First published back in October 2017, British author Duncan P. Bradshaw’s collection ‘Brain Taster’ was originally intended as a ‘convention exclusive’ for the Swansea Horror Con, enabling patrons at the convention to have a taster of the author’s work for a budget price.  However, when the convention was cancelled, Bradshaw sold off the limited run at the Birmingham Horror Con in October, as well as through his website.  Only fifteen copies of the collection were ever printed, making the book a particularly rare collector’s item.

The collection contained three previously published short stories and two brand new and exclusive ones.

Time For Tea – 14 Pages
After receiving individual invitations to the opening of a tearoom, the four of them chose a table together in the recently refurbished basement area and sat there waiting to see what would happen next.  After all, the invitations weren’t exactly for your usual opening event.  In fact, they weren’t really here of their own accord.  Like everyone else sitting around their respective tables, they’d all received personal invitations to attend and knew they had no choice but to be there.  Although they would never have guessed the horror that awaited them in that newly refurbished tearoom…

Duncan P. Bradshaw certainly loves his tongue-in-cheek ‘80s style horror.  It was particularly evident in his novel ‘Class Four: Those Who Survive’ (2015) and it’s certainly the case here.  Indeed, the whole delivery of the short is very reminiscent of the ‘Trevor Norman’s Penny Gaff Post-Apocalyptic Circus’ chapters from the aforementioned comical zombie apocalypse novel.  It’s as imaginatively wacky as it is brilliantly horrific.  You can just imagine Bradshaw dreaming up these weird and wonderful ideas from some lucid nightmares he’s experienced, then frantically scribbling them down upon waking.  There’s barely any rhyme or reason behind what we experience here – just good old fashioned odd-ball horror to thrill and entertain. Oh, the sheer fun of it all!

The short story was first published in the Sinister Horror Company charity anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume One’ (2015)

I-Spy – 11 Pages
Ever since the aliens had dropped weapons of unimaginable horror onto all the heavily populated areas before hoovering up the survivors, those that remained had been hiding out wherever they could.  For one particular survivor, the whole alien invasion was proving to be a right ballache.  At present he was keeping a look out outside the cave where the current group of survivors he was with were hiding out.  To pass the time, he and the seven-year-old kid he was with were playing a game of I-Spy.  To be fair, the carnage and corpses scattered everywhere gave plenty of opportunity for some good I-Spy spots.  Although he had to be honest, he didn’t feel this kid really had his heart in the game…

Holy shit this is brilliant!  What a story.  So, utterly Bradshaw, it’s impossible not to grin like a paedo in a playground throughout the story.  We’re flung into the aftermath of an alien invasion, with a load of intergalactic bastards sporting red pointy helmets and blue body hair, all of which are running around liquidising every unfortunate soul they see.  You’ve also got some ‘The War Of The Worlds’ (1897) style monstrosities harvesting up any remaining survivors.  So far, so typical 1970’s end of the world alien invasion.  But the real jewel in the crown of this offering is with our wise-cracking narrator.  When the first alien ships started hovering overhead, instead of gawping up at them, he was in the pub waiting for his pint of Guinness to settle.  From the moment the shit hit the proverbial fan, he was drinking up and getting his arse out of dodge.  Oh yes, this fella makes our hapless heroes in ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ (2004) look like serious players.  He’s so wonderfully casual about the impending Armageddon.  Like the absolute epitome of a good ole Brit in the face of adversary.  Cool as a cucumber.  And the way Bradshaw tells the story!  It’s all done through the single voice of our brutally blunt and brilliantly blasé protagonist.  Absolute, gore-splattered alien-invasion comedy genius.

The short story was first published in the original Sinister Horror Company free ebook sampler ‘The Offering’ (2015)

Dom Petty And The Ballbreakers – 8 Pages
They’d never spoken a word to each other, nevertheless, Pauly Shore hated Dom with a passion.  He despised him with every fibre in his body.  It wasn’t just because of the bastard’s fat, gluttonous body, ambling along the pavement and getting in Pauly’s way each morning.  It was a culmination of everything the loathsome twat did.  Like Dom was put on this planet to antagonise Pauly.  Society’s new rules and regulations were hard enough to keep track of, without having to cope with that irritable slob as well.  Each day something new was outlawed.  Yesterday it was barcodes, today it’s solid bars of soap.  Where would it end?  But when Pauly discovered what was behind the churn of new laws, it would be fair to say he lost it.  Enough was enough.  To think, all this draconian nonsense because of a suggestion box, filled to the brim with submissions from one man.  Dom Fucking Petty…

Absolute madness.  Lunacy.  A creative clusterfuck of mindboggling absurdity.  If you’ve already taken a stroll down to insanity-ville with Bradshaw’s novella ‘Celebrity Culture’ (2016), then you know how batshit crazy his work can get.  This my Bizarro loving friends is another prime fillet steak of an example.  It’s like a reimagining of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’ (1949) on some rhinoceros strength LSD.  The most surreal and unexplainable bylaws are passed each day.  And it turns out that these senseless rules are a direct consequence from submissions posted into a suggestion box.  Of course, our infuriated narrator bears the brunt of these new rules.  What’s more, it turns out his nemesis is behind each and every one of them.  But it’s the escalation of lunacy where the real Bizzaro fun is to be had.  The padded cell awaits you Mr Bradshaw.

Mutant Building 101 – 20 Pages
It was bring-your-child-to-work-day.  For Doctor Schmidt that meant bringing his young son - Timmy - into the top security military base where he was one of the head scientists.  Of course, Timmy had brought his pet milk snake – Sidney – along with him.  Sidney was to be kept in a small tank, so Schmidt couldn’t see the harm in having him along.  That is until Timmy left the milk snake on top of some barrels which were destined for the waste storage room.  Things quickly go from bad to a whole lot worse when Schmidt sends one of his lab technicians down to retrieve the snake, only for the hapless fool to drop the snake’s tank on the floor after a spider lands on his hand.  On the floor where a luminous green liquid has pooled from a nearby barrel.  The next second the Technician’s nothing more than a pile of fine carbon and bone.  Something strange has mutated from the spilt toxic chemicals…

This one’s an absolute blast!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Duncan P Bradshaw is such an imaginative and creative writer.  The stuff this man conjures up is just so much fun.  Invariably there’s always that wacky off-the-wall vibe going on with his stories.  And of course, that all-important comedy element to it all.  This short is no different.  Indeed, with tongue firmly wedged in cheek Bradshaw unleashes one of his most spectacularly over-the-top storylines yet.  The premise is akin to a Japanese monster movie co-written by the guys behind and ‘The Return Of The Living Dead’ (1985).  Oh, and the monster special-effects from the ‘Power Rangers’.  It’s wacky and hilariously ambitious, but oh so entertaining.  In the story we learn what happens when a snake and a spider come into contact with toxic waste – you get a gigantic mutant beast that’s half snake and half spider – a ‘Snakider’ if you will.  But the fun doesn’t end there folks.  What better way to fight off such a beastie than create another colossal mutant who’s got a taste for snakes and spiders.  Oh my, the fun you’ll have in this story!

The short story was first published in the Sinister Horror Company charity anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Two’ (2016)

Z Inc. – 25 Pages
Edward Moss hated seeing his wife like this.  Caged and restrained, a muzzle secured tightly over her gnashing jaw.  Molly had been at the Processing Centre for a day short of six months.  Ed knew what that meant.  He only had until tomorrow before he lost her for good.  But he had one play left.  A final card to deal.  He didn’t want to have to do it, but it looked like he didn’t have much choice.  It was time to pay the CEO of Z Inc – Marcus Cross – a little visit.  Time to right some of the wrongs from the past.  He owed it to himself.  He owed it to Molly.  His beautiful dead wife who stood there before him, caged and rotting…

Duncan Bradshaw is a certified zombie fanatic.  He’s an obsessive aficionado of the undead.  So, it’s no real surprise to see a zombie story lumbering its way into this collection.  Although, what is a bit of a head turner, is the style of story.  Before commencing this final story in the collection, you probably braced yourself for another helping of outlandish madness, laced with wacky comedy.  In ‘Z Inc.’ there is certainly a splash or two of Bradshaw’s dark wit.  However, for the main part we’re treated to an increasingly touching love story.  Oh yeah, there’s zombies.  But this is not an action-rich undead-fest, where we’re hurtling through the ravaged streets of a post-apocalyptic world.  Instead, we have a story based around a changed world, one in which the zombie virus has crippled society, and humanity is faced with coming to terms with what’s left.  We have a patented drug – named Lazarus – when injected into the dead flesh of a zombie, can bring back the defining qualities which made them human.  In essence it brings people back from death.  But it’s expensive.  Fucking expensive.  And so, the desperate love story is set.  Wonderfully written, perfectly paced, and ingeniously imagined.  Loved this one so damn much.

DLS Summary:
The purpose of the collection was to provide a sampler of Bradshaw’s work.  To entice potential readers into the odd, eclectic and often disturbing realms of Bradshaw’s literary output.  The thing is, his work is so damn varied.  To provide a proper insight into the Bradshaw universe, the sampler would need to deliver chunks from so many different styles and genres.  Prior to reading this collection I would have doubted how successful a five-story sampler collection could be with this.  However, that’s exactly what ‘Brain Taster’ does.  And it’s damn successful too.

As a reviewer I’ve read a fair old helping of Bradshaw’s work over the years.  The creativity, imagination, and variation within all his output has been breathtakingly consistent.  This very ethos, this remarkable consistency, has been condensed down and exhibited through five short story offerings.  The end result being one incredibly tight mini-collection of uniquely diverse short stories.

There are definitely a couple of highlights.  The stories ‘I-Spy’ and ‘Z Inc.’ are short snippets of Bradshaw at his best.  The former, a masterclass in hilarious, off-the-wall post-apocalyptic Bizarro.  The latter, a touching and flawlessly executed undead love story.

This collection may be long out of print, but hopefully the stories contained within it will all see the light of day again in the future.  They’re too good not to.

The collection runs for a total of 78 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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