THIS ANTHOLOGY TAKES
& STUART DOUGLAS
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
Witness a slender
neck being encircled
by rough hands...
and twisting... the
dark red liquid being
lingering on the lips
and teeth, followed
by the laughter of
madness. And that's
just Iris & Panda at a
"Pass me the bottle,
woman! We might as
well KILL it..."
THE PANDA BOOK OF
HORROR will make
your fur stand on
end. Your blood AND
your G&T will run ice
Book of Horror
Mere days before Christmas, a small parcel came through my letterbox, much to my surprise, since Great Britain was under several inches of snow at the time, and all trans-port had seemingly stopped. Clearly, my postman knew the value of what he was carrying, and had got up extra early to give himself time to wade through the snow. For in that wee parcel was The Panda Book of Horror, the second release from Obverse Books.
As with the first book, The Celestial Omnibus, the new Panda Book of Horror is a collection of new stories featuring Iris Wildthyme and her plush pal Panda. Unlike the first book though, this has something of an overarching, albeit loose, theme: the spine-chilling, blood-curdling terrors of the night, and suchlike. As such, it delivers exactly what I had hoped to get from the second book - silly, camp adventures with Iris, but with something more sinister to put some meat on the bones.
The first thing to notice about the book is how utterly gorgeous it is. A sleek black cover sporting an image of Panda, kitted out in a smoking jacket, in front of a roaring fire. A bit more aesthetically pleasing than the horrific images that the original Pan Books of Horror used, and drawn by Paul Magrs himself, no less. Along with some great graphic design
from Cody Schell, this creates a fine-looking book.
The thirteen tales within each provide a pleasantly creepy tale, with some focusing on the laughs and some on the chills, and the best examples combining the both to great effect.
Ian Potter kicks things off with Iris Wildthyme and the Unholy Ghost, a tale that takes us down to the a haunted church and its eerie crypt, to deal with a particularly unusual breed of phantom. It sets the tone perfectly: a quirky, fun tale that combines the supernatural side of things with appealing temporal shenanigans. Mark Michalowski, follows on with a genuine chiller, the simply-titled Framed. This tale focuses Panda, drawing him into an accursed gallery that traps its victims in twisted realities based on their own desires. Before long, the hapless unfortunates are lost forever within their fantasy world. Luckily for Panda, Iris is on hand to mess things up, leading to a succession of memorable images, including Panda
as a foul-mouthed TV chef and a corrupt art critic. There are some really quite unsettling moments, particularly the delicious final twist.
Just the Ticket by Phil Craggs takes Iris’s time-travelling double-decker and traps it in a disused depot, haunted by the lonely ghost of an accursed employee. It’s a very well written tale, with Panda emerging as the hero, even if Iris does mess things up at the end. There’s
a moment that’ll bring a touch of sadness to your heart, but nowhere near as much as Simon Guerrier’s The Party in Room Four. Beautifully written, this is the story of Frank, one of the few survivors of a mysterious disaster that has wiped out almost an entire village, leaving only a crater and a few outlying properties in its wake. The lack of information about the catastrophe only makes it the more powerful, and Frank’s torment is painfully portrayed; having not only lost his family, and been forced to live in the local hotel, he is now being haunted by the sounds of a phantom party in the neighbouring room. It never appears to anyone else, yet terrorises his every moment with glimpses of those lost, not to mention
the terrible northern woman and her panda companion. It’s yet another with a fine, affecting ending.
Party Kill Accelerator! is the title of Blair Bidmead’s story. This one is frankly strange, with Iris and Panda landing in a bizarre show on the edge of reality, filled with demons, androids and the All-Star Dance Company. Panda gets a love interest, the mud is out to get them,
and there’s someone called Jimmy the Mandrill behind it all. It’s frankly odd, full of violence and monsters, and terribly good fun.
Mark Morris wins the prize for the best title in the book - Apocalypse Slough. It’s another odd one, this time concerning the old stalwart the haunted house, but one with a difference. This particular property is surrounded by a mist that’s absorbing the world around it, one that threatens to swallow the entire Universe. Things get creepier and more urgent as the story progresses, and, even if the payoff is a bit brief, it doesn’t detract from a highly enjoyable adventure.
Paul Magrs provides The Delightful Bag, and no, that title doesn’t refer to Iris. There’s a
lot going on in this festive story, from Clarissa and the Manleigh Halt Irregulars, a bunch of peculiar sleuths in a bizarre police station, to a horde of living marionettes dedicated to pursuing the Wild Hunt against the mortal world. Iris and Panda get there hands on some magical contrivance that allows them to take the form of anything from rabbits to moths, allowing for some particularly imaginative escapes and adventures. What’s more, that fiendish oriental mastermind, Mumu Manchu is in residence at Manleigh Halt. What with
his appearance, and a letter at the book’s close from Brenda the Bride herself, surely it’s only a matter of time before Magrs’s two wonderful heroines come face to face?
Nicholas Nada elects to follow a more science-fictional route in Iris Wildthyme’s Rainy Day Adventure. That old classic, the primitive society once visited by advanced extraterrestrials, once again makes itself the focus, but with a healthy does of maniacal zombies thrown in for good measure. It’s a slight story, but a fun one, a good, easy read between the weightier stories either side.
The excellent Eddie Robson then brings us The Colour Scheme, an absolute cracker of a tale that follows the exploits of young socialites, drawn into the exhilarating world of the A-List, at the expense of their very humanity. Set in the 1930s, there’s an overbearing sense
of the inevitability of the future, with the war just round the corner, giving a distinct atmosph-ere to proceedings. Amongst the monsters and time distortions, there’s a potent message about the danger of losing oneself in the desire to become more popular with ones peers.
A very good story.
My very favourite story of the book is, however, Matt Kimpton’s The Shadow of the Times Before. it was almost inevitable that there’s be one story in here with a Lovecraftian flavour
in here, but the verve and originality of this piece is a surprise. Told from the perspective of
a denizen of a distorted world where eldritch horrors and ancient, inhuman intelligences are ten-a-penny, it’s a wonderfully entertaining read, the sumptuous prose evoking this strange world to great effect, while Iris and Panda are presented as unknowable beings from a strange and perverted reality. The very word “A’gadu!” propels this story into the top spot
for me. Absolutely brilliant. The Fag Hag from Hell, Dale Smith’s story, presents Iris as a terrifying force of the unknown, but from a far more plausible angle. Young Danny loses his boyfriend to the mysterious Fag Hag on night, and sets about tracking him down somehow. Glimpsed from the sidelines, Iris comes across a dangerous alien who abducts gay and maybe-gay young man from their lives, leaving devastation in her wake. Add to this another unexpected conclusion and some temporal twists and turns, and you have another winner.
The final two stories provide a respite from the scares with some laughs. The Niceness by Jac Rayner and Orna Petit takes the form of a correspondence between Iris and Panda via brain mail. The story is framed by a report by a very familiar seeming archaeologist, while Iris finds herself locked up on a very familiar seeming planet (at least to fans of Hartnell adventures. Rubber and acid, is all I’m saying). There this a threat to all free though in time and space, but really the pleasure here comes from the perfect depiction of Panda and Iris on best bickering form.
Channel 666 by Mark Clapham rounds things off, a tale of a TV channel broadcast surely from Hell itself. With plenty of ghoulish atmosphere and some quite nasty moments, it closes this collection nicely (or nastily). Iris turns up and pretty much switches the story off, but, as she says herself, “the solution is never as much fun as the mystery itself.” That pretty much sums up this whole, phantasmic, phantastic collection.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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