Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Shock Totem # 1 from Shock Totem

Okay, so this is the point where I stop making comments about not having very much faith in anthologies due to the fact that anthologies and story collections (even collections of a single author) are collections of uneven story telling.  This opinion was formed at a time when there were only print collections available from mainstream publishers.  As I have said before eBook publishing has leveled the playing field, and now it seems every collection I get in eBook format from an independent or independent group is showing me that writers who care about good stories and good story telling are stepping up the game.  Plus since I have yet to review a truly uneven mix of stories in an eBook collection it seems kind of pointless to mention the fact I traditionally dislike anthologies and collections every time I review one.

Up for review this time out is Shock Totem #1 - Curious Tales Of The Macabre And Twisted (and boy is it ever).  Now if you're not familiar with Shock Totem (as I wasn't, but the book kept coming up on my suggested read list) it is a website and eZine dedicated to horror stories.  It has distributed several issues of its magazine in print, and the first one is available for eReader, containing reprints of the stories and interviews from people in the horror writing business.  Now I'm not much of a Q&A reading guy, and pretty much skimmed over those, but believe me the stories in the issue are more than enough to make this purchase worth it.

Here's a look at what's inside:

The Music Box by T.L. Morganfield
Imagine Toy Story 3 with violence and murder!  Yes Morganfield admits that a twisted version of Toy Story was what was in mind when this story was written.  A husband and wife's favorite toys battle it out, literally, for the affections of their son.  However things become darker and twisted when the war escalates to include toy vs, human.  Five Stars!

'Til Death Do Us Part by Jennifer Pelland
I hate flash fiction as most of you know, and feel it is the speed dating of the literary world.  However when someone truly does something other than string together a few words that don't really go together to try to tell a story and actually succeeds in giving you a chill in less than half a page I call it utter brilliance.  No, not even a zombie apocalypse will keep will keep him from the altar.  Six Stars!!!!!!!  Oh, yeah!

Murder For Beginners by Mercedes M. Yardley
A nice and quirky look at the aftermath of a murder that the killers and everyone else seems perfectly okay with.  I've already told the Soska sisters they need to check it out (maybe they will want to secure the film rights).  Five Stars.

First Light by Les Berkley
A man has a visit from the spirit of the recently departed.  Set in a kind of alternate western town Berkley packs this one with lots of atmosphere and subtle tension.  Five Stars.

Complexity by Don D'Ammassa
Everything is connected.  A man becomes a prisoner to irrational fears and obsessions.  Or is he?  If you've ever felt technology was an enemy with a mind and agenda of its own you'll really dig this one.  Five Stars.

Mulligan Stew by Brian Rosenberger
Short and sweet.  In my opinion the weakest entry, but that doesn't mean it isn't well written.  Guess who's coming to dinner and who's being served?  Four Stars.

Below The Surface by Pam L. Wallace
In a far away kingdom a princess falls victim to her jealous sister.  Her body dies but her spirit remains, refusing to go until she can assure her son escapes her fate.  Never underestimate the power of a mother's love.  Five Stars.

Slider by David Niall Wilson
An auctioneer listens in disbelief to the tale of an old timer as he spins a yard about a cursed baseball.  He won't be skeptical about curses for very much longer though.  Another Five Star tale packed with atmosphere and wrapped with good old fashioned story telling.

The Dead March by Brian Rappatta
Aaron is a lonely boy but he has the ability to make friends.  He has the power to bring back the dead.  Unfortunately his dad does not understand his gift and takes all his friends away as he finds them, even his mother.  Aaron will make him understand.  He will make more friends than anyone can stop.  A great twist on the zombie apocalypse genre, and my favorite story in the collection.  Six F'n Stars!!!!!!

Thirty-Two Scenes From A Dead Hooker's Mouth by Kurt Newton
Yeah, if "Dead Hooker" is in the title it's got to be good, and it is.  Newton gives up 32 brief scenes in the life of a dead hooker in reverse and all centering in some way on her mouth.  A great closer to a great collection.  Five Stars.

This collection will leave you hooked and wanting to see more from the crew at Shock Totem (who call themselves A Cast Of Nasties, which is by the way the title of one of my favorite Smashed Gladys songs).  It also contains a couple of interviews (as I mentioned before), author bios and site information, submission guideline, and front and back cover art that are killer and continue with each issue.  'Til Death Do Us Part and The Dead March alone are worth the price of the eBook version.  This is definitely a collection that won't leave you feeling cheated.

Barnes & Noble:

Shock Totem Website:

Lurk for it, as well as print editions of issue #2 through 4!

Master Vyle

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