Monday, August 24, 2009

Magazine Review: Shock Totem Issue 1

Shock Totem is a new print publication that is packed full of “curious tales of the macabre and twisted”. This richly bound magazine, with glossy, full color front and back covers beautifully illustrated by Robert Hoyem, looks like a novel, but is a periodical that not only boasts terrifying tales but also contains dark poetry, reviews and interviews. I had the exquisite opportunity to check out the first issue of the periodical and the expansive contents inside stunned me with their high quality.

The publication opens with an editorial by publisher and editor K. Allen Wood explaining the genesis of the magazine and how the title “Shock Totem” was conceived. The editorial is a perfect introduction to the publication and perfectly captures the excitement and challenges of an independent dark horror magazine. It really gives the reader insight on the complexities of undergoing such an endeavor, especially in these turbulent economic times.

From there, we move into the first short story, the imaginative and whimsical, but no less violent, The Music Box by T.L. Morganfield. The Music Box is about a child’s cherished toys that have a life of their own…and are fighting each other for the love of their owner. This tale brings back warm and fuzzy memories of childhood, when you believed that your stuffed animals came to life every time you left the room or turned your back. Of course, this story has a bit more violence and bloodshed than most childhood memories, but its fanciful tone remains!

Next, we have Murder for Beginners by Mercedes M. Yardley, about two first-time murderesses taking their first kill in stride. I love the wickedly dark humor of this piece as the two killers joke back and forth about their unfortunate victim! First Light by Les Berkley is a story steeped in the pagan and Celtic beliefs of All Hallow’s Eve and is a beautifully written ghost story. I will definitely be pulling this stunning story down from the bookshelf as the cherished month of October creeps closer!

All of the stories contained within Shock Totem are amazing, but Complexity by Don D’Ammassa is probably my favorite, and is a bit more complicated spin on the “ghost in the machine” story. The main character has noticed a certain intelligent design to technology and inorganic products, almost as if technology had a mind of its own and is evolving. Now that he has noticed this underlying force it has noticed HIM and he feels his life is in danger. I absolutely loved this story, and felt that it is especially relevant nowadays when technology basically rules our lives.

I loved the palatial oasis of an Arabic queen where Below the Surface, by Pam L. Wallace, is set. Jealousy, treachery, betrayal and a mother’s undying love for her son all play large roles in this sumptuous tale. Slider by David Niall Wilson is about an infamous baseball that killed a pitcher back in the day and is about to be auctioned off…but carries a deadly curse. The characterization of the two lead characters, the auctioneer and a mysterious old man, is what makes this tale so intriguing to read. Plus, it has one killer ending…

The second-to-last tale is Brian Rappatta’s The Dead March, about a lonely kid who has a special ability to raise the dead. It goes much deeper than a standard zombie tale, though, and has the ability to really make your skin crawl. This is my second favorite story in this issue and really makes me eager to see what Rappatta does next.

Thirty-Two Scenes from a Dead Hooker’s Mouth by Kurt Newton wins hands down for the best title in the magazine! It starts with a prostitute’s death and moves backward through select scenes in her life to show just how her life deteriorated. I really loved the concept of this story and especially loved its unique narrative structure.

Besides the high quality short stories, the first issue of Shock Totem offers readers interviews with legendary splatterpunk author John Skipp, musician and horror comic creator Alan Robert, and horror author William Ollie. In their review section, Shock Totem covers books, films and music. There are also a few dark poems scattered throughout the publication. The end of the magazine offers a very informative section in which the authors of the short stories talk about their inspirations for their respective stories. I loved reading about the back stories behind all the stories I had just read!

Overall, Shock Totem is an impressive small press publication that is impeccably edited and compiled. There is not one section of the magazine that I didn’t like and all of the stories contained within its pages truly impressed and entertained me. You can tell that it is made by horror fans for horror fans! Shock Totem definitely lives up to its tagline of “curious tales of the macabre and twisted” and I cannot wait to see what future issues bring us!

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Visit Shock Totem’s Official Site!

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