purplecat: (books)
When I first stumbled across The Story of Fester Cat, on Amazon I think, I was equal parts interested and dubious. I'm very fond of cats; I have mixed feelings about Pauls Magrs' work; and I was concerned about the twee potential of a memoir written from a cat's point of view. The book opens with a critique of another cat memoir in which the protagonist looks down upon its owners from heaven, so this last point was clearly a danger Magrs was well aware of.

The story starts with the final week of Fester's life, an artefact I think, of the way the book was written. I got the impression those first chapters were written in the immediate aftermath of his death as a coping mechanism and only after that did Magrs go back to write the rest of story. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does, in part because the book is meant to be a celebration of Fester Cat and dealing with his last week at the beginning means it does not have to be the end of the book itself.

It is very much the story of Fester Cat as imagined by Paul Magrs. You get the impression that Magrs was very much a watcher of the local cats even before Fester took up residence in his house. The opening sections give names and characters to many of them and, within reason, flesh out Fester's life as a stray. Later on Fester often discusses Magrs' own thoughts and feelings but, necessarily, Magrs' partner Jeremy remains a more shadowy character.

It is, essentially, a cat's eye view of two men settling down properly for the first time. There are ups and downs but it is coloured by lazy summer days spent in the garden or curled up on someone's lap. It is full of the details and rituals that surround Fester and infused with their love for him and the central place he assumes in their life. At the end of the book, I had to go and do a bit of concerned stalking to establish that they now appear to have been adopted by another cat, Bernard Socks. So someone feline is still keeping an eye on them.

It is, frankly, often twee in places but somehow it works, possibly because it is written from the heart.
purplecat: (books)
I've always struggled a bit with Paul Magrs' Doctor Who novels, though I liked the one original novel of his that I read. Magrs has always been something of a champion of the "silly" in Doctor Who and, while I don't like my Doctor Who particularly grim and serious, I've always had a feeling that the silliness I like about it is rather different from the silliness that Magrs likes and I've generally come away from his novels and short stories obscurely dissatisfied.

More recently (by which, inspection reveals, I mean in the past decade) Magrs has produced a series of original novels, the Brenda and Effie series, that by all accounts rested somewhere in between the magic realist tone of his early novels and the affectionate and explicit "silliness" of his Dr Who work. Somewhat belatedly I decided to give them a try and Never the Bride is the first.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby and lives next door to her best friend, Effie. Over the course of the novel it gradually emerges that Brenda is, in fact, the Bride of Frankenstein while Effie is the descendent of a long line of white witches. The both have a penchant for adventure and meddling. The novel is more a collection of four loosely linked novellas in which Brenda and Effie become involved with a range of characters, often drawn from the milieu of late 19th and early 20th century scientific romances and gothic horror stories (though they also meet a thinly disguised version of the Most Haunted TV team). At the core of the stories is their friendship, which is often prickly and difficult, beset with disagreements and misunderstandings. Since I currently have a daughter grappling with how to manage friendships with people who she frequently considers to be WRONG or BADLY BEHAVED, it was interesting to read this nuanced and affectionate portrayal of just such a friendship.

That said the stories themselves, that surround Brenda and Effie, left me with the same sense of encountering a style of whimsey that didn't quite gell with my own preferences, as reading Magrs' Doctor Who stories gave me. Possibly this is because I have no especial affection for either scientific romance nor gothic horror (and I've never watched Most Haunted) and suspect I was missing a lot of in-jokes as a result, I don't know.

It's a well written book and if you have a taste for whimsey, an affection for gothic horror and/or early SF, and an interest in books that examine the nature of friendship, then I would recommend it, but I don't really think it's for me.
purplecat: (books)
Given that half the point of Iris Wildthyme appears to be to pastiche genres of various descriptions, I can see the attraction behind the idea for The Panda Book of Horror. After all the horror genre, almost more than any other, is awash with styles and tropes which are practically designed for pastiche. On the other hand, it is quite hard to pastiche something and still produce a bona fide Horror story. The stories in The Panda Book of Horror mostly lurch rather uneasily between attempting to provide genuine chills and laughs.

It doesn't help that Iris, as a character, is peculiarly unsuited to Horror. We are never really given to suppose that her love of partying hard and her down-to-earth bull-in-a-china-shop approach to problem solving conceals any inner turmoil or suppressed fears and so, by and large, the horror just washes past her. This means that I felt by far and away the most successful story in the collection was Simon Guerrier's The Party in Room Four where the point-of-view is that of a traumatised and bereaved man for whom Iris' very brusqueness and jollity, which he percieves only from afar, is an affront and, ultimately, a component of the horror itself. Dale Smith in The Fag Hag from Hell also attempts to take this tack, of making Iris the Horror, not the victim, but less successfully since Iris doesn't, frankly, make a convincing villain. The story is, ultimately, quite clever and complex but a lot of the build-up hinges on the possibility that Iris could be some kind of monster and that never quite convinces.

Other stories I liked were Paul Magrs' The Delightful Bag although I wished that had been a novella rather than a short story. Much of it seemed very rushed and given it was evoking the atmosphere of children's fantasy books, with a small beleaguered town on Christmas Eve beset by magical happenings, I would have loved it to have had more space to breath as a story. Honourable mention also goes to The Niceness by Jacqueline Rayner and Orna Petit for its clever and well-executed central idea.

All that said, and despite my doubts about the theme, I think it did provide a unifying element that gave the collection a distinct identity when I often think that themes work against the stories in these anthologies. I've sometimes felt authors weren't entirely clear what Iris Wildthyme, as a character, is about and the Horror theme seemed to reduce that uncertainty and she emerged more as her own person and less as a commentary on the Doctor. Even so, I suspect, this remains a collection of interest primarily to Doctor Who fans.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/36523.html.
purplecat: (books)
Given that half the point of Iris Wildthyme appears to be to pastiche genres of various descriptions, I can see the attraction behind the idea for The Panda Book of Horror. After all the horror genre, almost more than any other, is awash with styles and tropes which are practically designed for pastiche. On the other hand, it is quite hard to pastiche something and still produce a bona fide Horror story. The stories in The Panda Book of Horror mostly lurch rather uneasily between attempting to provide genuine chills and laughs.

It doesn't help that Iris, as a character, is peculiarly unsuited to Horror. We are never really given to suppose that her love of partying hard and her down-to-earth bull-in-a-china-shop approach to problem solving conceals any inner turmoil or suppressed fears and so, by and large, the horror just washes past her. This means that I felt by far and away the most successful story in the collection was Simon Guerrier's The Party in Room Four where the point-of-view is that of a traumatised and bereaved man for whom Iris' very brusqueness and jollity, which he percieves only from afar, is an affront and, ultimately, a component of the horror itself. Dale Smith in The Fag Hag from Hell also attempts to take this tack, of making Iris the Horror, not the victim, but less successfully since Iris doesn't, frankly, make a convincing villain. The story is, ultimately, quite clever and complex but a lot of the build-up hinges on the possibility that Iris could be some kind of monster and that never quite convinces.

Other stories I liked were Paul Magrs' The Delightful Bag although I wished that had been a novella rather than a short story. Much of it seemed very rushed and given it was evoking the atmosphere of children's fantasy books, with a small beleaguered town on Christmas Eve beset by magical happenings, I would have loved it to have had more space to breath as a story. Honourable mention also goes to The Niceness by Jacqueline Rayner and Orna Petit for its clever and well-executed central idea.

All that said, and despite my doubts about the theme, I think it did provide a unifying element that gave the collection a distinct identity when I often think that themes work against the stories in these anthologies. I've sometimes felt authors weren't entirely clear what Iris Wildthyme, as a character, is about and the Horror theme seemed to reduce that uncertainty and she emerged more as her own person and less as a commentary on the Doctor. Even so, I suspect, this remains a collection of interest primarily to Doctor Who fans.
purplecat: (books)
I just went back and re-read my review of Wildthyme on Top before setting out to write this. I remembered that short story collection fondly but, on re-reading the review, I discover that I picked out two really good stories and thought the rest were fine but all a bit samey, especially since most of them were literary pastiches of one kind or another.

This collection of short stories, from new publisher Obverse Books, is a less coherent and distinctive collection and (and I fear I may lose friends here) a slightly inferior one though I think, on the whole, it is broadly comparable.

More )

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/5988.html.
purplecat: (books)
I just went back and re-read my review of Wildthyme on Top before setting out to write this. I remembered that short story collection fondly but, on re-reading the review, I discover that I picked out two really good stories and thought the rest were fine but all a bit samey, especially since most of them were literary pastiches of one kind or another.

This collection of short stories, from new publisher Obverse Books, is a less coherent and distinctive collection and (and I fear I may lose friends here) a slightly inferior one though I think, on the whole, it is broadly comparable.

More )
purplecat: (doctor who)
Stuart would have you believe I rode in, out of the blue, on a fleet of formation flying satellites and then nuked it from orbit. Which would actually make a far more interesting post.

Cut for tl;dr )
purplecat: (books)
Another day another Doctor Who spin-off. Not Bernice Summerfield this time but Iris Wildthyme. Iris, well Iris is both easy and difficult to describe. She's a disreputable woman of uncertain age with a penchant for gold lamé who drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney. She travels through space and time in a double-decker bus which is smaller on the inside than on the outside and takes irresponsibility to a level that makes the Doctor look like a straight-laced puritan. More importantly she began her literary career entirely separate from Doctor Who in Paul Magrs' magic realist novel, Marked for Life (which I've not read so I'm taking this on trust), but was later integrated into his Who novels and was used to comment upon the Doctor as a kind of non-evil but entirely irresponsible anti-Doctor. These Who novels were nearly always commentaries upon or pastiches of story-telling forms of one sort or another.

The background is important because, in conceiving a series of Iris Wildthyme short stories, someone obviously had to decide what an Iris story was when there was no Doctor present for her to react against. Somewhere along the line it seems to have been decided that, where the Doctor has adventures in time and space, Iris Wildthyme has adventures in story-telling so the collection predominantly serves us up a selection of pastiches and "Iris meets an author" stories. While many of these are very good they all began to get a little samey after a bit which made Craig Hinton's Came to Believe one of the stand-out stories in the collection. It's one of the "Iris meets an author" stories but Hinton appears to have been drawing more heavily on the magic realist tradition than on the literary pastiche idea. Its an, in many ways mundane, tale of an alcoholic journalist in his first couple of days at a rehab clinic. This stay enlivened by the magical presence of this eccentric woman called Iris. It made me think that a collection of magic realist stories about Iris would have been better and more interesting that the set of story-telling stories that we get, however good some of them may have been. I was all ready to write this review about how Hinton's story was the highlight of the book when Jonathan Blum's The Evil Little Mother and the Tragic Old Bat snuck in right at the end and stole all the honours with an intelligent, gripping and heart-wrenching take on Medea which nevertheless managed to include all the compulsory Iris meddles irresponsibly and gets completely legless parts.

Honourable mention also goes to Philip Purser-Hallard's Minions of the Moon which is best described as Science Fiction as Shakespeare would have written it had he been writing short prose-form stories instead of long verse-form plays. Sadly Purser-Hallard sets up his story and then seems to lose interest in it, stopping it all rather abruptly.

Frankly these three stories alone make the collection worth the cover price. None of the other stories are bad, though some are a little heavy handed in their humour (Lance Parkin's The Mancunian Candidate Narnia pastiche (or more accurately critique) and Jacqueline Rayner's Iris and Irregularity) and others are simply rather slight (Justin Richard's Most Horrid Most Haunted pastiche, Jake Elliot's The Sleuth Slayers which appears to be a cross between an Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes pastiche and an Avengers Tribute and Kate Orman's Rough Magic - the only story in the collection whose link to story-telling of one sort or another wasn't clear to me. Either I've not read the works that inspired it or Orman is attempting something entirely different from the rest of the authors in the collection. Whichever, I didn't find much to sink my teeth into in this tale of magical goings on in a holiday resort in the space-time vortex).

Altogether though, this is a superior effort on the Big Finish Short Story Anthology front.
purplecat: (books)
Sick Building by Paul Magrs, has been very well received, at least in my neck of the woods, but I can't for the life of me see why. This book has much in common with his short story in the Doctor Who Storybook 2007 in that there is nothing actually wrong with it in any way, but compared to talking poodles, men transforming into lizards just because, a literally two-dimensional Mike Yates, and a Doctor who is half-human on his mother's side because his mother is a mermaid and so her top half is human this was pretty tame stuff. I wasn't necessarily a huge fan of Paul Magrs other Dr Who books but I was a fan of the fact that this sort of bizarre stuff was being written under the Dr Who banner. It now appears that, stripped of the permission to let his imagination run riot, Magrs is a competent but otherwise uninspiring author.

Sick building is, unsurprisngly, an evil building novel. Our heroes spend much time being menaced (or assisted) by vacuum cleaners, sunbeds and vending machines which, when put that way, makes it seem not so far from talking poodles after all but somehow this feels bereft of the sort of verve and excitement I picked up from Magrs' other works. Certainly the vacuum cleaners etc. don't seem particularly representative, or illustrative, or to be having conceptual fun with or of anything in particular. There is an (almost) obligatory kidult and another mention of the Doctor's apparent preference for Rose over Martha. As an interesting side issue the book was originally entitled The Wicked Bungalow, this being vetoed, by all accounts including his own, by RTD. Since I am at a loss to understand why "Sick Building" is preferable to "The Wicked Bungalow" I can only assume that this must be one of those reasons why I'm not in charge of a vastly successful television brand.
purplecat: (books)
Its sort of customary to start reviews of the Dr Who storybooks by mentioning the totally bonkers Dr Who annuals of the 1970s but I figure most people reading here either know all about them or aren't terribly interested. Suffice it to say the storybooks are their successors both in content and, in some cases, bonkersness although the storybooks are bonkers (when they are bonkers) in a canonical way while the 70s Who annuals were mostly just bonkers.

a discussion of the stories and pictures with some digressions: Noel Coward, talking poodles and criticisms of the Isle of Wight all feature )

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