Throne of the Crescent Moon, 2013, Saladin Ahmed
A really phenomenally strong sword-and-sorcery throwback fantasy novel that feels fresh and engaging because it takes the core of that genre and throws out all the cliches and creates something new from it.

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Our coldish open this week is on a mysterious woman in a cloak accosting a presumably runaway tv-friendly homeless teen in a park at night and offering the girl a cup of tea in an antique cup. Given what show we’re watching, it’s no great surprise that the vine pattern on the cup comes to life and strangles the girl as 80s tv-friendly hard rock music starts playing in the background, giving us our transition to Lady Die (yes, really) in a recording studio, complaining about the rather boss synth riff her sound engineer has added to her latest track. Die, who spends all her dressing room time checking for wrinkles (including Polaroid selfies), is upset that her plans to stage a concert with the Bleeding Androids to benefit the homeless aren’t progressing fast enough.

Cut to: Curious Goods, where Ryan is busy listening to the song that we just saw being recorded (fast album turn-around time they have in Not Canada). Bantering banter is interrupted by Birdie, a “woman of a certain age” with an eye for Jack, who discusses the recent spate of homeless murders in the neighborhood, as well as the disappearance of an elderly woman named Sara, in what passes for subtle foreshadowing on this show. We’re also given a point blank admission that the cops don’t care what happens to homeless people, so that’s two episodes in a row with a more honest approach to social issues than modern television has. In any case, Mickey and Ryan are able to walk into an autopsy and inject themselves into a police investigation by posing as “concerned citizens” but aren’t able to learn much. While a detective condescends to Mickey, Ryan pockets a strange leaf on the body. Back at the shop, Jack identifies the leaf as from an extinct Irish plant called “Swapper’s Ivy,” an “evil plant” that could be used to “trade for anything” which, sure enough, is linked to an antique. Mickey and Ryan go the now abandoned building listed as the address of the buyer, Fat Eddie, only to find his corpse hidden in a Murphy bed.

Back at the park, Lady Die hurriedly excuses herself from the lighting check for her benefit concert, and her manager interrupts a homeless girl stealing from the craft-services table. The girl interrupts our cloaked figure offering some tea to another tv-friendly homeless man, and is given an antique bracelet to get her to move along. To the surprise of no one, the cloaked figure turns out to be Lady Die, and the little girl is now a witness to the cup’s power. The next day, Birdie is asked to identify the dead man, and she and Mickey encounter the little girl and discover that the bracelet belonged to Sara, Fat Eddie’s sister, but the cloaked lady couldn’t possibly be Sara because Sara was over 70. On the drive home, Lady Die’s latest song, a hard rock cover of “I’m a Little Teapot” plays, which Birdie identifies as Sara’s favorite song, because subtle. At the shop, the gang realizes that, if you paint wrinkles onto a picture of Lady Die, she looks just like Birdie’s photo of Sara. Mickey and Ryan try to meet up with Lady Die at a local radio station, get thrown out, Birdie recognizes Die as Sara, and the little homeless girl steals the cup, because we wouldn’t want to complicate this plot more than it already is.

After some running past each other by the cast of characters in the woods, Mickey and Ryan are able to talk the homeless girl into giving them the cup in exchange for a warm place to sleep. Birdie breaks in and steals the cup, but in the clinch is unable to use it. We get a little more cast back-and-forthing and then the episode’s big action set piece: two old ladies chasing each other through the woods, fighting over a cup, with Mickey and Ryan showing up just in time to be accused by the cops of trying to kill Birdie. Jack witnesses all this and rather than come forward as a witness, he disguises himself as a homeless person in the hopes that he’ll be the one that Lady Die just happens to target. Which she does, because we’ve only got five minutes left in this episode. Jack gets the cup, Mickey and Ryan get out of jail, and everyone gets back together in time to witness Lady Die’s barely animated corpse fall apart. And everyone gets a happy ending, except for our homeless girl, who Birdie sends off to some terrible Not Canada orphanage.

We’ve got a fairly straight-forward episode here, despite the cast’s tendency to run past each other at crucial moments and the incredibly stunning and completely unexpected revelation that Lady Die is Sara is the killer. I’m inclined to give this episode major points simply because we don’t have some sort of implausible set piece whose presence defies any kind of logic. We get a little shakier on the nature of the artifacts, as Birdie is willing to use the cup, but is also able to stop it, without any consequences, but Lady Die basically turns into a mummy after not killing for a day. So there’s still an element of will to it, but mechanisms are still very open-ended.

A Very Robey 80s

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The Face That Must Die, 1985 ed., Ramsey Campbell
Here we go again with the utterly boring Campbell titles…

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We open this episode with a fedora-bro in a hotel bar in Not Canada making a toast in a totally hetero and not a coded homoerotic manner. A hapless loser attempts to pick up a woman who is clearly already on a date, and when rebuffed, unwraps a not at all conspicuous Cupid statue on the bar which comes to life and fires a Video Toaster laser blast at the woman, who then invites our loser to a hotel room. They boink, and then he strangles her while Cupid grins on and fedora-bro and his frat bothers break in, beat him up, and steal Cupid.

Cut to Curious Goods, where Mickey has just read a story about the woman being strangled and immediately connects it to the Cupid statue her Uncle Lewis sold. Turns out it’s the Cupid of Malek, a notoriously ugly woman hater and proto-MRA type who, for some strange reason, had trouble getting women interested in him. The statue has apparently been jumping from owner to owner since Lewis sold it, inspiring each one to kill women. Mickey and Ryan go to retrieve it only to learn from the hotel owner that the frat boys from the University of Not Canada took the statue with them when they broke in on the killer. In a not at all ominous sign, it turns out that the frat is composed entirely of pick-up artists.

Over at Not Canada U, Eddie, aka Stalky, is up a tree using a camera with a telephoto lens to take pictures of girls in the quad, only to be interrupted by a cop who sort of winks at his lame excuse. Eddie then follows a girl and talks about when they’re going out again while she, clearly scared, tells him that they never went out in the first place and she wants him to stay away, while he gripes about not being Alpha enough for her. Mickey and Ryan interrupt and ask about PUA Frat, giving the girl a chance to get away with an excuse, so props for them. Turns out Eddie is not a member of the frat, as he claimed, but just the janitor, and while cleaning he finds the Cupid in fedora-bro’s room. Fedora-bro, for the record, can’t get the statue to work for him, which is our first big canonical hint that the cursed antiques don’t just turn people kill crazy but have to be matched up with the right sort of person. Mickey and Ryan try to bluff the besweatered head of the frat into thinking they’re cops, but are immediately called on it because people in this universe, amazingly, have half a braincell.

In the basement/steamroom/crawlspace apartment of Eddie we see his serial killer wall, where he has cut up and written on photos of Laurie, the girl from earlier, along with the Cupid statue he has now swiped from fedora-bro. Meanwhile, Mickey, Ryan and Jack infiltrate the party, with Jack as the bartender, who has roofied the punch to make it easier for Mickey and Ryan to question the frat boys about the statue. Which garners the appropriate “what the fuck, Jack” reaction from Mickey at least. Eddie tries to crash the party and is turned away, so he takes Cupid to the same dive bar from earlier and pretty much the exact same scene from the opener plays out, only instead of a hotel room he takes his victim out to the country and kills her by chucking a beehive at her. Which is not at all particularly cringe-inducing for those of us with apitoxin sensitivities. Too late to do anything about it, the gang finds out that Eddie stole the Cupid, but are unable to retrieve it from him as it is confiscated by the campus cop from earlier, too late to stop Eddie from using the statue on Laurie. The gang is able to talk Laurie into staying with them for the night, and Eddie is able to talk the cop into giving him back the statue.

The gang is plotting a way to get the statue back without alerting the cops to Eddie’s involvement, when they catch Laurie calling Eddie and planning to sneak out to meet him. Mickey disguises herself as Laurie, only to get zapped by the statue just as Ryan shows up, because we almost went a whole episode without Mickey being in a ridiculous bit of peril. Eddie threatens Ryan with a fire-ax, only to get a face full of steam for his efforts, before being pushed off an air-duct by Ryan and dying after falling a short distance because we’ve only got six minutes left in this episode.

We've got a fairly good little thriller story here, even with the supernatural element. That it is a very basic type of plot helps it out, although we still have some stuff that's clearly in here because someone thought it would make a good set-piece, not because it holds up to any kind of though. Such as living in a steam room. I also like, and was slightly depressed by, the fact that this mid-80s syndicated show took stalking as a crime much more seriously and took great pains to spell out that Eddie was in no way a "nice guy" or "friend-zoned" or any of that kind of bullshit, which is not something I'd have confidence of many shows doing today. And, continuity wise, as I said earlier, the show is starting to make it clear that the antiques are not just crude evil WMDs. Fedora-bro, despite being kind of skeevy and having possession of the Cupid, is never affected by it, because he is apparently just not the type to think murder can be justified.

A Very Robey 80s

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The Doll Who Ate His Mother, 1985 ed., Ramsey Campbell
I like how understated and not at all evocative Campbell’s titles are…

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