Thursday, 1 October 2009

Amazon - 5-star reader review - Steve

click cover to buy updated version
***** Steve
Possibly one of the strangest books I've ever read,
August 14, 2009

A very strange and terrifying book.

The nightmarish surrealism is what I love about all of his books. Philbin never fails to deliver the goods when it comes creating fiction that is original and full of creative narrative that explodes with vibrant metaphors and graphic description.

This books is not for those with weak stomachs or those adults with the sensibilities of a four-year old who would get offended at the first sight of human nudity. But keep in mind, there is nothing written in a book that doesn't reflect the real world somehow. I find that horror books are here to remind us that we're in Hell and we better get use to it. Reading horror novels, for me, is a way of confronting insanity on another level. At least you can escape from the nightmares of a book, but the nightmare we call reality, no matter how little we try to make our worlds, we cannot escape from. If you can't confront the nightmares in a book, how are you ever going to confront the real thing when it arrives, bursting through the locked doors of your domestic prison?

So read this book! It'll be good for you!

Who knows, the real apolocalypse may consist of giant birds feasting on human beings and raping them to produce strange hybrids. At least if you read this book, you'll be more prepared for it. And if not, at least you'll find some entertainment in a story well told.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Oxford Times - Local Author slot - November 27th 2008

It has just come to my attention that PLANET OF THE OWLS was featured in the local author section of The Oxford Times. Not an in-depth review, as such, just a statement of fact, the book is published by Silverthought Press and costs £7.99. Here's the announcement as it appeared in the November 27th 2008 edition.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

FaceBook - Vanguard Book Club - new Planet of the Owls review

the title of this post just about says it all. Here's the (rather glowing) review copy, you can click on the link to join the debate.

I.E. Lester reviews Mike Philbin's Planet Of The Owls on the Vanguard Book Club

It's the end of the world. Mankind is going to the birds - literally. Marcus is a dropout, a wasted life. He spends his days running a falafel kiosk in Oxford, surrounded by students, constant reminders of people making more of their lives than he has. Su-Ki Chin is a 14-year-old schoolgirl from a village near to Beijing. Both of them are living typical (humdrum) lives, waking up in the morning, showering, getting dressed and setting off to work/school.

One day everything changes. Su-Ki's school bus doesn't appear. Returning home she finds her family massacred by what seem to be giant chickens, just before Chinese jet fighters start bombing the village. Marcus awakes to see a giant bird on his windowsill, but tries to reason it away as the remnants of a dream. It isn't. They are very real, very hungry and, as you would expect, we are on the menu. Marcus's and Su-Ki's cosy comfortable world has ended, replaced with a bizarre surrealist's hell.

Ok, Philbin's surprised me. I've read a number of his books now, and without exception found he operates continuously on the edge of fiction. His stuff is out there, beyond what just about everyone else is doing. Virtually every single word pushes it further. His imagery is grossly, slimily indecent. Nihilistic anger flows throughout his books, and his worlds are fractured with gore and filth pouring forth from each crack.

This is a little different. On first glance (and armed with a knowledge of the author's earlier books) you could almost feel the author is trying to expand his readership. You almost get the feeling this is sugar-free, low-tar, Diet-Philbin. It seems as though he's making a play for the mainstream. Rest assured he isn't. Marcus's first close encounter of the feathered kind soon dispels that notion.

The anger and twisted imagery are still there, just not as in your face. He still rails against the organised forces in the world (this time religion and spirituality are his targets), but here the language is, in the main, less vitriolic and less coated in bodily fluids.

Here the violence and the sex are almost the contrast, rather than the norm they are in other Philbin books. It makes the whole a little easier to read although does have the effect of making the extreme content more wrenching, even with the toned down language.

This book's form is also more traditional than you'd expect from Philbin. The story takes the form of a science fiction End of the World tale, albeit a little surreal. Just replace the giant birds with alien beings and this has many similarities with Earth-invasion stories - then mix in liberal doses of Salvador Dali's more out-there art and psychotropic drugs and you'll be getting to the place this novel inhabits. It may have a framework straight out of the Victorian fantastic, but it's covered in all the cynicism and auto-destructive malaise of the modern age.

It's not a perfect book. Stripped of the author's normal expletive-laden, stochastic prose you get to focus on Philbin's locations and characters and in many ways they are lacking.

Marcus is a little one-dimensional, the stereotypical wasted-life - Su-Ki feels too familiar to be a Chinese country girl. There is a lack of the cultural differentiation I would have expected. She could as easily been from an early twentieth century English farming village as China.

And this world is only vaguely painted. Not a particular problem when the action is taking place in Oxford, but a different issue when we move to a rural community in China. These are not major criticisms though. Philbin's unique vision is certainly more than enough to compensate for any such shortcomings.

Reading to this end of this book leaves you with one conundrum. Should you be congratulating the author on producing one of the truly original books 2008 will have seen? Or should you be reaching for the telephone to report the author as a complete nutter? It's a tough call. But it's an interesting read. Just don't leave it anyplace where granny might pick it up.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Feo Amante review Planet of the Owls

"I awoke that fateful morning to the tail end of a cerebral whiplash."

This is how PLANET OF THE OWLS begins and for a first sentence, you don't get much better than that. For years, visual artist Mike Philbin, has been hard at work honing his writing ability into something that communicates well. Fully half of all writing I've ever read soared or fell thanks to the ability of the author to actually write, and not as Truman Capote would say, "type".

That said, many with the ability to write well fail at the second half of the problem, the ability to write well + about something interesting. And thus the field of writers are cleaved into an ever smaller group.

And while I'm talking about cleaving, the human race in this novel is finding itself efficiently and methodically butchered thanks to an entirely unexpected event: giant birds.

Like zombie stories, "Then the zombies rose..." one day our birds all attained human size or larger and went straight for us. They've always lived among us, far more prevalent than rats and one day they became giants and went to work on us Daphne Du Maurier style. In fact, it was Du Maurier that created (or at least popularized) the bold idea of visiting an unexpected apocalypse on humanity without the slightest bother of explaining how it could possibly happen in the first place. Humanity just has to deal with it.

PLANET OF THE OWLS is told in a two person perspective. First from the voice of Marcus: a young student going nowhere in his life. He does nothing more than exist: wandering from sleep to meal to job to school to home to sleep again and fitting in the drudgery of expelling waste. So when the birds take over he is the least likeliest of heroes and, in fact, never becomes heroic. Even a catastrophic human event, while it can assault his senses, never brings his life into focus. Instead he becomes a victim of the birds, forced to obey their wishes and even when he does fight back, it's only to secure his own momentary comfort. Marcus is of the "Give me Convenience or Give me Death" tribe of people and watches the utter destruction of his fellow humans with a distasteful detachment. Merely a witness of the bird takeover, Marcus makes no more of a dent on avian world rule than he did when humans ruled it.

The other part of this two person perspective starts in China and is told by Su-Ki Chin. Unlike Marcus, Su-Ki has an actual life and is very upset when she witnesses the destruction of her town and family by the birds. Su-Ki's path through this story is more Kafkaesque as she becomes a bird herself and discovers just what led to all of this.

The birds - all birds - are angels. They've always been angels. Always watching us, always monitoring us, always with a bird's eye view of humanity. They neither particularly like or hate us, but in their multidimensional lives where they are both here and on another physical plane, an age-old disagreement has developed into a full bore war. It is this war that is being waged between the various species of birds against one another. Humans are merely in the way.

In PLANET OF THE OWLS, Mike is far more comfortable writing Marcus than he is Su-Ki. Su-Ki is from a different culture, is a different age - 14 - and through Su-Ki's voice, Mike reminds you of this over and over again. On page 20 Su-Ki reminds us that she is, indeed, a 14 year old girl. On page 20 alone Su-Ki reminds us yet again that she is, in fact, 14, TWICE! Still in the same short chapter, Su-Ki tells us on page 23 that she is still 14. I guess this was necessary after Su-Ki gives us a 24 year old medical students' dissertation on neurology and how the human brain translates sensory perception to 'deform' space around a wound. Pretty precocious for a 14 year old girl living in a small village outside of Beijing. Did I mention she was 14?

While Marcus remains earthbound and is both victim and witness to all manner of human degradation (birds eating screaming children, old women being gang-banged by giant birds, etc.), Su-Ki becomes one with the angels/birds and, in a journey through time and space, discovers an obvious secret about the grand creator that the other angels also see but refuse to acknowledge.

PLANET OF THE OWLS is lowbrow and lofty, earthy and spiritual, crass and classy. I've no doubt that in this novel, Mike has found his voice and is writing exactly what he means to say.

For me though, the last 30 or so pages swirled into a verbal Kubrick Space Odyssey: more metaphor and analogy than substance. Then again, when you are writing about spiritual subjects, it might pay to be colorfully vague.

Three Bookwyrms (out of five, ed).

Sunday, 19 October 2008

La Planete des Chouettes.

coming soon to bookshops across France?

the July 14th (Bastille Day release) 2008 Silverthought angel-apocalypse novel "Planet of the Owls" may soon be translated into French and published by a high-class independent outfit in Paris for distribution through Gallimard (i.e. that's all the major French book stores) if interest remains as high and negotiations go as planned.

Confirmation of publisher and dates, once contracts are signed.

YEAR LATER UPDATE: never happened. Did the high-class independent outfit in Paris FOLD?  Never heard back from them after their initial interest. Weirder things have happened.

Friday, 5 September 2008

first Planet of the Owls review on

here it is, and yes, it's by me recent interviewer Mark Brand - 4 star review of Planet of the Owls.


Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Mark Brand interview

Mike Philbin interviewed by Mark Brand

Mark R. Brand: Hey Mike, thanks for taking some time to talk with me a little bit about Planet of the Owls. I've just finished reading it and I have to say I'll never look at birds the same way again. I heard Paul is shipping the first bunch of copies with a feather included?

Mike Philbin: Feathers as the new filler content? I heard Paul's attempt to spread bird flu and lice faltered at the first hurdle. The art of true understanding with Planet of the Owls (and Bukkakeworld) is to remember the works of Stanislaw Lem in Soviet Russia—it was all subtext. That's the only way true understanding will prevail: to think, to question. If people are looking more closely at the way the world is, then my job is done and I can retire.

Brand: Your two main characters are teenagers. One is in Oxford, UK, the other in China. I was wondering what the significance of their ages and the separation by geographical location was? I've also read your recent book Bukkakeworld, and it occurred to me that Planet of the Owls might have been slightly influenced by Japanese anime (teenage protagonists, bizarre plotlines, psychedelic God imagery, horrific themes, etc.).

Philbin: I am a big fan of certain Manga—they just project reality onto another plane and deal with it. There are no misconceptions of it being reality based. It's a new place and everything has its own morality. I like that, arbitrary morality—that's how the judicial system in which we all live works. My favourite Manga are Akira, Princess Mononoke and Almost Transparent Blue (this latter specifically for the proper adult story that something like Legend of the Overfiend sorely lacks). I'm a big fan of other worlds—and other worlds always have a real body horror aspect to them; it's just he way humans are wired—the new is horrific. The question of age comes about to represent man's immaturity in global matters.

Brand: Additionally, I was curious if Hitchcock made it into your pantheon of influences. Hitchcock himself was somewhat genre-defying and did make a movie about avian belligerency.

Philbin: Hitchcock was a unique director, but Planet of the Owls has more to do with Planet of the Apes than The Birds.

Brand: What was the editing process like for this book? Paul and I worked for several months on Red Ivy Afternoon, and it evolved several different times with additional plot development and small changes that brought about continuity. Did you work largely with Paul on this one, or was this a more-or-less finished product when you brought it to the table?

Philbin: It was more or less finished. The Human half was written in 2005. The Owl half was written in 2006. The idea of meshing them together chapter-by-chapter became a natural development as the stories ran parallel (yet outside of the limiting linear time matrix) and this concept will be more easily illustrated simply by reading the book. Paul is a very good editor and open to creative suggestions about all aspects of the novel creation process. I do tend to go off on creative tangents and Paul helped me carve the intricate details.

Brand: The imagery of angels in this book was one of my favorite things about it. That they might be some sort of prismatic, unknowable meta-creature I found to be very imaginative and engaging as a reader. What made Planet of the Owls different, though, is that even though these creatures are beyond the scope of human comprehension, we could comprehend them for the sake of reading the story. When we get angelic or immortal characterization in ordinary fiction, it generally leaves me feeling like the writer just isn't trying hard enough. I felt exactly the opposite about Planet of the Owls. It was almost as though the "angels" were a steady still-point that the rest of an otherwise occasionally-wobbly narrative revolved around. Tell me more about where this came from.

Philbin: The 'narrative wobble' is probably because I don't write to storyline. I hate clean and tidy narrative resolution—it's a scourge on the book industry. A writer should write, anecdotally, with passion, and the reader will be carried along by his voice. Stories should evolve at their own behest. Most of what Planet of the Owls is about is DISCOVERY. The main characters on both sides have no idea of how and why; they're both lost. Do they find themselves? Does anyone? The idea of Owls came from the staring eyes that I used to dream about when I was a small child. The idea of the angels came from the very simple concept of "We can never truly understand what those who rule us have in store for us". As far as the angels being a steady still-point, remember, the angels are everywhere at all times, they are everything in between, they are not to be trusted.

Brand: I want you to know that the scenes in the Oxford apartment with the owl, the feedings, the (gulp) nesting, are some of the most gut-wrenching, lunch-losing things I've ever read, and you own them. That's not a question, that's just a statement. Slash-by-strangle recounts of the careers of serial killers read like children's board-books compared to some of this stuff. Here's a question: You DO realize that no one who reads this book will ever look at you quite the same way again, right?

Philbin: I owe all my love of the heinous, sinister and criminal to that great thinker David Cronenberg. There was a radio interview back in the late eighties, I think it was BBC Radio 4, and he was rattling on about body appreciation being more than skin deep: "We should have an award for best spleen, most efficient kidney and most symmetrical vulva." Horror should never be merely entertaining, it should get to the root of prejudice and jingoism. In a Hertzan Chimera past life I did a collection of stories called Animal Instincts and it's a theme I've been fascinated with all through my twenty years of writing. Anything to break the complacency of the reader.

Brand: To follow up on the question of the extremely (I don't know, "graphic" isn't really the right word in the context that you wrote it, "disconcerting" is probably better) disconcerting content of Planet of the Owls, what has been your strategy to avoid being pigeon-holed (pun intended) as the literary equivalent of Marilyn Manson? I would think it might bother you equally to be profiled as a marginally-talented shock-jock as it would to be labeled as a genre fiction author.

Philbin: I certainly don't wear eyeliner when I write—is that the correct answer? As far as Brian Warner (the man behind the Marilyn Manson persona) goes, good on him. He knows what he likes and he's not afraid to tell anyone who'll listen. He's clever and charming in interviews, and his fans are all dicks. The answer to all these questions is audience—when I write, I don't perceive the audience at all. That way I can't be worried about offending any of the poor souls. Most writers pander far too deeply to their perceived audience, to the detriment of their creative freedom. Screw the reader, screw with the reader, he fuckin' loves it.

Brand: Do you have any sort of strategy to minimize and contextualize the fallout from your work? By this, I mean take Marilyn Manson for example again: he has never apologized or waffled in his conviction toward bringing his vision of music to us. He takes the rest of the world lightly, but his own work very seriously, and he expects others to do so as well just offhand. I get the same sort of feeling about you and your work in general, as evidenced by your general professionalism in the community as well as your enthusiasm for promoting not just yourself but the entire institution of independent speculative fiction. Some would say that the best way to deal with random, unfocused criticism is to just ignore it, which you seem to do well. On the other hand, how do you hand this book to someone close to you? Do they have any inkling of what they're about to delve into? That is to say, is the Mike Philbin we might meet in a Starbucks the same guy that writes about bestiality and other hideous topics? How does that all play out?

Philbin: The Mike Philbin you'll meet in Starbucks is staring right at you asking WHY ARE YOU ASLEEP, HUMANITY? The only acceptable fallout from my work would be that writers realise they can write whatever they want, share with 'the reader(™)' whatever horror they can imagine, bring out in the reader their true personal horrors in a way that will make that reader go, "Christ, horror's really horrific again. That hasn't happened for a looooooong time. I don't even wanna open the book for fear of where it will take me." That's the fallout I want from my writing, that people have a preconceived fear of it, even before they open it. That they'll feel uncomfortable even having the thing open on a bus, train or aeroplane in case anybody sees them at it. The reader should be ashamed that they're reading these books.

Brand: In view of your discomfort/distrust of labeling, I won't bother trying to locate you in any sort of plane of speculative fiction sub-genres, but perhaps you could share with us some of the sorts of material that inspire you or you just plain enjoy? You seem to enjoy movies as well as books, which most current writers in all genres could say is true of their influences. You talked above about modern fantasy, social writings, and classic science fiction and horror as potentially influential to Planet of the Owls, but the same could largely be said for most of the fiction that Silverthought puts out. What influences or atypical points of view do you have that would surprise us?

Philbin: Wow, this makes me sound like I should give a shit if you're entertained or not. Here's what I think: all genre is a scam to belittle the creative power of an artist. Don't trust publishers, don't trust agents, don't trust your mommy and your daddy. Carve your own furrow in the ground with your own gouging manhood. AKA get a pair and don't be afraid of 'someone giving you a funny look'. You're dead soon and then it won't matter.

Brand: I realize this might be a somewhat exasperating question due to the fact that your two novels are just now coming out, and have no doubt been a long time in the making, but what's next on the horizon for you? Have you got anything new in the works you could share with us?

Philbin: I have two novels out with publishers, YOROPPA and VIEW FROM A STOLEN WINDOW, and there's always the collaborative sex-horror project BOYFISTGIRLSUCK (a Shocklines #1 bestseller in its first incarnation) that Alex Severin and I completely overhauled, restructured and rewrote last year. But my current project (because a writer just writes) is called ONE OF US. What was missing from my books? A good old traditional three-act narrative... Now, contrary to populist propaganda, I'm a clever enough sorta bloke and the new novel I'm working on has three serious acts dictating the character development and linear theology of the narrative drive. I've made a promise this'll be my first bona fide 'writing by numbers' title.

INITIATION: How does one endure the gruesome ins-n-outs of life in The Industry?

NEW FAMILY: Why is a fair war a futile war?

FINAL SOLUTION: How does one become a martyr in a morally bankrupt world?

Has Philbin sold out? Only in the most spectacular (horrific) way. ONE OF US takes place in 1930s Dusseldorf before the rise of the Nazi party in Germany—yeah, that's surprising to y'all, innit—anyway, the revolutionary theory of story reading I've come up with involves a radical concept called Beginning, Middle, End (sarcasm engine disengaged). Will there be horror? Oh, yes, oodles and oodles of horror. Will there be social satire? Well, if I understood what society was, I'd have a go—but the jury's still out. And civilisation, don't talk to me about being civil.

Planet Of The Owls novel from Silverthought Press, NY

independent publisher of speculative fiction

[read excerpt]

The world is coming to an end, and the angels don’t give a damn.

Oxford, England:
Marcus (who works part-time at the falafel kiosk in town) awakens to find a giant black and white bird at his window. He’s sure that’s what he sees: a giant bird with feathers that throb with sinister portent. He shakes himself awake and gets ready for work, unaware that his world no longer exists.

Beijing, China:
Su-Ki Chin (a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl) stands at the bus stop with her schoolmates, but their bus never arrives. Returning home, she finds the family chickens have gone berserk, chasing her brothers around the yard and leaving her parents for dead. It’s like she’s in a dream—the chickens tower over her terrified brothers. She will soon become one of those hybrid birds.

Planet of the Owls, a new genreclectic novel by UK-based artist/writer Mike Philbin, is a split-narrative story that tells of the time-and-space traveling powers of the Gods who have finally arrived on planet Earth in the guise of birds:
robins, crows, magpies and owls. An age-old political conspiracy is revealed among the angel clan, and mankind becomes its innocent victim.

The fate of the Earth lies with Marcus and Su-Ki Chin—only their extra-species love can save a planet about to be abandoned by the Gods. Planet of the Owls is a radical new interpretation of ‘spirituality’ as seen from a higher dimension.