Monday, 15 December 2008

Reviews: Earthdoom! by David Langford and John Grant

The ideal book if ever you're lost for words - just open Earthdoom and you'll find lots of them Exeter Advertiser

An oasis in the ocean of literature Bob Shaw

The greatest contribution to English literature since the invention of the semi-colon Ansible

... sounds like an amusing idea ... Isaac Asimov

Does for the disaster genre what Ludd did for the Industrial Revolution Roy Tappen

Fills a long-needed gap Eve Devereux

Could this be the finest book ever written? White Dwarf

The trouble with Earthdoom! is that you really have to grope through a host of books with titles like Tapeworm! and Sludge! and plots like – well, like episodes of Earthdoom! to appreciate just what Langford and Grant are sending up. By then, of course, either your brain has rotted away from disuse or you're so paranoid that the next time the gerbils nip your finger you come down with psychosomatic rabies and infect half the neighbourhood.

Even if you forego the study of literary influences, however, you'll still enjoy Earthdoom! You won't, of course, be able to read another Disaster Novel without giggling (but don't you, anyway?) as what we have here is a scenario for just about every end-of-the world novel possible, starting with the earth tilting on its axis and taking in Hitler cloning himself on a Devonshire farm, the Loch Ness Monster, comets and Horrible Slimy Aliens on a collision course with earth and sub-critical-mass bits of plutonium doing likewise in the London Underground – and I won't even mention the lemmings and the superglue save to say that you'll probably never want to go to the lavatory again. It's all held together with a plot line involving Death, the Antichrist, various sets of incompetent scientists as two-fistedly gung-ho as any Doc Smith character (but randier) and numerous knock-knock jokes ...

If you don't get a copy of this for your collection of skiffy blockbusters there isn't much hope for you.

Andy Sawyer for Paperback Inferno

In the mood for something so outrageous, so epic, so wildly funny, something so common, but yet filled with personality that it reads differently, so differently that it is addicting?

is the book for you.

The world is going to end, but not in a flash; it will be long and slow and take millions of lives in the process. The main concern is an antimatter comet heading straight for the sun that will set the Earth off, but that is just the tip of the iceberg; throw in some melting polar icecaps, werewolves, vampires, the loch ness monster, chemical warfare, terrorism, and alien invasion.

Through these chains of events, we are introduced to and suffer with a group of individuals who try to save the world.

Up in space, Colonel Bart Malone, a closet homosexual and brazen American astronaut, and Adrianna Dimpla, Russian cosmonaut, run a parallel course with the comet, intending their doom as well. Can Dimpla stop the comet and ward off Malone's sexual harassment?

On Earth, Junior Finkelstein, a 6 year old who has premonitions of Earthdoom!, puts together a Think Tank of doctors and scientists who could save the world. There is his mother, Nadia, a Nasa boss; Mark Tampion and Lise Pranther, mathematicians trying to decode an lien message; Gwyntor Bjorstrom, a climatologist; Lucious Apricot, a drunken particle physicist; and Al Bran, a psychologist; to name a few.

Then there is Adolf Hitler who has escaped into his time machine back in 1941 to the present (1991) where he begins cloning himself to form the 4th Reich with the help of Farmer Loam''s cattle cloning machine.

Oh, there is also Death who wanders around and a race of aliens called Cygnan.

As you can see, this is a very busy novel, but really quite simple in plot. The authors manage to keep their head on the ground and not forget what they are trying to accomplish: as wacky as the end of the world is, it is still scary as hell.

The heart of the novel lies in the 2 dimensional characters' simplicity. Mostly, the men are sex starved idiots even though they have powerful and intelligent positions in their career, and the women, although extremely beautiful, are intelligent and often manipulating the men. This dynamic often had me rolling with laughs and shaking my head in disbelief; and art that is tough to pull off and I''m sure it is something that you have to be born with.

Sharp, witty dialogue, overblown imagination, and just plain fun, Earthdoom! is a hell of a ride.
Mike Purfield

Friday, 5 December 2008

From the Field Book reviewed by Graham Rippon

from the field book by Carol Thistlethwaite

Illustrations by Tom Adamson

Readers of many magazines will be very familiar with Carol's name and poetry, and of course, her excellent reviews in Carillon, for which she has been a tower of support So it gives me much pleasure to highlight this, her first collection.

The book has a nice feel to it and my copy, though it's been around a bit, still looks good: clearly a quality publication - and matched by its contents (which you would expect with an editor like Sam Smith involved).

The poems emanate from Carol's love of ornithology. Indeed, the contents page reads like a Birds of Britain "Who's Who". Some poems are located in time and space - Lapwings... 5th December 2005, Rufford. etc. Most are not, but you do get the feel of much travelling and much time spent with her book, pen and binoculars in the open air.

Three things stand out: Carol's bird knowledge, her observational powers and her poetic skill. The poetry, firmly paced in a "modern" arena, is replete with technique. But above the technique is the quality and quantity of imagery, action and moods packing these pages. It is difficult to choose examples from the plentiful so I'll pick a couple or so of my personal favourites chief amongst which is Cemlyn Bay a two-verse poem which starts gently:

Just one of those evenings
when mist holds the setting sun
subdues it to an April linnet's blush,
Just one of those dusks
That levels the sea so we can watch...

and then switches in the second half:

then bolt awake
as tern plover jerk and cry alarm...

And then there's the startling, metaphorical Wren:

- a chuck of tiny clockworks
all chiming coils and springs,
ully wound, brand new from the box...

The circling and juxtaposition of men and birds in Gannets off Bass Rock struck me, too:

Circling higher,
seeing further
gannets prey on fish
where a would-be king hunted heir to throne...

which ends with the men circling higher and seeing further, deeper.

One opening line raised an amused eyebrow: Oh Happy Chough: round here, a "Chuff' is definitely not a bird, nor sensible!

We're told that this book gives us the "Jizz". er ... what is "Jizz"? Whatever it is, it seems good, though.

There are no long, tedious poems here. No, they are mostly bite-sized. You can easily imagine them as jottings in a field notebook - which brings us back to the title and, undoubtedly, the poems' solid provenance.

It's a lovely book, perhaps more for dipping into regularly than reading straight through. One for ornithologists? Yes. One for poets? Definitely. And a bargain at the price.

Reviewed by Graham Rippon

Thursday, 4 December 2008


From Real Life Horror at an African Murder Scene to Sheer Magic

Read Part One here

Eventually, the voices of his ancestors called out to him from Israel – were he eventually landed up via a circuitous root that saw him working as a juggler, a tightrope walker, a fire eater, a magician ... and even a snake charmer.

When he got to the Levant, much to Abelman’s chagrin after successfully avoiding the South African national military service conscription, he soon found himself drafted into Israeli Defense Force. After many years of active service, slipping in and out of Lebanon, both in the regular army and in the reserves, he was honorably discharged with the towering rank of private. His military memoir has been published as the short story, No Medals & No Mentions.

He said: “We were all Zionists in our family and supported Israel. There was no shortage of books on Judaism and related subjects in the house, both religious and secular.

“One of the first games I can remember playing was ‘Germans and Jews’. In a draped, darkened dining room, the table was covered with blankets skirting down to the floor. The ‘Jews’ would hide under the table with a little reading lamp. When they heard a sound outside, they had to turn the lamp
off and sit silently until a ‘German’ yanked up the blankets with a yell – ‘Juden raus!’ –giving a scare to the cowering ‘Jews’. I must have been three.

“Jews in the Diaspora live dual lives. Outside the house we were proud South Africans and Jews, inside the house we were proud Zionist Jews and South Africans. My father’s name was Abraham, and rather than contend with the split personality of Diaspora life, I decided to move to the land of Abraham, where you can be yourself both inside and out.

“My brother had made the move some years earlier so the way was paved for me. With a single suitcase, I
tary disciplinleft South Africa – ‘coincidentally’, a week before induction into the South African Defence Force – not to return until fifteen years later, by which time the military police had stopped inquiring as to my whereabouts.

e in Israel didn’t come as too much of a shock – I knew it existed. There are rules and regulations, but as long as you take your training seriously (and you’re stupid if you don’t because you can find yourself at war quicker than you expected over here) and do your job as directed, the Israeli Defence Force is a happy-go-lucky place to be; compared to other armies that is.”

At a loose end after his army service, Daniel soon found employment as a professional performing artist. As thrice winner, in successive years, of the Israeli National Magic Competition, it paved the way to success. His hat trick set him off, traveling the country, performing up north in the Golan Heights and as far as the southern resort town of Eilat.

“The performing arts can be a hot, sticky and, at times, filthy business,” he said. “A tight rope walker may make a living with three ten minute acts a day – but it’s not something I would recommend anyone trying. Artists spend more time waiting around for the show to begin then they actually do performing. It’s a boring, nerve racking and dangerous way to make a living.”

Daniel married a rabbi’s daughter, Joani, and after the birth of their third child, it dawned on him that seasonal work as a performer wasn’t the best way to provide for a growing family and that long periods away from home wasn’t the best way to enjoy it. So he hung up his wand when the Intifada that followed the Israeli Scud War (into which he was drafted for three months) discouraged tourists, and the performing arts job became even more precarious.

He became a licensed electrician, a competent plumber and, for a while, built wooden frame houses

But his beautiful wife’s outstanding success as a prenatal educator and childbirth assistant, a field in which she attained near guru status, decided Daniel to become the primary care-giver parent in the family, leaving Joani to spend more time on her career.

By the time Daniel became a house husband, there were four children. And between hectic breakfasts in the morning and brushing teeth before beddie-bies, was when he began to write in earnest. Mornings, with the young Abelmans at school, were his most productive hours. It was during these mini brakes from the bedlam of so many kids in a home of just sixty square yards, that ALLAKAZZAM! took shape.

“Contrary to popular belief,” said Daniel, “kids have to be fed on a regular basis and tucked into bed on a regular basis. Hungry and tired kids are ratty kids. The quickest cooked meal to prepare is corn-on-the-cob with a sliced tomato for salad. Being a ‘fun-father’ we would sometimes do the outrageous; breakfast for supper! ‘Cereal for supper tonight!’

“But kids aren’t stupid. They won’t put up with such dismal parenting for long. I really had to work hard at the job. It’s like tight rope walking, fire eating and juggling all in one ... and all sheer magic.

“Then, of course, there’s the eternal battle as to whose turn it is on the computer. Mostly I have to write things on scraps of paper and then transcribe them into the computer when the kids decide it’s my turn. Out of school time, if I managed two good paragraphs a day on ALLAKAZZAM!, I was happy with the output ... and don’t forget there’s a wife who appears at the most ungodly of hours and who demands to be fed and given some love and attention, too.”

When people ask Daniel how he ever got ALLAKAZZAM! finished, though, he doesn’t tell them about the late nights, the early mornings, the entire finished sentences and paragraphs carefully filed away in his head, the lifetime of research through experience, adventure, diversity and astute and compassionate people-watching, or the decades of practicing and mastering the writer’s skills to supplement an inborn talent -- and the years spent carefully polishing ALLAKAZZAM! to a perfect shine.

After all, it’s a poor magician who reveals all the secrets of his tricks.

Interview by Alexander James

Interview first appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine

Read an excerpt from ALLAKAZZAM!

Click here for Daniel Abelman's biography

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


From Real Life Horror at an African Murder Scene to Sheer Magic

Daniel Abelman was sixteen when he stumbled upon the battered corpse of a murdered black man at the side of a remote dirt road in South Africa.

He called the police who swung the body onto the back of a dusty pickup truck.

“Don’t you want my statement … you know … for your investigation?” Daniel asked.

The boss cop’s reply numbed him: “Investigation? Are you bloody mad, kid? It’s just another kaffir.”

That’s when young Daniel decided to leave what had been the Beloved Country – and the adventure began.

Daniel had been born in the busy South African shipping city of Port Elizabeth on the coast of the Indian Ocean in 1958. It was also the body-surfing capital of the world, and as a tot, he learned to swim long before he could walk.

Later, unknowingly, he started to play the illusion game that became his life and fueled his bitingly satirical novel of skullduggery, ALLAKAZZAM!

“It was a pleasant four-mile downhill freewheel on my pushbike to the beach,” he said. “But after a day’s surfing and swimming, the prospect of pedaling back, uphill and in the summer heat, wasn’t so appealing. So I’d let the air out of one of my tyres to fake a puncture and sit, looking thoroughly miserable, at the side of the road until some kind-hearted driver was fool enough to load my bike into the back of his car and take me home in style. Never failed.

“When I arrived home – invariably late for supper – I’d blame the ‘puncture’ and the family would feel sorry for me
and heap my plate. I guess that’s when I first learned about the power of illusion: my first step toward becoming a professional magician, and a writer. Mastery of illusion is vital in both art forms.

“Conjuring is the plausible demonstration of the implausible. The audience is spoon-fed with only what they have to know; nothing more and nothing less if the demonstration is to be plausible. There are techniques in building a workable magic routine, and I use the same tricks of the trade when composing a story. The reader gets all the information they need; nothing more and nothing less. The outcome is a believable story, no matter however outrageous and impossible the concept might seem. The catch is that conjurors are made and not born – with writers, it’s pretty well the opposite.”

Daniel’s Jewish Lithuanian grandparents and uncle fled to Johannesburg from their home country in fear of their lives. With the outbreak of the Boer War the Jewish community was transferred in masse to
Port Elizabeth, yet again in fear for their safety. Enthusiastic and prolific breeders, the Abelman clan waxed with the years and did well for themselves as dairy farmers and wholesale merchants.

“How they got their hands on the farms,” Daniel admits, “is shrouded in mystery. All I am prepared to say is that we come from a long line of renowned Lithuanian horse thieves and, by all accounts, grandpa and company made it onto the boat to Africa by the skin of their teeth -- with a posse of irate, horseless Cossacks hot on their tails.

“Grandpa and Great Uncle Isaac would schlep their products from door to door in hessian bags, taking o
rders from farmers on the way so as so stock up with supplies for the return journey. They’d spend the night on the back of their donkey cart, snuggled up in sack cloth sleeping bags.

“Later they opened a general store in Selbourne. On Thursdays, my mother – a ten-year-old then – would run down to Rabbi Bloch, the ritual slaughterer, with a shilling and a hen. On Fridays she ran down to the Port Elizabeth train station with kosher cooked chicken and baked hallot loaves for the Sabbath, which she gave to the guard on the train. The guard, in turn, handed it over to Uncle Isaac on the Selbourne platform.

“Runaway horse thieves and rogues they may have been, but you’ve got to admit, they were good, kosher runaway horse thieves and rogues.”

Writing was in the family from as long as Daniel could remember. His father was the community’s scribe, penning letters in Yiddish to the old country and reading replies from home.

The multilingual household, shelves stocked with books, was a literary incubator. Family time was spent with Daniel’s father reading to the company. Balzac and Herman Charles Bosman, the Yiddish literary greats, and running commentaries from Pa had the household moved to tears or howling with laughter.

“Our edition of Balzac’s droll stories was illustrated and, as the level in Pa’s brandy bottle lowered, so did the Old Man’s guard, letting us peep at the naughty succubi and incubi pictures. Then Pa would de
cide it was time for bed and Ma would decide he was to drunk for that. The advent of TV and Ma’s distaste for Pa’s over-imbibing during story-telling sessions is probably what put an end to our family nights ... and what brought on the birth of the twins.”

Now with five siblings, making up a total of seven souls in the family unit, and with three library cards per family member, the weekly trip to the public library was accomplished with the help of a giant wicker basket and a strong back.

“We lived on 2nd Avenue and the library was way up on 5th. There is a lot a youngster can do traversing those few blocks, even when weighed down with a basked stuffed with books and a pair of flip-flops (the librarian wouldn’t let us in without some form of footwear). You could stop and mix with the mice (white) in the pet shop, or jive with the petrol station attendants (black). Great care was to be taken to resist the temptation of a rest on the bench in the 4th Avenue Park and make a start on the reading. It would invariably result in trouble when, once again, arriving home late for supper.”

was always something to read in the house. Daniel’s only complaint was that fate had left him as the middle child in a big family.

“With a rich blend of shtetl and farmers’ blood flowing through our veins, nothing went to waste in our household. Hand-me-down was the name of the game. Via numerous cousins and finally off the back of my elder brother, my wardrobe was a motley collection of short pants and tee-shirts. When I joined the school soccer team, I remember being given a pair of old rugby boots that laced up past the ankle. The bulbous metal-reinforced toe cap was out of date even back then. But they came in handy for giving the ball, mostly in the wrong direction, a hefty kick whilst positioned at left-back.

“The up side of being the middle pip was that my best friends were also my siblings, and that meant I was always surrounded by friends, some older, some younger. The close bonds of childhood remain to this day. My sisters married wisely and live in Johannesburg. The brothers, who married for love
and nothing much else, now live in Israel. We’ve all done pretty well for ourselves.”

The school where Daniel studied far from home had the reputation of being one of the best high schools in the southern hemisphere. Only one student had ever failed matriculation examinations. Young Daniel Abelman was the stain on an otherwise unblemished record.

“They don’t invite me to school reunions. It’s no skin off my nose -- I hated school, I hated the teachers (that was probably mutual), I hated the curriculum ... and I probably would hate going to a reunion, too. The day I left school, I never looked back. I lost contact with teachers and schoolmates, most of whom I had sat with on the same school bench for twelve years. I did hear a rumour circulating that I was clinically insane.

“I expla
ined to my parents my motives for failing matriculation, that it was no accident. After a while, it was water under the bridge and they got over it. I think they might even have quietly approved.

“The school was by no means rank with perves and paedophiles like the school described in ALLAKAZZAM! But it did have two of them who stood out like sore thumbs, seen but inexplicably ignored. The headmaster was aware of what was happening and, for his own personal reasons and agenda, did nothing about it.

“This malpractice and social injustice had to be brought to an end, and it seemed it was up to me. I deliberately failed my incredibly easy matriculation exams and so tarnished the school’s clean record that the head was fired by the board of directors.

“I remember coming out of those exams. The headmaster was waiting, anxious to find out how things had gone. It was a real pleasure to lie and say that the exam was as easy as pie and that I had done marvellously, knowing that he would carry the can. Without the head’s support the paedophiles were soon got rid of.

“About a year ago, I managed to establish contact with the old headmaster via email. We traded a message or two that were surprisingly genial. I sent him the first chapter of ALLAKAZZAM! His feedback was wonderful and I asked if he’d like to read more. When he said he would, I sent him the fictionalised schooldays chapter from deeper into the book. I never heard from him again. A bit of a belated twist of the knife, what?”

Daniel later walked through his national matriculation certificate at another school of, he says, low esteem.

Then came the day at childhood’s end when he abruptly learned what the hateful South African Apartheid system was all about – when it hit him in the face in the shape of a murdered black man and a racist Afrikaans-speaking white cop.

He took to the road and travelled around Africa doing odd jobs and often living off the land. Eventually winning a grub stake in a card game, he left for Europe where the cruel climate took him unawares.

Read Part Two here

Interview by Alexander James

Interview first appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine

Read an excerpt from ALLAKAZZAM!

Click here for Daniel Abelman's biography

Monday, 1 December 2008

Vote for The Devil Can Wait

Please cast your vote for The Devil Can Wait by Marta Stephens at Erin Aislinn's Book Cover of the Month