Operation Syria

And, with this one, I’m now current with the adventures of William Meikle’s S Squad.

Review: Operation Syria, William Meikle, 2019.operationsyria

Rebels have grabbed some archaeologists working in Syria. Others managed to wall themselves up in a room after radioing for help.

The S Squad arrives, now up to full strength after replacing some members killed in previous adventures, to bring them home.

But it’s not rebels that are the problem. It’s spiders, lots of spiders, some very big spiders that are the danger. They behave a bit like pack animals and tap out signals to start swarm attacks. And, of course, there are webs, lots of spiderwebs big enough to hold men.

Not every squad member is going to be going home, and one of the archaeologist heroically helps the squad complete their mission.

What I liked best was Meikle’s use of the historic past of Dura-Europos, where the story takes place, and the real archaeological finds from there.

I also appreciated that, finally, the S Squad gets to use something besides just rifles and pistols against a monster.

If you’ve liked the series so far, this one won’t disappoint.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Loch Ness

Review: Operation: Loch Ness, William Meikle, 2018.operationlochness

Meikle continues to wring a surprisingly amount of variety from the simple concept of a Scottish Special Forces squad encountering weirdness on their military mission.

This time operations are in the Scottish Highlands around Loch Ness. The S-Squad, because they’re close and are the nearest things to experts on the weird their CO has, is sent to investigate a massive killing and mutilation of animals at a local zoo.

It appears some kind of large animal is loose and has possibly taken a child off. The next thing you know, the squad is on another monster hunt.

The pacing is slower on this adventure; there’s a lot of walking the Highlands. (Which is fine, descriptions of Scotland is one reason I read the book.) The monster reveal takes longer.

Don’t worry, once things get going, the bodies will pile up.

But this installment of the series has its own special charms and ties into other Meikle works. I’ll just mention three names: Alexander Seton, Boleskine House, and Aleister Crowley.

And I liked the way Meikle treats the conflict between preserving Nessie and it becoming a lethal menace. Meikle’s interest in cryptozoology and studies in biology lends a nice of credibility to the whole thing.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Amazon

Since I read, Operation: Siberia, I decided I might as well catch up on the rest of the S-Squad books.

This is, incidentally, the first posting of this blog’s fifth year.

Thanks for everyone continuing to stop by and the new comers.

The strange name will remain for the fifth year. So will the erratic choices for reviews.

What will probably change is fewer reviews of what I’ve read. For instance, you will probably not be getting a review of the book of Epictetus’ philosophy I’m reading since I have no reason to believe, based on past experience, anyone would care what I have to say on it.

The blog’s focus, such as it is, will probably tighten a bit. I may not even review every science fiction book I read though, especially by modern authors well covered elsewhere.

The review format, with its need to avoid spoilers, is a bit confining, so I’ll probably do more essays on future books, especially when covering certain authors.

With the time freed up, I hope to actually read more of other people’s blogs and pursue some other writing projects besides the blog.

Review: Operation: Amazon, William Meikle, 2018.operationamazon

No adventures in the cold here. The Squad is sent to the Amazon to find out what’s happened to the son of an English nobleman. Said son, Buller, disappeared from a gold dredging operation on the Amazon.

But then his phone is found, floating in a plastic bag. Is that really some kind of giant snake in a video on the phone? A local guide, Giraldo, thinks so.

So the Squad goes to look for Buller with Giraldo and Buller’s friend Wilkes. The trail ends at a stone temple on the river. There they are captured by the hidden tribe of Boitata, associated with strange stories about people turning into serpents.

This is the first time in the series that outright magic is unapologetically put in the story. Operation Antarctica’s strange menace was rationalized as a sort of science.

It’s also the installment with, beyond a doubt, the most unlikeable civilian ever met by the Squad: Buller. Continue reading

Operation: Siberia

I hadn’t planned on returning to the S-Squad series quite yet, but I’m waiting to get my hands on William Hope Hodgson’s Captain Gault series before reading any more Carnacki pastiches by Meikle.

And, since the thermometer was significantly below zero, it was time to read something set in a chilly place. Surprisingly, I seemed to not have any unread books like that in the library except for Dan Simmons’ The Abominable which, since I have the doorstopper hardcover edition and was going to be traveling, was not an option.

So, I started the S-Squad series again. However, the story ended up being set in Siberian summer.

Review: Operation: Siberia, William Meikle, 2018.Operation Siberia

It’s not a spy mission but an escort mission that brings the S-Squad to Siberia. Three scientists have been sent by the UN to see if Russian oligarch Volkov has complied with all international conventions in creating what’s basically a Pleistocene Park.

He probably hasn’t, but he certainly has brought back a lot of megafauna: mammoths, dire wolves, big lions, big birds, and some kind of hominid.

Volkov’s has been as lax about his security as his legal compliance, and, the next thing you know, the animals have escaped from their glass dome cages and start killing people.

The strengths of the novel is Meikle’s obvious love for his megafauna. Even at the end, we sense their grandeur or beauty as opposed to the ugly menaces of the proceeding installments in the series, Infestation and Operation Antarctica. Continue reading

The Black Room Manuscripts, Volume Two

This one I picked up solely because it had a William Meikle Sigils and Totems story in it.

I can’t claim I’ve never reviewed any horror anthologies here before, but I don’t review a lot of them.

I was originally going to impatiently pound out a quick review and call this a low res scan. But, since it ended up at about 1,600 words, I’m going to call it a review.

Review: The Black Room Manuscripts, Volume Two, ed. JR Park, 2016.

Cover by Vincent Hunt

This is a charity anthology with writers donating stories and the book’s proceeds going to Alzheimer’s research. It seems to be exclusively UK or formerly UK writers. The only names I recognized in the table of contents besides William Meikle were Sam Stone and Graham Masterton.

The reaction to reading a lot of these stories was just a shrug or muttering “And . . . ?”.

They are about what I expect from short horror fiction.

There is the serial killer story. I’m not fond of serial killer stories. The only significant variations seemingly worked on them is method of killing, motive for killing, and type of victim.

At least the killer in Tim Clayton’s “The Drawers” has to wonder if all those dead kids he has in freezers are somehow getting loose. The fate of a brain damaged young man, shot by the eponymous “Red Mask”, is at stake in Lindsey Goddard’s story. He works at a funeral home where his hugging of young children’s corpses seems way too inappropriate to one of the brother owners. However, the other sees it as the trauma of not the man not saving a niece and nephew from the killer. Then, of course, the killer returns. The narrator of Stuart Park’s “Oranges Are Orange” isn’t the usual serial killer, but we still get a look into the disturbed head of a troubled youth between the world wars, troubled enough that his dead gives him a home lobotomy to stop him talking about all his imaginary friends. Well-done voice, but, again, familiar territory, just serial killer plot crossed with monstrous child narrator.

And, of course, there are the inhuman predators. Continue reading

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading

The Boathouse

Review: The Boathouse, William Meikle, 2018.boathouse

This and Songs of Dreaming Gods are the only full novel length treatments of Meikle’s Sigils and Totems idea. That’s the notion that there are strange houses about the earth where other dimensions can be glimpsed and where our dead loved ones might be seen again in some other timeline where they live on.

But Meikle violently wrenches and twists his idea about here, reminds us that we don’t know how these houses are created and how they work, and implies other forces beyond are ken can alter that function.

Whereas Songs of Dreaming Gods was claustrophobic and set in a house whose rooms shift in time, this novel is open aired. Very little of it takes place in its Sigil House. Rather, most of it takes place in Catalina, Newfoundland which happens to be Meikle’s home. Of all his stories I’ve read, this and Island Life seem to best evoke a place. There’s the run down harbor which has seen better days, the local bar, the hills about the shore. Also, a significant portion of the story has Catalina blasted by a hurricane. Meikle makes you feel the fury of that hurricane as it floods the town’s streets.

Our hero is David Wiggins. He’s not a cop or adventurer or soldier like a lot of Meikle heroes. He sells magazine ads in Toronto. But a call from back home in Catalina convinces him he should see his dying mother. Continue reading

Songs of Dreaming Gods

Review: Songs of Dreaming Gods, William Meikle, 2017.

Cover by Zach McCain

When three cops are called to an abandoned house in St. John’s, Newfoundland, their lives will never be the same. And that’s not just because of the five mangled bodies inside.

This is a full-length novel treatment of Meikle’s Sigil and Totem idea. As it’s explained in the book,

There are houses like this all over the world. Most people only know of them from whispered stories over campfires; tall tales told to scare the unwary. But some, those who suffer, some know better. They are drawn to the places where what ails them can be eased. If you have the will, the fortitude, you can peer into another life, where the dead are not gone, where you can see that they thrive and go on, in the dreams that stuff is made of.

But those houses have rules. They break down sometimes. That’s what happened to the house in St. John’s. Continue reading

The Road Hole Bunker Mystery

This one showed up on Meikle’s list of novels he wrote with the Scottish settings. I’ll be looking at a couple of more later on, but first I’ll be doing some postings on a couple of his Sigil and Totems novels and related short stories.

No, I’m not doing a complete Meikle series, but, between his works set in Scotland, the stories with the Seton clan, his Sigil and Totem mythos, and the S-Squad, it will be a fair chunk of his prolific output.

Review: The Road Hole Bunker Mystery, William Meikle, 2015.road hole bunker mystery

There’s nothing fantastic or weird in this story. It’s a straight up private eye mystery narrated by one John Royle, a down and out private eye in St. Andrews, Scotland. He’s bored and behind on the rent when a fat, blue-haired Texan woman hires him to look for her brother. He’s disappeared when visiting the town.

Later he’ll turn up dead in the road hole bunker on the seventeenth hole of the world-famous St. Andrews golf course. He won’t be the only dead guy by story’s end.

When Royle gets set up for his murder, he figures he might have his “Bogart case”.

This isn’t a hard-boiled detective story with lots of violence though there is certainly the threat of it. But we’ll see all sides of St. Andrews from those making their money off tourists to those who work in the town’s other famous establishment, University of St. Andrews. We’ll see the town’s sleazier side. We’ll meet a dangerous Glasgow gangster and a hot dame in a low-cut red kimono. Royle has to figure just how many lies to tell Joe Boyd, an old friend from childhood but also the police detective working the murder of the Texan.

But the story’s main pleasure is its sense of place and the locals that are old friends of Royle. There’s Tom, Royle’s landlord, former greenskeeper at St. Andrews and who now runs his own private museum on the history of golf there. There’s George, a pub owner at the center of a lot of the town’s news and business, legal and otherwise. There’s Willie and Davy, two old timers who are Royle’s surrogate uncles. There’s Davy, an old friend of Royle’s looking to make his break as a reporter. Continue reading

Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man, William Meikle, 2017.

sherlock holmes the dreaming man
Cover by Wayne Miller

I don’t seek out Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but, every few years, I end up reading one. The occasion to read this was because one of Meikle’s Seton clan plays a very important part in it. (No, I have not sat down and constructed a family tree or made notes about the relationships between all the Seton characters I’ve come across.)

I’m glad I did. It pulled me through quickly to the end and did some interesting things with key elements of the Holmes’ stories.

Does Meikle imitate Arthur Conan Doyle well? Since it’s been many decades since I’ve actually read the Holmes stories, the version of them lodged in my head comes from repeated watchings of Jeremy Brett and David Burke as Holmes and Watson in the 1980s Granada Television adaptations. Meikle didn’t clash with my memories of the characters at all.

However, this being Meikle, this is an outré, a weird Holmes story, so if you don’t like the rationality of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories being violated with the seemingly supernatural, this isn’t for you. For that matter, Holmes and Watson, at story’s end, aren’t very keen on what they’ve seen either. Continue reading