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Shock Totem 4: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted Kindle Edition
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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This time around there was a very diverse ensemble of authors from varying backgrounds, with established names like Weston Ochse, as well as first publications for authors like Tom Bordonaro. There's also a couple of interviews, one with Kathe Koja that turns into an opining on the state of publishing today, and a chat with one of this issue's contributing authors, Renny Sparks, that includes discussion about her music career. And one of the missing sections from digital editions is the book review portion, with some interesting looks on books, films, and albums by John Boden, Robert J. Duperre, and the witticisms of Ryan Bridger. There's also a brief essay by head honcho, K. Allen Wood, that provides a surprising punch to the stomach.
As far as the stories are concerned, this issue begins with a tragic gem by Lee Thompson called "Beneath the Weeping Willow," about Davey, a young autistic boy's ordeals within his family as he and his older brother, Jacob, cope with the break-up of their parents' marriage. The story is told in the rare second-person perspective, which is a hard nut to crack, but Lee seemed to have the perfect story in which to use it. As for the relationship between Davey and Jacob, it's heartbreaking and all too believable.
From there, we jump into the absurd with the debut story of Tom Bordonaro, "Full Dental," about an office worker at his wit's end over the demonic coworkers he must work alongside. Tom wanted to approach this story in the same way you might approach a sketch comedy routine, and I think he hits just the right note with the juxtaposition of bloody mayhem and office politics.
I think my favorite story of the bunch came from a very short story by Michael Penkas called "Dead Baby Day." Now, before you get your quills up, the title is a tad misleading. It's really about two brothers. Unlike, Lee Thompson's Davey and Jacob, Michael's Luke and Mark don't have quite so caustic a relationship. Mark does rib his little brother about his origins as they lay in their beds. You know how big brothers are sometimes: a-holes. Well, Luke's imagination starts running wild when Mark tells him about Dead Baby Day, which happens to fall on Luke's birthday. Creepy, funny stuff.
There's plenty more packed into the 130 pages and is a kind of three-ring circus for dark fiction. Don't like the clown car? Then stick around for the lion tamer. And make sure you read Cafe Doom Competition winner's story, "Fade to Black," by Jaelithe Ingold. It feels a tad predictable at first, but the ending remedies that.
My favorite selections of this consistently strong volume are Lee Thompson's melancholy oddity "Beneath the Weeping Willow" (which is narrated in second-person by its young autistic protagonist and never comes off as exploitative even given its difficult premise), "Playlist at the End" by Weston Ochse (which may be one of the very few serial killer stories that I've ever enjoyed, due in large part to its novel "playlist" structure and the sheer quality of the writing and characterization) and "Dead Baby Day" by Michael Penkas (a short-short story that perfectly captures what little jerks kids can be to each other). Also of note are the inclusion of some strong poetry ("Lobo" by Justin Paul Walters) and nonfiction ("Living Dead: A Personal Apocalypse" by editor K. Allen Wood, a true-life-horror story about watching a loved-one hitting bottom).
The paper edition is a sturdy digest-sized book (with numbered spine) and looks great on a shelf. The digital edition (which I picked up when the publishers offered it for free) is all the same fiction and poetry in an attractively-formatted file complete with a linked table of contents. Whichever one you pick up: you can't go wrong.
Shock Totem 4 looms large above the average collection.
Running down the stories that I liked the most:
Beneath the Weeping Willow- by Lee Thompson. I liked this one so much I bought some other offerings by Mr. Thompson. 5 Stars!
Full Dental -by Tom Bordonaro. This was his first published story and it was Freaking Awesome! Fun filled, tongue in cheek and creepy. 5 Stars!
Fade to Black-by Jaelithe Ingold. A different type of cemetery story. 4 Stars!
Weird Tales-by David Busboom. Super short, super excellent! 5 Stars!
Playlist at the End-by Weston Ochse. A short story with a music score. 5 Stars!
Dead Baby Day-by Michael Penkas. It sounds much worse than it is. 4 Stars!
A couple of other things you do not find in most collections of this type:
Bloodstains and Blue Suede Shoes by John Boden and Simon Marshall-Jones. This is a bit of a history lesson concerning horror and music. I loved it, especially the parts about Robert Johnson as I'm a big blues music fan. 5 Stars!
Living Dead: A Personal Apocalypse by the editor of this collection, K. Allen Wood. It is a touching, poignant story about an alcoholic father. What makes this story different is that it is true. 5 Stars
In short, I found this collection to be most excellent and unique. I will be looking forward to more of them.
Most recent customer reviews
Beneath the Weeping Willows I read previously in a collection of Lee...Read more