The Outward Urge

Title: The Outward Urge

Author: John Wyndham

Summary: The ‘outward urge’ was a factor in the Troon inheritance. Successive generations of Troons, looking up at the stars, heard the siren voices that called them out into space. And, as the frontiers of space receded, there was usually one Troon, if not more, out there, helping to push them back.

The five exciting episodes related here deal with the parts they played in the building of the Space Station, the occupation of the Moon, the first landing on Mars, and the trouble about Venus and the asteroids.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors. My absolute favourite, if you ask me on decisive day. I even recently got a John Wyndham inspired tattoo ♥ I’ve not read all his books yet; i’m taking them slowly, because there are only a finite number. It’s been a while now, though, so i thought i’d pick this one up.

This book has five stories set across 200 years, linked by the development and exploration of space, as well as by the Troon family. It is common for Troons to have the ‘outward urge’–that is, to explore space, to go further, to know what else there is out there. And so the Troons are at the forefront of every spaceward progression these stories explore. The first British space station, the first landing on the moon, the first Mars landing, the first Venus landing… I love that Wyndham uses a family to connect the stories. They are more intrinsically linked this way, yet still independent, with so much time passing between them.

The first story had me sobbing by the end of it, despite the fact it was pretty clear what was going to come. For the first story to hit me like that left me already so invested in the rest. I love that while we meet the first Troon, heading to help build the space station, he is a young man, but when we meet his moon station commander son in the second story, he is 50 years old. It’s so clearly not the same story or character development in each chapter; they each have their own heart and meaning. I loved them all, but the first and the last were stand out for me. The Mars landing was a very close third. Just… they’re all brilliant!

A few stories had some wonderful quotes and meaningful concepts. Wyndham explores that side of science fiction so, so well–the philosophical alongside the technological. I was underlining and dog earring quite a bit, and i love it when a passage strikes me so close to my heart that i have to pause in my reading to take a note of it. One of my favourites was this one:

Odd, he thought, in a kind of parenthesis, that it should need the suspicion of human hostility to reawaken the sense of the greater hostility constantly about them.

I would have given this book five stars in a heartbeat, if it weren’t for one glaring omission. Something that, for Wyndham, is surprising and disappointing. The lack of female characters. Every single Troon in this book, and every single space-bound non-Troon main character is a man. It could be argued that, writing in the 1950s, Wyndham was writing more in line with his era. BUT a) that’s never stopped Wyndham before, and b) the stories are set 40-240 years into the future, give me a god damn spacewoman! So yeah, the omission of decent female characters has irked me, but i also know how bloody good Wyndham is for including wonderful women elsewhere, so i won’t hold a grudge–this time.

In summary, I still love Mr Wyndham, but i’ll need a female-strong book from him next. And to be fair, that wont be for at least six months…



Stories: Short & Sweet

It’s no secret i’m a lover of short stories. I’m also aware that a lot of other people aren’t. My love of short stories is so easy and natural that it baffles me a little why other people don’t seem to enjoy them as much as I do. I can’t understand what it is about them that’s unappealing. This left me wanting to articulate the reasons I think short stories are brilliant, so I had a go.

Most obviously, there is less commitment in reading a short story, and therefore a much quicker pay off. I can read a short story in minutes. I can experience the wonder, the tragedy, the humour, of a single narrative much more swiftly than with the commitment of reading an entire book. Even if I don’t enjoy the story, I haven’t wasted hours or days of my life reading it. They’re like chapters of a book, but with an entire set up and conclusion in each.

You get to the good stuff quicker because the whole story is the good stuff. Novels can take pages and pages and chapters and chapters to really get your teeth into, but short stories are wham and you’re there. Linked to this is the fact they draw you into the world and the characters so much quicker—you’re made to care and get invested from the get go, which leaves you no time to get bored.

Every word has to count in a short story. They’re not the place to wax lyrical about unimportant side notes or superfluous details. Everything mentioned in a good short story will add something to the narrative. It might be plot, character, mood—whatever the important things are to get across, and whatever it is the author is trying to convey in the small time they have your attention. It all matters.

My very favourite kind of short stories often have some sort of twist or unexpected revelation at the end. Something that makes you view the whole story in a new light, and makes a second read a whole new experience. It’s almost like you get two stories in one, and it can add such depth to such a short narrative. Of course, novels can have twists and turns and revelations, but re-reading short story is a much simpler task. There have been times i’ve finished a short story and gone straight back to the beginning to start it again. As much as i’ve loved any novel, i’ve never wanted re-read it immediately.

I find short stories can often make the reader work harder. The more thought and attention you put into a short story, the more satisfaction you get out of it. Novels can often over explain, or spell things out too much over time, but short stories won’t make it that easy for you. They give you all the pieces, but you might have to ponder on them before they fit together. They might, for example, not answer all the questions the story raises. They might leave the ending ambiguous or open to interpretation. I love endings like that anyway (be it novel, film, TV, whatever), but in a short short it forces you to take stock of the information you have been given and find new and extended meaning in it.

I just really love short stories okay? But don’t just take my rambling, biased word for it. Let these wonderful quotes persuade you to reading more short story collections…

A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.

– Stephen King

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.

– Edgar Allan Poe

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.

– Paolo Bacigalupi

A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.

– Eudora Welty

A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.

– Neil Gaiman

My advice would be this: Don’t get all up in your head thinking short-short stories have to be poetry without the line breaks. Don’t put on your beret. Just tell a story, an actual story. Quick, while they’re still listening.

– Rebecca Makkai

A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end.

– Michael Swanwick


Title: Seasons

Author: Mike Medaglia

Summary: Seasons is a collection of 4 short stories based on the different seasons in a year and how they correspond to the different seasons of a life.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book has one of the most gorgeous covers i have ever laid eyes on. Obviously, that’s the reason i picked it up. So simple, yet so affective. I love the minimalism, the bold colours, the leaves. It’s perfect and I want to frame it.

There are four short and equally as simple stories inside. Each named after the season it is set in, and each capturing a different time in life; childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age. None is really a happy story–all showcase a sadness to humanity in their own way. Patterns children are drawn to repeat, pressures of society telling us what we should be, the shallow insecurities of adulthood, and the fear of not having learnt enough as our time runs out.

Each story–each season–is prefaced with a quote and large splashing of art and colour, illustrating the changing of the seasons and allowing space to pause and absorb between each story. It is a lovely touch.

Four stories, catching just a brief, but all too telling glimpse into people’s lives. They are beautifully told. The art is bold and clear, often at odds with the message being delivered. The colour choices match the season the stories are in–pastel green, pink, and blue for spring, bright primaries for summer, deep orange and browns for autumn, and cool blues for winter. They set a mood that makes the reading easy and the tone light, despite the sombre narratives.

A wonderful little book, worth picking up and pondering over for a spell. Simple, and meaningful. I loved every page.


Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Title: Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Author: Various

Summary: Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood.

Our sixteenth issue, featuring a timeless collection of poems and short stories that explore hope in all its weird and wonderful ways. Nestled within its pages, we’ll find a daughter extracting memories from her mother’s mind, a couple feasting on slices of rainbow, refugees spreading roots in friendlier lands, a woman who begins to disappear from sight and someone with a small, bright bird inhabiting their chest

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After reading and reviewing The Adventure Issue, I have a few Popshot magazines on my bookshelf to read. I’m glad I finally managed to pick one up to read!

The illustrations are, as previously, outstanding. They set the tone for the individual stories and poems, as well as the magazine itself. They are mellow, lulling the reading into the words at a sedate pace, making you really consider and appreciate every sentence. The detail, the colours, the space… although they are different artists, they fit and compliment each other, pulling the entire magazine together.

My favourite story was The Disappearance, a quiet tale about people fading away. It surprised me how quickly and completely i became immersed in the story, invested in the one character we meet, and how quickly the tale flew by. I Hope This Email Finds You Well and Bird Girl are other stand outs, for the writing, the way the stories are told, and the concepts they are exploring. I found them fascinating. The other few stories were fine, but none quite grabbed me enough to leave a lasting impression.

There were a few notable poems this issue, as well. I’m not a huge poem lover and I freely admit a lot manages to go over my head, but here i found several to love. Small Animals, the last in the magazine, is a clear winner (always saving the best till last). It talks of bad days and good, and sharing your sadness and embracing the happiness… except it’s so much more than that and so, so beautifully written. The Cavern, about the good things we hold within us, afraid to let them out for fear of failure. Ash, about someone helping your burned heart grow something new. Rainbow, Refugee, This World No Deeper Than The Eye… the poems stood out in this issue, far and away.

As much as I loved a lot of the stories and poems, overall this issue didn’t pull me in as much or as strongly as the previous issue. Maybe because i’m too much of a cynical person, and adventure speaks to me more than hope. Either way, i still very much enjoyed it, and look forward to grabbing the next issue soon.

Ash by Kieran Cottrell

I had a heart like an upturned ashtray.

I spoke smoke. People held their breath.
When I found you, ash was all
I had to pile at your feet.

I did not know what you would do
with my dire, dirtying heart
crumbled there, burning.

Would you brush it off, blow it out,
heap it, beating, in your palm
offend the wind with it?

No, you found soil, seeded it.
You poured my heart in, stirred
what I had wasted. And we waited.

Now here’s a sapling. Soon, an ash tree.

Illustration by Leib Chigrin

The Practical Implications of Immortality

Title: The Practical Implications of Immortality

Author: Matthew Dooley

Summary: Fresh from winning the 2016 Jonathan Cape/Comica/Observer prize, Matthew Dooley returns with his second collection of comics. Featuring tales of astronauts, milkmen, and more existential angst than you can shake a stick at, The Practical Implications of Immortality is a characteristically witty and often surreal follow-up to Matthew’s first collection Meanderings.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I got this from my local comic shop on a whim (as most of my purchases there are–i love it). I just liked the art style on the cover and interesting title. It’s also a book of short comics, which for a 28 page book, made them pretty damn short!

The art is wonderful. It’s fairly simple, which make its small details, like facial expressions and texture, really easy on the eye. It’s also colourful, with a restricted pastel palette used for most of the stories. Basically any single panel from this book could be blown up and framed and i would gladly hang it on my wall (even the naked ones).

The stories themselves made me laugh out loud often and with great joy. A lot of them are quite… pessimistic, which makes the humour quite black. And that’s likely why it made me laugh so much. (It’s funny because (to my cynical self) it’s true?) A few of the best would be a pair of birds talking shit about Napoleon, a world full of Matthew Dooleys, and various wonderful ways to avoid an existential crisis.

My very favourite, though… the one that wrenched a proper good cackle from me, was this untitled masterpiece:


In summary: I loved it. I want to get my hands on Dooley’s first collection of comics, too, but unfortunately his website is sold out. Le sigh. If you get the chance, pick this up: £4.00 definitely well spent.

In the Flesh

Title: In the Flesh

Author: Cliver Barker

Summary: Terrifying and forbidding, subversive and insightful, Clive Barker’s groundbreaking stories revolutionized the worlds of horrific and fantastical fiction and established Barker’s dominance over the otherworldly and the all-too-real. Here, as two businessmen encounter beautiful and seductive women and an earnest young woman researches a city slum, Barker maps the boundless vistas of the unfettered imagination–only to uncover a profound sense of terror and overwhelming dread.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I disliked the last Clive Barker book i read enough that i didn’t think i’d ever pick up another. But when i discovered one of the creepiest films from my youth–Candyman–was based on Barker’s short story The Forbidden, i had to get my hands on a copy.

I was shocked and happy as soon as i started reading the first of the four stories, In the Flesh. It was instantly one of those stories where you know something isn’t right, where things aren’t what they seem, where there’s more to be revealed. It’s the kind of story that keeps my interest and keeps me reading. The characters were criminals, imprisoned, but they were sympathetic and likeable; i was scared for them and that had me invested in the story.

The second story was the one i’d been waiting for–The Forbidden. Much of it was familiar to me, having seen the Candyman film enough times. The creepy vibe of the film, and the Candyman himself in particular, came through in satisfying ways. But the story created even more, i think, than the film. The eerie, isolated feeling of the housing estate and the peculiar social structure are such banal things, but increase the macabre feeling in the story intensely. It draws on similar themes as High Rise, but with more of a horror twist and i loved it.

The Madonna is the third story in the book, and overall the weakest in a lot of ways. I hated the two main characters, so welcomed any nightmarish retribution that came their way. This was the one horror that i wanted to know more about, though. How did it/they end up inhabiting the pool? Do all their women come to them in the same way? What exactly happens to the creatures they raise? Where did they all go at the end? And in someways i think this was the story that dealt with more interesting themes and non-horror concepts. It’s the one story, maybe, that would work well as a longer story.

Lastly there was Babel’s Children. This one i liked a lot. It marked itself as different in almost every way from the other stories. It was obviously not a supernatural horror–it was a human one. Unlike The Madonna i feel like i got exactly the right amount of information to tell the story, without it begging more questions or being too full of answers. It was more like a mini adventure with an is-it-or-isn’t-it premise that was pretty delightful, actually. All the characters were likeable and it even made me smile. The end wasn’t sombre, but it did have weight and an unspoken captivity.

With not one story i didn’t enjoy, compared to the 700+ novel that failed to engage me, it’s clear Barker is a far, far more accomplished short story teller. While i’m unlikely to pick up one of his novels, i won’t hesitate to jump into another of his short story collections.

Through the Woods

ttwTitle: Through the Woods

Author: Emily Carroll

Summary: It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite a while, but saved it as I thought it would be the perfect halloween-time read. It was.

First, and most obviously, this book is gorgeous. The simple-but-striking cover, with creepy branches, limited colours and embossed feel is what drew me to the book in the first place. The art inside is just as striking. The panels are clean and uncluttered, bold in what they show. The use of negative space was incredible and added so much to the atmosphere of the stories (we’re not afraid of the darkness, we’re afraid of what the darkness is hiding). The artwork seems so effortless; it all flows and works so well. It’s not busy, but holds such detail. It’s just amazingly beautiful, and to say that of a graphic horror novel makes me so happy.

The stories themselves are similar, i think, in their simplicity and depth. Nothing is given away easily. The reader is let in on a glimpse of the tale, and it is in the art–the faces, the colours, the settings, the space–as well as the words, that the stories are told. The stories are generally heavy on the build up, on the back story, on the scene setting. A couple of times i found myself awaiting a twist, a big reveal, a spike in the action… but that wasn’t what these stories were about. There weren’t solid conclusions or explanations to these tales–that’s not the point. These stories are about a creeping horror, that crawls inside and makes itself at home. There was no release offered by an explanation or solid conclusion–that would be too easy.

I loved all the stories, but i think my favourite was My Friend Janna.


The next time i want to feel a chill down my spine and wonder what’s hiding in the darkness, I will definitely re-read this by candle light while the wind howls outside.




Why I Write

whyiwriteTitle: Why I Write

Author: George Orwell

Summary: Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell’s timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today’s era of spin.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved this book. It actually took me by surprise how enormously i enjoyed it, but i loved this book. I picked it up recently on a whim as a last minute purchase from a secondhand bookshop, and started reading it on a train journey when it was the only book i had easily accessible. For an impulse purchase and a last resort read, this book impressed me spectacularly.

I excepted this to be a simple, easy read about Orwell’s motivations and techniques when it comes to writing. It was actually a lot more. In the first essay his focus is on the writing, including, as he sees it, the main motives for writing and the general disposition of any writer. That’s where the simple stuff that most people will expect ends, though. Right there on page 10. The remaining 110 pages are where things get interesting.

The second, and longest, essay is easily my favourite. Though i can see if you’re not a politically inclined Briton it might not strike with the same energy. Orwell describes Britain and British sentiment and nationality as a context for its politics, before diving right into the politics and the second world war (which was happening around him as he wrote). It is brilliant, and there is no doubt the points he’s making are still relevant today. I underlined a lot of quotes. Most that stuck as incredibly pertinent to current politics, others that were simply magnificent insults, and on the best occasions they were both!

I’ve never found myself quite so into politics. Of course, i keep up to date with what’s going on and have strong-to-vehement opinions on it all, but this was the first time i remember being truly engaged on the right level. I think it helps that Orwell comes at it from a good angle. That angle being it’s a fucking mess and a hell of a lot more needs to change than simply the party in power. He’s my kind of reasonable (which is to say, perhaps, not at all)–he’s equally insulting and fed up of it all. He’s not pushing for a particular agenda or trying to persuade anyone of anything, just stating the facts as he sees them, and his opinion on where and how things are fucked up and unfair.

I can’t quote all my underlining (at least not in this review…), but i’ll include one that speaks broadly to one of the larger issues:

“…no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives.”

The last essay focuses on politics in relation to language, and how meaningless speeches and literature can become when vague and inflated. A piece of writing that uses long words and fancy-sounding turns of phrase might seem impressive, but if you really pay attention to it, it isn’t saying anything at all. Seeing the examples Orwell gives, how he picks them apart, and comparing it to his own straight-forward way of writing really made me stop and consider my own writing style. (I’m feeling a little apprehensive about this review, to say the least!)

Some reviews i read from people who did not enjoy this book as thoroughly as I did claim it’s not about why Orwell writes, and I’m left wondering if they’ve ever read any of his other books. Animal Farm, 1984… politics is why he writes. Reading him talk in such an honest and straightforward manner about his political views was thrilling. Without the metaphors and refined prose of a fictional narrative Orwell is sharp, witty, and on point. I could have coped with this book being twice as long, honestly.


Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

wp-1472915662992.jpegTitle: Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

Author: Various

Summary: Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood.

From the pavement to the pubs to the playhouses, our peculiar little planet is full of storytelling. Popshot aims to publish just a few of the more articularte and well-observed versions of these stories, illustrated by some of contemporary illustration’s finest.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: My partner bought this for me randomly, thinking it would be something i’d enjoy. It is. A collection of short stories and poems, beautifully illustrated and brought to life. This magazine is wonderful.

It started off strong with two sci-fi stories. Shadows, the tale of two spacemen who get lost in darkness and time and aren’t quite sure they make it out unscathed. Seventh, set following an unspecified apocalyptic event, follows a girl travelling, trying to find the one person left who means something to her.

All the stories here include–i’m hesitant to say twist, as it’s not always as shocking as that implies, but they have something. The end reveals enough to change to mood of the entire story, to give more meaning and depth to everything you’ve already read. And that is how the best short stories are told.

A young girl accused of being a spy, or an elderly lady in a hospital? A shipwrecked man gradually exploring a trail of islands, or going backwards and forwards between two? A young boy leading his little sister into a dangerous situation, or attempting to share a touching moment they’ll remember forever?

My favourite story was Bucket List, in which a group of strangers share a balloon ride that turns dangerous. One of them saves the day and completes his bucket list at the same time. It actually brought tears to my eyes, which is quite a feat for a short story!

I’m not a poem buff, and they were more hit and miss for me here. I enjoyed several, while others feel flat for me. Without a doubt, though, the last poem–and final piece in the magazine–was the best. Some Other Day just captured something wonderful about personal growth, about change, and about leaving parts of ourselves behind.

Standout throughout the magazine is the artwork. Each piece is gorgeous in itself, but they both give and receive so much in relation to the words they represent. They string the stories and poems together and make the magazine as a whole a piece of art.

This was issue number 15 of Popshot magazine, and i’m extremely tempted to subscribe for future issues. They seem so wonderfully light, interesting and beautiful; i want more.

Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Stop-What-Youre-ReadingTitle: Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Author: Various

Summary: In any 24 hours there might be sleeping, eating, kids, parents, friends, lovers, work, school, travel, deadlines, emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, the news, the TV, Playstation, music, movies, sport, responsibilities, passions, desires, dreams.

Why should anyone stop what they’re doing and read a book?

People have always needed stories. We need literature because we need to make sense of our lives, test our depths, understand our joys, and discover what humans are capable of. Great books can provide companionship when we are lonely, or peacefulness in the midst of an overcrowded daily life. Reading provides a unique kind of pleasure and no one should live without it.

In the ten essays in this book some of our finest authors and passionate advocates from the worlds of science, publishing, technology, and social enterprise tell us about the experience of reading, why access to books should never be taken for granted, how reading transforms our brains, and how literature can save lives. In any 24 hours there are so many demands on your time and attention – make books one of them.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love books about books, about reading and about the shared joy i experience with others who love books. This book, unfortunately, didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Very few of the essays in this book really stood out for me. Considering most of the authors are professional writers, i felt they did a pretty poor-to-average job of capturing the unique joy of reading we bookworms experience. Some of the essays focused on the author’s childhood and experience with books and reading as they grew up. A few included another focus, instead of the simply enjoyment reading brings, some chose to highlight how vital the ability is, how access to books is key. And though these were interesting and i agree with them, they didn’t evoke The Feeling or make a lasting impression on me.

The two essays i really enjoyed were the last two.

The Dreams of Readers by Nicholas Carr, though somewhat awkwardly written and including an abundance of direct quotes from others, captured the idea of books being both an escape to lose yourself in, and also an influence which transforms the reader. It talks about each reader bring their own experiences and interpretations to a book, and therefore each experiencing a different reading of the narrative. It’s a pretty simple and acceptable idea, but not one that’s often thought about or discussed.

To me that leads to questions about the subtleties and unique aspects of language; with such an array of connotations to words, meanings and inflection, can we ever know if we’re truly understanding each other?

Then Questions for a Reader by Dr Maryanne Wolf and Dr Mirit Barzillai takes the concept of reading transforming the the reader even further. They consider the history of the written word, how philosophers feared it spelt the end of individuals thinking for themselves, or thinking critically about the information presented to them. As we’ve proven since then, that’s not the case. But they also ponder the future of reading, with more reading happening online. When more words and information is only a click away and adverts and cat gifs are vying for the reader’s attention, how will this affect critical thinking?

In this case, I think the essay gives far too much credit and influence to the work and to the web. It assumes how the presentation of information changes is the only factor, rendering the consumer passive and easily influenced. I would argue the result depends more so on the reader. The reader has to want to critically engage with what they’re reading, and if they do, no amount of reddit or wikipedia links will deter them from that.

Overall, though, this book lacked the magic for me. It felt forced. It felt a little gimmicky. A “look, a book about books, you should read it!” attempt at selling a book, rather than a book that was genuinely about exploring people’s love of reading and trying to capture that feeling we get.