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Seven Stars
Kim Newman
Pocket paperback £6.99

review by Tony Lee

Think of all those investigators of the weird - John Steed and Emma Peel, Jason King and Department S, Sapphire and Steel, Doctor Who and (insert the name of your favourite assistant), Mulder and Scully. Inspired by such debunkers, believers, sceptics and twilight zone adventurers, the linked stories in this book are episodes in a centuries-long struggle between good and evil, from ancient culture to modern mythology.

The first story, Angel Down, Sussex, is set between the wars, and features Aleister Crowley and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a UFO sighting, extraterrestrials, a psychic shape-shifter, and a pair of unlikely detectives from the Diogenes Club (an ultra-secret arm of the British government run by Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft), who expose charlatan mystics in their spare time. Further down the timeline, The End Of The Pier Show features an amnesiac hippie (modelled on Dr Strange!) and a wonderfully absurd demonstration of how to banish Nazi ghosts, foolishly recalled from the darkness of history to haunt a seaside town, with the charm value of a 50-pence piece!

In addition to the collection's main series - centred on the infamous Jewel of the Seven Stars, an otherworldly object that destroys empires - which borrows from a wealth of genre literary sources (including Bram Stoker, of course), Kim Newman also offers a separate trilogy, entitled, Where The Bodies Are Buried. This is a sequence of creepy, yet intelligent, tales examining aspects of the serial killer phenomena, charting gruesome fact, and exploring the disturbing implications of the theme in popular fiction and horror films. This includes a climax that's obviously science fiction with satire on top, as by 2020 "all the capitals of E-Union were becoming theme parks; even the Vatican" and neatly wraps the whole saga up with copycat-killer legions and dangerous VR games.

Apart from his acclaimed media savvy and astonishing knowledge of subcultures and genre material, Newman's gift is an enviable ability to transport his readers directly from humdrum reality of various richly details periods, to worlds of darkly lurid fantasy and brightly magical visions, without a jar.

previously published in THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE #25 (November 2000)
7 Stars by Kim Newman

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