Previous Contents Next

wot I red on my hols by alan robson (properamus penates)

Alan Buys a House

When buying a house, it is necessary to make contact with those who are willing to sell. This generally involves talking to a real estate agent.

That’s a problem in itself. Why are these people called real estate agents? Are there perhaps some artificial ones somewhere? Or (more likely, I feel) could there be those who only sell artificial estate as opposed to the ones who restrict themselves just to the real kind?

Of course, rather than being real, they might be imaginary instead. Imaginary estate agents always call themselves i (as in "Hello, i’m Al"). If a male and female imaginary estate agent get together (and the i’s square up) the result is a completely negative estate agent - sometimes known colloquially as a rastafarian because of their habit of referring to themselves as i and i. Should you attempt to place your property on the market with a negative estate agent, they will shake their heads sadly and say:

"Not much call for this kind of dwelling nowadays, squire." Or maybe:

"That’s a nasty bit of woodworm over there. Don’t go a bomb on the death watch beetle ticking in the corner either." Or perhaps:

"When did you last paint this tip then?" And of course the coup de grace:

"You don’t seriously expect to sell it for such a grossly inflated price do you?"

If a negative estate agent encounters a real (or positive) estate agent they will annihilate each other with a great flash of light. This is extraordinarily dangerous to all the cats in the area, for besides giving off large quantities of photons, this reaction also emits the deadly mew neutrinos…

Feeling decidedly puzzled and more than a little light headed after all these esoteric speculations, I contacted all the real estate agents in Wellington (the artificial and imaginary ones had no listing in the phone book). I met some interesting people, all of them definitely real.

One had been born about twenty miles away from my own birthplace in Yorkshire. He still had a broad North of England twang to his voice, and within ten minutes of meeting him, my own accent was back in all its glory. As we drove around looking at houses we "eeh-ba-gum-trubble-at-mill"-ed to each other, swapped nostalgic stories about the old home county, and congratulated ourselves on how carefully (and properly) we both pronounced the integer that lies between zero and two.

Another agent was a lady with a soft, liquid voice that sent goose bumps running up and down my spine.

"You have a most wonderful voice," I said.

"Thank you," she said, quite sincerely. And then, with a perfectly straight face, she continued, "When I was making a career decision, I was torn between real estate and working on a telephone sex line."

"You made the wrong decision," I said firmly, and we were fast friends.

In More than Mortal, Mick Farren gives us another instalment in the life of Renquist, the vampire. This third novel in the series appears to be a launching pad for an extended story arc and while it is complete in itself and is thoroughly enjoyable (this is Mick Farren after all) it is definitely a scene setter for whatever comes next. Renquist receives a message from Columbine, an old flame. She is living in a remote English village in an ancient priory with two other nosferatu Marieko and Destry.

Destry is mad about horses and at one point in the novel someone asks, "Where’s Destry?"

"She’s riding again," is the (inevitable) reply.

You have to admire the sheer nerve of an author who can put a joke as bad as that one into a novel.

Anyway – the point of asking Renquist to come to England is that Columbine has detected psychic radiation from an old Saxon burial mound near the priory. The mound is currently being investigated by an archaeological team and Columbine is a little frightened at what they might uncover. Renquist To The Rescue!

He finds things to be a bit more dangerous than he expected. The being in the burial mound is the extra-terrestrial who was once known to human history as Merlin. In that guise he played a large part in the Matter of Britain, and it seems that his ambition in this area is not yet satisfied. Renquist has his work cut out for him as he tries to foil both Merlin’s plans and also the ambitions of a feudal clan of Scottish nosferatu who have their own secret agenda for the newly revitalised being. There is an ending of sorts, but it is nicely ambiguous. We haven’t seen the last of Merlin.

Many years ago, Dave Langford and John Grant wrote something that they felt was the ultimate spoof horror novel. It was called Guts and it was so horrible that it was rejected with cries of extreme nausea by every publisher to whom it was presented. Langford dined out on the story for years, and professed (pseudo-) sorrow that nobody would ever read the rotten thing.

Well now you can. Cosmos Books have taken the plunge and published it – thus proving yet again that there is no subject matter so vile that the book can’t find a publisher somewhere.

The "plot" (for want of a better word) revolves around the exploits of the sentient intestines of the major characters. The intestines rather resent their interior functions. They want to break out into the world, to live and love in the open air. (It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "communicating with your inner being"). The bulk of the novel is made up of a series of set piece encounters between the rampant intestines and the populace at large.

Every intestinal joke you can think of and huge number that you can’t think of and many that you wouldn’t like to think of desecrate the text along with a lot of sly nudge, nudge, wink, wink digs at pseudo-scientific nut-cults, the reading room of the British Library and the sexual attractiveness of the Sphinx. I think there might be a kitchen sink in there as well.

That’s not bad for a mere 173 pages! Langford’s right – it’s a rotten book. I loved it.

Poppy Z. Brite is back with a short novel from Subterranean Press. It’s called Plastic Jesus and it will probably be more than a little controversial. It opens with the assassination of a rock singer in New York. He had been a member of a British rock group in the 1960s and even after the group split up, his fame continued. One reason for the group splitting up (not the only reason) was that the group as a whole was unable to cope with the intensity of the love affair between this man and the other major songwriter in the group. Their homosexual love started to loom larger than the music. The pressures broke up the group, but it didn’t break the love between the two songwriters – they continued to make music together and on the night that he was gunned down, his lover was in the car and he saw everything. What happens now, asks the novel? How will the survivor cope with losing his lover, his best friend, the man with whom he made such beautiful music?

The premise isn’t true, of course. John and Paul weren’t lovers (as far as we know) and the Beatles split as much for financial as for personality reasons. But it makes a fascinating speculation all the same. What if John and Paul really had been lovers? Would it have made a difference to the music, a difference to their lives (and indirectly to ours)?

I vividly remember the day John Lennon was shot. I remember going into work that day feeling quite numb. And one of my work colleagues sat all day at her desk just sobbing quietly, but uncontrollably.

Poppy Z. Brite was only thirteen when John died. She was really a generation too young for the Beatles and their music. But that didn’t stop her and she loved them dearly. She has a copy of a quirky little self portrait that John once drew tattooed on her left bicep.

Plastic Jesus is her intriguing speculation about what might have been and it is her homage to the ideas and ideals of a very great man. She’s done a wonderful job and written a very moving story.

I explained my requirements to each and every estate agent.

"I want a five bedroom house in the Northern suburbs. I don’t want to do any building or renovation and I don’t want to spend more than about $200,000."

One and all they sucked air through their teeth, shook their heads sadly and, being negative estate agents, said: "No squire, can’t do you anything like that. Nothing like that on the books. Bad time of year, you see. Properties just aren’t moving at the moment. Nothing available. Oh dear me, no."

I pointed out some adverts I had culled from the weekly property magazine. All of them met my exact specifications.

"What about these?"

"Oh, yes – they might do at a pinch. I’d forgotten about those…"

That was when I began to learn the realities of the language called real-estate-agentese. For it turned out that the agents had been far more honest in their conversation with me than they had been in their adverts; there really was virtually nothing along the lines I was looking for. All the glowing descriptions in the adverts were perfectly true as far as they went; but they didn’t mention the off putting aspects. And who can blame them really?

The quiet cul-de-sac had a motorway at the bottom of the hill and you could sit in the lounge and be soothed by the rhythmic rumble rising upwards twenty-four hours a day (extra on Saturdays).

The all day sun did indeed get the sun all day long. This was because the house was right on the top of the tallest mountain in the area. Nothing obscured the sun. And the wind from the Antarctic didn’t have anything in its way either – except the house, of course.

"This is a nice house," said the agent. And it was. Almost perfect, in fact.

"Doesn’t the fault line go through somewhere round about here?" I asked.

"Ah, yes," said the agent. He cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Actually it does. I think the fault line goes right through the middle of the lounge. That’s why the house is such a bargain at the price."

Stephen King and Peter Straub are back with The Black House which is the sequel to their earlier The Talisman. You don’t have to have read the earlier novel to enjoy this one. Indeed in some ways it is perhaps better if you haven’t read the earlier book for it was a routine fantasy quest and its very ordinariness may predispose you to think badly of The Black House, and that would be a shame for this new novel is a tour de force.

The title is a pun, bringing to mind Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House. This is quite intentional. Stylistically the book owes a lot to the Dickens novel and even the convoluted plot has resonances with Dickens. The authors don’t seek to disguise this relationship; the book is full of overt references to Bleak House and at one point one of the characters even spends some time reading that novel out loud to one of the other characters (who is blind). I love these little touches – it’s only a game, but the game adds a depth and a freshness that I really enjoy.

The story itself is set some twenty years after the events of The Talisman. Jack Sawyer is a retired Los Angeles detective living in the small town of Tamarack, Wisconsin. He has largely forgotten the adventures of his childhood.

Tamarack is plagued by an odd series of gruesome murders of little children. They seem to parallel a similar series of killings that were committed several decades ago by a man called Albert Fish. Because of the resemblances, the new murderer is dubbed the Fisherman. The local chief of police begs Jack for help in solving the killings, but Jack is reluctant to be drawn in to the gruesome business. However the pressure becomes too much for him, particularly because he is getting flashbacks to his childhood adventures in the Territories. There may a relationship between the Fisherman killings and the Territories and Jack is the only link between them, the only man who perhaps can solve the problems that run in parallel on both sides of the veil that divides the two worlds.

Much of the success of the novel can be traced to the superb characterisation. Jack in particular jumps alive from the page. At times the people almost degenerate into "caricaturisation", if I may coin a word; but though the book hovers on the brink, it never (quite) succumbs. I particularly liked the gang of motor cycle thugs who are all college graduates and who are the brains behind the success of the beer brewed in the local brewery. In between picking fights and doing drugs they are likely to be found talking about existentialism in the bar. At one point one of them discovers that the man he is about to hit in the face is a preacher, so he stops the fight in order to discuss a knotty problem of early Christian philosophy that has been worrying him for quite some time…

Stephen King has a unifying plot thread that runs like a sub-text through many of his books. The image of the Dark Tower and the doings of Roland the Gunslinger are ideas that he picks at again and again; sometimes overtly as in the Dark Tower novels, sometimes less so as here in The Black House. The climax of this novel depends in part on the mythology of the Tower and certainly adds another thread of mystery to the theme (and illuminates others).

The Veteran is a new collection of short stories by thriller writer Frederick Forsyth. Like his earlier collection No Comebacks, the stories are all one shot wonders that depend for their effect on the sting in the tail that cast a whole new light retrospectively over the events leading up to the denouement. They are beautifully written, but you can only read them once. When the shock ending is known, the element of surprise is missing and the stories become rather tedious. So borrow this one from the library; don’t buy it.

I never thought I’d find a Jane Lindskold book that I didn’t like, but I have to say (sadly) that I really couldn’t get on with Through Wolf’s Eyes. It starts out excitingly enough. Firekeeper is a feral child, brought up by wolves. The descriptions of her life with the wolves are utterly fascinating and quite wonderful (Lindskold out-Kiplings Kipling here). But all too quickly the story degenerates into soap opera when Firekeeper comes back into contact with humanity.

Years ago, it seems, Prince Barden led a colonising expedition out into the wilderness. Nothing has been heard from him since. However, if any of the Prince’s children are still alive, they could be heirs to the kingdom. The throne is vacant and a claimant is needed. Earl Kestrel goes searching in the wilderness.

You can write the rest yourself, and you won’t be wrong. Dynastic politics and aristocratic intrigues are dull as ditchwater. Even Jane Lindskold can’t make them interesting.

Every night for three interminable weeks I was escorted around drearily unsuitable properties. Dank, damp, dingy, dismal houses appeared to be excessively common in the Northern suburbs. And only a generous soul would have described them as spacious. The ceilings were so low that they brushed against the top of my head, and the five bedroom count had been obtained by dividing a series of very tiny bedrooms into even tinier ones. There was absolutely no possibility of me being able to indulge in my favourite pastime of cat swinging.

Sad wood-burning heaters sagged miserably against dirty walls.

"I think the certificate has expired," said the agent cheerfully. "But that doesn’t really matter."

I was shown kitchens covered in fat. Cockroaches scuttled madly in slow motion as they struggled to get traction or sank out of sight into the grease traps where presumably they drowned.

Threadbare lounge carpets exuded urinary odours and thirty year old wallpaper clung desperately to the walls, peeling gently in the corners of the room where nobody would notice except me.

I was shown house after unsuitable house by one particular agent who justified himself by pointing out all the little jobs that needed doing to bring the premises up to scratch. Putting in a staircase, knocking down a wall, extending the lounge. Very cheap, very quick, very easy.

"All I need is a room to store 6,000 books," I said, "and another one to put 10 computers in. These houses are too small."

One and all, the estate agents looked at me as if I was a raving eccentric. "Are you sure you don’t want to buy commercial premises? Is it really a house you are after?"

There was nothing for it. I’d have to visit the open homes…

The events of Dead in the West take place in the middle of the nineteenth century in the small western town of Mud Creek. A travelling medicine show run by an Indian and a negress arrives in the town. Initially Mud Creek welcomes them, particularly when they really do seem to be able to cure the illnesses that the people exhibit. A misunderstanding escalates and the Indian and his partner are lynched. But death is no obstacle. The Indian swears revenge for the injustice and for the rape and lynching of his partner and he comes back from the dead to wreak his vengeance…

Because this is a Joe Lansdale story, we are treated to lots of lovely gore and grue, to ingenious deaths and fascinating mutilations. And there are no happy endings. By the last page, everyone in Mud Creek is dead and the town has been completely destroyed.

However it must have been rebuilt because The Magic Wagon is set in 1909 and it opens with the eponymous medicine show arriving in Mud Creek to swindle the locals. The crew of the magic wagon consists of Billy Bob Daniels, sharp shooter extraordinary, Rot Toe the wrestling chimpanzee, Old Albert the Nigger, Buster Fogg, the narrator of the story and the mummified body of Wild Bill Hickock in a box. Billy Bob Daniels has screwed hinges into the body’s elbows so that he can tie strings to the arms and pull on them to make the corpse point its guns at the audience.

The story is a rambling combination of Twain-esque wit and dime novel pulp fiction that examines a few days in the lives of the crew of the magic wagon. They turn out to be critical days indeed for when they are over one of the crew will be a multiple murderer and will have died for his crimes, and another will be seriously wounded.

Despite the gloomy ending, the book is shot through with black humour and tall tales and is absolutely delightful. Dead in the West is actually just an ordinary run-of-the-mill horror/vampire/zombie story. The Magic Wagon has very few supernatural elements in it (and these are really quite understated – for Joe Lansdale at least) and it is a much stronger story as a result. It depends for its effects on grotesqueries rather than on straight out horror. And boy is it ever grotesque!

One of Maurice Shadbolt’s most praised novels is Season of the Jew. It is a factual historical novel set during the land wars in New Zealand. A band of Maori tribesmen are stripped of their land and sent into exile. They compare themselves to the Jews, a people who also had their lands removed from them, and under the leadership of a charismatic prophet they fight a guerrilla campaign against the British, basing their tactics and strategy on instructions from the Old Testament.

Despite the praise that has been heaped upon the book, I found it a struggle to read. It is impossible to become involved in the story for the people in it never come alive. The book is mostly dialogue with very little exposition. We almost never see inside the heads of the viewpoint characters. We must judge them solely by the words they say and the deeds they do for we can never know how they feel about the events of the novel except at second hand. This makes the prose cold and emotionless and the dialogue tends to sound like speeches and soliloquies rather than ordinary conversation, which gives the story an artificial air. It's a little like reading a play without stage directions. It can’t come alive until there are actors to interpret it and a director to impose thematic unity. And of course I had no actors in my head, no director to explain it to me. I felt quite isolated, distanced from the events as if I was watching them take place through the wrong end of a telescope.

Darwinia is a flawed masterpiece. In March 1912, half the world disappears. Great Britain and Europe and all the people who live there vanish into nothingness and are replaced by a land that is geographically similar to the old land but which is covered in forests of plants and trees unknown to science. The forests are inhabited by birds, animals and insects the like of which have never been seen before on the Earth.

Expeditions are mounted to explore and exploit the new lands and speculation as to the cause of the catastrophe run wild. The story follows one such expedition deep into the heart of what was once Europe. One by one the members of the expedition die. Only two survive to return to the outside world and these two, for their own reasons, remain silent about what they found.

Up to this point the book held me enthralled. An exciting adventure, an eerie mystery, what more could anyone want? But then there was a brief interlude in the middle of the book that completely destroyed the spell. The interlude explained all the mysteries – but only to the reader, not to the characters in the book. They don’t discover any of these secrets until much later on. Such a massive spoiler in the middle of the story completely destroyed its momentum. I didn’t like possessing information that was unknown to the characters and while the book did eventually pick up again, there was a long dry patch where it simply stopped working.

It’s an ingenious book with a carefully worked out plot and the reasons for the strange thing that has happened to the Earth are beautifully original. The sheer detail of the new lands and their flora and fauna are exquisitely presented and the hardships of travelling through them are excellently dramatised. All this is high praise indeed and the book deserves it. But the structure is very badly flawed – I really did hate that massive spoiler in the middle.

"Please take your shoes off. An Asian family lives here and they don’t allow shoes in the house."

I took my shoes off but I really don’t know why it was required for the house was so filthy that, had I worn them, I think my shoes would have been dirtier when I left than when I arrived. A grotesquely stained toilet bowl lurked in the bathroom beside the mouldy shower stall. Nameless blemishes disfigured the carpet. Each room had a gigantic hole in the wall in which lived an ancient, crumbling night storage heater. Someone had recently painted the window frames (perhaps to disguise the rotten wood). They were no great shakes with a paintbrush, and seem never to have heard of masking tape for half the glass was also covered in smeary white paint.

Another house perched on a sheer hillside and was only reached by climbing up a never ending staircase. Once the prospective visitors had recovered their breath, special treats were in store. There were indeed five bedrooms, just as I had requested. None of the rooms had wallpaper – the plaster on the walls was in very good condition and the rooms had been decorated by simply painting the plaster. One room was bright green. The next was bright orange. Then there was the bright blue room and the bright yellow room, and I won’t even mention the vivid fire-engine red room. I began to wish I’d remembered to pack my sunglasses.

Only the rear wall of the house stood solidly on the earth. The rest of it stuck insouciantly out into thin air supported only by massive piles driven deep into the bedrock. There was lots and lots of nothing underneath each and every room. I could easily imagine the weight of my library collapsing the floorboards, scattering books the length and breadth of the mountain for the edification of the possums. No - bright and cheerful though it was, this place would never do.

A poky looking little house turned out to be almost ideal. Rather like Dr. Who’s Tardis it was significantly larger inside than it was outside. The rooms appeared to go on forever and there were lots of them. I was seriously tempted by this house, but it had three enormous drawbacks. It was a semi-detached house and I didn’t like the idea of sharing a wall with my neighbours. What if they were too noisy for me? What if I was too noisy for them? Another problem was the tiny little garden with no privacy whatsoever – every square inch was overlooked by another house. No nude sunbathing in this garden! The third problem was a very smarmy estate agent who was just too greasy to bear. I made my excuses and left.

The next house sat glumly in its grounds, in a small depression surrounded by a wall that appeared to be there solely and simply to hold a minor mountain in check and prevent it from following its natural inclination to fall over and flatten everything in its path – including, of course, the house I was looking at. It was an OK house, nothing exciting. The size was adequate, the state of the rooms was liveable with. However the wall that ran around the garden had a huge crack running top to bottom. It bulged under the weight of an enormous mass of soil and rock that pressed eagerly up against the other side. "Oh that’s nothing", said the agent. "Perfectly safe and secure." He thumped it hard and I’ll swear it shivered and shook.

One of the very best of the episodes from the first series of Star Trek was The City On The Edge Of Forever which was written by Harlan Ellison. Harlan was never satisfied with the version that eventually aired and always claimed that his script had been butchered. Despite the awards that it won, he maintained that his original script was a much stronger story – and subsequent events have tended to prove that he was correct in that assertion for the original script won many prestigious awards in its own right. However it has been hard for the fans to judge the merit of the case for the original screenplay has never been freely available.

Now it has been published by Borealis Press and we can all make our own minds up. Not only do we get the original script we also get a very long essay by Harlan in which he explains the manner in which the script was butchered and details the lies and calumnies that were circulated about both the script and Ellison himself. It has to be said that if even half the things that Ellison says are true then Gene Roddenberry must have been a very nasty, vindictive and shallow man. Ellison makes a convincing case, with documentary evidence to back it up. The Star Trek machine was nasty and corrupt; of that there can be little doubt.

What of the script itself? Well I could quibble with some of the details – the original screenplay had an old soldier from the First World War as a pivotal character. He had fought at Verdun and been crippled there and the poignancy of this was a dramatic and quite moving plot point. However I seriously doubt if ANY American soldiers fought at Verdun. America didn’t enter the war until 1917 and Verdun was fought during the miserable year of 1916. Furthermore it was a French battle and the troops on the allied side were almost exclusively French. I suppose it is (just) conceivable that the character could have been an American volunteer from the Foreign Legion, but that really is pushing it. It’s an odd area for Harlan to make such a large mistake in – he is usually quite meticulous in his research. But I think Homer nodded here. Incidentally, none of this material appears in the broadcast episode.

Harlan makes a very convincing case for the repression, bullshit and sheer bloody-minded stupidity that tore his original thinking to shreds, but he makes a much less convincing case for the dramatic validity of his script over that which eventually aired. Shallow and trivial though Rodenberry’s vision may have been, he did have a certain dramatic flair and the episode remains a shining example of something that he actually did right.

Meanwhile, Harlan’s essay remains a fascinating insight - a beautifully bitchy, gossip-ridden insiders view of the Star Trek phenomenon. The book is worth its price just for that – the screenplay is an added bonus.

Kaeti and Company is the first of two short story collections that Keith Roberts wrote about Kaeti, his dream girl. There is no unifying theme to the stories apart from a brief authorial foreword to each. But even the forewords are fiction. Roberts presents Kaeti and her friends as actors on a stage. Each foreword involves him in a dialogue in which he explains to Kaeti what her role will be in the new story. She always has the chance to turn the role down if she wishes (though she never does). The stories tell tales from the past, present and future and the characters that Kaeti and her friends play vary wildly in each. Sometimes she is a heroine, sometimes a villain, often she is ambiguous. It’s a delightful conceit and perversely it really does provide a unification to a completely diverse range of themes and characters – quite an artistic triumph. And the stories are little gems, one and all.

Origin is the third and last of Stephen Baxter’s Manifold series. It is not necessary to have read the previous volumes to enjoy this one (though it helps, of course).

One day the moon disappears from the sky and is replaced by a glowering red moon that obviously has an atmosphere and inhabitants. Reid Malenfant and his wife Emma are flying over Africa when the event happens and the gravitational crisis that it causes forces them to eject from the plane. Malenfant parachutes safely to Earth but Emma is trapped by the red moon and plummets to its surface.

The remainder of the book tells two stories. One follows the adventures of Emma on the moon, the other tells of Malenfant’s frenzied attempts to raise a rescue mission. Of the two, the first is the most fascinating for the moon turns out to be inhabited by many species of primitive humans who mirror the evolutionary past of homo sapiens. Emma must learn to live in this savage, primitive world where life really is nasty, brutish and short. Baxter does a wonderful job of invoking the sheer difficulty of this. He pulls no punches. Do you want to know what raw meat fresh from the kill tastes like? Read the book. Want to know what it feels like to die of thirst? Read the book. Want to know how tribal sociologies work even in the absence of language? Read the book. It’s absolutely enthralling, utterly gripping, and the eventual explanation of the purpose behind the red moon is not a cop out (as these things so often are) but is a genuinely original answer to the Fermi paradox that Baxter has nibbled at in the previous books in the series.

Too often in the past Baxter has worked on far too large a canvas and his books have degenerated into incoherency as he tries to describe things that are just too large to envisage. But here he restricts himself to the small scale (with occasional numinous insights) and therefore he never completely loses control of the material as he has done before. Origin is a truly magnificent capstone to the Manifold series and is probably Baxter’s very best work to date.

Carter Beats The Devil is Glen Gould’s first novel and I for one can’t wait to read his next. It is 1923 and the magician Charles Carter walks onto the stage to present his greatest show ever. In the audience is President Warren Harding who volunteers to take part in the magic act. Harding is made to vanish, but is eventually rescued from the stomach of a fierce Lion. Carter and Harding take their bows to enthusiastic audience applause.

Two hours later Harding is dead.

The secret service suspect that Carter was somehow involved in the death, though evidence is hard to come by. The novel explores both Carter’s early career (how did he become such a great magician) and also his ongoing feud with the secret service as they investigate and harass him.

At one and the same time this is a novel about what it is to be a magician (the 1920s were the golden age of stage magic), what it is to be a president, and what it is to be a scientist with a great invention that can change the world. It blends reality and fiction into a seamless presentation of what the 1920s might have been like if only things had been a little different. It is replete with magician’s lore and brilliantly evokes the splendour and spectacle.

And the ending will take your breath away.

The house that I finally bought was the last on the list. I was fed up by now and almost didn’t bother with it. But my friends who were driving me around insisted and so we went for a look…

I got a shock as soon as I saw it. It was immaculate – white and shining in the sun. A brick barbecue stood in the front garden and a well loved vegetable garden sat smugly just outside the fence. The vegetables marched in mathematically perfect rows and the soil was freshly raked and hoed.

Inside the house were a myriad spacious, sparkling rooms nicely decorated and all as clean as an operating theatre. The architecture was somewhat eccentric. The place appeared to have been owned by a person whose hobby was building extensions. Every time he stumbled into a wall, he knocked it down and built a room. It seemed to go on forever. The kitchen was pathetic – it only had one power point and no working surfaces at all (obviously nobody in the house cooked) – but that could be fixed.

There was a bus stop just outside the fence and a Brethren Church right next door. Transport all laid on and quiet neighbours to boot. Perfect!

I made an offer. One of the Brethren made an identical offer. Bugger!

I increased my offer. So did they, but my final offer was $1000 more than theirs. I won!! God was obviously on my side that day.

My offer was dependant on a builder’s report. So the next order of business was to arrange for this to be done. I have a friend who has a friend who is a qualified architect and a building inspector.

"He did the report on our house," said Laurie, "and did a superb job. He lives just up the road. Let’s go and see him."

We walked up the road a bit. "It’s just down these steps," said Laurie. "He designed the whole house himself. That’s why we didn’t ask him to design our new kitchen. But he does good building reports."

A deal was struck and two days later the building report arrived. The architect did a thorough job (and he even included a photograph with the report because he has just bought a new digital camera and he likes to play with it). The report found nothing wrong (just a few niggles such as only one power point in the kitchen). I ticked the box and the offer went unconditional.

So I’ve got a house. I’ll be spending Christmas in Wellington.


My mate Ian pointed out the possibility of imaginary estate agents and some of the possible consequences of their (non-) existence. He’s also toying with the idea of quantum reversibility in realtor land: an estate agent is its own anti-estate-agent. That would explain why every house they take on is a dog, whereas every house they sell is a palace. But estate agents have no branes.

Mick Farren More Than Mortal Tor
David Langford & John Grant Guts Cosmos Books
Poppy Z. Brite Plastic Jesus Subterranean Press
Stephen King & Peter Straub Black House Random House
Frederick Forsyth The Veteran Bantam Press
Jane Lindskold Through Wolf’s Eyes Tor
Joe R. Lansdale Dead in the West Space & Time
Joe R. Lansdale The Magic Wagon Subterranean Press
Maurice Shadbolt Season of the Jew Sceptre NZ
Robert Charles Wilson Darwinia Tor
Harlan Ellison The City on the Edge of Forever
- The Original Screenplay
Keith Roberts Kaeti & Company Wildside Press
Stephen Baxter Origin Voyager
Glen David Gould Carter Beats the Devil Sceptre

Previous Contents Next