Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- The State of Shock Totem Publications, or We Are Not ChiZine Publications
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
Like what you've read here or in the magazine? Please consider donating.
I have reviewed all of the chapbooks that Spectral Press has issued, and all with a hearty dose of favor. I seem to recall stating in an earlier review that the Spectral line of chapbooks seem to share an unspoken theme of loss and haunted lives. Upon reading the latest two, I still hold that opinion.
Simon Kurt Unsworth delivers a strangely bleak tale in Rough Music. The title comes from a folk term for the din created by a concert of ragged instruments such as tin pans, bells and horns, often used to embarrass someone.
The story begins with a man being awakened in the night to the cacophonous sounds of a lone drummer—a mysterious man literally banging away on a pot with a spoon. No one else seems to be bothered by the raucous symphony and our main character dismisses it as his imagination. He feels tension from his wife and his neighbors, as well as a heavy yoke of paranoia and guilt.
As the week rolls on, the nocturnal orchestra continues its nightly performances, growing in its membership until it reaches a crescendo that is both literal and metaphorical.
Unsworth spins a fine tale that weaves a thick thread of unsettling dread into seemingly everyday occurrences. His prose is easy and smooth. I will look forward to reading more of his work.
I had heard of Alison Littlewood but had been unfamiliar with her work. I must be honest, The Eyes of Water did not woo me as much as the other Spectral books have. Most likely just a matter of taste. It is well written and not necessarily a bad story, I just did not seem to connect with it as I did the others.
The story takes place in the Mexican cenotes, a collection of flooded caves. Alex meets an old friend of his while traveling. The chance meeting is followed shortly by tragedy and then by strange events. There are ominous warnings from the locals and creepy visitations in the night from the departed. The stories conclusion is not one that I expected.
There is a lot going on in this tale: caves, diving, jealousy, sacrifice, death and dread. Maybe that was part of the problem I had with it—it seemed too cramped. A small meal with far too many flavors and fragrances that it just became cloying and overpowering.
I still stand by my assessment that Spectral Press is a great small-press entity and that they put out high-quality fiction. Spectral Big Kahuna, Simon Marshall-Jones, knows what he likes and he knows how to pick ‘em. I eagerly await the next chapbook. And statistically speaking, if one out of six chapbooks failed to get me giddy…those are not bad odds.
I would like to start and say I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of “series” novels. I have too short of an attention span to commit to that sort of thing, usually. I would now like to thank—and damn—Gary McMahon for making me eat those words.
I have recently read the two books comprising his Thomas Usher series, and can only hope for more. With a series, character is key, and Gary gives us some incredible examples.
In the first of the pair, Pretty Little Dead Things, we meet Thomas Usher, a broken man reeling from the loss of his wife and daughter. He survives the accident that claimed his family with a gift—or a curse depending on your perception. He can see the recently deceased, and it ain’t pretty. Trying to remain on the periphery of society, he does odd psychic investigative work and crosses paths with some seedy and unpleasant people. He wears a uniform of tattoos: a list of names of the dead he feels he has failed.
When he lands a job trying to find the culprit behind the strange murder of a gangster’s daughter, it changes him forever.
His gift proves to be his strongest weapon and weakest link, as he walks the blurred line between our world and a much darker fringe dimension. Where evils, both human and cosmic, are on his tail and where things are decidedly not as they seem.
Dead Bad Things picks up months after the Pretty Little Dead Things’s conclusion, and cleverly features sideline characters from that first novel and brings them forward for deeper scrutiny.
Our reluctant hero begins this chapter of the series in a London slum, waking up to the ringing of the telephone in a haunted house. A robotic voice directs him and starts him on a sloping path of horrific crimes and disturbing visions. Someone is killing children, drilling holes in their heads. People are not as they seem. Usher will discover many things along the way, nasty vile things.
Now, I gave away very little, because to do so would be a blasphemy. You must read McMahon’s engaging words, his descriptive flair for painting dreary and haunting visions behind our eyes. His rundown neighborhoods and scumbag dives are so repulsive, I felt the fleas crawling on my skin. The baddies are really bad and the good guys are sometimes bad as well. Nothing is ever really what you seem to think it is, and when you think you’ve got it sussed, you’re wrong. I love that.
I was at work, on lunch break, when I was finishing this book. A kid asked me what it was about, and as I started explaining his eyes began to glaze. I knew I was losing him, so I said, “It’s like an unholy cocktail of The Sixth Sense, Memento and Wire in the Blood…with an ounce of Hellraiser.” I got the impression that was lost on him as well. Sigh…
Both of these titles are available from Angry Robot Books.
In 2008,Tim Waggoner put out Skull Cathedral, a supremely short and limited edition booklet, via Squid Salad Press.
Skull Cathedral is a bizarro tale that is a smorgasbord of trippy images, the premise of which appearing to be the delusions of a man going through a barbaric procedure to cure him of his less than pure thoughts. These sections of his warped psyche appear in the form of short chapters where we encounter a wide array of fucked-uppedness. Yes, I invented a word for it.
Behold a smoldering midnight in a town on fire. Hang with a man with assholes for eyes who sprays gawkers with optical diarrhea. Witness a depraved man on a raft stitched from the skin of four sluts as he floats on a menstrual sea…and gets horny. Attend a dinner date with a cannibalistic toddler. This is Bizarro on steroids.
This brief book was my first experience with Waggoner’s work and I can say I look forward to reading more. Devilishly and deliciously disturbing. Available via Squid Salad Press, but it is limited edition, so act quickly.
Jack Ketchum is a name synonymous with brutality and edgy violence. He is quite capable of that on his own. Add to that a partnership with renegade film director, Lucky McKee, and you’ve got a shimmering bouquet of dripping red madness.
The Woman follows the last surviving member of the reclusive cannibal clan featured in Ketchum’s novels Offspring and Off Season. As she stumbles on, weak and wounded, she has the continued misfortune of crossing paths with local lawyer Christopher Cleek, a man highly regarded in his stature and position, but so cracked and flawed in character and soul…well, better to leave the rest for you to discover.
Cleek captures the woman as she bathes in a stream and takes her to his home, imprisoning her in a cellar until he can “tame” her. Which he plans to do with the help of his family. This is where things get very bad.
The Woman takes you just where you expect it to, then kicks you in the shins and knocks you down a dark stairwell, where it then stands above you, sneering as it pisses into your sniveling face. It’s a bully of a novella, populated by some of the nastiest characters ever to live on the page.
My edition comes from Dorchester Publishing and also includes a bonus story, “Cow,” which ups the disturbing ante. It made me feel the need to shower, immediately. That is high praise!
David James Keaton’s Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats For The Dead), as it was called when it was sent to me last spring, has since been rechristened Zombie Bed & Breakfast (Zee Bee & Bee). Regardless of which title you acknowledge, this is one of the zaniest sort-of-zombie works I’ve ever read. Its audacity to be so smart and ridiculous at the same time is a feat worthy of your time.
In this novella, Keaton tells the story of a Zombie Bed & Breakfast, one of those themed places where folks pay to stay and be entertained. In this case, attacked by hotel workers dressed as the shambling dead.
Keaton has a keen eye for personality and pop culture references. The broken-down hotel workers are all schooled in their zombie lore and mythos and all know their script…but when things start to meander from the scripted path, chaos and bloodshed ensue.
Bizarro and smart. Keaton has a unique voice in his writing, the literary equivalent to Geddy Lee’s vocals—those who dig it are really going to dig it; those who hate it…you know what I’m getting at. It is also worthy of mention, an urban legend suggests that Tom Savini was so offended/insulted by this novella that it led him to “unfriend” the author on Facebook.
If I know David as well as I think I do, he wears that fact as a badge of honor.
Andrew Bonazelli steps up with his slice of world-ending pie, “The Dreamt and Deathless Obscene.”
His apocalypse is sort of quiet. Set in the mid 70’s, people just start acting strange. A plague has reduced half the populace to raving maniacs, while the rest don’t seem all that better off.
A group puts down roots in Philly and tries to start again, or at least live normally until a cure is found. In this, we are introduced to the Gall family, flawed and harboring their own insanities, well before the supposed plague began. The father and his two sons struggle to come out on top, through any means necessary.
Where Bonazelli elevates this above the typical post-apocalyptic crazy plague story, is with his unique grasp of the language. Quirky phrases and characters that are real and not at all the empathetic likeable survivor-types we’re used to. He takes all the templates of this genre and sets them aside, giving us a bleak and not-all-that-positive idea of the world ending—not with a bang, but with a whimper.
You can buy this book through Vitriol Press.
I don’t like worms. They’re icky and slimy. I get it. I’ve seen the world end at the hands of worms before. Keene served it to us and the 70’s film classic Squirm did as well. Worms are scary.
In 1991, Matthew J. Costello and Diamond Books gave us his novel Wurm. These worms are the scariest I’ve read about yet. Deep sea leech-like creatures that burrow inside and become what we are…and then become more.
Filled with great strong characters and frenzied pulp horror violence and gore, Wurm reminded me of all that I loved about the paperback heyday of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Wurm begins as an exploratory group is surveying a deep-sea volcanic rift and discovers countless species of strange life. Mainly worms. Big long worms. They go deeper…and are attacked by bigger, meaner worms who live in burrows. They return to the surface with a piece of a worm. From there, bad things happen and a new god struggles to rise.
Wurm is a quick read, a crazed comic-book fun ride through sci-fi tinged Lovecraftian landscapes. Recommended!
I first heard about Mark Allan Gunnells through James Newman, a mutual friend and a writer I consider family. On the merits of that alone, I knew Gunnells’s work must be special.
So I contacted Mark, and we quickly became friends. He is a sweet and humble guy. More importantly, he has a lot of heart. The one common thread that weaves through all that I have read from him, is the empathy and humanity his characters possess.
That is not always an easy thing to get across in print. In his short story collection, Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I, Gunnells gives us a fine and varied compilation of these types of characters. From the fantastically titled “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom” to the breathtakingly surreal “Jam.” He goes from serious and somber to silly at the drop of a hat.
I won’t go into details on every story here, but I will touch on a few that left a lasting impression.
The tome opens with “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom.” While slightly predictable there is enough freshness injected here to keep your attention. Sometimes confession does not gain you the absolution you hoped for. This is followed by my absolute favorite in the collection, “Jam.” A traffic jam is the setting for this bleak exercise in tension and fear and humans being. “The Gift Certificate” teaches a valuable lesson about possession. “The More Things Change” is astounding, a heart-wrenching painting on bullying. This is one of the best things in the collection.
Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I was the first example of Mark’s craft I encountered. I have since delved deeper into his work and have yet to be dissappointed.
Despite its short stature of 67 pages, Asylum has a lot of substance.
At a glance, the premise—a group of misfits, standing tall to fight off the zombie apocalypse—doesn’t seem all that original. Mark peoples this story with an almost entirely gay cast, sets it in a gay club, and spatters it with plenty of gore and sex.
But where Asylum shines is with the deep textures given to the characters.
They are not mincing caricatures or flaming queens—well, maybe one is—but instead they are presented as the flawed human beings that we all are.
Once again, this proves to be Gunnells’s strong suit—painting pictures of people.
Just in time for this past Halloween, Mark gave us all this little gift—Dark Treats, a five story collection, with all tales revolving around the October holiday.
Opening with “Halloween Returns to Bradbury,” we get a riotous romp about how the devil has grown disgruntled with the commercialism of his holiday and returns to show us how it’s to be done. Some fantastic and ridiculous imagery ensues. “The Neighborhood that Halloween Forgot” is a slightly cliché tale of tolerance.
“My Last Halloween” is a sad little coming-of-age tale. “Treats” finds us in cheesy 80’s horror movie territory—silly monsters, rational logic, great fun! The collection ends on the somber “Family Plots,” which, while good, seems a bit cramped, begging to be worked into a longer work someday.
Mark Allan Gunnells is one to watch. His work is consistently entertaining and full of heart and soul.
Sometimes that’s what you need.
Simon Marshall-Jones’s Spectral Press is setting itself up as a force to be reckoned with. Spectral releases limited-edition, professionally-designed chapbooks. I reviewed the first two releases last year. Both shared a theme of loss, guilt, and coping with that loss.
So it’s no surprise that the next two titles in the catalog share a theme, as well. The third published title from Spectral is Nowhere Hall, by the wonderful Cate Gardner. I was familiar with her quirky style and prose from her connection to Shock Totem (her story “Pretty Little Ghouls” was featured in issue #2).
Nowhere Hall follows the bizarre adventures of Ron, a man who seems to teeter on the edge, both courting and fleeing from Death. He ends up in a dilapidated hotel, peopled with odd mannequins and living shadows. Ron plays cat and mouse with Death and learns the power of a good umbrella. A more whimsical one-man version of The Shining through the looking-glass.
The visuals are strong, and though sometimes the prose gets a bit coiled and confusing at times, there is a lot to process here. Incredible descriptions and a depressing mood ooze from the pages. Were I not already a fan of Cate’s work, this would be a step toward winning me over.
The next release was Paul Finch’s King Death, a daring story set in 1348.
A plague-battered England is a smorgasbord for Rodric, a morally bankrupt looter and opportunist. He trolls the countryside stealing from the dead. As he roams, he encounters a strange young boy and presents himself as King Death in order to scare the boy into leading him to his estate, where he envisions wealth and shelter.
The boy does in fact lead him to his manor, and it is here where things begin to turn, where Rodric learns things are not always as they appear and that Death is, in fact, an entity that is best not toyed with.
Incredibly deft writing is what makes this story so enjoyable. These types of tales, set in this period are usually dry as hell and leave the reader frustrated at trying to decipher what they just read. Finch tells his tale with ease and in a way that flows smoothly. The few characters are strong and the atmosphere presented is bleak and hopeless.
So far, Simon and Spectral Press are four for four, and I can’t wait to read what comes next.
I briefly met Sarah Langan at a convention this summer, and by “briefly met” I mean, I think I said “Hello” as I walked by. I’m a bit shy at times. I picked up this book after hearing wonderful praise for her most recent novel by revered authors like John Skipp and Jack Ketchum. I’m glad I did.
The Missing is a sequel to her debut novel, The Keeper, but is a fantastic standalone read. It concerns the haunting of a small town, in both the literal and figurative sense. A school field trip to a disaster site serves as the catalyst of darkly disturbing events. A troubled young boy strays from the group, only to awaken something malevolent and hungry that will not stop until it has consumed all. What the boy and the other affected do over the course of this book played back in my head for days upon completion. The infected and their “de-evolution” to an almost animal state, as well as the feedings, made me almost giddily jittery. This novel gave me a feeling I have not felt in a long long time while reading. It was a nostalgic vibe along the lines of what my teenage self would feel when a new Stephen King book dropped.
Langan’s prose is lean and smooth and carries an old-school tone, both intelligent and easy to read. Not to say it is simple, but that it is a classically constructed novel. The characters are brilliantly painted and the setting and events are well rendered. Above all of these other positive attributes, and most importantly, it is a scary book.
It has been widely documented that I have been a fan-boy of the mighty John Skipp since I was a teenager and I was loaned that paperback copy of The Light At The End. I have since read almost everything available from this twisted genius. Reading a John Skipp book, solo or collaboration, is usually like having a conversation with a hyperactive savant, a “Rain Man” raised on monster movies and Rock & Roll. The latest collaboration, Spore, once again with evil cohort Cody Goodfellow, is well up that twisted razor-edged bar.
Spore tells the surrealy bizarre tale of a nice young couple, Rory and Trixie, hip deep in love and trying to forget their troubled pasts. A wild turn of events finds them up to their necks in an adrenaline drenched horror show. A sentient fungal entity has rooted itself beneath the city of Los Angeles. It works itself into the drug supply, mixing its spores in with the cocaine that is oh-so-readily available. The spores infest the brain and eventually drive the infected to acts of barbarism and savagery.
While some of the characters seem to be more caricatures, it plays out smoothly and is an over-the-top festival of fun. Jaw-dropping images are a main staple of this tale, some of which will no doubt haunt you for a long time to come. It’s a Hollywood zombie apocalypse as only these cats could write. It’s the slam-dancing progeny of The Stuff and Scarface. But more important than all of that, it made me fucking smile.
The Loving Dead was another recommended read. Skipp touts this novel quite a bit, and I usually listen to whatever he tells me (I know, I know!). Amelia Beamer gives us a zombie novel that is not about zombies much at all. It is a stark portrait of the real monsters. It’s about us. People, with their dishonest nature and skeevy motives, even in the face of a major crisis and looming danger, we can’t get our heads out of our asses, our minds out of each others pants and just get down and be “real” with each other.
Kate and Michael are housemates. They also have a thing for each other, one of those mutual-but-held-down-so-tight-that-no-move-has-ever-been-made sort of things. The story begins with Kate saving her belly-dance instructor from a feral derelict. She takes her home where there is a party in full swing. Things happen, people get naked…and a zombie virus rears its ugly head. Zombie virus…as in STD. The only apparent warning symptom being horny moaning followed by a breathy “something’s happening,” after which it’s all milky eyes, cannibalism…and fucking. Lots and lots of fucking.
The shuffling nympho-dead are more of a set piece than anything in this novel. The skeleton of this book is about people and how they interact, how we interact. We are selfish and distrusting as well as untrustworthy. The characters are honest and scarred…and scared. Sympathetic and not entirely likeable. This is what made this such a compelling work.
If the fate of the free world hung from your shoulders would you shrug or bear it as long as you could, and would you still find time for a quickie in the restroom?
I first heard the name Mehitobel Wilson during the historic Shock Totem John Skipp interview of 2009, which first appeared in Shock Totem #1. Skipp is a walking Rolodex of information, and hers was a name that was mentioned a few times during the phone call. I added her work to my list of things to seek out.
I finally procured a copy of her collection, Dangerous Red, and now see why Skipp touted it so heavily. Wilson doesn’t just kick ass, she straps on gigantic Herman Munster-style boots with razored cleats and stomps your ass. It is a brilliant collection of fresh dark fiction and then some.
While I liked most of the stories, I will only name check a few. “Cut Glass” is a wondrous ghost story. “Madeline in Effigy” gives us new reasons to second-guess the vain. “Blind in the House of the Headsman” is a gory, sexually-depraved surreal sketch…maybe. “The Mannerly Man” has done its best to make politeness a thing to be fearful of. Then there is my absolute favorite of the collection, “Strays,” which takes on the issue of homelessness and sprinkles it with enough dread and disturbing imagery to give you nightmares for weeks.
Wilson’s prose is quick and artful, the images and ideas strong and haunting. I look forward to reading more from her.
When I came across a copy of his chapbook Redemption Roadshow, I picked it up. Ochse writes in a clean style, and his characters are aching and have a depth you can immediately connect with. This story concerns Dolan Gibb, an Arizona highway patrolman who discovers you can’t outrun guilt and that the past will always catch up. Dolan discovers a group—almost a sideshow troupe—that seem ever present at roadside memorial shrines. Among them is the “Long Cool Woman,” a medium who bridges the space between the living and the dead, with unexpected consequences.
This short tale is so packed with grippingly heavy images, I found myself thinking about it for days after I had finished it.
I also recently rectified the fact that I am sadly under-read in the Tim Lebbon category.
I had read The Nature of Balance, and loved its dark dreamy images and language. When my friend, Simon, recommended The Thief of Broken Toys to me, I listened. I’m glad I did.
In this novella, Lebbon explores the deepening shades of grief and how loss is a thing of many facets. Ray is a broken man, slowly drowning in a self-made sea of loss and alienation. His only son has died and his wife has left him. Every day is a weighted exercise in existence. He comes to believe through honoring promises made to the dead, he can win back the slivers of time and love lost. He begins with the promises to fix his son’s damaged playthings. He then meets the Thief of Broken Toys, who helps in ways unimaginable and teaches him things that can’t be unlearned.
And then things start to change.
Lebbon has created a heartbreaking story with The Thief of Broken Toys. The loss and longing of Ray are painted so adeptly that I felt that heaviness in my chest, tears threatening to show themselves. Very subtle in its horror, but it is indeed there. One of the best, I’ve read this year. Available from Chizine Publications.
I first met Darrell Schweitzer a few years ago at Necon 29, where he was selling books in the dealer room. I bought a few things from him, including his book Living with the Dead, a collection of interconnected short stories set in the bizarre world of Old Corpsenberg. It’s a short little thing, presented as sort of a novella, but its impact on me was immense.
I have numerous old fantasy anthologies and magazines with Schweitzer tales in them, but I became a fan after reading Living with the Dead.
And so this past July, at Necon 31, I picked up two more collections, Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, and the novels The Shattered Goddess and The White Isle.
Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, to put it simply, is a fantastic little collection of darkly weird fiction. Not surprising coming from the longtime Weird Tales editor. My favorite story in the book is “Clocks,” a bittersweet ghost story about love and the difficulty of letting go. Other great tales include “Peeling It Off,” “Pennies from Hell,” “Transients,” and “The Spirit of the Black Stairs.” The rest are quite good as well.
Actually, I could have lived without “The Man Who Wasn’t Nice to Pumpkin Head Dolls.” It had a overly cheesy Twilight Zone feel to it—which, now that I think about it, was likely intentional as it first appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Not a bad tale, though, just dated and kind of goofy.
In fact most stories in this set were published in the 80s, so a few others read a bit dated, too; but despite this they’re all done really well. Schweitzer’s use of language is smooth, succinct, and at times downright poetic. I’m amazed this guy isn’t more popular.
He should be.
And in parting, I should mention that the stippled illustrations by Stephen E. Fabian are, as always, fabulous.
This was my first experience reading William Ollie (unless you count the novel excerpt from KillerCon we published in our debut issue), and it was pleasurable one.
Into Hell is part of the Delirium Books novella series. The story follows two post-9/11 scenarios: a group of war veterans struggling to survive during and after a bank heist gone awry (present day) and the same group struggling to survive on the front lines in the Middle East (past).
It’s a fast-paced and fun read, with a slight supernatural element. Very well-written, though done so in a rhythmic staccato fashion with lots of short, two- or three-part sentences that tend to detail the same thing. That might bother people who want a slower, less in-your-face approach to character development, but with it being a novella, and one on the shorter side of things, I felt the quicker pace worked to its advantage.
My one complaint would be that I found it a bit confusing at times. Both story arcs mirror each other, and when a new chapter started, I found myself wondering if this was war or post-war until something distinct appeared on the page. (Though with the luxury of having finished it, I can tell you that the chapters simply alternate back and forth between present and past right till the end.) Either way, both scenarios are depictions of war, one being from without and the other being from within.
Complaint aside, Into Hell is a solid read. It’s too bad that, for now, only 150 copies are available.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness Lee Thompson grow as a writer. I’ve read a lot of his short fiction, from the not so good to the excellent, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m sticking with this cat. He’s got the chops and delivers them yet again with Iron Butterflies Rust.
This is a tale written close to home, I think, one of love, hate, failure and redemption, and the richness—the realness—of it all shines through even the darkest moments of the story. And it’s plenty dark.
There were a couple parts in the beginning that lined up too conveniently for me, and Frank Gunn can be a bastard of a character to sympathize with at times, but overall Iron Butterflies Rust is a fantastic and heartbreaking little tale.
As with Ollie’s Into Hell, this is part of the Delirium Books novella series, thus equally as limited in quantity. A shame. Hopefully this and future Frank Gunn tales (there are more coming) will be released together in a more widely available format at some point.
For now, though, pay attention to Lee Thompson. He’s the real deal.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been slowly adding old Dean Koontz publications to my collection. Though a lot of his early novels and stories were written when he was barely beyond his teens, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how good this guy was back then.
It was only inevitable, then, in the January 1969 issue of Amazing Stories, with the novella “Temple of Sorrow,” that Dean proved to be a human writer, one capable of writing the sort of tripe all young authors write.
“Temple of Sorrow” is a convoluted and confusing sci-fi tale about a plot to blow up the world. There’s a spy, a bear-man that speaks in broken English (though later, miraculously, finds his human voice again, for no apparent reason), naked female “Angels,” priests, bishops, two Earths, other dimensions, and an Atom bomb. Kaboom! Explosion of meh.
It’s not even worth going into further detail. It’s no wonder Dean plans to keep this one out of print for eternity.
“Shambolain,” published in the November/December 1970 issue of Worlds of If, is no “Temple of Sorrow.” Yet again, here is a story that shows a great writer in the making.
“Shambolain” tells the tale of a small group of Freaks, shunned citizens with myriad deformities. They’re the opposite of Straights. Then there are the Creeps, those Straights who are attracted not to the Freaks but precisely what makes them freaks, their deformities.
While the narrator has a third foot, and lives with people with far more disturbing malformations of the body, it is Shambolain that changes everything in their little world. His name is likely a play on “shambolic,” which is typically used to describe something disorganized.
Shambolain, a Freak in his own right, has a large oval head, lips so thin they’re nearly nonexistent, eyes too low on his face, and no arms—or so it appears. And this is the heart of the story. Because of his affliction, the other Freaks come to see Shambolain as a freak. It is here that, despite their own abnormalities, the hypocrisy of the human condition comes through.
“Shambolain” is a tale of human weakness. Not great, but very enjoyable.