Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hostel 2 - at last - and The Ruins

I know, I know. This film has been out for a while and I've only just got around to watching it. What can I say, I've been busy.

That and I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of the first film. Nice idea, but for me the problem was that by the time the guys started to be tortured I disliked them so much I was almost rooting for the bad guys.

The second film at least redresses this a little. The young American aren't quite as annoying, reasonably so - but not quite as bad. Problem for this as a second film is that the idea's not new. Normally in a horror sequel they address this by making it just a little gorier. Well that's not the case here. It feels a little lighter. Okay there are one or two moments of gore but not as many as I would have expected.

Tonight's selection is The Ruins. Well it's a bit different. A group of Americans holidaying in Mexico, together with a German guy they meet in the hotel, decide to go visit a nearby Mayan ruin. And yes, as this is a horror film, the ruins are cursed. Ok it's a bit trite in terms of plot and to be fair the horror action is not as strong as some films I've seen of late, but there are some nicely gory moments, and it also manages a bit of tension from time to time.

These are not the greatest of horror films, but I've seen a lot, lot worse.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Reading Catch-Up

I haven't been neglecting my reading. I've worked my way through a few novels of late - as well as journals and various non-fiction tomes, sites etc.

I'd thought it about time I posted something about the fiction - let you know about some good reads out there - and maybe one or two not so good.

First off the pile is Jeff Strand's Pressure - a non-supernatural horror. Now this is a book I enjoyed immensely. Strand's protagonist starts as a young man in trouble, sent to a boarding school to sort him out. In one way it works, he ends up at University, but it also instroduces him to our friendly neighbourhood psychopath Darren Rust.

The book is told in segments, each some years apart from the next about times when our lead encounters Rust. This results in a series of climaxes growing in intensity as the book reaches its end. Great stuff.

Can't really say the same about Richard Satterlie's Imola. It's another non-supernatural horror - telling the tale of a mentally ill young woman, one of whose personalities just happens to be a sadistic sex killer with a hatred of men. Whilst it's well written - the death scenes well handled and story okayish, it has a problem. It's a sequel, and the only thing that raised the first book above average was the twist - which is not possible to have in this.

Nate Kenyon's Bone Factory raises the average. It tells the story of an engineer who takes a last-resort job deep in the woods in Canada during winter, working on a power plant that seems to be poisoning the flora and fauna.

This is a good read. The author uses the remoteness of his setting well, emphasising the distance between the characters and any possible cavalry - there really is no one going to come to their rescue. It might be a bit light on gore for some horror fans but definitely shows Nate Kenyon is a name to look out for.

Keeping on the trend of non-supernatural horror is Dean Koontz' Relentless. Now Koontz is one of the big names of horror, but in truth his best is behind him. He still has the craft though. His prose is very readable, he builds a decent amount of suspense and you do get to worry about the lead characters, but there are one or two too many unreal over-the-top components to make this a great book. Flawed but with some decent touches.

The final horror book of my recent reading pile is Brian Keene's Urban Gothic. Once again no supernatural but this does move away from just being a serial killer story. Here the big-bads are a bunch of deformed mutants who enjoy torturing their victims before eating them. Ii's a total gross out of a book - slime, blood, secretions galore. Not a book for the squeamish.

The only non-horror novel I've read of late is Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock. It's a Mark Twain style novel set in a 22nd Century America after the end of the oil economy. Society and technology have regressed and the States are at war with a United Europe.

But the action is a lot more intimate than a war between continents might suggest. The action follows a young man, the Julian Comstock of the title and his friend Adam Hazzard. Comstock is the nephew of US President Deklan Comstock, a paranoid man who sees Julian as a threat.

It's not the easiest book in the world to read by any means. The prose is quite dense, being deliberately styled as you would expect a Victorian novel, but it is immensely rewarding. Wilson's imagining of a future America is incredibly vivid. I just cannot recommend this book enough. But then again I am a fan of RCW - have been for years so maybe I am biased.

Anyway, end of list. I have a few on the slate to read - some more PS Publishing, the third of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series, the new Gary Braunbeck, and hopefully I'll find time for the next Kevin Anderson / Brian Herbert Dune novel.

But then - these schedules are always likely to change. You never know what will drop through my letter box tomorrow.

Book of the Week 11 and 12 (probably very erroneous titled given my sluggishness at posting)

I visited Melton Mowbray yesterday, a pleasant market town in the East Midlands famous for pork pies and stilton cheese. Being a vegetarian I didn't try any of the former, but I have to admit to a liking for the cheese.

Whilst there I wandered into a book shop or two - as well as some of the charity shops. Book collectors should never be embarassed about going into charity shops - some of the best out-of-print books can be found in them.

In one of them yesterday I came across a copy of the fifth Far Side Gallery. Now I've been a fan of Gary Larson since the 80s and was only to happy to pick this up.

Book 12 is going to be the latest of my car books. I keep books in my car, so I can dip in and read a few pages whenever I am waiting. On Friday I finished Tony Hawks' wonderful travelog "Roudn Ireland with a Fridge", the story of him hitchhiking around the coast of Ireland towing a small refrigerator. Totally insane and wonderful. An absolute delight to read

Two new sales

OK - another couple of reviews have been sold to nossa morte. The first of these, for Jeff Strand's novel Pressure, will appear in the August issue in a week's time. The second, a film review of Dead Girls is lined up for their November issue.

Always good to get some sales. Better get back writing. I've just finished Brian Keene's Urban Gothic so I'll be sending a review out for that soon.

I'm hoping to have a reply from Gorezone at some point. I like the magazine and would like to submit some reviews to it. Fingers crossed

EU Myths

I'm fed up of hearing horror stories about the EU - tales of how the EU is ruining our lives here in the UK.

Take migration, I've heard numerous people protesting against the free movement of people across EU member states, bemoaning the fact that thousands have come from the poorer, Eastern states to sponge of the British benefits system. Well from everything I have read on this, once I've got passed the spin and to the actual facts, I can say that it is simply not true. Okay, it is true that many thousands came here - I'm not denying that. My issue is merely with the claim of freeloading.

Academics at University College London have released a report detailing this. They have analysed the impact to the British economy from the arrivals of many Eastern Europeans and found that it has been beneficial. The people who came here from the "A8 countries" (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary) are, in fact, less likely to claim benefits and pay higher rates of tax than our native born population.

Every encounter I have had with workers from Eastern Europe over the last few years has been wonderful. I have found them, without exception, very friendly, extremely hardworking and reliable. but I guess that doesn't make good press.

What seems to make good headlines in our newspapers are the bizarre and usual completely fictitious stories that concern "barmy Brussels bureaucrats" trying to ban just about everything about the British way of life.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a page on their website detailing a few of them. But I don't feel there is enough effort being made to confront these rumours. I'm not against free speech (quite the opposite), nor against people being able to air their opinions in an open discussion. But such arguments need to be made on facts not made up nonsense horror stories.

If I was to post a story detailing how the EU wanted to ban picnicking, prevent car boot sales, introduce legislations banning white bread, or require football referees to wear hard-hats because fo the obvious health risks (no, I'm not saying there are any) then people may well believe me.

I'm not going over the top - I read one story about the EU banning lollipop ladies lollipop sticks on the grounds that non-English speakers would not be able to read the words and so might not stop. This is despite the fact that I've seen STOP signs all over Europe - it seems to have become a standard.

If, as a nation, we are going to stay in this union we should stop the unfair scaremongering. Yes, being in the European Union means we have to compromise, and many people might not like some of the compromises. That's fair. And discussing their effect is right and proper, but the discussion should be rational and based on facts.

And at the end of the day for me it's simple - if the Union is so bad, how come 27 countries have joined already? Add to that Iceland, Turkey, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Montenegro already in the process of applying/negotiating/joining and many other countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Polu Texni reviews article now live

In case anyone is interested my 12-book review piece, "Evil by the Dozen", is now live at Polu Texni

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Book of the week 10 - an attempt at a little catching up

Book ten is a book of photographs of the most beautiful place on Earth - Venice.

Three years ago - back in the days of money being easier to get - I treated my wife (and me but extension) to a long weekend in Venice coming back three days before Christmas. Well I'd been paid for some overtime at work and couldn't think of a better way spending the money - we'd not counted on it so why not?

It was cold, it snowed and was very windy. Even flooded a couple of times whilst we were there, but it was magnificent. Walking through the city's streets when they are deserted is incredible. Standing on Rialto Bridge looking down upon a canal which had no boats on it at all. Standing at the far end of Piazza San Marco looking at the Basilica with no one else in the square at all (okay it was past midnight but it was still a first). A wonderful way of ending the year.

So when a book came out last year containing many photographs of Venice in the winter I simply had to buy it. The book is called "Serenissima: Venice in Winter" by Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman. It's simply beautiful. And the memories of a holiday in Venice in the winter were brought back vividly.

Anyway - if you want to check it out here are the links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

This is going to lose me friends - my thoughts on the European Union

I've finally decided to write something here about one of my biggest passions - the European Union.

I'm English. I live in a country which has a reputation for being a little xenophobic.

I'm not though. Quite the opposite. I love different cultures, different peoples, different ideas.

I look at this continent wide institution with a mixture of passionate pride and despair. I think the EU is possible the single greatest thing mankind has done. I know that might sound a little overblown but it's true.

I've read extensively on history - or on warfare you could say, the two are pretty much synonymous. Mankind has, throughout its entire existence, dedicated a sizeable proportion of its time, energy and population to attempting to kill each other. And it's crazy.

Now I'm not going to claim that the EU is a great hope in this sense - a way of preventing war. I don't think it is. But I think it is a glowing example of nations attempting not to just fight each other. The nations of Europe, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Austria, Hungary (I'm going to stop here as this list could go on a bit - sorry if I've missed out your homeland), have fought seemingly countless wars against each other - often for no real point.

But in the middle of last century some of them decided there was a better way.

The result is the bureaucracy-heavy ponderous European Union. It has faults. It's members often disagree with each other and it has a bad rep. But it's still great.

I'm not like most Brits. I realise this. When I see a Polish deli open in the next town to wher eI live my first thought is not "Oh God more evidence of them coming and taking our jobs". When I go to the dentist and his name is Viktor and he comes from Gdansk I don't moan.

When I hire a builder and find he's from Romania, it doesn't upset me.

No I want to talk to them, find out about them, make them feel welcome. I'm not a xenophobe. Unlike many of my fellow Brits I love Europe. I speak two European languages (French and Italian) and visit them as often as I can as well as Belgium etc - something made incredible easy by the UK's EU membership - no pesky visas to sort out for me.

But it's not culture or the ease of taking holidays abroad that make me truly treasure the EU. The single most important thing for me about the EU is its size. Britain used to be a world power. From reading much of our print media, you might be forgiven for thinking we still are. We're not. Britain's day's of global importance are over. They're history.

There are 61 million of us in the UK. It sounds a lot until you look at China, India, Brazil, USA, etc. A country of 61 million will soon become a backwater. The USA might be the world's only superpower at the moment but that is not going to be for long. China and India both have more than a billion citizens - that's a hell of a big workforce.

These countries will soon dominate the world. The USA may well keep up with them, but Britain (and for that matter France, Germany, Italy or any of the EU nations) - not a hope. Unless that is we stick together.

When you add Britain's 61 million to the 82 million German, 64 million French, 59 million Italians, 46 Spanish etc etc (not forgetting the 490,000 Luxembourgers or the 400,000 Maltese, the EU population totals roughly half a billion citizens. Add into the fact that the EU has a considerably higher than world average GDP per head and this is a powerful bloc we are privileged to be members of. This is a globalised world. It's going to be run by a handful of great powers. Britain is not going to be one of them, but the EU can be.

It may not be perfect but at the moment it's the best we've got. So far from mocking the EU and decrying its weirder ways (and yes there are some - don't mention the parliament decamping to Strasbourg periodically at enormous expense), what we should be doing is trying to improve it.

Oh and don't get me started on the Euro - WHY ISN'T BRITAIN IN THE EURO? I don't get it. We should be trying to get into the club, not sticking with the pound and the need for expensive currency conversions. The Euro is convenient for travellers, but I believe a godsend for business - no more worries about currency fluctuations between Britain and our biggest market. That sounds like a chance to plan properly for the future without worrying about future purchase costing more, or future revenues being reduced because the rate changed.

I know you could say that rate changes can be beneficial - and it's true. In recent months the devaluing of Sterling has been advantageous for exporters - but stability sounds better to me! I mean the pound has been recovering in recent weeks standing at 1.17 Euros to the pound compared with its low of 1.024 Euros at the end of 2008. Anyone agreeing a deal in January could well have lost out when pay day hit.

Anyway I'm going to stop ranting now - and get back to what I should be doing - writing.

But one last thing before I go, and just in case you missed it - I am a Europhile.

Long live the European Union! Vive l'Union européenne! Viva l'Unione europea!