Shock Totem Radio
- Ugly As Sin—Now Available!
- Closed for Winter Break
- Star Road
- A Conversation with Voice Actor Georgie Leonard
- Cellar Door: Words Of Beauty, Tales Of Terror Review
- King Revives Our Favorite Demons
- A Conversation with Author Todd Keisling
- Ugly As Sin Cover Reveal
- Blood, Sweat and Drool: A Conversation with Director Jeremiah Kipp
- Chatting with Author Seanan McGuire
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Here is an awesome sci-fi premise: Humans find at the edge of the solar system the entrance to a vast network of dimensional portals leading to other worlds all across the universe. No one knows who built it, or how it works—only that is does work.
With that tantalizing grand sci-fi mystery as a premise we begin Star Road, by Matthew Costello and the late Rick Hautala, a high-speed space action thriller that tips a hat, head, and most of the shoulders to Joss Whedon.
(Another name worth mentioning is Mad Max. But while the influence of Road Warrior and Firefly are superficially evident, I felt that the execution of Star Road owed more to A.E. van Vogt, for better or worse.)
This is first and foremost an action road-trip with plenty shoot-em-up “car” chases. Read if you want creepy alien mech constructs swarming over your spaceship while you’re in a firefight with a battle-cruiser, read if you want blast-em-up car chases on rickety jet ramps built over primordial oceans where sea monsters just might take a bite out of your ship if you get too close.
There’s a distinct horror flair that occasionally overshadowed the rational “why?” required by science fiction. Anyone remember that scene in Galaxy Quest when they have to pass through the timed mashers and fire to get to the Omega 13? That’s in here. But if car chases in space are your thing, look no further. (And for all you romance readers holding your breath, sorry, there’s next to zero romance. Go back to your dinosaur-on-human erotica.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, Star Road doesn’t have the massive cast of a true space opera, but there are plenty of characters coming in and out of the scenes. You have your requisite crew mish-mash: a war-weary gunner, a cool-handed captain, the scientist, a religious Seeker, a salty space-miner, a spunky adrenaline-junkie, and the government guy-with-secrets. Add to that a seemingly omniscient/omnipresent Super-Duper Space Federation, and a gaggle of space pirates called the Reavers—I mean, the Runners—and you can see why this was a fun if somewhat recycled read.
While we are down in the thick of things with the main group of characters, we’re told to care deeply about the larger struggle between Empire and Rebellion, as well as the internecine strife within the Rebel group. But the larger struggle never felt wholly tangible or meaningful.
Costello and Hautala write from multiple vantage points to connect us to the secret motives and thoughts of each character as they rush towards the final showdown on a distant planet. However, this relentless head-hopping ends up wearying me, and I end up not feeling close enough to any character to really understand or care for their motives. Speaking of motives, sometimes there just weren’t any. I caught myself facepalming with a “What are they thinking?” or “Why would they do that?” a few times.
(By the way: Hard sci-fi readers beware. They actually drive on the star road. In space. No, I don’t know why there is gravity. I think Asimov just twitched in his grave.)
But Star Road is about action and high-speed chases and creepy alien corpses being resurrected so heroes with blasters can fry them into bacon bits (rather than, say, about emotional resonance and astonishing truth about the human condition). I just wish that that awesome sci-fi premise we started off with resolved into a mind-blowing sci-fi answer.
Cellar Door is an anthology of poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and visual art that all revolves around one common theme; the cellar door. Not just any cellar door, but the cellar door that we all knew as kids growing up. The one that always made you feel a little uncomfortable but that held such terrifying intrigue. The one where you made sure to watch over your shoulder as you turned your back to it. It’s the archetype of the cellar door that is seemingly so engrained in our minds and imaginations that has come to inspire each and every piece in this collection.
Edited by Shawna L. Bernard and published by James Ward Kirk Publishing, this anthology is one of huge volume and contains dozens and dozens of pieces to get lost in, and at first glance upon the subject matter it may seem as though the theme may become a little redundant, but rest assured, this is certainly not the case.
Poems and short fiction that are included vary so much in voice, style, aesthetic, and even the use of the theme of the cellar door are so well implemented, that time and time again you are pleasantly surprised at the creativity and pure originality of each piece and each author. Influences ranging from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King are all present and it is really neat to compare and contrast each piece.
Flipping to any random entry will surely draw you in and soon enough, you yourself will be conjuring up your own ideas and stories about cellar doors. Each story will harken you back to a time where that aging frame and rustic door handle sent chills down spine. The diversity that can be found in Cellar Door is great and it is so easy to just get lost in a quick story or two when you may not have enough time to fully lose yourself in a novel.
When I was 12, I experienced a horrid accident in which I lost the ankle bone and part of my foot in my left leg. Being summer in Michigan meant that it was nearly always 100% humidity, and hotter than Satan’s buttcrack. And me with a monstrously heavy, hot and unwieldy plaster cast from my toes to mid-thigh. It was a pain, to be certain. So I kept myself distracted through reading.
I’d already read through my mother’s entire collection of Sidney Sheldon novels, and went in search of something to take my mind off the infernal itching beneath my cast as my leg healed from surgery.
Tucked way to the back of the bookcase in the living room was a novel that intrigued me greatly. I’d previously read Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, which was gross and creepy, and utterly delicious. This book had a very similar cover. I had never heard of the author, some guy named Stephen King, but I snuck the book back to my bedroom and set out to read.
The Shining scared the living crap out of me. I found myself, for the first time in my young life, unable to put the book down. Every waking moment was spent with my nose burrowed in the margin, the stench of mother’s chain smoking redolent in the pages and the ink. I didn’t care. Little Danny Torrance was the most compelling character I’d ever encountered, and his story caused me to sleep with lights on for months afterward.
King made the executive decision to follow up Danny’s story with Doctor Sleep.
We meet up with a slightly older Danny in the aftermath of events at the Overlook Hotel, which, if you’ll remember, died a fiery death when the faulty boiler exploded, taking Danny’s father, Jack, with it. But not the horrifying *things* that dwelled there. Oh, no sir. They followed Danny and Wendy to their new home somewhere in sunny, warm Florida. In this way, we know that “redrum” can’t be far behind.
Jump to a future in which Danny is a burned out alcoholic drug addict, drifting from town to town, trying in each location to begin again. His attempts to outrun his personal and all-too-real demons ineffective.
It’s not long before his imaginary childhood friend, Tony, begins appearing at odd times, and Danny, now just Dan, dreads what it might mean.
It’s risky for any author to create a sequel to a much beloved novel, especially thirty-some years later. If the original is meant to be a standalone, the decision to create a follow-up can be seen as “selling out,” trying too hard to cash in on former glory. I would use as an example Black House King’s follow-up to collaborative novel The Talisman which he co-wrote with ghostmeister Peter Straub. Black House sadly fell short of capturing the originality and flavor of The Talisman. That’s the same risk King takes with Doctor Sleep.
Thankfully, it pays off. Big.
King jumps forward quickly in time from Danny as a child, to Dan as a highly dysfunctional adult. But the reader is allowed to see that trajectory which also allows us to take the ride along with him, and invest emotionally in the character’s seemingly endless plight.
King is a master of character development, and is at the top of his game in Doctor Sleep. Rather than allowing his protagonist to wallow in his self-pity for the entirety of the book, he brings in another character, a young girl named Abra, who has a Shining stronger than Danny ever did. And she is being pursued by a cult named The True Knot.
Allowing Dan to focus on something and someone outside of himself, it brings him to sobriety, because, like Chef Dick Halloran coming to his rescue decades before, only he knows what she’s going through, and has to save Abra.
King also writes children in peril better than anyone. Think of Jake in the Dark Tower series, or Travelin’ Jack in The Talisman. And of course, Dan was that character in The Shining. To be able to follow Dan into adulthood, where at last—at least we hope as we fervently flip through the pages—he’ll gain closure over his horrifying past, allows the reader to likewise experience closure. First, though, we, along with Dan, will have to deal with the dead woman from the Overlook’s Room 217 and several other nasties that are likewise pursuing Dan, intent on finishing long ago business.
Doctor Sleep is another shining star (pun intended) in King’s catalogue, and well worth reading.
Billy and his friends are on vacation on a little island in the Florida Keys when they are attacked by a huge swarm of flies that bite. They run through the jungle and find a small hut where they take refuge. In the middle of the night, Billy’s girlfriend Casey realizes she can’t hold it until morning, and goes outside to go to the bathroom.
This time, hundreds of spiders attack Casey, tearing her apart with her teeth. Later, only Billy manages to escape.
Rachel has escaped her abusive husband Anders, and now lives in a small town in the Everglades with her son Eric. As they try to build a new life together, Rachel has no idea that the town she chose is about to be overrun by a plague that has never been seen before. Rachel and Eric becomes friends with Billy who, although nice, acts strangely at times. Tormented by terrible headaches he can’t explain, he gradually withdraws, until Rachel realizes it’s been quite some time since they had seen him. In the meantime, the townspeople are being bitten by an infestation of flies, sickening some and killing others.
Then the spiders come. Hatching from the larvae left by the flies, the spiders encase animals, people—even houses in their webs. Rachel and her new boyfriend Terry decide it’s time to get out of town, but run into trouble when her ex-husband Anders shows up. Soon after, all hell breaks loose, and time is running out to get out of town before the government shows up and annihilates the town along with the insects.
I love “bug horror,” and this is one of the best I’ve read. Fun, creepy, and gross, Violet Eyes, written by Bram Stoker award-winning author John Everson, made me squirm many times while reading. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
How important is a review? In today’s publishing world, especially on Amazon.com and its international sites, a good review (four or five stars) is worth quite a bit. Dozens of them are priceless.
Shock Totem does most of its sales through Amazon, the bulk of which are digital sales. That’s a great thing, particularly for our authors. Readers are their lifeblood. Ours as well, but while readers keep us afloat on a pride level, we need revenue to sustain us for years to come.
We’ve been around for five years and each of our issues costs around $1,500 to produce. They say most businesses take five years to become profitable. Thankfully, we’re almost to the point where we’re paying for each release with profit from sales. Our last issue, Shock Totem #7, cost $236 out of pocket, which is wonderful.
We’d love to get to a point where we’re not only paying for issues with profit but also making money, enough to expand, raise our pay rate.
And that’s why we still need your help.
The debut issue of Shock Totem is our biggest seller. This is typical for every month. On Amazon, where it matters most, our debut has 28 reviews. That’s eleven more than the closest second, which is issue #2, with 17 reviews.
Our latest issue, however, has just two reviews. And we’re having a hell of a time getting review sites to respond to review requests these days. Not sure if there’s so much self-publishing going on that they’re overwhelmed with review material or if we’re so established they don’t think we need reviews; but whatever the reason, the reality is, we do need reviews.
Why? Beside the obvious reasons, Amazon.com, where sales are highest, has a ranking algorithm (among other things) that helps authors and publishers sell books. One of the biggest theories, and it’s a good one, is that the more four- and five-star reviews a book has, the more it is shown to potential buyers.
Again, our debut issue has nearly a dozen more reviews than any of our other issues and it’s our biggest seller. Signs point to Yes, the algorithm is real and that issue is being put in front of more potential readers than our other issues.
So how can you help? By posting reviews of our work. They don’t have to be long or have literary flair; they just need to be honest.
The more our sales increase, the longer we’ll be around. When so many publications are using Kickstarter to fund their projects, we’d like to earn people’s money. So if you’d be so kind, please consider reviewing anything of ours that you have read. We’d be very grateful.
In parting, and this applies not only to our books but any book, please note the difference in ratings between sites.
Three stars on Goodreads is not the same as three stars on Amazon. (There is another theory that any review given with less than four stars on Amazon seriously impacts a book’s rankings—kicks it right into the gutter, in fact. Again, this is a theory, but based on authors’ experience, it’s a good one.) For instance, a two-star review on Goodreads should be a three-star review on Amazon, as both mean it was “okay.” Therefore, a three-star review on Goodreads should be a four-star review on Amazon, which helps the author quite a deal more. Again, in theory.
And finally, thank you! Five years strong. We’ve lost some staff along the way, but we’re still dedicated and committed to the long haul. It’s been a hell of a ride so far. Help us keep the wheels on!
When I read the title of the new novella by Mercedes M. Yardley, I itched to begin reading and find out what the two names meant and how the characters would find each other. “A tale of atomic love,” the cover promised, and that drew me in ever further.
Having read Yardley’s short story collection, Beautiful Sorrows, I thought Apocalyptic Montessa would be rich and sweet, like dense chocolate cake with a bitter, poisonous frosting. The opening was touching, a mother walking in a graveyard, naming her special child after a headstone that struck her—“Montessa.” Then the unborn baby grew up, and became a stripper named Ruby.
You’d think that’s where the sweetness stops, and to an extent, you’d be right. The beginning of this novella is heart-wrenching to read, although the pacing is so fast and engrossing that I had to force myself to put down my Kindle to do things like eat or sleep. Yardley’s use of language and imagery is unparalleled, and Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu brings that in spades, as well as a rhythm to the prose that kept me enraptured.
The characters of Montessa and Lulu are lovely, broken demons that both drew me in and repelled me at times. It takes true skill to make characters that do such terrible things sympathetic, and I tip my hat to that deft hand. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more tension, the sweetness returns, and as a reader, I felt a bit guilty at the joy I felt for the two star-crossed lovers. Every second of that conflict is delicious.
Pick up a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu for yourself. It is available through Ragnarok Publications.
After only reading one issue of the U.K.’s best DIY flavored extreme horror magazine, I’d call myself a fan. So when Jack Bantry sent me the next issue, I dove right in.
I’ll begin by showing my ignorance as to who the cover art is trying to portray, but I’ll be damned if the M*A*S*H fan in me doesn’t want it to be a psychotic Alan Alda brandishing a butcher knife. And again, Wrath James White’s cover blurb—“It makes me nostalgic”—could not be more truthful.
But let’s get to the meat of the sandwich, shall we? The fiction begins with “Balance,” a strange tale by J.F. Gonzalez, wherein a man wakes up to find everything in his life skewed, but not quite that skewed. The same people occupy this life but in differing roles. A heady but not all that extreme tale.
Ryan C. Thomas offers up “Ginsu Gary,” a darkly comedic take on an old urban legend. In this one we meet a flustered mafia henchman as he tries to get the “cleaner” to stop pitching products and get to work.
Splatterpunk editor Jack Bantry teams up with Nathan Robinson to deliver a strange tale of odd justice in “Squash.” Never before have amphibians and revenge worked so well together. Robert Ford turns in a story entitled “Maggie Blue,” which, while being written well and cringe-worthy in its nastiness, seems a bit disjointed and wonky in its logic.
The featured interview this time around is with the always witty Jeff Strand, he of the twist ending and nasty premise, who is not afraid to show a lovable goofy sense of humor. Dig him.
Rounding things out are another interview with editor Paul Fry and reviews (including a great one for Shock Totem’s reissue of James Newman’s The Wicked).
While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as I did the last, it was still great fun. Please, do check Jack and Splatterpunk magazine out. They have their black hearts in the right place and aim to entertain. And that is the best target.
Arguably the scariest offering from the 1960’s, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is more than the average zombie flick. For starters, it is the original zombie movie, and its original incarnation has served as inspiration for the myriad of humans-eating-humans in media for the last decade, most notably with television/graphic novel series The Walking Dead. In fact, at New York Comic Con in 2012, the creator of the series said his show was to Romero “What Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight.” Epic fan fiction. Even Roger Ebert, a budding critic for the Chicago Sun-Times regarded the film as “…something else.” At the time there was no rating system, and often children would show for the monster movies. No one expected the Romero film to elicit such a visceral reaction.
Though Romero’s zombies were the stuff of nightmares, the film has a very political and social focal point. It plays on many of the themes from the 1960’s—a time of civil unrest and dissension among the masses, and was one of the first horror films to feature an African American lead. Much of the dialogue from the film was ad-libbed, and though there was a script, it was Romero’s intention to capture as much surprise and candor from the actors, often telling them to “explain” a situation with no further notes than that. In many of these cases, there were only one or two takes before Romero moved on.
In a time when cinematography and film were in their prepubescent age, Romero brought a very new—and very dark—insight into what a horror film could be, and how it could touch upon the nerves of an already turbid and volatile apex in a societal realm. Though initially intended to be a dull-witted truck driver, the character of Ben was restructured by the actor Duane Jones. Jones, well-educated and mannerly, decided that if he were to play the character, the character should also be a reflection of the kind of people he knew. He once said he feared that if Ben appeared a lack-wit, that the audience would have a hard time liking him as a hero and respecting him as a leader.
The grainy black and white of 60’s era cinematography adds an additional haunting aspect to the film, the focal point of the movie is not the monsters themselves, nor the fear of them. The true core of the film is the fear of the unknown. In a world where the dead stalk the earth, they are a known fear. But the unknown fear of other people is in finding that, when faced with our own mortality, most people become monsters and would commit horrifying acts to save their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, and the moral codes that act as a cornerstone of our society and civility dissolve in that. The film seeks to explore what constitutes “moral” and “immoral” in a world verging on apocalyptic chaos.
As a movie, the acting is brilliant and the film itself pits strangers in a truly life or death situation to determine what manifests “good.” In a world where the dead come back to life as shambling monsters of their former selves, Romero executes a level of fear—not only from the dead rising, but from those of the living—rendering seven strangers struggling to survive in a world of the sick, the dying, and the dead, proving that the scariest monsters are not creatures of the imagination, but rather are people caught between the fear of death and the fear of the unknown.
The premise of Geoffrey Gerard’s debut novel, Cain’s Blood, is enough to make any horror aficionado pluck it from the shelf and give it a good once over. Clones of the world’s most infamous serial killers have escaped from a government-funded facility, leaving a trail of violent crimes in their wake. Shawn Castillo, a former black ops soldier, has been tasked with the capture of the escaped clones and ultimately teams up a young boy created from the genes of Jeffery Dahmer. What’s not to love?
Sadly, the brilliance of the premise is tarnished by the delivery. This is largely due to the novel’s rapid pace. Reading Cain’s Blood is akin to traversing a carnival in a rocket car. There are plenty of cool things to see, but most of the time you’re moving far too fast to get a good look. Much of the plot has the characters moving from state to state in pursuit, but little of the scenery is ever mentioned. Likewise, many of the houses and hotel rooms are cycled through with little attention to detail. What’s worse is that this breakneck speed kills much of the suspense the novel could have had. In the horror genre, pacing is King. No amount of crime scenes or gallons of blood can change that. At its heart, Cain’s Blood is more of a thriller one might take to the beach than a horror novel.
In terms of characterization, those who populate the novel often fall into worn tropes, particularly the protagonists. The damaged soldier seeking redemption and the misunderstood youth can feel paper thin in places, and the reader isn’t given solid reasons to cheer them on until later in the book. Additionally, the young clone is clearly used as a poster child for the nature vs. nurture debate, turning him into more of a medium for the author’s thoughts on the subject than a fully-realized character. The escaped killers themselves also leave something to be desired in terms of development as much of their characterization is heavily dependent on the personas of the originals to the point of it being a crutch, overshadowing any personal experience the clones might have, at least in the case of those partaking in the killing spree.
One of the stronger aspects of the novel is the information on cloning sprinkled throughout. Girard has done his homework, and it certainly shows. From a brief overview of cloning to open the novel to lectures on various government experiments and cover-ups, plenty of ground is covered. While this can sometimes turn into a heavy-handed info dump as a character proceeds to tell the reader about a dozen related events at a go, these insights tend to be some of the more enjoyable sections the book has to offer.
While the use of facts regarding real events makes progress toward cementing the premise in reality and making it more believable, almost every plot choice in the novel works to do the exact opposite. Between the addition of other government science experiments and Hollywood style shootouts, much of the novel ends up coming off as outlandish rather than convincing. Throw in a number of gaps in logic regarding the behavior of the escaped clones and a highly convenient ending and everything becomes a little too unstable. The suggestion that a clone of John Wayne Gacy would be genetically predisposed to wearing a clown suit and makeup is tenuous at best, as is the concept that a handful of homicidal loners would pile in a car for a murderous road trip.
It may be worth pointing out that the Internet is full of praise for the novel, and that while reading these reviews I felt as though I had experienced something entirely different from the average reviewer. If you’re looking to read something that is quick and requires little mental effort to digest, Cain’s Blood may be for you. However, if you are looking for something with prose that goes the extra mile and suspense served up with a good, old-fashioned sense of dread, it may be best to look elsewhere.