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The Twist
Richard Calder
Four Walls Eight Windows, 190 pages

The Twist
Richard Calder
Richard Calder grew up in northeast London. He started writing fiction at around age 14 and got more serious about it at age 18. In the mid-70s, he went to university in Brighton. His influences include Marcel Proust, Angela Carter, Michael Moorcock and Mervyn Peake. For some time, he lived in Thailand, running a little general store.

Richard Calder Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Frenzetta, Lord Soho, and "Zarzuela"
SF Site Review: Malignos
SF Site Review: Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things and Cythera

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


"But this Cold War of yours is getting out of hand. How can we any longer have such faith in your instincts for self-preservation? How can we believe that US military superiority will not tempt some crazy fool in the White House to launch a first strike?"
The Matrix meets A Fistful of Dollars is how the publisher describes this book. It is a rather optimistic interpretation, though not entirely without merit. The central character is a 9 year-old anti-hero named Nicola E. Newton. Typical behaviour from her includes bunking off school and drinking in bars. Practicalities such as how she manages to get served, or afford the drinks is taken care of by the catch-all device of the story being set in an alternate reality. Nicola runs away from home, and makes friends with Venusian Necrobabe Viva Venera, and John Twist, her half-dead cowboy boyfriend.

The story is set in Tombstone, a version of the Wild West, which exists in perpetuity as part of a Venusian plan to save humanity from the dangerous technology acquired as a result of interplanetary contact. The Venusians, we're told, came to Earth years ago as the physical embodiment of human death, one per person. Viva Venera was the personal death of gunslinger John Twist, who came for him when he was hanged. But Twist didn't die at the end of the rope, and so the two are bound together, lovers and comrades in crime, stuck on Earth until Twist truly expires. At that moment, Viva will eat his soul, and they will both in theory return to her home world.

The Wild West, in this novel, is described as a psychogeographic event, which exists alongside, but separate from, the major part of planet Earth. Inside its borders, life proceeds in much the same fashion as it did in the days of Billy the Kid, and 21st century technology will not function. Except when various extraterrestrial inhabitants bend the rules. Just beyond Tombstone, is a place called Desdichado, from which travellers can commence the years long journey across a physical bridge from Earth to Venus.

If the above sounds complicated and confusing, fear not, because The Twist is really about a death wish. Richard Calder has an off-the-leash style, and presents an innovative story, related in the first person by Nicola E. Newton, John Twist and Viva Venera. The Venusian wants to take her lover back home, Twist is weary of killing for a living, and Nicola has a galmourised view of what death means, in a way that only the very young can manage.

There's plenty of imagination here, but also plenty of problems. The worst is the same kind of quirk that stretches the credibility of the Artemis Fowl books; a child who thinks, speaks and acts as if they were in their mid-thirties. Add to this Nicola's all too frequent use of obscure words and phrases not in general usage among 9-year-olds, or for that matter most adults. Failing to keep the main character's dialogue in keeping with her age, experience and circumstances, stuck an ice-pick through my suspension of disbelief. There are glimpses of an interesting background history, but before one idea is ever properly explored, the author lurches into another burst of imagineering. Among the ingredients are Nazi-loving Niflheim, mutant spider riders, a manitou called Cochise, the CIA, E-bombs, Q-Bombs, six-gun shoot-outs, flying saucers, strange love, and explosively pumped Flux Compression Generators. Madness for the mainstream reader, but refreshingly different, perhaps, for those in search of chaotic escapism. Nicola, John Twist and Viva end up in a dodgy B-movie plot that careens about like a hamster on fire. Its saving grace is a light dusting of sarcastic humour, which held my wandering attention. Just. In summary, this is good book to read if you want to find out what taking hallucinogenic drugs might feel like, at no personal risk.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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