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The Fall
Simon Clark
Hodder and Stoughton paperback £6.99

review by Tony Lee

A mixed group of people visiting an ancient amphitheatre are transported back in time by a mysterious force, to fight a battle in defence of a 19th century town besieged by hideous monsters from another dimension. American TV director Sam Baker, becomes leader of the unwitting travellers, by default, when apparently random stopovers in different eras require organisation of frightened tourists and attempts to investigate the disturbing phenomenon's affect on past, present and future events.

Time-travel is, perhaps, the most familiar of SF themes, and there are so few possible trails left untrammelled in the terrain measured by clocks, it's a wonder that anyone, writers included, would bother to visit there today. Simon Clark may not have discovered a temporal equivalent of the Northwest Passage, but he does bring refreshing vitality to this 100-year-old trope. Clark may have ascended from small press obscurity to notable British novelist, but I must confess to not having read anything by him until this book was recommended to me (rather tentatively, as I usually avoid horror novels), by a friend.

Happily, I can report that my friend and I are still on speaking terms, as The Fall offers plenty of thought-provoking intrigue and dramatic bits of business along the way, even though, conventional good versus evil morality aside, the point of it all does remain elusive. Like so much modern fiction, The Fall draws heavily upon filmic culture, and tends to favour cinematic qualities over literary. But, when vivid descriptions lend themselves to visualisation with such ease, it is often the case that the author has plundered screen imagery a little too eagerly. I found stuff here that seems to have been lifted from films like Terminator 2, Time Bandits, The Fly and Nightbreed, as matter (including the living variety) only half-enclosed by the time-bubble, is subject to horrific cut 'n' paste transformation. Flesh is carved up with guillotine precision, animals and humans are fused together as if by gene-splicing, while the dead are resurrected as demons.

Narrative pace ensures the story is never less than gripping, and a cruel plot trick - played on Baker and his companions - which violates causality (if only more than usual in this subgenre), means that with each time-slip the travellers unaccountably find themselves back where, but not when, their adventure began, in the ancient amphitheatre. And this peculiar reset button provides constant frustration for Baker & Co, making them victims rather than passengers on the backward journey, deepening the mystery of who or what has taken control of their destiny.

A compelling read that should satisfy even those who dislike horror stories.

- review previously published on the Ministry of Whimsy website.
The Fall by Simon Clark

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