Devour It Before It Devours You

John Guzman sent in this incredibly awesome pic. Rock.

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Your First Hate Mail

My guest post, “Your First Hate Mail: How Life Can Change After Working for a Magazine,” is up and running at The Fictorian Era

Come by and say hello!

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Best of 2011: Shock Totem Staff Picks

As we enter 2012, let’s take a quick look back at some of our favorite things (that we could actually remember) from 2011.


Ken’s Pick

Skullbelly, by Ronald Malfi

Mercedes’s Picks

Bear in a Muddy Tutu, by Cole Alpaugh

“Map of Seventeen,” by Christopher Barzak

John’s Pick

The Damned Highway, by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas

Nick’s Pick

Animosity, by James Newman


Ken’s Pick

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

Sarah’s Pick

The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1, Edited by Jason Sizemore


Mercedes’s Pick

Mrs. Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

John’s Pick

There Is No Year, by Blake Butler

Nick’s Pick

11/22/63, by Stephen King

Sarah’s Picks

Tie between Treachery in Death and New York to Dallas, by J.D. Robb


Ken’s Pick

Red State

Mercedes’s Pick


John’s Pick

The Muppets

Sarah’s Pick

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Ken’s Pick

The brilliant work of Darrell Schweitzer

Mercedes’s Pick

Gemmy Butterfly Collection™

John’s Pick

The Memphis Morticians

Nick’s Pick

The Parlor Mob

Sarah’s Pick

Lie to Me


Ken’s Pick

Dystopia, by Iced Earth

John’s Pick

Bad as Me, by Tom Waits

Nick’s Pick

Thirteen, by

Unfortunately, for various reasons, we couldn’t all give picks for certain categories. I didn’t read a single novel last year that actually came out in 2011, for instance. So no Novel pick from me. Sarah didn’t read any small-press novels/novellas/novelettes that came out in 2011, so no pick from her.

And the old gray matter just failed us on other things. Which of course means right after this goes live the answers will become clear…

Anyway, as you can see, we have varied tastes that extend well beyond horror. Check out some of our picks; you’ll probably discover something great.

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I’m looking for some help.

Do you have old 80s pulpy-horror or SF paperbacks and mags? If so, I’m looking for examples of the ads contained in these books and magazines. I’m interested in the more unique ads.

The reasons for this will be revealed soon.

If you can take pictures or scan some, I’d greatly appreciate it. Or if you know of a website that has this stuff, please let me know. You can e-mail them to me here.


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The Armageddon Chord

It’s Armageddon time again, boys and girls! This time brought our way by a scheming corporate scumbag and his equally vile archaeologist toadie. Festus Baustone is THE big cheese. In the corporate ocean, he is the top fish. No one messes with him; he gets what he wants at any and all costs. He employs Helmut Hartkopf, a badly scarred Egyptologist, to unearth a fabled relic that would usher in the End Times as well as grant the dying gazillionaire immortality. Helmut succeeds in finding the artifact, a piece of ancient music written in hieroglyphics by Satan himself, that when played will open the clanging gates of Hell and allow all its populace to spill forth and run amok.

Enter Kirk Vaisto, critically touted “Guitar God” of the modern age.

Kirk, a humble and nice enough fellow, is about to have his humble and nice enough life torn asunder. Festus and Helmut decide to rope him into a ploy to translate and play the evil song and open up a can of Hell-on-Earth™ on an unsuspecting world. That is the basic premise at work here.

The biggest mistake one could make with The Armageddon Chord, Jeremy Wagner’s debut novel, would be to take it too seriously. Doing that would no doubt cause one’s brow to furrow a bit and also leech the fun from the novel. The characters are great and purposefully over the top. They are loving caricatures based on some of Wagner’s favorites from page and screen. Helmut Hartkopf is so very obviously a mishmash of Major Toht from the Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark and Vladis Grutas from Hannibal Rising. Festus Baustone being an amalgamation of all the wealthiest, pompous douchebags we read about in Forbes. Our hero, Kirk Vaisto, is as blatant a homage that anyone versed in great guitarist would recognize it—Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai, if you need it spelled out.

Jeremy knows the ins and outs of the music end of things, being as he served as a guitarist for the grindcore band Broken Hope and is currently the Riffmaster General for the groove/death-metal band Lupara. He knows his shit.

With The Armageddon Chord Wagner has crafted a love letter to biblical/supernatural adventure works, drizzling them with numerous musical references and nudges. Jeremy describes it as “Crossroads meets The Da Vinci Code.” I can get behind that synopsis.

(And for all you kiddies out there, by Crossroads he means the bad-ass 80’s blues film, and not the tepid Britney Spears vehicle from a few years ago.)

I actually think this is quite a daring debut, in that the man is a horror writer and the debut novel he hands us is…well, barely horror. It has more in common with action/thrillers than monsters and gore. I know in my heart that Jeremy will deliver those to us as well, in the not too distant future, but the The Armageddon Chord is not that kind of book. It is, however, a fun and quick read and not a shabby way for the guy to stick his toes in the murky water.

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Along Came a Spider

When the first stuffed specimens of the duck-billed platypus arrived in Europe, many biologists were certain that those wacky Australians had to be hoaxing them, the nineteenth-century version of a rick roll. The English zoologist George Shaw was so skeptical he even cut one apart looking for stitches.

And can you blame them? This thing looks like something Warner Brothers cartoonists might have cooked up after a night of speedballs and hookers.

In the age of Facebook, e-mail and Photoshop, hoaxes are even easier to pull off and are foisted on us at a dizzying pace. From black-market kidney thieves to a check from Bill Gates to photos of the latest celebrity death, we are confronted with a daily fecolith that even Arthur C Clarke could not have predicted.

So I was more than a little skeptical the first time I saw a picture of a spider with the scientific name Theridion grallator, popularly known as the happy face spider. “C’mon…really Internet? I’m not falling for that,” I said in my best bored/jaded voice. No online prankster would get the best of me.

But it is true. Found only on four of the Hawaiian Islands, the spider is about five millimeters long on average and looks like every “Have a Nice Day” t-shirt you’ve ever seen. Long before Harvey Ball created the iconic black-on-yellow smiley face, nature had beaten him to the punch. Is God just messing with us? Of course. How else do you explain a Sixties insurance marketing gimmick on the back of a freakin’ spider?

Then again, with the often undeserved bad reputation that arachnids have, maybe they do need their own goodwill ambassador.

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Dance the Night Away

I’m by no means an expert on 16th century France, but I’d imagine it would involve an unhygienic population, rampant disease, chickens running everywhere, cheese and wine. Now that I think about it, it’s probably not that different from modern day France, only with less chickens and more antibiotics.

What I wouldn’t have thought of was Martha and the Vandellas. I’ll bet you didn’t either. But in 1518 in Strasbourg, a woman named Frau Troffea began dancing in the streets. Not for just a few hours, either. According to reports, she danced for four to six days, stopping only when she collapsed from exhaustion. That’s one serious case of boogie fever.

Worse yet, others began to join her. After a week there were thirty three other dancers and after a month, an unbelievable four hundred people had joined in the involuntary rave. Don’t think of it as college night at the pub, these people were writhing and foaming at the mouth, screaming or making animal noises and rolling in the dirt. Most of the people who were afflicted died of exhaustion, starvation or stroke.

Disturbingly, this was not an isolated incident. Outbreaks of dancing mania were reported throughout Europe as early as the 7th century and continued through the 17th century. That’s over a thousand years of sporadic outbreaks of dancing leading to death. Let that sink in for a moment.

A German account from 1278 featured 200 people dancing on a bridge so frenetically that it collapsed, killing many participants. Survivors were treated at a nearly chapel dedicated to St. Vitus, giving rise to the name St. Vitus’ Dance for the strange phenomenon. Other theories regarding the origin of dancing mania include epilepsy, pagan rituals, ergot poisoning and collective mass hysteria, although all of these explanations are problematic.

An Italian variant was known as tarantism, as victims were supposed to have been bitten by a tarantula wolf spider. Tarantism is also unique in that those afflicted were not out of control. They usually followed a pattern of dancing throughout the day, but stopped at midday to rest and bathe, only to resume dancing until sunset. They then stopped again to eat a light meal and sleep until sunrise, a pattern that could go on for weeks. Cases of tarantism in southern Italy have been reported up through 1959, although tests on spiders in the region have virtually disproved the theory that spiders were responsible.

The bottom line is, no one quite knows what caused the dancing plagues or why they stopped. If you’ve ever been to a rave, you might be tempted to say they are still with us, they just result in fewer deaths.

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50 Unexplainable Black and White Photos

It’s nice to know that people have always been bizarre.  Follow this link for 50 old-timey photos that will make you ponder.  A lot.

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The Alien Apocalypse

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. —Revelation 16:3

[ click photo to enlarge ]

A sign of the impending Apocalypse? No. Actually, it’s proof that Mulder really was on to something.

Bear with me.

This picture is of a blood-red waterfall on the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. According to scientists, a small body of water was sealed off within the ice a long time ago. The microbes within that body of water began to dream strange dreams and long for the day when they could burst forth upon the Earth and wreak their bloody vengeance upon mankind. Or something like that.

The water is rich in iron, which gives it that freshly-opened wound look. But that’s just a cover. These alien microbes are really part of a vast government conspiracy to hide the alien colonization of planet Earth.

At least, that’s what I Want To Believe.

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I’m in Love With a Zombie

No, I’m not suggesting that we start a Zombie Romance Day for all those afflicted with a passion for the reanimated, or life-challenged, or whatever the politically correct term is for zombies these days. I just thought it looked cool.

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