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The Late Review: Tales From the weekend

18th Jan, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Edited by David J. Howe, the anthology Tales From the Weekend (Telos Publishing pb) was released to commemorate the Sci-Fi Weekender 2017, with guests from that event contributing stories. Of the eight stories the book contains, those by Paul Lewis and editor Howe are original to the collection.

Jacob gets a phone call from wife Sarah telling him that she has crashed the car on "The Road to Holly Tree Farm", and subsequent calls tell of a monster trying to reach her. Paul Lewis writes a good story, with a feel for the winter weather and spiritual coldness that it reflects, but at the same time I have to say I wasn't surprised by the end twist at all. It felt like there was more potential to the story than the author delivers; an insight into the nature of life after death that varies from common or garden expectations. "An Affair of the Night" by Darren Shan tells of the final days of the relationship between nurse Liz Carr and vampire General Gavner Purl. It's a gentle piece that doesn't set a foot wrong, with the reader able to understand how this couple fell in love and why Liz feels the need to act as she does. And there's a lovely touch of humour at the end.

Freda Warrington's "Back At Six" starts with estranged father Graham getting to spend some quality time with son Tim. He has dreams of getting back with ex Lucy and plans to start by winning over their son, and so takes him for a picnic in the countryside, but they end up at the site of an ancient mound, with things going badly wrong. This is classic horror, and to that extent there are no real surprises here as regards the ultimate plot resolution, but Warrington writes so well that the journey to that point is pure pleasure. She captures perfectly the characters, especially Graham with whom we both sympathise and regard as a bit of an arse, and the remote rural setting, a place where the horrors of the past (and present, as witness the fly tipping) are burned into the landscape. And the codicil, with Graham's eventual fate revealed, is a neat touch. This is horror done right. Contrarily I wasn't sure what to make of "Madswitch" by Justina L A Robson. Scientist Carol has given up work to care for her mum, who has dementia, and autistic brother Andy, while resentful husband Mark is left to bring home the bacon. But Carol is working on stuff in the shed, with the aim of changing everyone's attitudes. There was a lot of science stuff here and it just didn't capture my interest, with the result that I never really had any clear idea of what Carol wanted to achieve or how she planned to do it. On the plus side, her slightly snarky narration was fun to read, with the matter of fact tone and the way in which she pinned down the other characters a delight.

In "Don't Bite Your Nails" by David J Howe a young man's attempts to go it alone result in him falling victim to the family curse/illness. It's a crazy trip, one that entertains with the originality of the device driving the plot and doesn't stay long enough to wear out its welcome, or allow the absurdities of the story to eclipse the rest. From Sam Stone we have "Walking the Dead", set in a world where people drop down dead and come back as zombies, not even aware that they are so. It's a comic antidote to the grotesqueries of most zombie fiction, with lovely touches of humour as the story's protagonist overcomes circumstance to make a career for himself. I thoroughly enjoyed this, with the incidental invention and occasional social commentary/satire enlivening the mix.

"Life in A Northern Town" by Steve Lockley is set in the bad old days when homeless urchins lived on the streets and nobody gave a shit, with their plight made all the more terrible in this instance by the attacks of a monstrous creature. Survivor Jack learns something about the nature of the beast that he would probably rather not have known. Again this is traditional horror, with a subtext about the casual cruelty of the past, but apart from the final revelation very little to surprise in the narrative. I enjoyed it in a pass the time sort of way. Simon Morden's "Hollow" is set in a drilling rig that suddenly finds itself in danger of sinking and nobody is quite sure why, though scientist Jo, the only woman on board, has an explanation of sorts. It's a gripping story, one that plays out at a ferocious pace, with fine characterisation and enough technical talk to pass muster even if I didn't grasp most of it, but I can't help wishing that something more had been done with the central concept that drives the plot, though I guess you could argue that it's a side issue to the matter of survival. 




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