozen more, and now more. You must hack your way through these roots. You gain +1 in this combat for using the Weevil Man's hatchet in one hand and your sword in the other.
Rob: Sweet as!
Running Combat
You get to the root of the problem.
Get it?
Rob: Wait...Yes! Wait...No...Yes!
The Roots frape you.
Rob: He guessed my password?!
has the best roots in the world ever and he is gay for them.

You kick the roots' ass. As much as roots have asses.
Brad: You leave a foul mess behind you and break away, further from the clearing, where the rot has not warped the trees so much.
Rob: Why did I shit myself?
Brad: You continue through the cursed forest. The leaves are brown and swollen beyond their normal size; there is a constant dripping of vile liquid from the leaves onto the soggy ground. Late in the afternoon - or so you guess it to be, but the sun is usually invisible beyond the seething brown mist - you come across a definite trail, tending to your left. You dread to think what manner of creatures may have made a trail in this doomed place.
Braggolas: Probably tramps.
Rob: We follow the trail.
McSpindle: I'm bored.
Braggolas: I never thought I'd say this, but I think you'd be less annoying if you wrote a song about the last battle. I mean, ultimately, isn't that why you're here? To write songs about my great successes?
McSpindle: *strumming lute*
The brave Braggolas strode
And did some gardening
This is his proudest task so far
And so he made me sing.
Brad: You walk warily along the trail. To your relief, nothing pounces out at you from the woodland on either side, and there appear to be no traps. Inside the fence the trees have been cleared, but great holly bushes have been allowed to spring up. The hollies are so dense that you cannot see whether or not there is anything else apart from them here. The spot has obviously been created by an intelligent mind - but for what purpose?
For all you know it could be a nursery for poisonous holly bushes.
Braggolas: Dumps?
McSpindle: Or Velociraptors.
Rob: I go into the fenced off area.
Braggolas: Nothing ventured, no limbs lost, eh?
McSpindle: Even Nedry knew better than to mess with the Velociraptors...
Brad: The holly bushes are very prickly and may well be poisonous, but you find that there is enough space between the lowest branches and the ground for you to hope to crawl through.
McSpindle: I'm just going to watch.
Braggolas: Get tuning that lute, motherfucker, this is going to be great!
Brad: You would have to be lucky to make it unscathed, however.
Rob: I make the attempt, anyway
Brad: You start to wriggle through, pressing yourself into the ground. Your backpack tends to snag on the branches, but you leave it on your back as protection.
Rob: Makes sense. Protects my delicate spine.
Brad: You receive no scratches.
Rob: That's right.
Braggolas: Were you watching that? Get singing!
McSpindle: *strumming lute*
Once he cut the roots down
He crawled under a hedge
And I hope and prayed
And waited, for a word that rhymes with "hedge".
Brad: The holly bushes, you find, form a protective perimeter and come to an end before long. To your astonishment, you see within the circle of bushes a ramshackle hut. There is no sign of life.
Rob: No rams?
Rob: I lie for a while where I am, under the hollies and watch.
McSpindle: At what point does it stop being adventuring and become loitering?
Braggolas: Once I've decided whether or not it's worth masturbating before we move on.
Brad: The cracking of a twig to your right warns you that someone or something is approaching.
Braggolas: This should tell us.
Brad: Before you can react, a heavy foot presses down on your neck and immobilises you.
Braggolas: Probably not.
Brad: A gruff voice commands you to reach slowly for your sword and throw it away from you.
McSpindle: How's it going in there?
Braggolas: Fine...
Rob: Do as he says.
Brad: With a pang of regret, you slide Telessa out of its sheath and toss it
Rob: Hehehe...
Brad: onto the damp grass in front of you. You wonder what will happen next, but remind yourself that 'where there's life, there's hope'. The foot is lifted off your neck, and the voice tells you to get up.
Rob: Fuck, I'm reminding myself of saccharine proverbs? I'm dead.
Brad: When you do so, you see a strange sight.
Braggolas: ...Mum?
Brad: Before you stands a stocky human, leaning on the haft of a brilliantly polished two-handed axe. What is strange is the contrast between the care with which the axe has been maintained and the man's wild and unkempt appearance. His clothes are little more than rags, his long hair and beard are matted, and his bare arms are ingrained with years of dirt.
Suddenly he bursts into a cracked cackle of glee, and you realise that he is complete insane. You will have to tread carefully.
Braggolas: Listen, laughing man....let's be mates?
Rob: I'm planning to bide my time.
McSpindle: Is it safe to come in?
Braggolas: Yeah, and make some sudden moves while you're at it.
Brad: The Wild Man makes a mocking bow, extends an arm towards his dilapidated hut and invites you in. On the way, he scoops up your sword. McSpindle joins you.
McSpindle: Gordon's alive?
Brad: Once you are inside, he sweeps a bench clear of utensils and mouldy bread, and tells you to sit there; he draws up a chair opposite you. Once you have stopped sneezing from the dust you introduce yourself.
Braggolas: Hello there, my name is Braggolas. This is my bard and antagonist, McSpindle. He writes songs about all the great things I do. So far he's on two!
McSpindle: And I am McSpindle, his loyal chronicler and hype man.
Braggolas: He's my Don King, only with crazier hair.
McSpindle: Ixnay on the azycray airhay.
Brad: Something in what you say obviously strikes the Wild Man as incredibly amusing. He howls with laughter, until tears roll from his eyes down his cheeks, leaving trails in the dirt of his face. He doubles up with laughter and starts to roll around the floor, kicking his legs in the air. You realise too late that, for all his ludicrous antics, the man is a dangerous lunatic, driven to insanity by the Evil surrounding him in the forest.
He picks himself up off of the floor, wipes the tears of merriment from his eyes - and lops off your arm at the shoulder with his axe. You collapse unconcious and will never recover.
Braggolas: Fuck!
Rob: That. Was. Awesome!
McSpindle: It's all right for you. I was just used as a sex receptacle for the rest of my life.
Braggolas: What do you think this hole's for?
Dickass DM will return on Friday 7th January with Highway Holocaust.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Gaming Reviews

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft
Board Game
Wizards of the Coast

Available Now - £79.99
Review by Brad Harmer

The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner – and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within.

Castle Ravenloft was much anticipated and much hyped – the first straight board game that Wizards of the Coast had released in many a long year. So, how does it feel?

The miniatures are soft plastic, but still look great, and are full of detail. The cards and board sections are also fantastic. The board is actually on giant jigsaw pieces, which are turned face up as you explore the dungeon. This means that the levels are different every time you play, which obviously helps tremendously with the replay value.

If you’ve been playing games for a really long time, then you’re probably going to have a easier time adjusting to Castle Ravenloft than someone who is a relatively newcomer. This isn’t anything to do with the complexity, you understand. At its base level, Castle Ravenloft is a doddle. Bar the usual couple of gaffs in your first game, you’ll be playing all the way through without referencing the rulebook by your third game.

It is its tone that makes Castle Ravenloft feel decidedly “retro”. If you remember games that were dungeon exploring and monster slaying purely for the sake of dungeon exploring and monster slaying, then this is going to feel like a real “blast from the past”, but with awesome components. If, however, your only experiences are with more recent releases, then you may find this a bit much. Again, this isn't the complexity; it’s more that the feel of the game is given over much more to the sort of monster bashing that was popular in the mid-eighties to mid-nineties. There’s no respawning, there’s no awesome powers to save you: it’s like you’re in a fourteen year old’s dungeon again. And it is awesome.

To top all this off – it’s fully co-op. No one needs to be the GM/Morcar/Overlord character. The AI is controlled by the monster/trap cards themselves with a simple but realistic acting flowchart that determines how the denizens of Count Strahd’s dungeon are going to act. The AI is fantastic (certainly the best I’ve seen in a board game this side of Arkham Horror), and feels like a real old-school RPG.

So, how does this hold up against Fantasy’s Flight Games’ Descent, the current King of the Dungeon Crawl? Well, it hasn’t toppled the King, but it’s certainly a great alternative. With its rapid set up time, zero preparation and no GM, Castle Ravenloft is a great mid-week alternative to FFG’s monster. If you can only have one, get Descent. If you think you can find room in your life for both...then you won’t be disappointed. 8/10

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Celebrity Twitters: Father Christmas

Well, boys and girls it’s that time of year again. We’re getting all loaded up, and ready to roll!!!

@rudolphlundgren When you say “missing”, what exactly do you mean? Please clarify.

@rudolphlundgren Are we talking the “presumed dead” or “presumed smashed out of her face on egg nog again” type of missing?

Okay, guys, @mrssantaclaus has gone missing again. Please keep an eye out for her. She may, repeat MAY, be naked.

There seem to be an awful lot of Go-Go Hamsters left over this year. This is the Buzz Lightyear bullshit all over again.

Actually, yes, Concerned Parent, I can swear all I want. What are you going to do? Keep it up and you’re getting a lump of coal.

And by “coal” I mean “poop” and by “lump of”, I mean “flaming”.

@rudolphlundgren Well, the tracks must lead somewhere, ffs! Follow her!

The Elves were unable to get into work today because of the snow. When I pointed out that we live in Lapland...they just shrugged.

@easterbunny No, I’m not coming to the Christmas Party. It was embarrassing watching you try and fuck the Tooth Fairy all night last time.

@easterbunny You’re a dick.

@rudolphlundgren Ugh. Great. Carry her back here, please.

@rudolphlundgren Oh, sorry! I thought that a flying reindeer would be able to carry back a drunk middle-aged woman without assistance!

@rudolphlundgren How tangled up?

@rudolphlundgren Ugh. I’ll send the Elves up with some wire-cutters.

@elrondftw Can some of you guys go and help @rudolphlundgren? She’s caught up in the barbed wire again.

@elrondftw For the last time, it’s Lapland! It’s always going to be snowy!

@rudolphlundgren Never mind. I’m on my way.

Christmas Eve. Loaded up the sleigh on my own. Drunk naked wife somewhere in the snow. This is not exactly how I planned it this year.

I don’t even like children.

Monday 20 December 2010

My Day as a Detective('s Note Taker) Part 2

Read Part One Here

"Right, my boy, where shall we go next for clues?"
I thought carefully on this, but was unable to determine where we'd have to go next.

"Sir, we made it here last time because your map had a big arrow over the Marina. We need to see that map again, I would've thought."

"A capital idea, my lad! I'll ring the office. They'll be able to direct us from here."

I couldn't argue with that logic, and so Detective Peeyai phoned the Huntsville P.D. I only caught one half of the conversation, but when Peeyai ended the call (because apparently in the mobile age, to 'put down' the phone offends my grammatical sensibilities) he had a look on his face that I would usually reserve for traffic wardens that have just been called 'jobsworth wankers'. We stood there in awkward silence for a few seconds, and then I piped up.

"Sir, what did they say?"

"Well, it seems that the person on the other end of that phone can't tell me where the arrow is pointing, and says that we'll have to come and see for ourselves."

I couldn't imagine anyone more difficult, and I'd dealt with the Job Centre people. Reluctantly, we jumped in the car and drove back to the station. When we arrived back at the station we burst into the room to confront the person that had sent us on this wasteful trek. I was fully expecting to find a burly, disinterested officer that I'd have to lecture at a distance lest he punch me and make me cry. What I got was not exactly that.

"Jeff, from Toad engineering? What are you doing here? I thought you were working in the Mushroom Kingdom as...well, Head of Toad Engineering."

"I was indeed, young man. However, though my desire to fix pipes is strong, my desire to see wrong-doers punished is that much stronger. It's like Voltaire said..."

"Alright, I've got it. FYI, Jeff, nobody quotes philosophers except academics and Page 3 girls, and only one of them gets taken seriously. Which are you?"

"Fine, have it your way. Anyway, I thought you should see this for yourself."

Peeyai and I eyed up the map, looking for any changes. Sure enough, the arrow was no longer hovering over the Marina, which had instead been marked with a tick and greyed out again. Instead, the arrow was hovering over the police station itself. Jeff had led us right to the spot where the crime had supposedly taken place.

"Jeff, why did you not just tell us that the arrow was hovering over here?"

"I figured that you'd take your sweet-arse time getting here if you thought the danger had passed. I wanted to get you here faster."

I couldn't argue with the logic, and in this case I had really wanted to.

"Alright," I said through gritted teeth, "where did the crime take place?"

"How the fuck should I know? I'm just here to fix the sink."

"I thought you said..."

"I know what I said!" Jeff snapped. "I was sort of looking for an excuse to be in this room really. Can you put in a good word for me?"

"Jeff, I'm just a temp. I got this job through Bjorn. If you're that bothered by your lot in life, maybe you should work out your differences!"

Jeff re-attached his tool belt and sidled off, grumbling as he went. I caught bits of it, and it wasn't positive, let's say that.

With that weird incident behind us, Peeyai and I turned our attentions back to the board.

"Right, so the crime's been committed here somewhere. All we need to do is figure out where."

No sooner had I said that when a young lady (not bad, about a 7 out of 10) burst into the room with a look of horror on her face.

"Quick! Somebody's been murdered!"

"Calm down, young lady, whereabouts did this happen?" I had to admire Peeyai, as he was so calm and collected, like Chuck Norris on valium.

"Right outside the station!"

Peeyai and I looked at each other, and it seemed like he was thinking the same thing as me.

"When did it happen?" Peeyai enquired.

The lady, a little more composed, said "Well, the coroner estimates time of death at two hours ago."

As we got down to the street level outside the station, one thought was running through our mind.

"Fucking hell," I exclaimed, "did we walk straight past that?!"

Peeyai suddenly kicked back into professional mode. It made sense that he did, really, as my professional mode would have merely seen me demonstrate Windows 7 to passers-by.

"Right, no doubt our killer will have left us clues again that give us the way to his identity. All we have to do is figure this out."

"I'm ready, Detective."

"Rob, we're past the point of formality now. Call me 'E'. After all, when I'm not at work I don't call myself 'Detective'. I'm simply 'Mr. E. Peeyai.'"

"Ok...E...What are we looking for? No doubt, it's more of that oh so relevant stuff right?"

"Correct in one, my boy. First thing he's likely to have left behind is...a kettle."

"...Right...Any particular kind? Electric? The kind you heat over a fireplace?"

"Knowing this monster, the second one."

I scouted around, and sure enough there was a kettle sat to one side of the stone steps up to the station.


"A chair."

Deciding that I knew enough about chairs not to need to ask what kind, I hunted high and low before finding a wicker chair. I showed Peeyai and noticed that he seemed to be slightly uncomfortable.

"What's the matter?"

"Sorry, my lad, it's just...I'm a wickerphile. I get aroused by wicker objects. Chairs, baskets, anything really."

"Wow...I...Wow. Does it affect you in any way?"

"Well, put it this way. You know the first half an hour of Raiders of the Lost Ark?"

"I don't think I need to know any more."

"Good call."

After gathering the remaining objects together, we held up the photo again to see what difference it made. Sure enough, another third of the photo began to reveal itself. After a few seconds, we were presented with a picture of the culprit.

"What is this picture showing, Peeyai?"

"Well, lad, at the moment it's not showing as much as I would like, as we can't see his face. However, what it does definitely show is the murderer killing my previous note-taker. The only problem is that I don't know how good this will be in court."



Saturday 18 December 2010

DVD Reviews

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
Director: David Slade
E1 Entertainment

Available Now - £19.99 (DVD), £22.99 (2 DVD Set) and £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Bella Swan once again finds herself surrounded by danger as Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings, with a malicious vampire continuing her quest for revenge at its heart. To add to her problems, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob - knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death.

Eclipse, the third instalment in The Twilight Saga has succeeded in its first mission: be a lot better than the lackadaisical New Moon. Unfortunately, it’s still riddled with too many problems to really label it as “unmissable”. For starters, Kristen Stewart is as dopey looking and obnoxious as ever. It’s hard not just to scream “Wake up!” at her permanently stoned facial expression.

The production lacks a certain X factor. Everything: the production, the acting, the ropey all feels a little too flat to really feel like a major movie release. It feels small, like a TV show; not big, like a movie.

With that said, there are a lot of things about Eclipse which are done really well. The flashback sequences into the human lives of the Carlisle family, or the Native American legends about the vampires and the werewolves are all excellent – demonstrating some of the best cinematography seen in any of the The Twilight Saga so far. The action sequences, too, are excellent, and you could get some brainless fun just from them.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Punching, werewolf on vampire fighting, decapitation and deaderising.
Sex/Nudity: Jacob is topless all the time. It’s his thing. There’s some making out, but a strong Mormon subtext keeps rearing its head.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Miles better than the lazy cobbled together New Moon, but this still isn’t going to be winning anyone either. Fans of the series will be more than happy...and that’s the point, really. 7/10

Ong Bak 3

Starring: Primrata Dechudom, Tony Jaa, Saranyu Wonggrajang
Director: Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) & £19.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Blake Harmer

Following on from the high action fest that was Ong Bak 2, Ong Bak 3 follows on straight after the events of the second film whilst bringing elbows to the tops of people heads and elephant-assisted kung-fu (and, hopefully, a plot this time).

Thankfully, this prequel to the original Ong Bakis set in a fantasy like setting, and does explain the link to why it is even related to the first one and its modern day setting (sort of). The action scenes are also done very well, albeit not as good as those seen in Tony Jaa’s previous films. Particular highlights include the Crow Witch (The main bad guy), dispatching several soldiers by punching and kicking them through walls, with the end of the battle leaving the whole building destroyed. Tony Jaa’s fighting also still raises the odd wincing moment as he breaks limbs and smacks soldiers seventeen times in the head with his elbows.

However, this is not the perfect Ong Bak sequel, the kung-fu
, whilst good, is very few and far between, with a lot of time being spent on the often slightly confusing plot. There were also a fair amount of dancing and meditation scenes, which run on way too long and could have done with some more face punching. I also thought a couple of the earlier fight scenes were a little sluggish and not to the high standard that previous films have been choreographed. At the end of the day though, this is an okayish end to the sort of trilogy. Should Ong Bak 2 and 3be released as a single film, this would probably feel like a much better experience. But this is definitely the slightly disappointing 2nd half of said film.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of broken bones and fairly decent kung-fu, there is also plenty of blood, impaling and decapitation to boot. Not Tony Jaa’s best, but still entertaining.
Sex/Nudity: A kissing moment but that is about it.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An enjoyable kung-fu movie that focuses too much on the plot than actual combat, however it does round off the trilogy and makes Ong Bak 2make more sense. Sure it isn’t Tony Jaa’s best film, but still worth seeing if you are a fan of his work. 7/10

Colditz: The Complete Collection
Starring: Richard Heffer, David McCallum, Robert Wagner

Available Now - £49.99 (10 DVD Set)
Review by Brad Harmer

In a cold dark fortress atop a rocky promontory, Allied soldiers plot their escape from the notorious German prison camp. Intense rivalry between nationalities, the threat of informers and the rigid discipline of the German guards foil a hundred ingenious schemes.

The award-winning 28-part 1970’s drama series Colditz, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, which helped to fuel the legend about the daring escapes made by the real inmates, has now coming to BBC DVD for the first time ever.

Grim, detailed, and filled with a strong set of characters, Colditzis television drama at its absolute best. Slow burning and so in-depth it’s almost like a novel in scope, it makes you wish that everything could be this good. The adventures of the prisoners are riveting and tense from start to finish. Featuring some fine acting across the board, this will have you absorbed from the first disc right up to the very end.

The picture has been cleaned up surprisingly well, although there are a few pops and scratches, and the soundtrack could have done with some love. With that said, you’ll be too interested in the awesomeness of the story to bother too much with little things like that.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some scuffling, explosions, torture and shooting.
Sex/Nudity: References, prostitution.
Swearing: “Bally”, “dashed”, “blasted”, historically accurate racist terms.
Summary: A gritty drama with some fantastic acting. If you have fond memories, pick this up straight away. If you’re worried about the cost – don’t be. It’s fantastic value for money. 9/10

Tank Battles of World War II
G2 Entertainment
Available Now - £9.99 (DVD)
Review by Blake Harmer

Focusing mainly on the German invasion of Russia in 1941 and German Tank strategies, this feature length documentary shows us strategies and operations that were put into effect during the Second World War.

For the most part, this is a very informative documentary about the tank battles of World War II; there is also plenty of actual footage from the war showing some of these famous tank battles. There is also some crisp clear use of maps detailing what occurred during battles, which outline important things such as counter-attacks or German advancements. Chuck in the fact the DVD has a cheap price-tag and you're looking at a pretty good stocking filler for lovers of tanks and World War II.

However, unfortunately that is all this DVD really has to offer. It suffers under the incredibly low budget - some diagrams and footage looks like they have been put together using Windows Movie Maker. I also found that the documentary sidestepped on the main focus a couple of times rather than putting the main focus purely on the war machines themselves: the tanks. Also, with so many other documentaries on tanks, this does very little to differ itself from great documentaries such as World War II in Colour.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Plenty of old footage showing plenty of explosions, gunfire and buildings falling down. Nothing is really depicted showing death though.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fairly low budget documentary on World War II tank battles that doesn’t really do anything to set itself apart from the countless other World War II documentaries. That said, the affordable price makes this a nice stocking filler for those who take a keen interest in World War II or tanks in general. 5/10

Friday 17 December 2010

E14 Exchange

Rob: Just got the invite to your dad’s pirate-themed birthday party. Would coming as Lando be seen as awesome, or a party-ruining move?
Brad: All I know is that you’re the third person to ask that today.
Rob: Fuck, Solo it is then. I bet he’s less popular.
Brad: Scarily he is. You should go as Talon Karrde.
Rob: All right, gay?
Brad: Yeah, not been too bad. Sorry I was late on. I was watching wrestling.
Rob: Never a need to apologise when that's your reason buddy, I thought we'd discussed this.
Brad: Doubly more now that Sabu's in TNA.
Rob: Hardly surprising, let's see how long he lasts.

(Editor's note - this was genuinely noted before Sabu's departure from TNA)

Brad: Still on to chat on the phone today?
Rob: May have to delay it a little bit, waiting on some health news from my girlfriend – she may have to go into hospital.
Brad: Shit! What’s the story there?
Rob: She’s had some blood tests done, and apparently all the potassium has gone from her blood. May have to either take tablets or an IV course, depending on how severely it’s dropped.
Brad: I prescribe more bananas. That’s what she needs. If I know Lizzie, it’ll be in the form of Banoffee.
Rob: She had a weird dinner last night. Paté, with crackers and bananas.
Brad: It’s weirder than anything I’ve seen Ronnie eat, that’s for sure.
Rob: I dunno man, I’ve seen him eat a Beetle…wheels and all.

Brad: I always get slightly creeped out when we agree on something, don't you?
Rob: I get the feeling in an alternate universe, one of us has just killed the other to balance it out.
Rob: Somebody navigated to our site by searching "Playstation move looks like a fleshlight." I would hope they stayed for the sex toy reviews.
Brad: What search engine?
Rob: I don't know, it doesn't say does it?
Brad: Analytics might. Someone found us by Googling "Arkham Horror Star Wars". It's a good idea for a board game, you can't deny that.
Rob: What a crossover that'd be. I saw one for "Arkham Horror video game", which I've been saying would work since playing Arkham Horror.
Brad: We get a lot of Anti-Michael Cera traffic...
Rob: He does suck balls, to be fair.
Brad: Yeah, I imagine a lot of web sites get that enquiry.

Brad: We’re fucking funny sometimes.
Rob: We have our moments, yeah.
Brad: Totally! How many is that now, eight?
Rob: It’s definitely more than half a dozen.


Julian Clary's hilarious new stand-up album Lord of the Mince is available now, priced £19.99 (DVD)!

Thanks to our friends at 2entertain, we've got three copies of Julian Clary: Lord of the Mince to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Friday 24th December. The first three names out of the electronic hat will win a copy each!

Thursday 16 December 2010

Gaming Reviews

Tom Clancy’s Endwar
Focus Multimedia
Available now - £9.99 (PC), Also available on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Review by Blake Harmer

Do you want to feel like an actual general and bark orders to troops from a radio headset? Well thanks to Tom Clancy's Endwar, you can as you lead your army to victory by issuing orders via a PC headset.

This is a fantastic idea and for the most part works surprisingly well. You order troops by selecting the name of the troop, what you want to do with them (e.g. move to) and then your target e.g. sector gamma. This concept feels strange at first and takes some getting used to which means you will probably die a lot to begin with, but persevere and you can enjoy a fluid and unique RTS experience. This re-release on PC also includes extra maps and missions which means there is more to keep occupied as well.

This is not a completely perfect experience though. When compared to other PC RTS games, this is a very basic experience, with choosing the best units to taking out a specific target coming down to a rock, paper, scissors affair (For example, infantry are killed by armour but are good against aircraft, aircraft are good against armour etc). The voice recognition software also has the occasional flaw with it sometimes struggling to recognise similar sounding words or just not understanding you completely, but considering this is the first use of the technology that has actually been playable it is still considered a success.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Some nice visuals, with the added nice touch of being able to view the battlefield from practically any angle.
Sound/Music: Fairly standard gunfire, explosions and voice acting, nothing overly special though.
Gameplay: Simple and accessible RTS made unique through its use of using a headset to issue voice commands to your units.
Lasting Appeal: This re-release includes extra missions and maps, but whether you’ll spend a lot of time playing this comes down to how much you like its gimmick.
Summary: A fairly simple RTS with a unique approach to the gameplay. With it’s new bargain price this is worth having a look at for those who wish to try something new, but at the end of the day, this is not going to contend with the likes of mouse controlled RTS games such as Starcraft II or Dawn of War. 6/10
The winner of our Borderlands: Claptrap's Robot Revolution DLC competition was Lewis Pettit. Congratulations (as well as the download code) have already been sent out.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


After the glimpse I had of the Marsians emerging from their cylinder, I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, gazing a gazely stare at the mound that hid them.

I did not go back towards the pit, but I was keen to take a butcher’s at what was a happening in there. I began walking in a big curve, seeking a good vantage point. Once a leash of thin black whips, like a untangled liquorice Catherine Wheel, flashed across the sunset and were immediately withdrawn. Shortly afterwards a thin pole rose up, joint by joint. At the top was a circular disk that spun with a wobbling motion. What could be going on there? Had we been invaded by a Kinder Surprise?

Most of the spectators had gathered in two groups; this suited me fine. Let them draw fire, if they wanted. One man approached me. He was, apparently, a “neighbour” of mine, though I did not know his name. My hand fastened around my Vortex Grenade.

“What ugly brutes!” he said. “Good God! What ugly brutes!” He repeated this over and over again.

“Did you see a bloke in the pit?” I asked. “Skinny fellow. Really into screaming and waving.”

My neighbour made no answer. We silently stood watching the pit for a while side by side. I shifted my position to a little knoll that gave me the advantage of a yard or more of elevation after he tried putting his hand in my back pocket.

The sunset faded to twilight before anything further happened. The crowd far away on the left seemed to grow, and I heard now a faint murmur from it. The little knot of people on the other side dispersed.

There was scarcely any movement from the pit.

This gave people courage, and I suppose new arrivals from Woking also helped. At any rate, as the dusk came on, a slow movement began. A movement that seemed to gather force as the stillness of the evening about the cylinder remained unbroken. People would advance in twos and threes, stop, watch, and advance again, spreading out as they did so in a thin irregular crescent that promised to enclose the pit in its attenuated horns. I, too, began to move towards the pit.

Some cabmen and others had walked boldly into the sand pits, and heard the clatter of hoofs and the grinding of wheels. Within thirty yards of the pit, advancing from the direction of Horsell, I noted a tiny knot of men, the foremost of whom was waving a white flag.

Brilliant. They came over here, killed a shopkeeper, and now we were going to surrender.

Apprently, there had been a hasty consultation, and since the Marsians were evidently intelligent creatures, it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent. Why the signal had to be the worldwide signal for surrender rather than, say, the cover of Moving Pictures, remained a mystery.

I spotted Humid William and Aryan Odinson as two of the three flag wavers. Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smoke came out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after the other, straight into the still air.

This smoke was so bright that the deep blue sky overhead and common towards Chertsey seemed to darken as these puffs arose, and to remain the darker after their dispersal. At the same time a faint hissing sound became audible. I checked my python, Basil, but he seemed fine.

Beyond the pit stood the little wedge of people with the white flag at its apex, stopped momentarily by the smoke. Slowly the hissing passed into a humming, into a long, loud, droning noise. I checked my python, Basil, to see if he had taken up the bagpipes again, but he seemed fine.

Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it.

Forthwith flashes of flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet interrupted them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.

Then, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run.

I cocked my Storm Bolter, not as yet realising that this was hottoastydeath leaping from man to man in that distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames.

The Flaming Death was sweeping round swiftly and steadily. I spotted it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and awesomeified to stir. I heard the crackle of fire in the sand pits and the sudden squeal of a horse that was as suddenly stilled. It was as if an invisible yet intensely heated wang were drawn through the heather between me and the Marsians.

Something fell with a crash far away to the left where the road from Woking station opens out on the common. The hissing and humming ceased, and the black, dome-like object sank slowly out of sight into the pit. Basil was fine.

All this had happened with such swiftness that I had stood motionless, dazzled by the flashes of light. Had that death swept through a full circle, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise. But it passed and spared me, adding further weight to my secret belief that I was the second coming of Christ.

The common seemed pitch black, and suddenly void of men. The stars were mustering overhead, and in the west the sky was still a pale, bright, almost greenish blue. The Marsians and their appliances were altogether invisible, save for that thin mast upon which their restless mirror wobbled. Patches of bush and isolated trees here and there smoked and glowed still, and the houses towards Woking station were sending up spires of flame into the stillness of the evening air.

The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence, and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken.

It came to me that I was upon this dark common, helpless, unprotected, and alone. Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came — the realisation that Humid William was dead. We had never been friends, and, in many ways, I had actually hated his stupid face and horrendous body odour. And his shift pinching. And his habit of spitting bits of egg sandwich in my face whilst he talked. But it didn’t seem fair. He should have perished by my hand, dammit!

And so, I swore revenge upon the Marsians.


Tuesday 14 December 2010

Book Reviews

Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers
Trevor Hutchinson, James Roberts and Nick Roche
IDW Publishing

Available Now - £TBC (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The Autobot special ops crew, The Wreckers, are sent to investigate Garrus-9, a prison that fell to the Decepticons three years ago, with no communication in or out since. Who's really behind the prison siege, and what dark secret awaits Springer there? The answers to those questions will send this mission to the razor's edge!

Last Stand of the Wreckers is a highly engrossing story – and I’m not a particularly big Transformers fan. The story is a well structured one. The mission is outlined, early on, and it’s the attitudes of the Wreckers towards their upcoming mission that make for some of the most intense and interesting scenes. Their relationships and grudges carry the story over most of its flaws.

The main problem with the narrative is that the deaths – and there are a lot of them...this is the "Last Stand", you know – don’t really seem to have the emotional impact that they need. Not all of the characters are really given the time that they need for us to grow to love them, and this lessens the impact when they get kersploded.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
A surprisingly high amount, with frequent deaths, hand-to-hand fighting, torture and gunfire/explosions.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A surprisingly grim tale from the Transformers universe; the action is thick and fast, but at the expense of some characterisation. 7/10
The Horus Heresy: The First Heretic
Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Black Library/Games Worshop

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy...

Dembski-Bowden’s writing is absolutely amazing, perfectly capturing the Gothic sci-fi atmosphere of the Horus Heresy setting, and this may the best prose in a Black Library release so far. It’s a shame, then, that the story is such a massive let down. There are some events in this book, but they’re so long getting here that it’s hard to still feign any interest by the time they arrive.

The first half is more or less given over to lots of Space Marines standing around talking amongst themselves about very dull things (too much WH40K fiction is given over to this already), and nothing happens until well past the half-way point of this 420 page novel. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only...standing around talking about how grim and dark everything is, apparently.

The Horus Heresy series needs to get on with it. It’s in far too much danger of stagnating.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
The usual crushinating, destructifying and explodimagilising associated with Warhammer 30,000.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: “By the Emperor” is about as strong as it gets.
Summary: The writing is so fantastic as to be labelled “darkly poetic” (if I were so inclined), but so little happens and so slowly that it’s like wading through treacle. One for The Horus Heresy completists only. 4/10
Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer
Sarah Kinney & Stefan Petrucha

Available Now - £5.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Vampire-mania has gripped River Heights, with teenage girls going wild over the new DieLite novels and movies. But what happens when a supposedly 'real' handsome young vampire arrives on the scene? Will Nancy expose him as a fraud - or fall under his dark spell? As if that wasn't enough - there's something dark and sinister happening while everyone's distracted by the vampire madness. Could this possibly be linked to what's happening in Bayport, home of the Hardy Boys?

Yeah, it’s a cheap cash in on the “teenage girls infatuated with Twilight” market (probably the most lucrative market in the world since the “teenage girls infatuated with Boy Band X” market boom of the late nineties), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. The artwork isn’t bad – it’s not great, but it isn’t bad either. It’s a fun little detective far, at least. You see, this is just part one of a series, and at 64 pages, that feels a little weak. I’d prefer to pay £10-15 for a trade paperback that has the whole story in it, rather than this.

The pacing is pretty good though (when it doesn’t get bogged down in a little too much Dawson’s Creek soap-opera drama, rather than the detective work), but this is just too small to really be worth bothering with. Hopefully an omnibus edition will be along in a short while.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun enough detective/vampire story, but way, way too short. I’d rather have paid £9.99 this for the full story than a flimsy publication like this. 4/10