Monday, 30 May 2016


                           (poem for Tamsin) 

in truth,
the campaign gets dirty, very quickly, Andrew Marr suggests
Muddy Puddle Jumping is not the answer to economic instability,
that species-integration in the classroom will
adversely effect educational standards,
and that Daddy Pig’s grunting
is evidence of brute porcine nature,
pork butchers protest at declining sales,
yet exit poll merchandising is strong…
with Peppa Pig installed at no.10
establishing luna trade-links with the Clangers,
Bagpuss and the mice on the opposition benches
and brother George (with dinosaur) as chancellor
state-funding a policy of NHS muddy puddles for all,
with Octonauts patrolling the Ministry of Defence,
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom a more cost-effective royalty
and ever-closer union with Oz, Narnia and Middle Earth
the new era of global sunshine
in ten-minute episodes
detonates a rain of
endless cartoon flowers…

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Interview: JOE BROWN



 Joe Brown was one of Britain’s first home-grown 
Rock ‘n’ Roll stars with real musical ability. 
is his first new album for many years. And while 
he’s quite happy to talk about the album, about his 
work with Billy Fury, Nick Lowe, Eddie Cochran
and Gene Vincent, just... don’t 
 ask him to talk about Techno!

‘The thing that REALLY bores me is the CONSTANT BEAT! When you’ve got a throbbing beat that keeps the same time all the way through!!! It gets in your BRAIN, y’know?’ Joe Brown leans forward, enthusiastically warming to his subject. ‘Yeh, what I mean is, you get two guys with synths just standing up there and, every now and then, they lean forward and press their finger on ONE note, THAT’S the thing that REALLY BORES me!!! I mean, I sometimes wonder what it would sound like if Beethoven or any of those Classical guys had had synths available. It would still have been great music, obviously, because whether it’s good or not depends how you use the technology. You just use what’s right. And that’s the difference between a good musician and a bad one!’

Joe should know. I guess. Think “A Picture Of You”, Joe’s no.2 hit from June 1962. The one about Kodak voyeurism, a sneak photo of the girl on the crest of a hill. Then the sharp guitar kick. ‘In the night there are sights to be seen, stars like jewels on the crown of a queen.’ A face glimpsed on the Streetcar, or in a café. Yeah, that one. It’s on every Sixties hits compilation you ever heard. It’s one of the microdots of all our yesterdays.

And like the Movie title says, Joe’s lived a Life Less Ordinary. He turned fifty-six on 13 May 1997, and he issued ‘56 And Taller Than You Think’ (1997, Demon FIENDED 790), his first new album in a long while, to mark the occasion. It comes through the respected Demon label, and all the evidence you need is here, in its fourteen tracks. Joe Brown has always been a musician, first and foremost. It’s there in the down-to-earth normalcy of his anti-Pop Star name. In the grin they couldn’t surgically remove. And it’s the role the legendary Jack Good originally assigned him for those ground-breaking late 1950’s TV Rock Shows. It was his guitar skills that got him the back-up gigs with Eddie Cochran, Billy Fury, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent and the rest.

Of course, he’s put on various faces since then, Pop Star, Cheeky Chappie, Character Ac-tor, Radio Presenter, Spiky-Haired ‘Alf Hitchens’ in Michael Carreras’ movie ‘What A Crazy World’ (1963), and Variety Artist, but the music’s always been there as the underlying continuity. And, as (daughter) Sam Brown told me prior to the interview, ‘I watched Dad go into Cabaret. Then I watched him come out unscathed.’ And although the album has some admittedly duff moments, it’s salvaged by some music of genuine power. Some Nick Lowe songs. Some songwriting co-credits with Chris Difford and Roger Glover. And a ragged weary breadth of vision taking in four decades of British Rock ‘n’ Roll culture.

Nick Lowe’s “Rose Of England” is a stand-out. ‘It IS a good song that, in’it?’ he agrees. ‘It’s a bit Folksy, but it’s nice, it’s a good track that. When my son Peter, who produced my record, started out as a recording engineer a number of years ago, he used to work with Nick. He always liked Nick’s stuff. And I do too. ‘Cos he’s got that natural thing about him. So we looked at Nick’s songs when we started doing the album, and we found two. “Rose Of England” is one, and the other is a nice perky little number that we put in our act called “Without Love”. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek that one, really. But it’s good bouncy Country-style stuff, y’know?’

Joe began in the late 1950’s with Skiffle, and comes neatly full circle back to Skiffle again. He narrated a Four-Part Radio Two Rock-umentary about it, called ‘The Rock Island Line’ (from 17 January 1996). And there’s a stage musical written with Roger Cook called ‘Skiffle’ waiting in the production wings. Although he was born in Swarby, Lincolnshire, Joe’s London credentials were established when the family moved to Plaistow to run the ‘Sultan’ public house. He started out as part of a group called The Spacemen who played East End Pub knees-ups and Butlins Holiday Camp Hops. Exploits narrated in Joe’s book ‘Brown Sauce’ (Collins, 1986).

‘It was quite an interesting era that Skiffle business’ he begins. ‘‘Cos it only lasted two years. But it created havoc when it came on the scene. ‘Cos every kid in the world could play it, y’know? And that’s what it was all about. It was sort-of derived from the American Rent Party thing, where they’d get everybody round their house with some beer, and they’d play their songs. And everyone would chip in a few quid towards the rent. That’s how that all started. They used to use Tea-Chest Basses, Wash-Boards and... anything that came to hand that they could make music on. And everybody could do it. Then Lonnie Donegan really opened the whole thing up over here. At one point in 1957 it was estimated that one-in-nine of the male population was in a Skiffle Group. That’s a fact. There you go.’ Other members of that one-in-nine were a young Cliff Richard, and a guy called John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen Skiffle Group in Liverpool.

Discovered at a Southend audition Joe was immediately recruited as featured guitarist for Jack Good’s monochrome ABC-TV ‘Boy Meets Girl’ (1959) – a show constructed as a Marty Wilde vehicle, and ‘Wham!’ (1960) which soon became personality showcases for his blonde crew-cut and exuberant winkle-pickered Rock Cockney. He also got to play as part of Eddie Cochran’s backing band on the star’s fatal last tour through the early months of 1960. It seems weird now when everyone from toddlers on up know all the Rock ‘n’ Roll poses and memes, that it took Britain a long decade to come to terms with it. The studio musicians used on the early shots at Rock – the Tommy Steele, Terry Dene and Jim Dale records, were slumming Swing Band jazzers who neither understood nor respected the New Music. To them, Rock was a twitchy upbeat fad, an easy session fee to finance more serious music. Those with a genuine feel for Rock were few, Big Jim Sullivan – guitarist with Marty Wilde’s Wildcats was one. Whereas Joe took advantage of the long punishing Eddie Cochran tour to hang out with the American musician’s in the hotels and tour coach, supplementing his natural enthusiastic energy by learning tunings and fingering techniques direct. Eddie was generous with his time. Joe was a voracious pupil.

It’s evident when Joe played session guitar on what is arguably Britain’s first great home-grown Rock album, Billy Fury’s ‘The Sound Of Fury’ (May 1960). ‘The great thing about that was that we went in the studio... I think it was round about two o’ clock in the afternoon, and we was out by three! We’d done all the album, everything, and out, finished in one take, the whole thing done in an hour. And it turned out very well.’ Yet oddly, his own launch onto vinyl proved problematic. Following a single for Decca at the tail-end of 1959 – “People Gotta Talk” c/w “Comes The Day”, he was sidelined into playing to his comic novelty strengths with “Darktown Strutters Ball” (no.34 in March 1960), “Jellied Eels”, “Shine” (no.33 in January 1961) and a jaunty version of “I’m Henry The Eighth” that Herman’s Hermits would later replicate all the way to an American no.1! It was Pete Oakman – a survivor of the Spacemen and bassist with Joe’s Bruvvers, who wrote “A Picture Of You” that rapidly sold 400,000 copies. So that, as Joe’s own hits began, he found himself touring on bills with Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Exciting times? ‘I remember years ago, the first time I heard Ray Charles. There was a singer / compére guy called Davy Jones on our show. He was American and he’d brought all this Ray Charles stuff over, which we hadn’t heard before. Georgie Fame was on that tour as well. And it just knocked us out. We’d heard nothing like it before. And we didn’t hear it again for another two years. But he was there with it. So – you know, you do get to hear the good stuff if you’re mixing in the right circles.’ Brian Epstein promoted some of Joe’s shows in the North of England, ensuring that his protégés the Beatles played the opening slot. They needed the exposure that a big chart name like ‘Joe Brown’ could provide. While Joe’s hits – and there are quite a few of them – “Your Tender Look” (also by Pete Oakman, no.31, September 1962), “It Only Took A Minute” (no.6, November 1962), “That’s What Love Will Do” (no.3, February 1963), “Nature’s Time For Love” (no.26, June 1963), and “Sally Ann” (no.28, June 1963), carried him through the Sixties.

It’s fair to say that the clean melodic Hank Marvin was the guitarist everyone aspired to be, but Joe Brown was a respected guitar hero before they even got around to inventing the term. Tucked away on the ‘B’-sides of those hit singles were guitar-instrumentals that young would-be-muso’s listened to with awe, working out the fingering of “The Spanish Bit” or “Hava Nagila”. And you want to know where Jimi Hendrix got that playing the guitar behind the head bit, yes, Joe was doing it way back then. One of his last sixties hits was a cover of Epstein’s protégés “With A Little Help From My Friends”. It lost out in a chart battle to Joe Cocker’s version, but still scored a respectable no.32 (in June 1967), and anyway ‘by the time the Beatles came along I was already into other things. I was doing TV Shows and Pantomimes and stuff, so it didn’t really bother me that much.’

Ominously it looked for a while as though Joe had become a casualty of the Celebrity Game-Show circuit. There were high-profile Movies and West End Shows, a role in ‘Pump Boys And Dinettes’ with the legendary Cyd Charisse (name-checked on Madonna’s “Vogue”) and three TV series of ‘The Joe Brown Show’, ‘Set ‘Em Up’, alongside guest slots on the likes of ‘Junior Showtime’. And there were some dodgy records too, including an instrumental “All Things Bright And Beautiful” done St Winifred’s-style in 1977 with the Dovedale Junior School Choir! ‘Ah well – there you go’ he comments philosophically.

But Joe Brown has always been a musician, first and foremost. More recently he toured with daughter Sam in the experimental setting of the Subway Soopa Stringz quartet. And his 1993 ‘Come On Joe’ album proved to be a major step back to credibility. Part-written out of a song-deal for the US Country market during trips to Nashville, it came with occasional guitar supplement from Alvin Lee on tracks like the gruff “Battle Hymn Of Love” and “He Can’t Hold Still”. ‘You’ve got to keep up with it’ he explains with a verbal shrug. ‘Even now, when I hear an obscure record on the radio or something, I write the number down and ‘phone up the next day and order it, y’know. Just heard a great one by Junior Wells which is a version of “That’s Alright Mama”, the Presley song, and it’s a great track. Great, different thing. Different groove, you know? It’s not case of availability. It’s a case of going out looking for it…’

While the hits provide a basis for endless tours. ‘After being on the road for forty years, you learn some tricks because you have to make it appear that you’re singing the songs for the very first time. The very worst thing you can do is to try and remember the next line because its odds-on you’ll forget it. And of course, there are some of the songs, like “A Picture Of You”, “It Only Took A Minute” and “That’s What Love Will Do” that you’ve always got to do otherwise people feel short-changed.’

And now there’s ‘56 and Taller Than You Think’, an album that quotes from all the most vital stages of his career, with revealing autobiographical material drawn from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life Less Ordinary. All driven by a kick of guitar. His Country influences shine in a Billy Joe Shaver cover, or the tactile instrumental “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”. Then his own songs, “The Corner Of Our Street”, a Cockney ‘Old Vic’ knees-up co-written with Squeeze mainman Chris Difford, the more affectionately reflective “When I Write My Book” about ‘playing guitar with Little Richard on the radio’, or the title track looking back to ‘when I was younger’ and ‘they all saw me on TV’. A song that poignantly concludes ‘in their mind’s eye that boy will never be extinct…’

Been there then. Back for more now. ‘And you won’t really hear me making derogatory comments about today’s music’ he begins tactfully. ‘I’m very careful about what I say. It’s just that... these days it’s 90% image and about 10% music. In our day you still had to get up and do it. You had to have that bit of music in you. With a lot of groups now, you don’t. As long as you can move, and so long as you look good, you don’t need to sing or anything. You just get up and do it.’

But aren’t there parallels there with Skiffle? Weren’t you just saying that was cheap get-up-and-do-it DIY music as well? ‘I guess that’s true, because when I started out they said THAT was a load of rubbish too. But you’ve taken it a little bit out of context with what I mean.... anyway.... good luck to them I say’ as a throw-away afterthought.

And what about bands like Oasis and U2 (Joe does “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on his 2008 ‘More Of The Truth’ album)? ‘Oh, they’re good. You see, they’re very good. They don’t fall into the category of what I was saying. I had more in mind…’

Boy Bands, Techno, programmed drum machines, Dance Music? ‘Yes. THAT’s what I was talking about. ‘Cos I have used drum machines. They lay down a real solid beat, but what happens musically when you’re playing is that you get excited and you try to push ahead of it, but as soon as you start pushing, the bottom falls out of the whole thing. It goes to pieces on you and you just lose interest in it. A real drummer will move around, he gets faster, then slower, and it makes for more life in the music. D’yer know what I mean? It’s weird. THAT’S what I was trying to say. The thing about drummers is that everyone always has problems with drummers. It’s probably ‘cos they wanna HIT things, yeh? But I always prefer ‘em. It’s like anything else that’s got such a wide range. Sure, you have it all available to you, but you don’t have to use everything all of the time. I mean, I have a little sixteen-track studio set-up that I lay my demos down in. And when I’m writing songs on my own them things are very handy. If I haven’t got a drummer available then I’ll use an electronic beat to keep it together. I always lay the beat track down first with those things, but every now and then I’ll tweak ‘em. Where the chorus comes in I just edge it up a notch, so it gets faster. It’s hardly noticeable but it just pushes it on a little bit. People listen to my demo’s and say to me ‘how do you do that? it’s an electric drum thing but it gets FASTER at the end ?’ And I say ‘well, I just bloody TURN IT UP!’ And they go ‘I never fort of that.’ But I wouldn’t put it out on a record. I’ll take it off afterwards and stick a real drummer on. D’yer know what I mean, mate? ‘Cos the thing that REALLY bores me is – the CONSTANT BEAT! When you’ve got a throbbing beat that keeps the same time all the way through! It gets in your BRAIN...!!!’ Joe Brown leans forward, enthusiastically warming to his subject.

Joe should know. I guess.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Joe Brown: Three Recent Albums

Album Review of: 
(2006, Track Records TRA1057) 

There’s a tendency to take Joe Brown for granted. Which is a mistake. Chirpy Cockney image-associations and catchy hits on sixties nostalgia compilations tend to relegate him to the margins. Which only serves to emphasise his status as a neglected treasure of British Rock ‘n’ Roll, in much the way that Lonnie Donegan was prior to his timely rediscovery. In fact, in this CD insert, Joe is pictured backstage at Glastonbury with Lonnie (alongside guesting Jools Holland). Now, Joe presents himself as the self-styled ‘ghost of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, come back to haunt this push-button age of synthesised adventures and press-switch/get-rich thinking.

There are thirteen tracks, a song-selection Joe described to Janice Long as the album’s ‘building blocks’. Three new Joe originals, three trad: arranged Joe – including “Gallows Pole” which is reinterpreted from the ‘Led Zeppelin 3’ version and given another twist by alternating verses with daughter Sam, a formula they repeat on “Reuben”. Elsewhere Joe’s more weathered lived-in voice is perfectly matched to the world-weariness of Dylan’s “Well Well Well”. The beautiful steel guitar pictured on the insert picking out haunting electric-slide licks easily equal to his nods in Ry Cooder’s direction. He chooses Paul Simon (“One Trick Pony”), Richard Thompson (“The Dimming Of The Day”), Tony Joe White (“As The Crow Flies”), Bill Monroe (“Uncle Penn”), and McGuinness-Flint (“Malt & Barley Blues”). With just one song – Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazybones”, reaching out of the rootsy ‘Down To Earth’ genre, back to Joe’s earlier ‘56, & Taller Than You Think’ album (1999). It’s a family affair, with son Pete producing what Hugh Fielder accurately calls a ‘grown-up album… tight, no frills, but with purpose’. It’s a mistake to take Joe Brown for granted. As this album proves, he’s far from a ‘One Trick Pony’. Something worth remembering. 

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.1 Jan/Feb’
(UK – December 2006)

(2008, Edel Records 3CD Limited Edition

Joe Brown is now a heritage artist. Here he embraces Rock ‘n’ Roll tradition from Elvis’ “All Shook Up” to U2’s “I Still Haven't Found What I’m Looking For”...

Album Review of: 
 (2014, Joe Brown Records/ Absolute)

Curious instrument, the ukulele. There’s just a chance George Harrison adopted it when learning the sitar proved too problematic. George is here as author of the Wilbury’s “Where Were You Last Night”. The other star of the four-stringed uke was, of course, George Formby, and Joe does his cheeky nudge-nudge “When I’m Cleaning Windows” too. Joe’s project to raise the instruments profile peaked with the 2011 release of this definitive album, now reissued with bonus tracks plus a live CD taking in early hits “Picture Of You” and “That’s What Love Will Do” as well as a new uke-friendly take on his once-upon-a-time B-side “Hava Nagila”. Joe’s easy-on-the-ear style is perfectly at home on a range of seemingly unlikely titles, from “When I’m Dead And Gone” and Jeff Lynne’s “Mr Blue Sky” to a sensitive interpretation of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, a 1924 song he performed as closer to the ‘Concert For George’ album-tribute to the late Beatle. He even adapts Jessie J’s “Price Tag” to his likeable low-key style. Joe’s knockabout persona never eclipses his virtuosity as perhaps the UK’s first-ever guitar hero, and now predominant uke-hero too. Curious.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.43
(Jan/February)’ (UK – January 2014)

Friday, 27 May 2016

Books: Captain WE Johns 'KINGS OF SPACE'


 The Solar System was a strange place for Captain WE Johns 
and his crew of ‘The Spacemaster’. Through the 1950’s, and 
a series of action-novels, they explore the Moon, Mars, 
and then go on to worlds beyond. But how do those novels 
stand up to the critical attention of the twenty-first century…? 
Andrew Darlington re-reads them all… 


‘Our imaginations are limited to the things we know and understand. Anything beyond that we call fantasy’ explains Professor Lucius Brane. ‘There, perhaps, lies our greatest danger, for it is almost certain that on this trip we shall see things, and do things, which our common sense will tell us cannot be true. So be prepared.’

In the 1950’s, the Solar System was an odd place. But then, from our twenty-first-century perspective, 1950’s Earth itself looks like an alien planet too. After the drabness and restrictions of the previous decade, the future was suddenly a marketable commodity. Space became the place to be – clear across the age spectrum. And wedged in somewhere between ‘Dan Dare’s multiple picture-strip clones’, and adult-orientated Science Fiction, there was an eruption of hardback novel series aimed at pocket money and School Libraries, which played their own part in feeding ravenous myth-hungry minds. ‘Their adventures are reminiscent of the old days of magazine science fiction where anything could happen, and usually did’ comments ‘Authentic SF no.75’ (December 1956), ‘science simply does not exist, but its lack is made up by a succession of adventures which should delight the youngsters.’ The uncredited writer was reviewing ‘Now To The Stars’ – ‘a juvenile written by the famous author of the ‘Biggles’ series’, one of ten space-travel novels produced on a one-a-year basis by Captain WE Johns between 1954 – ‘The Kings Of Space’, and 1963 – ‘The Man Who Vanished Into Space’.

The first is subtitled ‘A Story Of Interplanetary Exploration’. It introduces Group Captain ‘Tiger’ Clinton, formerly of Bomber Command – now of Farnborough Research, and his son Rex. They lose their way in the fog during a deer-stalking holiday in the remote heather-clad glens of Inverness-shire, and unexpectedly stumble across a lonely shooting lodge called Glensalich Castle. Here, they encounter Professor Lucius Brane – ‘Brane by name and brainy by nature’. He’s a ‘wealthy eccentric scientist-philosopher’ given to bursts of boyish enthusiasm, his ‘hair untidy, spectacles on the end of his nose.’ He also has an eternal ‘bag of caramels’ which he dispenses at regular intervals throughout the narratives. There’s just a suggestion of a narcotic content when he explains ‘I make my own, using only the best ingredients, with just a little something added to keep my faculties alert’!

In the tradition of Mr Cavor – HG Wells’ self-financing Victorian pioneer, Brane has secretly invented the ‘Spacemaster’, a vertical take-off saucer-shaped craft powered by cosmic rays. And soon Tiger and Rex are joining Brane in a series of fast-paced and inventive adventures. Their first trips anticipate the step-by-step Space Programme, an experimental ascent, an orbital shot, a circum-lunar jaunt, followed by the eventual moon-landing. Once there, they discover that even the Moon harbours surprises – ‘my friends, the age-old question is answered’ burbles Brane, ‘there is life on the Moon, both animal and vegetable. What a splendid day we are having!’ Spiders, wormy-snakes, and glyptodons have adapted to living in extreme lunar conditions, but as Brane reasonably points out, life on Earth is also ‘highly specialised to meet their particular conditions.’

On Venus – instead of the crushingly dense atmosphere, surface temperatures that would melt lead and clouds laced with sulphuric acid revealed by twenty-first century probes, they discover prehistoric jungles with dinosaurs and proto-humans. With a brisk pacing barely impeded by the Professor’s regular lectures, they travel on to Mars, a dying world with ‘no mountains, cliffs or craters’, and the canals linking its crumbling cities overrun by deadly mosquitoes. But while on Mars they also observe a passing UFO, making it obvious that WE Johns is seeding scenarios for the sequels he’s already planning. So – although ‘Spacemaster’ is destroyed by foreign agents in the closing chapters, sure enough, in ‘less than a year’ Brane has built a better replacement. 

In the second novel – ‘Return To Mars’, the Professor plans to eliminate the red planet’s insect plague, but unfortunately his attempts result in horrible growth mutations and ‘B’-movie monstrosities instead (including Rex’s pet kitten which grows into ‘The Man-Eater Of Mars’ in ‘Now To The Stars’). But in the process, they discover that the Martians, far from being extinct, have ‘cosmigrated’ to the safety of the asteroid belt from where their saucers range the galaxy. Along the way, the comrades become marooned on a death-plunge into Jupiter, and manage to halt an extinction-event killer-asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

So far, so incredible… but then, in the 1950’s the Solar System was an odd place. I originally devoured these tales around the cusp of twelve years old, most frequently in the refuge of the school library during dinner hour. And they remain compulsively readable. ‘The world is in its infancy. We’re on the verge of an era of such inventions as will pass belief’ enthuses Brane in ways guaranteed to ignite youthful anticipations about the world we would grow up into. Adding just enough sober warning to impart serious intent with ‘it’s the only hope for life on Earth’. Some of the images remain with me across the years. In the first novel the ‘Spacemaster’ visits Phobos, to discover that the tiny Martian moon is used as a cemetery-world, with its last corpse in a partially mummified state of dehydration. It’s an idea of considerable power. In the second novel, their new Martian friends take Tiger and Rex, from Mino – the asteroid, now dwarf-planet Ceres, to a neighbouring worldlet of ‘living trees’ that continue to writhe and squirm even after they’ve been felled for timber. To Rex ‘the whole thing looked unpleasantly like murder.’ All of the original Hodder & Stoughton editions – the first quartet priced at a modest 7s 6d, include colour plates by ‘Stead’, one of which, illustrating this ‘Forest of Fear’, also made a deep impression.

In many ways ‘Return To Mars’ is the key novel to the series. Contact with the Martian-Minoans gives the Earthmen their subsequent access to the stars. It was advertised in the Scottish-based magazine ‘Nebula’ with a splash-panel showing a rapidly ascending saucer, and blurbed ‘here is the second adventure of Group Captain ‘Tiger’ Clinton DSO RAF, his son Rex and Professor Lucius Brane, in which once again they set out in Spacemaster II to reach the Red Planet.’ But the reviewer for rival monthly ‘Authentic no.64’ (December 1955) – possibly editor EC Tubb, is less easily impressed. Brane ‘remains singularly unperturbed when firmly established scientific principles are flouted in front of his eyes’ he scoffs. This is ‘a book for young people who are not afraid to trifle with facts and well-founded theories – or for fantasy lovers, of course.’ So yes – Captain WE Johns’ novels are wildly fantastic, yet only so within the accepted, if admittedly flexible, fictional conventions of the time. ‘Bill’ Johns is a natural storyteller, but it’s his characterisation that lifts the tales above their competitors. Although ‘Tiger’ – ‘nicknamed after the well-known comic character Tiger Tim’, fulfils all the requirements of the space hero, it’s the inspired creation of Lucius Brane that ignites the novels. He is contagiously animated. A more likeable, but equally gigantic counterpart to Arthur Conan Doyle’s monstrous Professor Challenger of ‘The Lost World’. To extend the analogy, Challenger is also accompanied on his expedition by a ‘hero’ figure in the shape of Lord John Roxton, a sharp-shooting big-game hunter not dissimilar to Tiger Clinton. In the alien world of 1950’s Earth such a sporting slaughter of wildlife was considered admirable – a twenty-first-century perspective would see them more as eco-genocidal psychopaths. While the team’s travels continue, so be prepared… 

‘Now To The Stars’ arrived in 1956, running to 190-pages including six new colour plates by Stead. With ‘Spacemaster 2’ disintegrated due to cosmic-ray induced metal-fatigue, from now on the team hitch a ride with their Martian friends on the ‘Tavona’, a flying saucer of the Minoan Remote Survey Fleet. ‘Authentic’s verdict is predictably scathing, but this time it is also ill-digested, ‘the story itself concerns the further adventures of Professor Brance (sic), Mino (sic) and his other companions on a Grand Tour of the Asteroids (loosely called stars, planets, planetoids etc)… around a solar system which, unfortunately, exists only in the imagination of the author.’

It’s true they encounter a planetoid of glass, one of water, another of salt, another of ice, and they spend an extended sojourn on one called Arcadia which takes them perilously close to the sun. Some of them also take on the attributes of worlds in their own right, rather than mere space-rocks, including a worldlet of miniature monkey-men. And admittedly, WE Johns can give the impression that a trip to Jupiter is somewhat equivalent to, and only slightly more demanding than a brisk stroll to the corner shop. But although in most cases ‘Authentic’ accurately provides contemporary comment, it was far from being the only British SF magazine extant at the time. Others either include no book reviews at all – ‘Science Fantasy’ and ‘Science Fiction Adventures’, or else chose seldom to review ‘juveniles’ – ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Nebula’. But outside genre specialisations reaction was less savage, ‘Manchester Evening News’ finds the volume ‘very exciting and with sufficient deference to scientific fact to make it plausible.’

Rex now has a Martian girlfriend – Morino, who (chastely) joins the regular personnel for a romp as eventful as we’ve come to expect. Taking them to a world where, ‘without warning the beast shot forward… open-mouthed with its back arched, its carapace looking like a row of knives.’ ‘There is also a foreword in which the writer admits that the terms star, planet, planetoid and asteroid have been somewhat loosely used for the purpose of ‘easy reading’. Why this should be thought necessary is hard to understand’ groans an exasperated ‘Authentic no.75’ (December 1956). With more than a little justification. In WE Johns’ cosmology, the asteroid belt was formed by the apocalyptical explosion of the planet Kraka, which is described with cinematic Velikovsky ‘Worlds In Collision’ dramatics. Kraka was ‘torn asunder’ by a lunatic experiment from which Jupiter still smouldered, Saturn was ‘girdled by atomic dust that had yet to settle’ and Mars was blasted to aridity. Although now discredited, this ‘missing planet’ theory was widely held at the time. And it’s true that many accepted classics of Science Fiction use asteroidal locations – Leigh Brackett’s beautiful 1949 story “The Lake Of Gone-Forever”, for example, gives its worldlet both breatheable atmosphere and indigenous life-forms. So far, so permissible. 

Yet Professor Brane’s eccentric assertion that comets are spat – like sparks, from stars, and even from the ‘World Of Fire’ – Jupiter (!) is indefensible, particularly so when one of WE Johns’ own introductions claims that ‘interwoven in the story is a good deal of fact.’ The same essay goes on to explain – with a straight face, that due to its axial idiosyncrasy, the polar region of Uranus ‘enjoys tropical sunshine’! Johns appears to know nothing of complex eco-systems either – why should he, this the 1950’s after all? but surely Brane’s contention that a world can support just two species who mutually feed on each other is self-evidently questionable? And there’s a crude form of what is now known as ‘panspermia’ in which life-spores drift from world to world seeding life, although not perhaps in the literal sense that Johns’ describes.

It’s simpler to admit that for every one of Professor Brane’s philosophical asides, disquisitions and predictions about life’s impermanence, human aggression, the arms race, or environmental despoliation, there’s one of incomprehensible weirdness in which Captain Johns allows gullibility free unrestrained reign. What, for example, do we make of this – ‘I have an idea that some of those stars and planets are not as far away as we might imagine. They could well be the planetoids we see from Earth for the majority move in that direction, and we are now much nearer to them. If I am right then the brightest must be comparatively close.’

‘To Outer Space’ (1957) flirts with Space Opera concepts as the cosmic-ray-powered Tavona strays beyond the solar system into the middle of a war between an ancient space-faring race called the Andoan, who they’d originally befriended by rescuing a stranded crew marooned on the asteroid Arcadia, and big unknown ships from space. While ‘The Edge Of Beyond’ (1958) extends their forays to ‘the outside edge of the Milky Way’ armed only with gleeful optimism and a ready supply of caramels. The expedition introduces them to what WE Johns refers to as ‘the older planets of the Second Region’, then to the ‘almost perfect civilisation of Terromagna in the Third Region’. Like Mino, this planet becomes a friendly base for further cosmic jaunts. It might constitute ‘by far their longest non-stop’ voyage, but in narrative terms cosmic distances are no great obstacle. The difference between exploring planetoids, and then visiting extra-solar worlds, gives the impression of being only different in the sense that Tesco’s is further than Sainsbury’s, an irksome inconvenience rather than the circumvention of Einsteinian constants.

Yet the stellar initiative also leads them to ‘The Death Rays Of Ardilla’ (1959) which, in my sweaty-palmed pubescence, I considered the most accomplished of the entire series – second only, perhaps, to ‘Return To Mars’. Ardilla is first mentioned as a source of menace in ‘The Edge Of Beyond’ – in which Rex deters a hostile red saucer with tracer bullets fired from the airlock. Here there be a rare sense of real menace, as this excerpt indicates – ‘Ardilla is putting out a veritable barrage of rays. A stranger from beyond the Third Region told us that all ships in their section of the universe have been warned to keep well clear of Ardilla. One of their ships, after sending out a signal that it was being tracked by a Red Stranger, failed to return to its base… This is causing Terromagna considerable anxiety. We are not exactly helpless, but we have no wish to be involved in an interplanetary war.’ This time, action is tightly plotted and focussed, in a way that others in the series are not.

‘Someone should face up to this problem’ declared the Professor. ‘Now wait a minute, Professor’ protests Toby, ‘I hope you’re not getting any funny notions about going to the rescue of Terromagna.’ Naturally, both funny notion and rescue work out, and with the team’s hazardous involvement the ray-belt menace is reflected back upon its planet of origin, and ‘Ardilla’s ambitious scheme for interplanetary expansion’ is eliminated. ‘Toby’ is another recruit to the team – Squadron Leader Clarence ‘Toby’ Paul MD, ‘a small, chubby little man of early middle age, with a cheerful expression which, with his figure, had no doubt been responsible for his nickname. A man of tremendous energy, as small men often are…’ Other regulars include the Minoan Vargo Lentos – who perhaps borrows his forename from notorious fifties pseudonym ‘Vargo Statten’, a pen-name frequently used by John Russell Fearn? There’s also Judkins – Professor Brane’s ‘imperturbable seldom-speaking Butler-Mechanic’, and Minoan bad-guy Rolto who visits Earth intent on conquest, and later misbehaves on planet Lila (in ‘To Worlds Unknown’).

With the arrival of ‘To Worlds Unknown’ (1960), our heroes visit planet Parvo which is threatened by obliteration as its moon drifts out of orbit. Then they embark on a ‘Quest For The Perfect Planet’ (1961), intended to locate a refuge-world for humans in case a global war devastates Earth. They space-hop to a variety of worlds – a red volcanic world and a minor planet of spiders, they meet Troglodytes, a world of Giants and a Kingdom of Apes. But after visiting wandering world Zora Ten they abruptly return home when it becomes apparent that no such ‘perfect planet’ exists. Perhaps the Earth could assist the repopulation of Mars instead, suggests Gator. By then Hodder & Stoughton had economised to a single colour plate with monochrome line-drawings for the interior illustrations. But undismayed ‘…how Jules Verne would have loved all this’ gloats Professor Brane – perhaps not-too accurately.


‘Even fifty years ago’ enthused WE Johns, ‘it would have needed a brave man to predict speed faster than sound. Now it has been done, and speeds of three-thousand miles an hour with the new ram-jets are in sight.’ Like Conan Doyle, he came late to science fiction, bringing a refreshingly boyish zest to the genre. He was already sixty-one when he wrote ‘The Kings Of Space’, leaving him open to accusations of opportunism and of gate-crashing the ‘new thing’. Yet equally WE Johns’ continuing infatuation with aerial adventure makes Professor Brane’s voyages beyond the atmosphere a natural evolution. After all, the writer had been an active participant in the infancy of flight himself, joining the Royal Flying Corp in 1916 – to be shot down and captured during a bombing mission over France two years later. It was only then, after serving further time in the post-war RAF, that Flying Officer Johns allowed his fictional counterparts to take over and act out the fascination on his behalf. Tiger Clinton has RAF precedents, as a back-room member of the Royal Aircraft Experimental Establishment. But Johns’ most famous creation, Captain James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth RAF, debuted in a 1932 short story for ‘Popular Flying’ – a magazine WE Johns himself edited.

From there, adventures proliferated at an astonishing rate, with long-running serials and stand-alone text-stories a regular feature of ‘Modern Boy’, as well as contributions to ‘Boys Own Paper’. Not only Biggles, but Worrals and Gimlet too. Later, in the fifties, Biggles text-tales such as ‘Biggles In The Gobi’ appeared in ‘Eagle’, as he went on to new adventures in comic-strip format as ‘The Adventures Of Biggles’, with nine issues drawn by Albert Devine for Strato Publications. By 1960 Air Police Inspector Biggles, with his pals Bertie and Ginger made it to the TV screen – with Ginger, popularly played by John Leyton, even hitting no.1 on the pop charts! The TV series also spawned a comic-strip spin-off, a full-colour front-&-back-page spread beautifully illustrated, first by Ron Embleton and then Mike Western for ‘TV Express’ (nos.306 to 376, 1960-1962). Here our hero is hot on the heels of Von Stahlein, an international crook responsible for the kidnap of a British diplomat’s son on behalf of the treacherous San Filipian government. A not untypical Biggles-ian scenario, but even before its first episode there were intimations of new developments.

In a 1953 novel ‘Biggles Hits The Trail’ WE Johns’ trio tackle a mysterious race of invisible men with deadly ray-guns. Early in the decade Bill Johns met Willy Ley – German-born author of ‘The Conquest Of Space’ (1949) and a tireless propagandist for space exploration. Ley, alongside other rocket enthusiasts, shifted and fired Johns’ interest in the fictional potential of these newer possibilities in aeronautics, to when – in Johns’ words, ‘interplanetary flight becomes as commonplace as air travel is today.’ Lucius Brane could trace his ancestry directly to that meeting, and before that to young Bill Johns’ adrenalin high on his own first flight. The Scots setting of Glensalich Castle also has its roots in reality. Before moving to Hampton Court, WE Johns lived for several years in Scotland. And even there the threat and promise of the new age made its presence felt in dramatic fashion, as he recalls ‘when the first American atomic bomb was exploded, sending sand into the upper atmosphere, people in the Highlands of Scotland – which includes the author – were astonished to see the sun turn blue, light and dark in turn according to the density of the dust.’

Meanwhile, there are two final Space novels – ‘Worlds Of Wonder’ (1962), and a powerfully imagined ‘The Man Who Vanished Into Space’ (1963) with a price hike to 9s 6d, and – for the second, no illustration at all. The action in the last book opens with the Tavona, the Martian saucer constructed of everlasting orichalcum, on its way to Venus when a mysterious object they discover floating in space turns out to be a kilted Macpherson ghillie (Gamekeeper). Once they’ve retrieved and interred the body in a cairn on the Moon, they commence investigations and discover that not one, but two Scotsmen have been abducted by an unknown spaceship.

Unlike the previous few novels in the series which had fallen into a loose shapeless formula of a visit to a strange planet, a visit to another strange planet, then another, and then home, this strong opening narrative hook develops into a tight focus around a single world. Following a near-brush with inquisitive police they begin tracking the stolen highlander through space. They call off for an update on the reclamation of Mars, and Rex’s ongoing romance with Morino, then the clue of a cultural reference to a ‘jam sandwich’, leads them into the Fourth Region of Space and the new planet Vallon. Approaching cautiously, they stop to reconnoitre the jungle-world Zeta in the same system, apparently uninhabited they find a ‘Players Navy Cut’ tin containing a stubbed-out Woodbine beside a lake, then a lost spacecraft, and Ebutu, an abducted Zulu who doesn’t even realise he’s no longer on Earth! This seems to indicate a plot-glitch, or maybe a clue to the writer’s plotting process. The cigarette-tin is surely meant to provide proof of the gamekeeper’s recent presence, yet – unconvincingly, it turns out to have been dropped by Ebutu. Woodbine? In an African village? Surely it’s more likely to be the possession of a ghillie? Maybe Johns revised his intention as a better idea occurred?

The bizarre aquatic ecology of the planet becomes more apparent as a friendly ship from Vallon makes its appearance. The abductions from Earth, the newcomer explains, are part of a data-gathering exercise. The ghillie, Graham, had been treated as a celebrity on Vallon, and was on his way back to Earth when the ship carrying him was lost. Meanwhile what they’d assumed was the surface of Zeta turns out to be no more than an organic crust covering a vast ocean. With directions to Mintona, the only other world lying on the course taken by the lost ship, they manage to rescue the marooned Highlander, spotting him from aloft amid its cannibalistic inhabitants! Yet there’s a parting twist still to come. The gamekeeper intends to stay on Vallon, where he has married, and was only returning home to pick up some books to assist him in teaching his new planetary friends about Earth. So, mission accomplished. Safely back on Earth, the novel, and the novel cycle’s final words have Rex soliloquising that as ‘wonderful as some other worlds might be, there was no place like home.’

Johns takes time to point out that across the arc of novels ‘as we predicted in the first book of this series, men from the planet Earth have now been launched into the vast region of emptiness which has been called Space.’ Yuri Gagarin had happened. But although Professor Brane’s voyages end with WE Johns’ death, Biggles forays into science fiction would go on to outlive them both. A graphic novel ‘Biggles And The Menace From Space’ (Swedish Semics 1978, UK Hodder and Stoughton 1981) was impressively written and illustrated by Björn Karlström.

In the ‘Kings Of Space’ foreword, although he observes it’s ‘a common complaint among the youth of today that there is no scope left for adventure’ Captain WE Johns’ contends that ‘the greatest age of discovery has not yet begun… Not only will these things come to pass but there will be other things, far beyond the limits of our imagination now, for that is the normal story of invention and development.’ From a twenty-first-century perspective his universe seems an odd place indeed. But, with certain reservations, it’s still a hugely enjoyable placed to be. So be prepared…

‘…the shining star that was Earth, easily recognizable 
by its moon, was once more in sight. He watched it 
becoming brighter as a mariner, homeward bound, 
might watch the guiding light of his home port…’ 
                                                     (‘Return To Mars’) 


‘KINGS OF SPACE’ (Hodder & Stoughton, June 1954/ Piccolo 1980)

‘RETURN TO MARS’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1955/ Piccolo 1980)

‘NOW TO THE STARS’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1956/ Piccolo 1980)

‘TO OUTER SPACE’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1957 Piccolo 1980)







Published in:
(UK – January 2013)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016




‘Fourteen Stories Of Fantasy, Warped Sci-Fi & Perverse Horror’ 
 (Parallel Universe Publications, March 2016 
208pp, £8.99 ISBN 9-780993-574207) 

It starts like this. Simon Clark mentions in passing that he’s been contracted to compile an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve never actually written fiction according to specific guidelines. When I write, it’s according to whim or nudge. But this is different. Conan Doyle’s Holmes is up there on fiction’s pantheon of great myth-figures, alongside Tarzan, James Bond and Superman, screened from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch. We all know him. But every one of Simon’s contributors will be doing the familiar tropes, so why not approach it from the tangential angle of other mythos elements? A present-day spin on the lycanthrope suggestions behind the Baskerville Beast, entangled with the real-life guilt-torment of a missing child? From that point the story wrote itself. And Simon liked it. Only problem was the publisher remit specified the inclusion of Holmes himself, on a foreign escapade. So I sit down and write “The Strange Death Of Sherlock Holmes”, predicated on the idea that as Doyle’s original Holmes cases were appearing in issues of ‘The Strand’, HG Wells was publishing chapters of his ‘The Time Machine’ in ‘The New Review’. The story duly appears in Simon’s ‘The Mammoth Book Of Sherlock Holmes Abroad’ (Robinson, 2015), while “The Beast Of The Baskervilles” debuts in the online ‘Tigershark’ magazine, then here in my ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’.

There were other projected anthologies. Maxim Jakubowski was compiling two, one on Holmes’ devious adversary Moriarty, the other centred around the ‘Jack The Ripper’ legends. So I set about writing “My Name Is Jack” – with a protagonist named Jack Harlan as a deliberate reference to Harlan Ellison’s “The Prowler In The City At The Edge Of The World”, a ‘Dangerous Vision’ that projects the Ripper into the future, spliced to the idea of implanted humans drawn together by an outside agency vaguely remembered from John Mantley’s 1956 novel ‘The Twenty-Seventh Day’. That story is now in ‘The Mammoth Book Of Jack The Ripper Stories’ (Robinson, 2015). The other, an extravagant steam-Punk romp with Moriarty reanimated after his death at the Reichenbach Falls, is first published here. Its final paragraph attempts to replicate the unsettling shock at the close of Robert Silverberg’s 1969 temporal-travel novel ‘Up The Line’, where time is rewritten and the narrator ceases to exist.

Once primed, those stories began a chain-reaction of tales jostling for my attention, resulting in more anthology and magazine appearances, online and in print. Leading up to ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, not my first book, but my first short story collection. Yes, the title is taken from Pink Floyd’s second album, their last to fully include the mercurial Syd Barrett – who I may, or may not have briefly encountered beside Drypool Bridge in Hull (see the poem in my ‘The Poet’s Deliberation On The State Of The Nation’, 2016!). But, in the same friendly tribute way, a number of my stories and poems borrow their titles from songs. Most of the stories in this collection are new, all – hopefully, contemporary, but informed by my degree of longevity. “Refuge” is a sympathetic take on the so-called migrant crisis, while “The Non-Expanding Universe” deals directly with my own memories of domestic violence. Stan Barstow – the kitchen-sink author of ‘A Kind Of Loving’ once confided to me that today’s ‘committed’ writers should be setting their work within the immigrant-community. So this is also my nod to his advice.

It’s odd, my first-ever short story sale was to the New English Library anthology ‘Stopwatch’ in 1975. All the writer primers tell how to lay-out a manuscript and research your market. I did nothing of the sort. I was working at a print factory. The guillotine operator would slice huge sheets of paper down to the required size, shunting off-cuts into the waste cart, which – as an impecunious poet, I would then salvage for my own use. So my “When The Music’s Over” was typed up on pale green sheets measuring 12”x6”, and sent off to SF activist George Hay who was editing the academic-Lit magazine ‘Foundation’ at the time. The magazine didn’t even use fiction, but it fortuitously happened he liked the story and was compiling an anthology at the time. Would I mind if he used it there? This seems too easy. Another story – “Matrix”, was accepted by ‘Science Fiction Monthly’, who paid me £22 upfront, but the magazine went extinct before they could publish it. Nevertheless, other stories appeared, in the American ‘Space And Time’, David A Sutton’s excellent ‘Fantasy Tales’, and a series of German paperback anthologies. But the natural story-by-story progression was disrupted by lucrative seductive Music Journalism, which lured with opportunities of hanging out with Rock stars, plus well-paid non-SF stories in glossy magazines, live poetry-readings up and down the country, and other delightful distractions.

Yet things eventually came together. ‘Derek Edge’ is a series-character I’ve used in a number of tales, an awkward adolescent misfit Frankensteined together as part me-as-was, gene-fused with part of a chubby misfit-loser teen-friend. My “Derek Edge And The Sun-Spots” appeared in the fine ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ (2015) anthology from Parallel Universe. So it’s only appropriate that when the full story-collection was conjectured from the same publisher that he should be here too. The title story – “Derek Edge And The Saucerful Of Secrets” bears a dedication to Frank S Pepper, the prolific comic-strip scripter who wrote ‘Tiger’s Jet-Ace Logan picture-frames from which I lift the image of the Caretaker’s three-clawed hand, and Sydney Jordan who created ‘Jeff Hawke’ from which I vaguely derive the Temporal Guardians (‘Pastmaster’).

Although, gratifyingly, most of the stories are new, the oldest – “And The Earth Has No End”, goes back some way, but despite various rewrites it never quite found its proper form, until now. Based on Hegel, the idea that perception is ‘learned’, blended by the contortions of sub-atomic physics in which the observer influences what is observed, it questions the truth of reality itself. The sequence by the pool is a deliberate Salvador Dali painting, but should the penis-into-anus bit be censored or modified? It went through a number of contortions until this final version. Which prompted a sequel – or prequel, “The World Holds Space Enough”, explaining how this pliable alternate cosmos came into being. Strung across such a long period of evolving time it was necessary to introduce continuity, hence the recurring characters. A third part of this cycle – the poem “Beautiful Pagan”, ‘the melding of new, and ancient geographies, from meson and grimoire, opened this passage south, through ice-fields to the unexpected continent, beneath this cold dark moon’ is in my ‘Euroshima Mon Amour’ (2001) Sci-fi poetry collection.

“Gender-Shock” also started out as a years-back exercise, handwritten in ballpoint, returned to periodically, but uncompleted. Sex is not a duality, but a spectrum – we now know this, but how to construct a society based around that understanding? So the concept of normality becomes something up for renegotiation. The protagonists are gender deviants. How is a lawyer to defend them? The difficulty in portraying a totally pansexual society is that gender so pervades language it’s problematic to eradicate it. This tale is constructed by dispensing with every use of ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ with every character purposefully gender non-specific – except for the single case of the transgressor, who is on trial specifically for that unforgivable deviation. To complete the story, with revisions, I added a maybe opt-out resolution with the fallback solution of a convenient enclave. Nevertheless, I feel it works.

But every story tells a story. I wrote the far-future “Eternal Assassin” about a sentient parasitic organism which flits through hosts across immense spans of time. When Philip Harbottle published its first version in his ‘Fantasy Adventures no.1’ (2002) he insisted on censoring certain playfully-explicit passages. When the full unexpurgated version was revived as a hardback with beautiful James Cawthorn artwork as ‘Andrew Darlington’s Eternal Assassin’ (Spectre Press, 2012), publisher Jon Harvey told me there’d been enquiries asking if there were other stories featuring ‘Adsiduo Sicarius’. So I wrote, “Terminator Zero And The Dream Demon”, although vastly different in tone, to suggest the origins of this character in deep prehistory. Some of it is real. Peter Care is a real filmmaker. I worked in Sheffield with Adi (Newton) who is the thinking head of Clock DVA who recorded the ‘Thirst’ album (Fetish, 1981). A third story in what is now a cycle, is now included in the relaunched ‘Weirdbook no.32’.

It’s been pointed out that a cat called ‘Jingle’ appears in two stories. That’s because he was also real. And “Thuesday To Fryday” not only records the contours of a real-life relationship without closure, but recounts his death, if not exactly as here recounted.

I knew of, and admired the style and quality of the books published by Parallel Universe, my inclusion in their ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ anthology prompting negotiations towards this short-story collection, for which Vincent Chong has created the remarkably-effective cover-art. I love what they’ve done. And Simon Clark… who’d been a catalyst, adds a blurb.

Amazon review:
This Saucerful is a plateful of tasty tidbits
By Michael Yates on 5 April 2016.
Format: Paperback
Science fiction isn’t really science, otherwise it would be imprisoned in textbooks. Andrew Darlington is healthily aware that he’s in the business of writing fantastic fiction, so his “warped sci-fi” is resplendent in literary conceits. A drunken Branwell meets a giant bee and discovers there might be a universe in which he becomes the most famous Bronte; Conan Doyle’s Prof Moriarty is “reanimated” by futuristic biologists but technology betrays him in the end. And Mr Darlington knows his real subject matter is narrow human society – like the one in which sexual identity is a major crime – though his characters may patrol the whole universe. It’s a sprawling and inventive set of stories and I enjoyed it.
THE ZONE online review at: