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Flight of the Crow - Paul Clayton
(Frontier Fiction, p/b, $9.95)

This 'pre-western' is set in the mid-sixteenth century on the coastline of what would become Georgia. Calling Crow is a native American indian, a chieftain cast out from his own tribe on suspicion of bringing the white man's disease which effectively destroyed the tribe. Later, Calling Crow was captured and enslaved by the Spanish but has escaped and is searching for his wife when he is caught by another tribe and eventually adopted by them. Spanish Catholic and French Protestant settlers invade this tribe's land and Calling Crow is called upon to use his knowledge of the Spanish to prevent a war that could destroy all three groups. Plus he has found his wife with the Spaniards.

The bare details above really do little justice to one of the best novels I've read in a long time. This period in North America's early history has been little utilised by modern writers, though from the evidence of this novel it is a rich seam ready to be exploited. Paul Clayton is a fine writer, economic and sparse in style, many chapters are only two or three pages in length yet carry the story forward, always with a richness in detail that other writers would take many more pages to achieve. Calling Crow himself is a noble 'savage', intelligent, a strong leader, upholding the tribe's traditions but knowing that the european invaders and their advanced technologies (horses, firearms, swords, cannon) will change his world forever.

Praising a book as a ‘quick read’ is mildly insulting as it intimates a book of little depth and substance, but Paul Clayton's Flight of the Crow rattles along at a fast rate working both as a rollicking adventure yarn and as a study of how disastrous that first contact between Europeans and Native Americans was for the indians. This isn't the first book chronicling Calling Crow's adventures, and I hope it won't be the last. Highly recommended.

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Where the Bodies Are Buried - Kim Newman
(Alchemy Press/Airgedlamh Publications, h/b, £17.50)

Where The Bodies Are Buried is a collection of four themetically linked stories all dealing with a fictitious serial killer called Rob Hackwill - a movie character that becomes a multimedia anti hero and over the spread of these stories takes on a life of itself that crosses over and becomes a global megastar, inspiring countless copycat murders. The stories look at the effects of the Hackwill phenomenon from the viewpoint of the writer who created the character, the real life Robert Hackwill who inspired the writer in his youth, the tabloid reporter who sold his soul for success by publically blaming Hackwill movies for inspiring a mass murderess, and finally a futuristic tale where Hackwill the slayer has moved into virtual reality and the cybernet and is attacking victims there.

This is a very clever collection, obviously inspired by the Freddie Kreuger/Nightmare on Elm Street movies that was one of the most succesful movie series of the last twenty years. Being a media magpie Kim Newman throws in enough cultural and media savvy references to make them extremely believable. The book is a nice package: hard back, illustrated by Sylvia Starshine and Randy Broecker, with a forward by movie director/writer Peter Atkins, it's a limited edition of 500 signed by all four contributors, so potentially very collectable.

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Rock on CD - by David Sinclair
(Kyle Cathie, p/b, £9.99)

Subtitled "The Essential Guide", David Sinclair has put together a 400 page reference work listing what rock music is available on compact disc. Unfortunately, it isn't as comprehensive as I would like, glaring omissions litter the alphabetically ordered listing. Sinclair has mixed biography and discography together very well, and this book is a fine read if you want information on specific artists. The writing is quite humorous at times, and Sinclair doesn't come over as a sycophantic back-scratcher. This edition was originally published in 1992, so hopefully an updated issue in the future will correct the noticeable omissions which mar this book.

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The Moment - by Jill Furmanovsky
(Paper Tiger, lge p/b, £14.95)

This excellent collection of photographs is subtitled 1970-1995, 25 Years of Rock Photography. Jill Furmanovsky began as a fan photographing gigs while an art student and then became resident photographer for the legendary Rainbow Theatre in the early 70's. The autobiographical notes explain how hard it was for a woman photographer to be taken seriously in what was almost exclusively a male domain. This book proves that she succeeded, with 270 pictures of musicians covering a wide spectrum of rock, punk, soul, disco and jazz - Chic, The Cramps, Eno, Talking Heads, Chrissie Hynde, Pink Floyd (to name a few). These are just a few of the musicians that her camera has immortalised. Her photographs literally scream, sing or dance, and it's no wonder that they appeared first in publications such as the New Musical Express, Melody Maker and The Face. This brilliant collection is a must for any serious rock fan or photographer.

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On Poetry And Poetics by John Igo
(Argo Press, POB 4201, Austin, Texas 78765, USA, 2001 - ISBN 0-9634181-4-9, 95 pp, $13.95)

Reviewed by Steve Sneyd

Years ago there was a comedian, I forget which, who at intervals used to break off to strum a banjo, then say "By God I needed that", or words to that effect.

I was reminded of him when reading this, "a collection of essays on the theory and practice of poetry". Much of it is practical advice, to a great extent useful, but every so often the author clearly feels the need for a burst of highly arguable opinion or polemic against the present state of the poetry world.

There are two problems with this, if the book as a whole is intended as a "how to" for beginning poets and for those who have already been writing poetry for a long time, a useful reminder of the kind of basics which so easily get neglected, as drivers forget the Highway Code rules after they get their license.

One problem is that whether or not the reader agrees with the polemic - denunciations of poetry slams, bland "blob" poetry, "hyphenated" poetry (black, feminist, social comment etc) and so on - it is a distraction - like being taught how to get the best out of your PC by someone who every few minutes utters a jeremiad against Bill Gates. The other is that the polemics, presumably for space reasons, take the form of assertions rather than reasoned and developed arguments, so neither add anything for those who would already agree, nor would be likely to convince those who didn't. I found the answer was to read the book once, get reacting to the polemics out of the way, then read it again concentrating on the "how to" advice.

That is variable, though often excellent - a notably useful suggestion for example, for those who feel rhyme-agendaed but don't know how to break out, is to write the rhyme, then replace the rhyme word with a non-rhyming synonym the same syllable length. At the other extreme, the suggestion that a poet can learn all that is needed about poetry markets and what they use in fifteen minutes is so preposterous I at first assumed it must be a misprint. In between, there are instances of the simplistic - relying on Poe's word as "proof" that the long poem can't work, advice on self-publishing which ignores DTP and the Internet (as much of the book is reprinted essays from as long ago as, in one case, 1965 - the author bio data is also from then! - rewriting to bring it up to date would have been helpful), the patronising, the plain prejudiced (e.g.: advice clearly based on disliking T S Eliot) and so on. A book, then, that can often infuriate, but that also contains much genuinely valuable advice, if you can manage to get at the meat while pushing the polemical mustard to the edge of the plate.

Batman: Crimson Mist - Doug Moensch,
Kelley Jones & John Beatty
(Titan, h/b, 17.99)

Batman suck neck!This is the latest volume in the 'Elseworlds' series of alternate universe stories featuring various DC Comics superheroes. Crimson Mist follows on from Red Rain and Bloodstorm, in which Batman has become a vampire preying on his foes for more than legal justice. Crimson Mist starts with Batman staked to a coffin and enduring the living death that ensues when a vampire is dormant and not destroyed. Wracked by guilt, his butler, Albert, removes the stake and Batman is revived, a ravening vampire hellbent on revenge and blood. This Batman is no hero but a monster who after feeding off his remaining foes will turn on the populace of Gotham... This has to be one of the grimmest Batman stories I've ever read (though I'm no expert, being only an occasional follower of the man-bat), and it probably won't make much sense to anyone who hasn't read the previous graphic novels mentioned above. The story is told (and drawn) with a vibrancy at odds with its grimly gothic heart, though the monstrous Batman depicted here is a million miles away from the tv series clown. It has to be said that this sequence of novels is potentially the best Batman movie never filmed.

Sex Drugs And Sausage Rolls - Robert Rankin (Corgi, p/b, £5.99)
Waiting For Godalming - Robert Rankin (Doubleday, h/b, £16.99)

Sentient Talking Sprouts! Robert RankinI don't think I've read any Robert Rankin before (I'm sure I'd have remembered!), so I ventured into Sex Drugs And Sausage Rolls with much interest. Of course it would be easy to say that Rankin writes in a similar humorous vein to Terry Pratchett or Tom Holt, but Rankin works with a darker humour: characters - lead characters at that - end up violently dead in this book. Sex... may inhabit something of a science fiction-type dystopia - Britain is governed, policed and nannied by Richard Branson's Virgin megacorp (indeed, the number of times the name Virgin is vilified in the book one wonders if Mr Rankin has a grudge against Mr Branson!) - along with time travel and future history elements. All mixed together in a stew of black humour. The Plot? Hey, there's so much going on that it's nigh impossible to encapsulate it all. But let's try - rock 'n' roll fan boys from the future come back in time to save various rock heroes such as John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin from dying. This alters the present in many diverse ways, leading to the ultimate millennial rock festival in Brentford with the Beatles topping the bill. In the current time stream in Brentford a rock band called Gandhi's Hairdryer have a singer who can heal the sick and put the world to rights just by singing. Somehow this all comes together into a very dark and very funny book.

Waiting For Godalming is the latest from Robert Rankin and continues the humourous sagas set in the heaving metropolis that is Brentford. This time the story centres on private dick Lazlo Woodbine, whose latest case involves investigating the death of God, who had been taking a vacation in Brentford when he was shot down. Things aren't that simple though, God's widow has the will, and his sons are fighting for their inheritance, the Earth. This is another slice of bizarre weirdness from Mr Rankin, with many strange characters, including a morphing bar-man, Barry the talking sprout, assorted demons and a maniacal cab driver. I have to admit that while this novel takes on several surreal flights of fancy it didn't have the impact of Sex Drugs And Sausage Rolls, which I thought was a lot funnier.

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Noctet: Tales of Madonna-Moloch
by Albert J. Manachino

(Argo Press, lge p/b, $14.95)

To read more by this author click hereNoctet brings together a selection of the best stories by veteran American small press writer Albert J. Manachino. Madonna-Moloch is one of the weirdest planets you can ever encounter — because of the alignment of its suns, the planet is deadly to its human settlers in the daytime but is a virtual Eden in the long nights. Science and magic are entwined together and the technology is organic plus, just to add spice to things the dead don't stay dead on this planet! Most of the stories in this collection are whodunits or whydunits, mixed with science fiction and a strong dash of outright weirdness. Occult detective Virgil Hood is your guide to Madonna-Moloch, and you view the events and characters from over his shoulder, which, considering what happens on this planet, is the safest place to be. Noctet was a damn fine read by a very original writer, and the stories are complimented by Larry Dickison's highly atmospheric illustrations. You should be able to find Noctet at specialist SF bookshops such as Andromeda or Forbidden Planet — however, you can also order it by adding $2 postage and writing to Argo Press, PO Box 4201, Austin, Texas 78765-4201, USA (US currency only).

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Points Of Departure: Essays on Modern Jazz
By Robin Tomens

[Stride Publications, ISBN: 1 900152 79 7, £10.00/$20.00]

Points Of Departure: Essays on Modern JazzTaking this book out of the envelope and my heart sank at the secondary title of the book. We all know what 'Essays' usually denote - overwritten, over-analytical and pedantry text that induces yawning and premature narcolepsy. But this book is different, it's actually alive and throbbing with the enthusiasm for its subject, Modern Jazz.

According to writer Robin Tomens Modern Jazz began in the late 1940's with the bebop of Charlie Parker, and takes in all the developments from the 50's through to the 80's [Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry etc] - pretty much to the point where Jazz had mutated into -rock, -funk, fusion, and he became bored with it. Tomens also favours the original vinyl over modern cd releases [if he can]. Indeed, anyone looking for an academic approach to these 'essays' will be disappointed, this book is a [dis]organised ramble through one man's record collection. Don't read this expecting 'reference book'-style detail or organisation, the style here is an enthusiastic rant about specific artists, albums and tracks, even individual musical moments.

Reading Points Of Departure is like being buttonholed by that dishevelled nutter in the pub or record shop who wants to impart his pearls of wisdom on any poor schmuck who even thinks of stepping into his territory. It can be fun for a while but then you notice the froth around the lips and make your excuses. This is a book to dip into, rather than read serially - the enthusiasm simply overwhelms you. It's a fun book, to be sure, and if you are interested in Jazz then well worth exploring, but in small bites.

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The X Files: Skin - Ben Mezrich
(Voyager, h/b, 16.99)

X-Files - SPOOKY!This new X Files novel continues the globetrotting aspect used in previous novels, with Mulder and Sculley ending up tramping through the jungles of Thailand. Starting with human skin being harvested from morgue inhabitants, a skin transplant patient who goes psycho and kills a nurse, clandestine genetic experiments on Vietnam vet burn victims and a mythological skin eating monster, you'd think this would be a classic case for the FBI's finest. Yet, author Ben Mezrich has turned this into the dullest, by-the-numbers exercise in franchise harvesting so far. Lack of characterisation, and interaction, leave Mulder and Sculley mere cyphers on the page, devoid of all the interesting facets and nuances that the actors have brought to the characters. Being a huge X Files fan I had been looking forward to reading this book, so my disappointment in such a run of the mill product is sad to report.

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Ayuamarca: Procession of the Dead
Darren O'Shaughnessy (Millenium Orion, p/b, 6.99)

The more books I read the less surprised I become at the poor quality of writing that passes for professional acceptance nowadays. However, reading Ayuamarca shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that some quality material is getting through the bland filter. How to describe Ayuamarca? A Kafkaesque film noir science fiction thriller that challenges your ideas of time, perception and reality - and a slam bam battle between morality and corruption. Set in the near future Capac Raimi arrives in The City, ready to join his uncle as a gangster. The City is ruled by The Cardinal, a crime overlord whose army controls everything in the city and has plans to extend his tentacles of corruption beyond the city boundaries. Capac joins the Cardinal and is put on the fast-track learning curve as a possible successor, but Capac begins to question his background, finding that his mind has been manipulated to forget everything in his life from before he came to the city. Friends disappear as if they never existed, and as he searches for his true identity Capac discovers just how far the roots of corruption and power control the city and its people. Darren O'Shaughnessy has written one of the finest debut novels I've ever read, a chilling indictment of moral bankrupcy and corruption. Written in a no nonsense style that precludes the worst excesses of dictionary word hunting, this is a genuine pageturner, and makes this reader eager for the next volume in The City sequence.

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Gnawing Medusa's Flesh: The Science Fiction
Poetry of Robert Calvert

By Steve Sneyd & David Jones (Hilltop Press, £2.99/$7.00)

Gnawing Medusa's Flesh - cover illoRobert 'Bob' Calvert is best known to the public as a songwriter, poet and vocalist with the space-rock band Hawkwind. He was also a solo artist and wrote and published poetry which is now categorised as 'sci-fi'. This beautifully produced 52 page booklet analyses Calvert's work as a science fiction poet, his position and contribution to Hawkwind's music, and collates together extracts from interviews highlighting his views on rock music, poetry and his life.

Bob Calvert was something of a 'tortured artist', a manically hyperactive individual with [at times] severe personality problems which hospitalised him several times during his career. Despite this, he contributed many of the songs that 'made' Hawkwind a name in space/prog-rock circles, and helped them survive punk rock and still be active today. Indeed much of the band's 'space' image and philosophy was down to him

This booklet was a fascinating read, though I have to admit that I found the second section dealing with Calvert's music career the more interesting [no insult to the authors but I don't like poetry]. Plus there is a very useful discography for those fans looking for the rare recordings. Surprisingly, there are no examples of Calvert's poetry included here - I assume this was a copyright issue, but it does hamper the overall completeness of this publication. Despite this I think Gnawing Medusa's Flesh should be on any Hawkwind fan's shopping list.

Contact Point

HILLTOP PRESS, 4 Nowell Place, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD5 8PD, UK.

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Insanely Great - by Steven Levy
(Penguin, p/b, £7.99)

Subtitled "The life and times of Macintosh, the computer that changed everything", this book charts the humble garage workshop beginnings of Apple Computers and their subsequent development of the ground-breaking Macintosh computer. Despite the all-encompassing encroachment onto office (and home) desktops, the personal computer is only just twenty years old, and while the IBM-compatible PC has the lion's share of the marketplace the computer that generates the most interest, and the most covetous glances has always been Apple's range of Macintosh computers. The reason is very simple - the Mac was designed to be used by anyone, not just graduates with a degree in computer studies. Of course, the problem with a book like this is that it uses old technology to explain a new one that is still developing, and if you have never used a computer or even seen one then the book will be meaningless. Indeed, the book really needs to have been illustrated to highlight some of the concepts that make the Mac so special. Steven Levy writes as a dedicated fan, and there is little criticism of the mistakes that Apple have continually made in marketing the Mac over the years. But that aside this book should be of interest to any Apple users out there.

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