Reviewed: In The Dark Spaces – Cally Black

Book Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite


Category: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy Thriller

On its journey back to Earth, a deep space mining freighter is attacked. The aliens responsible are vicious, crow-like in appearance and very efficient killers. The assault leaves few survivors. Tamara, a stowaway on this ship, escapes death only when she attempts to communicate with the creatures using words from their own language. Once taken captive, Tamara must learn more words and submit to the aliens’ demands if she is to survive. Driven by her belief that Gub (a small child she helped raise on the freighter) is still alive somewhere out there, Tamara endures many horrors in the hope that she might somehow escape and begin her search for him.

If you like sci-fi laced with edge-of-your-seat thrills and action, then Cally Black’s Ampersand Prize-winning novel is a must read. The word ‘genre-bending’ seems to crop up frequently in conversations surrounding this book. After reading In the Dark Spaces, I can certainly see why. This novel is difficult to categorise. On the one hand it’s a science fiction thriller, but it’s also a hostage/survival story. It’s got straight-up action sequences and the drama feels very much like what you’d find in a tale about the American frontier or the Australian settlers—except it’s in space.

Tamara’s story is one of survival and explores the moral dilemmas faced when self-preservation conflicts with loyalty. It’s about family, belonging and bridging the (sometimes vast) gaps in communication that have, and continue to exist between cultures. By showing both sides of the coin, Cally Black allows the reader to empathise with and understand, not only the alien crow-people or Garuwa (as they come to be known), but also the money-driven mining company. The motivations and consequences of failure that each side face is very real, and Tamara experiences the grey area that exists between the often black and white arguments for and against war.

If it weren’t for a few scenes in this book, I would be happy to recommend this for younger readers but due to the violence, it’s more suited to 14+. Basically, if you’re a little squeamish when it comes to violence, tread with caution.

Cally Black’s In the Dark Spaces is a well-paced story with a strong, original voice and believable characters. Tamara, with her limited yet insightful view of her world, will stay with you long after you’ve read this one.

Price: $19.99

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont

Country: Australia

Published: 1 August 2017

Pages: 328

ISBN: 9781760128647

Featured Album: Resolution (2017) by Krisis

Article – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Krisis (aka Shannon Michels) is a Wollongong-based music producer who’s been tinkering away in his studio on beats and soundscapes for the better half of his life now. His new instrumental album Resolution is the culmination of this work.

“I had 17 years of my work to make something from. I chose to choose tracks from the last five years to give it some sort of coherence … my music has evolved.”

The Gong, as it’s known, is a seaside city of almost 300,000 on the east coast of NSW characterised by picturesque beaches and surrounding bushland. This natural beauty cocoons Wollongong’s heavy industry, the city’s beating heart that lights up the night sky like some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare.


By Robert Montgomery [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

In Resolution, the influence of his hometown and the hip-hop sensibilities that Krisis was weaned on are evident. The tracks It Isn’t Any Fun and Respek reflect these roots and from track to track, you can feel the evolution. The Bottom, Got Dark and Hard Labour thump, brood, and evoke imagery that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Philip K Dick novel, and the lighter, more contemplative tracks Tribute, New Dawn and The End Is A New beginning speak a language that suggests maturity that only comes with experience.

Among its influences, the album draws on triphop, dubstep, trap and ambient music to present an eclectic collection of tracks that reflect urban living, science fiction themes, and the fragility of humanity. It’s a solid collection of sounds that illustrates the breadth of ideas and moods that Krisis is able to evoke through his soundscapes.

Pump up that bass and give it a listen.


Follow and support Krisis on Facebook and Soundcloud.

Iggy Pop and David Bowie – two decades of uneasy collaboration Part 2: the ‘80s

Music review / Article – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Iggy_Bowie_1986In this two-part series, I look at every album that, for better or worse, rock icons David Bowie and Iggy Pop share credits.

Find Part 1: the ‘70s here.

Tonight from 1984 is Bowie’s follow-up to the commercial success of Let’s Dance (1983).

david-bowie_tonightDavid Bowie – Tonight (1984)

Iggy’s presence on this record is not comparable to that of Bowie on the Iggy Pop records. However, including Tonight, Iggy is credited on five of the nine tracks with this mess of an album.

Don’t get me wrong, Blue Jean (with its mini-film Jazzin’ For Blue Jean by Julien Temple) is a classic pop song and Loving the Alien Doesn’t fair too badly either, but these two tracks show little to no evidence of input from Iggy.

For the title track, Bowie brought in Tina Tuner to duet with on this neutered (drug references removed) reggae version of Iggy’s song, and it sounds as bad as it looks on paper, believe me.

Neighborhood Threat, also from Lust For Life, makes the cut as well. Iggy’s 1977 version sounds very much like a precursor to what Bowie ends up doing on Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (1980). Perhaps if Bowie had delivered his version a few years earlier, it could have sounded better than it does here.

The third Iggy Pop cover present is Don’t Look Down from New Values (1979), his first solo record without Bowie. The original is a decent soul-influenced track that wouldn’t feel too out of place on Bowie’s Young Americans (1975). For some reason, Bowie gives this a reggae twist as well.

Two original tracks are credited to the pair: Tumble and Twirl and Dancing with the Big Boys. The former rolls along just like its namesake. With a heavy horn rhythm section, this track feels very of its time but solid, nonetheless. The latter includes Iggy on vocals and is very much a signal of what Bowie’s next studio album will sound like.

An album with less than fifty percent new material, Bowie said of Tonight:

…I thought it a kind of violent effort at a kind of Pin Ups.

Pin Ups was a collection of covers from 1973 released to cash in on the success of Aladdin Sane.

Blah-blah-blah_iggy-popBlah-Blah-Blah (1986)

Iggy says this is not his album. The most well-known song on here is the re-worked Johnny O’Keefe track Real Wild Child (Wild One). Half of the album is written with or by Bowie. It’s sound is a pop album with some kind of punk rock edge. It’s even got Steve Jones on it, how punk is that? Mind you, the tracks written with Jones don’t sound anything like the Sex Pistols.

Still, the tracks credited with Bowie sound like what he will do in future with Tin Machine (1988-1992). For those that don’t know, Tin Machine was Bowie’s attempt to shed his popstar skin to become one of the boys. Those boys included, not coincidentally, the Sales brothers—rhythm section from the Lust for Life (1977) album.

However Iggy feels about it, Blah-Blah-Blah is a solid album and his most commercially successful. Also, Cry for Love (one of the three songs co-written with Jones), is a killer track.

This is the last album that Iggy and Bowie will make together.

Never-Let-Me-DownBowie’s following studio album Never Let Me Down (1987) features a cover of Bang Bang from Iggy’s Party (1981). It pales in comparison to the original but it’s better than anything that features Mickey Rourke rapping on it.

Iggy Pop and David Bowie – two decades of uneasy collaboration Part 1: the ‘70s

Music review / Article – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Bowie_Iggy_1977In this two-part series, I look at the albums that rock-icons David Bowie and Iggy Pop, for better or worse, share credits.

Post_Pop_Depression_(Front_Cover)Iggy Pop’s album Post-Pop Depression (2016) was unfortunately timely. Recorded in secrecy with Josh Homme and friends the year before, it was released in the months following the death of David Bowie. Not only is it the poignant statement of a punk-rock god feeling that perhaps he’s not long for this world, but also a great addition to an already-impressive body of work. It was this album that got me thinking about the relationship of Bowie and Iggy.

Individually, the pair are no strangers to collaboration. Each have a string of recordings that draw on the talents of others, but among those, the entwined relationship of this pair is unique. It’s also fair to say that one may simply not exist as we know them today without the influence of the other.

This relationship tracks back to the early ‘70s. Before Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to the world, Bowie saw something in Iggy that many overlooked, and that was the great song-writing at the core of the ensuing chaos that Iggy’s band The Stooges had become synonymous with. So convinced was Bowie of this talent, that he travelled to America to find Iggy, and while there persuaded him to sign with his own UK management. Bowie’s intention was to bring attention to Iggy’s music to an audience that he felt was deserved.

Lou-Reed_TransformerBy the time Ziggy Stardust hit the stage in 1972, Bowie was neck-deep in behind-the-scenes side-projects such as producing Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes, as well as Lou Reed’s now-classic Transformer. The Stooges had, by this point, broken up and their future was unlikely, so when Bowie approached Iggy about joining him in England to do another Stooges record but with a different line-up, Iggy agreed.

Bowie learned the hard way that Iggy wasn’t quite ready allow him to step in on the process in the same way that prior projects had. Finally, he had no option but to step back and let Iggy record the album his own way. The completed recordings were then handed to Bowie for mixing.

Iggy-and-the-stooges_raw-powerBowie did what he could with what he had and Raw Power was released in 1973. Multiple attempts to mix this album exist, and Bowie’s version is certainly not the best. It would be another three years before he and Iggy would attempt to work together again.

During this time, Bowie’s career continued to blossom. Ziggy Stardust rose then fell, and Bowie found success in the US and it’s the hangover from this superstardom that started Bowie down the path toward his “Berlin trilogy” phase. In 1976, Bowie and Iggy began work on the tracks that would become The Idiot, Iggy’s debut album as a solo artist.

Iggy_Pop_-_The_IdiotIggy Pop – The Idiot (1977)

A wonderful piece of work. The angular sounds and electronic swagger that feature on this album is nothing like what Iggy has done before or since. Essentially, it works as a template for the musical direction that Bowie would explore further while in Berlin.

The opening track Sister Midnight would find its way onto Bowie’s 1979 album Lodger as the re-worked Red Money. More recognised, however, is the Side A closer, China Girl, which became the second single from Bowie’s 1983 album Let’s Dance.

To me, Bowie’s polished version always sounded like a karaoke cover, only emphasised by the accompanying video that features a suited Bowie crooning along with a microphone in front of what could be a wallpapered stage in the corner of a cheap bar.

Iggy-Pop_Lust-For-LifeIggy Pop – Lust for Life (1977)

This follow-up to The Idiot came quickly. Written, recorded and mixed in eight days, the sound of this record is far more in line with the sound with which Iggy is known. A true classic, the title track bounces onto the stage with an infectious energy that is still imitated today, but never equaled. Lust for Life sets the upbeat tone for this album, barely taking a breath between tracks.

Turn Blue is the exception to this rule. This Blues-based track is a confessional of how Iggy’s drug addiction thwarted previous efforts to collaborate with Bowie.

Bowie’s influence on this album is strong but far less imposing than it was on The Idiot and sits closer to what his presence was on Lou Reed’s Transformer (1972).

Once again, the last track of Side A would find its way onto a following Bowie album, as well as becoming said album’s title.

david-bowie_tonightFind out all about Tonight (1984) and beyond, when we explore the continued collaboration of Iggy and Bowie throughout the 80’s in part 2 of this article.

Reviewed: Metal Dead (2011)

Game Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite


Metal DeadAs a casual gamer, I’m always a little behind the curve when it comes to something new. For example, it was only four years ago that I truly immersed myself in the experience that is the point-and-click adventure (about 20 years after they peaked). Equipped with my (relatively) recently solid knowledge of such things, I feel it is my privilege and duty to review this modern take on a well-trodden genre.

Speaking of well-trodden genres, a zombie apocalypse is nothing new but that’s the backdrop for this story, and it’s your job to keep plucky protagonist Malcolm Campbell alive, as well as get to the bottom of who or what is responsible for all the horror.

Screenshot03The game begins with two metalheads, Malcolm and his best friend Ronnie, driving into the heart of the zombie outbreak. Why? Because Ronnie says it’s “the most metal thing that’s ever happened” to them. Unfortunately, the car crashes and you must help Malcolm escape the zombie hordes. To do this you must get Malcolm off the streets and inside the MediGeniTech building (a science research centre) and it is here that he meets the mysterious Dr. Fechenheim who charges Malcolm with helping him continue with his bizarre experiments.

From here, the story leads Malcolm through the building where he will meet a host of characters who either help or hinder him in his efforts to reach the helicopter at the top of the building. Can you help Malcolm save everyone and discover the cause of the outbreak? What does Dr. Fechenheim have to do with all of this?

Screenshot06This comedy/horror game from Walk Thru Walls Studios is your standard 2D point-and-click adventure affair, and even for that, it’s pretty lo-fi. The dialogue is delivered through text, the art and animation is scratchy, and the music is presented in glorious MIDI, which gives the overall experience a DIY edge that makes you think, “hell, I could make one of these!”

And maybe you could, but what this game lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for with a fun little story and snappy dialogue just like the classic games it pays homage to. The humour is played to full effect with just enough self-awareness and pop culture references to help you forgive its shortcomings.

The art is somewhat reminiscent of that goth comic style (Johnny the Homicidal ManiacLenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl) that became popular in the late ’90s, almost cute in its simplicity but obviously drawn by someone with a psychological disorder. It works for this game and has plenty of charm to keep you playing.

Screenshot09On the subject of effective simplicity, the same can be said for the music. Using standard MIDI sounds, Josh Birch delivers a soundtrack that makes you feel like you’re in a John Carpenter movie. There is a surprising degree of versatility in the noise coming out of those speakers using the most primitive of digital sounds.

The puzzles are logical and satisfyingly challenging too. I must admit that I did have to consult a walk-through guide with one puzzle because I missed an element in the narrative.

Basically, if you haven’t played this game and are a fan of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry, metal, and zombies, then perhaps you’re missing out. Metal Dead is a great way to kill a few hours if you still have the patience for the point-and-click adventure.


Buy it on Steam for $4.99 USD.


Reviewed: Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007) – Devin Townsend

Music Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Ziltoid-the-Omniscient-2007Let’s just put it out there; I’m a bit of a Devin Townsend fan. People who know me know this. I love his musical diversity, his ability to push the limits of the sounds and styles he works with, and the honesty reflected in his work.

Like many, I discovered him through the chaotic metal of his band Strapping Young Lad when I was an angry teenager. Since then I’ve come to know and get slightly obsessed over his greater body of work. From his most recent Devin Townsend Project (DTP) release Transcendence (2016) to his lesser-known works like the ambient Devlab (2004), and his vocal work on Steve Vai’s on Sex & Religion (1993).

Whatever direction his music takes, however chaotic, meditative, emotive or hilarious, it’s always passionate, personal, and stands to represent an expression of his mental state or feelings of that moment.

So if I gush a little bit, I’m not sorry but I will try to keep this review as factual and objective as possible.

According to the album’s liner notes, Ziltoid was an idea that Devin came up with when he was about 8 years old, and had been brewing in his subconscious until he took the time out to actualise the idea and bring the puppet to life (he made a puppet).

My first meeting with Ziltoid was in the days of Myspace. As a precursor to the release of the album, Ziltoid broadcast a handful of two-minute video messages to alert fans of his imminent arrival. It was a fun little experiment from before Youtube and became second nature to internet users.

The album’s musical comedy concept tells the story of Ziltoid, a creature who experiences everything all at once. He’s a little screwy because of this, and he likes his coffee. In this story, Ziltoid visits Earth to demand the perfect cup of coffee lest humanity be annihilated. Of course, his standards are quite high so he gets all Ming The Merciless and an all-out attack on the planet ensues.

Punky_BrusterIt’s hard not to compare Ziltoid the Omniscient with Townsend’s first musical comedy album, Cooked on Phonics (1996). Released under the fictional band name Punky Brüster, it made a statement on the punk music resurgence of the time. The songs were solid (it’s not hard to get punk wrong, even if you infuse it with metal sensibilities) and the narrative held it all together as a mildly-entertaining concept album.

Comparitively, Ziltoid is far more theatrical. Where Punky Brüster may have been constrained by the “cool” of what peers felt to be acceptable, Ziltoid throws all caution to the wind to create a narrative that lies within the songs as much as the sketches that bookend them.

The music is mostly heavy. Tracks like By Your Command and Planet Smasher dominate the sound with a few contemplative moments from tracks such as Solar Winds and The Greys to break up the assault and add contrast to the final package.

This is one of Townsend’s solo efforts in the strongest sense of the word, with all creative input being his, even down to programming the drum parts. He does, however, get some friends in to provide additional voice talent (current DTP members, Brian “Beav” Waddell and Dave Young).

Ziltoid The Omniscient is an over-the-top prog-metal trip that sounds like some guy in his basement playing with toys and entertaining himself (which is exactly what it is and that’s not a bad thing in my books). The story is flimsy but the voices are fun, and if you always thought that Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds would have worked better had it been a little more self-aware and humorous, this one’s for you.

Reviewed: Tank Girl (1995)

Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

MPW-47507All the recent Gorillaz talk prompted me to revisit the film that introduced me to Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl.

When I was an impressionable 13-year-old way back in 1995, I saw a news item on TV covering the forthcoming set-in-Australia film Tank Girl. I guess this sort of thing was, and still is, considered newsworthy simply because Australia. We do love it when this little old chunk of land we occupy turns up in the movies (even if it’s not actually shot there). The fluff piece/promo was no more than two minutes in length, but it was enough to get me excited about this brand new movie about to hit the cinemas. The bright colours, punk aesthetic and weaponry on display only added to my anticipation of this cult comic adaptation, of which I had previously never heard.

0a08827e8b29ec8c5ceced5b8923d14fI didn’t see it at the cinema. I did, however, become quite familiar with the soundtrack, which is a pretty good cross-section of ’90s alternative music featuring Bjork, Portishead, Hole, and more. Devo also appear with a version of their song Girl U Want. It was re-recorded to sound more like Soundgarden’s 1992 cover of the song, something that was cheaper to do than procure the rights for the Soundgarden version.

So yeah, the soundtrack got me more excited to see the film and when I was able, I got me a copy of that flick on VHS.

Directed by Rachel Talalay and starring the likes of Lori Petty, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T and Naomi Watts; the movie itself is a strangely-charming mix of comedy, action and general weirdness. I’m quite sure my fondness for this one is mostly from nostalgia for my childhood.

tank-girl-punk-styleIt’s a wildly uneven romp, and as reflected on IMDB, Hewlett and Martin do not have positive memories of the Hollywood process. The comic’s creators and Talalay have each commented on how studio interference hindered the project, along with many production problems. The addition of the animated sequences were not so much a stylistic choice but a necessity, when it became clear that portions of the film had not been shot.

I’m tempted to say that Tank Girl is a product of its time. As with many comic book films of that era (Judge Dredd, The Phantom, The Mask), it was homogenised to become a family-friendly romp, with little to no regard for the original source material. But then, two years before, we got The Crow. So, what the hell? I have to concede that Hewlett is right and that it’s the studio that turned this anarchic and subversive comedy into the child-friendly blandfest that occasionally gleans moments of brilliance, but not anywhere near enough to actually call it a good film.

MCDTAGI EC002Visually, the creature effects by Stan Winston hold up, and the digital effects aren’t too bad either. As with a handful of films around this time, James Osterberg pops up in a grotesque blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. Like the aforementioned film, The Mask, there’s a song-and-dance routine in this one too. The animation, despite its last minute inclusion, works well and adds to the eclectic tone. The whole package feels a bit like a scrapbook of ideas hastily jammed together.

As a 13-year-old in 1995, I thought this movie was great. The music, the animation, the dumb jokes, the creatures, and a leg of ham from Malcolm McDowell absolutely sold it. But today, it looks cheap, the pace is all over the place, and it feels very much like a film from the ’90s.

Tank-girl-animatedA curiosity at best, this was one of many comic book properties being turned into films before Marvel got their shit together, and it’s certainly not the best. It’s an oddity and a sketch that shows potential for what might have been.

That said, if ever there was a time to try bringing Tank Girl back to the big screen, perhaps this post-Deadpool/Dredd era is it. We’ve got the technology to do it right (seing fully realised Rippers in mo-cap would be great) and the big studios now seem more willing to risk not playing to the lowest common denominator (either that, or the bar has been raised).

Watch it under the influence and you may not feel the regret Naomi Watts feels with this experience.