Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Richard Calder
Earthlight Books, 360 pages

Jim Burns
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: Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things and Cythera
Richard Calder Interview
Excerpt: "Lost in Cathay"
Calder Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Malignos is an entertaining and baroque work, with a wonderfully imagined "journey to the centre of the Earth" as its centrepiece. It is full of action, full of weird landscapes, full of unusual characters, and it is fast-moving to boot. Definitely an enjoyable and different read.

Richard Calder is the author of such previous novels as Dead Girls and Frenzetta: ostentatiously colourful work, dark-tinged and motivated by a hyperactive imagination. Malignos is set several millennia in the future of Frenzetta. (The main characters of the earlier story are given a nod as characters in a brief tale told by the narrator). Malignos is again very colourful, though Calder's prose style seems perhaps a bit less extravagant than previously. Frenzetta was set relatively shortly after an event called "The Abortion," when "particles" from an alternate universe leaked into our universe, infecting a number of humans so that they became "perverse," and eventually leading to the failure of technology. At the time of Frenzetta the "perverse" have adopted body shapes to fit their conception of themselves: some are rat people, some cat people, and so on. Some time later, the unaltered humans win a war against the "perverse," who are driven underground -- literally.

Thousands of years later, the altered humans seem to have settled on a more or less standard body type, a rather "demonic" form: scales, horns, bat wings, and a tail. They are called demons or goblins or malignos (a word which is both singular and plural). In recent times, the malignos have invaded from their underground strongholds and, after centuries of war, an unstable truce has been declared. Ritchie Pike, the narrator of Malignos, was a noted soldier in that war. But Pike has been exiled from his home, the Darkling Isle (what was Great Britain), to the Pilipinas, because his lover, Gala, is herself a malignos, though a traitor to her kind. Pike and Gala eke out a living. Pike is a sort of private investigator, often heading into the underground strongholds of the malignos with Gala's guidance. Gala is a whore, and Pike is serially unfaithful.

One of Pike's investigations goes bad and Gala is captured by her former family and "simplified" (given a drug which removes her intelligence). Guilt-stricken, Pike decides to travel under the Earth to the legendary malignos capitol, Pandemonium, located at the very centre of the Earth. This journey occupies the great bulk of the novel. It's very well described, as Pike encounters a variety of differing underground environments and features, as well as any number of grotesque characters. Naturally, he finds his way to Pandemonium eventually and discovers that he himself is not quite what he thought.

As I've said, the story is fast-moving and it's a very enjoyable read. On the negative side, a certain amount of the plot is driven by coincidence. Also, the characteristics of the altered future landscape, especially the rationale for it all, seem a bit arbitrary at times and quite a bit strained. Pike himself is something of a cliché as a character: only too world-weary, only too cynical, and generally such an unlikable individual that it's hard to understand what Gala sees in him. But these criticisms aside, the originality of the scenery and Calder's always fecund imagination make the story well worth the reading. This is by no means a masterpiece but it is a sound, different entertainment.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide