Shock Totem Radio
- 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
- Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Soundtrack
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Tag Archives: Reviews
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!
Losing Touch, Christian A Larsen’s debut novel, wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Regardless, I was quickly caught up in the storyline and clear writing, and taken to an ending I didn’t see coming but thoroughly enjoyed.
Morgan Dunsmore is a normal, everyday guy dealing with normal, everyday things—such as being unemployed and trying to make the bills, keeping a happy home-life with his wife (also unemployed due to an injury) and raising two kids. He does what a lot of us would do. He tries to put a positive spin on things, and stop thinking about the things he can’t change. But then things begin to change in ways he could never have foreseen, and can’t control at all. At first.
Losing Touch is a story that’s part mundane reality and part learning to face the scary unknown. In the real world, just trying to take care of all the things that need taking care of can be exhausting and frightening; add to that the fact that Morgan is beginning to disappear physically as well as figuratively, and what you get is a convoluted path through a man’s moral dilemma. If you can go anywhere you want to go, and nothing can keep you out…how far will you go before you lose yourself?
Nothing thrills me more than discovering new authors. New to me, to be precise.
Brady Allen intrigues me with his unapologetic attitude and willingness to stand tall and stalwart while brandishing his opinions with honest intellect. This is a trait one sees very little these days, when it is all too fashionable to lay with the herd and suckle at the teat of popular opinion. This made me wonder about his literary output, so I reached out and got a copy of his collection.
Back Roads & Frontal Lobes is as amazing a collection as it is puzzling. Not a single tale here is what it appears to be. Most flirt with horror but are more about the human condition and attitudes of characters. There are shades of noir and bizarro, but the stories are most often darkly surreal and more terrifyingly realistic than should be allowed. This collection is a unique stampede of unease, stamping and snorting discomfort. I mean that complimentary, of course.
Opening with “Slow Mary,” Allen gives us a strange tale of road kill and revenge. But it was actually the second tale, “Not Over Easy,” that won my dark heart. That story follows its bizarre protagonist through a series of troubling and odd scenarios to a conclusion that is just as puzzling as the opening. “Devil and Dairy Cow” is a hallucinatory tale of a girl, a teacher, and a rainy recess where the shit hit the diabolical fan.
In the title story, a man on the lam makes a stop in Death City and finds he likes it. “The Last Mystical Vendor” has exactly what you need even if everything you know tells you otherwise. And in “The Taste of a Heart,” a motel room is the stage for an exceedingly sinister game between a man and a woman.
“Six Miles to Earth” is a highway roadshow; Tarantino by way of Russ Meyer. “Burger” is a nasty side-road monster mash. “Ballad of Mac Johnstone” concerns the courtship between an aging bluesman and death. “Road Kill (A Love Story)” brings us to a man who feels compelled to remove dead animals from the roadside and the chain of unfortunate events that come about because of it. And “Praying” exposes the insectile ways we have.
Of all of the stories, however, “Rounding Third” was the one that smacked me in the face and then continued to do so. A tragic and all-too-real slice of reality. If it doesn’t make you cry—God help you.
If early Joe R. Lansdale left you gobsmacked, then you MUST read this cat! Allen is versatile and fearless. He doesn’t give much of a damn if you get what he’s doing or not. He’s writing to get it out and if it happens to bring enjoyment to someone, cool. If not, oh well, he’s doing it anyway. And I’m glad for that!
I met editor/author Eric J. Guignard last year in Las Vegas while attending KillerCon. An amiable guy with a great sense of humor and an appreciation for beat-up red Chuck Taylors. We hit it off.
So when he asked me if I’d be willing to review his latest anthology, I said certainly.
After Death is a collection of over thirty tales, all involving what happens upon the departure from this mortal coil. Some of them are good, others are amazing, and a few are merely okay.
The volume opens with Andrew S. Williams’s “Someone to Remember,” which is a wonderful meditation on loss and promises, all threaded through the mythos of Charon, the ferryman. “Sea of Trees,” by Edward M. Erdelac contains some horrific and lingering images and a story that is as jarring as it is resonant. Steve Rasnic Tem, an author I have adored for years, turns in a heartbreaking tale of the abandonment death leaves and those who remain. It is haunting and full of hurt.
In “Mall Rats,” James S. Dorr exposes the hereafter as trapped in the after mall. And in “Forever,” the strongest story in the lot, John Palisano weaves a quilt of sadness, loss, and heartbreak that will leave you reeling. I have no words to express the emotions this tale stirs, but stirs it does and quite violently. Brilliant!
Jamie Lackey turns in the sweet and wonderful “Robot Heaven,” and Simon Clark’s “Hammerhead” is an exercise in reincarnation and revenge that is spellbinding. Steve Cameron gives us “I Was the Walrus,” in which a man follows his past identities to some lofty and surprising conclusions. “Be Quiet at the Back,” by William Meikle, is a humorous parable of the definition of sin and consequence.
There are quite a number of tales I didn’t remark on, not because they were poor, but because they just didn’t have the same impact as those mentioned above. That is the rough cross to bear with an anthology. On the whole, Guignard has assembled a great roster of talent—quite a few of which I had never heard of or read before—and given us a rich and heavy menu of possible aftermaths to the grand finale. You won’t be disappointed.
Russ Thompson over at Hellnotes has reviewed Shock Totem #6.
“I said then that Shock Totem was “one of the strongest horror fiction magazines on the market today” and now, having read issue #6, I stand by that assessment.”
Alone, on a deserted island research laboratory, three scientists with the hopes of the entire world resting on their shoulders slowly degenerate into madness and the not-death of Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome (ANSD)—Zombieism.
Scientist to the last, Dr. Stanley Blum records not only his experiments and discoveries, along with those of his colleagues, but also his own slow descent as he succumbs to the symptoms of ANSD. It is now down to us, fellow members of the UN emergency session, to take his discoveries and use them to save what remains of the human race.
This is the key conceit in The Zombie Autopsies, Dr. Schlozman’s work of zombie fiction. Laid out like a briefing packet for members of the UN’s emergency session dealing with the zombie plague that has almost completely overwhelmed the earth, the book is divided into three main parts. The first is a short introduction, which does an excellent job of setting the scene of desperation that has led to the events described in the rest of the book. The second, and primary, part of the book are the “Secret Notebooks” described in the title, the journal of Dr. Stanley Blum written during the last weeks of his life as a volunteer as part of a desperate, last ditch research attempt. The third and final section is similar to the first as it provides a fictional UN supplied appendix of material.
Throughout the fictional journal, there is a bittersweet sense of a desperately held hope. The characters have no hope for themselves; they already know they are lost, on a one-way trip, and once on the island they will become almost instantly infected and thus doomed as the symptoms of ANSD begin to take over and degrade their brain functions. They have to hold out hope, however, that despite past failures they can discover something that just might prevent the extinction of the entire race. No pressure.
The excitement as theories are put forward is palpable, and the fear and dismay as mistakes are made and mental problems begin to take hold in the group are easy to identify with. Portraying the story as a fiction journal combines with the not inconsiderable skill of the author to provide a very real and emotional journey of a sort that is not often associated with the more violent and visceral nature of modern zombie fiction. This is a more cerebral story and all the more effective because of it.
The background matter in the final section of the book is very effective in providing further setting information and the email evidence accumulated in the appendix gives context as to how the plague started and some characterisation to the nameless executive whose greed destroyed the world. However, this is by far the weakest section of the book and other than a certain amount of colour, it doesn’t add a great deal to the primary story of Dr. Blum.
Schlozman, in his writing of this book, has decided to leave the eventual fate of mankind and thus the final result of Blum’s sacrifice undetermined, and the email trail thus feels a little like the author is unable to leave his creation alone once finished. It hints at a possible cure already in existence but without any real indication of who is behind the faceless communique, or their current status (the emails date from before the plague). It’s difficult to know how or if it matters at this stage in the story. Is it attempting to suggest that the sacrifice of these brave scientists is, in the end, completely unnecessary?
The final section of the book seems to add another layer of ambiguity to an already ambiguous ending, and dilutes the primary impact. The rest of the book does such a good job at playing on the reader’s emotions that this final piece of the puzzle feels flat and contrived by comparison.
A book like this had to come along eventually. The genre cries out for first-person accounts of the zombie apocalypse. But Schlozman deserves real acknowledgement for what he has accomplished with this short work. As a doctor himself, Schlozman’s descriptions of the physiological stages of the disease are gripping and feel very real. This is assisted by some very graphic and realistic pencil sketches of the autopsies he performs on the “living” zombies during his research, showing the things he describes in excruciating detail. The nature of the story as a journal rather than a report or official communique means we get a first-hand look at the main character’s thoughts as well as his experiments, which adds a lot of further detail to the setting as he considers the decline of social order, the official rulings of authorities on the “humanity” of those afflicted with ANSD, and the ethical issues inherent in the research he is forced to perform. Schlozman gives us a living, breathing (for a short while longer, anyway) world on the brink of destruction through the eyes of a sympathetic and quietly heroic protagonist.
Comparisons almost invariably have to be made between the final days of Blum’s life and the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” by Daniel Keyes (which later became a novel of the same name). The Zombie Autopsies is somewhat less poignant and tragic than that older story and the difference in theme along with the direct medical viewpoint provides a radically different tone.
Any fan of the zombie genre and particularly those more concerned with the psychological effects of such stories as highlighted in the early Romero films rather than the gore central to more modern takes on the genre will definitely find a lot to enjoy in this one.
Finally, for those who are interested in the visual media, a movie based on The Zombie Autopsies is currently in production. Personally, given the epistolic style of the story and the ambiguity of the ending, it is difficult to see how a movie could be made without radically altering the story—or at least greatly expanding on it. Still, George Romero is on board to direct, so with excellent source material and the father of the genre himself, it could well be one to watch.
Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, was a breakthrough in 2011, a beautifully written genre-bending horror romance about an undead named “R” who falls in love with a living girl, Julie, after he eats her boyfriend’s brain. He even saves her from being devoured by his friends. So sweet and considerate, right? I was intrigued by the premise and bought a copy on Kindle, expecting a fluffy, easy read. Instead, I found a complex love story from a very unconventional point of view. What impressed me immediately was Marion’s prose and the fluid skill he used to give R a voice that many, dead or undead, could sympathize with.
The move adaptation last year opened to an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After loving the book so completely I went into the theater with a bowl of popcorn and a cup of skepticism, expecting watered down emotions and overblown special effects. The trailer looked good, but don’t the trailers always look good? I was pleasantly surprised that Jonathan Levine stayed true to the novel, with help from Marion, and preserved the innocent, Edward Scissorhands-like persona of R and his journey to connect with Julie and become human again.
This past month, advertisements began running every fifteen minutes for a new BBC America miniseries, In the Flesh, from debut creator and writer Dominic Mitchell. The first episode premieres tonight, June 6th, which happens to be two days after the DVD release of Warm Bodies. Some have said that BBC is attempting to imitate Marion’s romantic tale of undead meets girl, but from the clips I’ve been able to watch, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although, without it’s predecessor, I doubt a zombie drama could have been greenlit. What the BBC has done, like Marion, is use an overdone horror trope with a fresh twist to tell a meaningful story with new perspective.
The trailers and sneak-peaks from BBC reveal a much starker zombie apocalypse than Warm Bodies, although both divert attention from the traditional monsters and create villains from apathy, prejudice and ignorance. The stories don’t focus on humanity surviving among monsters, but instead take the more complex approach of humanizing the traditional villain and exploring the darker side of the human condition. In these stories, the “rotter” can be the good guy. Although zombies in both periodically eat their neighbors, they feel conflicted about it, and doesn’t that count for something?
The undead of In the Flesh, called PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers, could be a metaphor for the mentally ill or any other group with societal stigma that are feared and alienated. Two characters, Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) and Rick Macy (David Walmsley), are not only dealing with PDS prejudice from their community, but are exploring their connection to one another and struggling with the possibility of additional rejection from their parents and friends. They’re “partially deceased” and coming to terms with their own sexuality, a dual conflict which will make for multi-layered storytelling. Without going into each one, most of the characters of In the Flesh, both human and PDS sufferer, are equally as complex and compelling.
Although Isaac Marion has said he is not a horror writer and will not return to the genre, if the BBC series becomes even a moderate success, the market for similar zombie fiction can only grow exponentially, especially coupled with ratings boon The Walking Dead. However, I’m burnt out on the traditional zombie tale offered by Frank Darabont and company, and will be supporting In the Flesh by watching it tonight, June 6th, on BBC America at 10PM EST/9PM CST.
If you don’t have cable and can’t join, go pick up a copy of Warm Bodies, out on DVD as of June 4th.
“Chirality” is, by definition, an object or system that does not match up to its mirror image. Hands are a common example of this. And we all know “mad” to mean insane or mentally ill. The two words that title this brilliant anthology basically tell you that these tales of varying madness and insanities will not be like anything you’ve read before. More than a title, it is a promise and one that is delivered upon.
The twenty-eight stories that make up Chiral Mad are all quite good. I will not go into all of them but will touch on my favorites.
I was not blown away by the lead story, Ian Shoebridge’s somewhat hallucinogenic “White Pills,” and worried I’d be wading through a volume full of that sort of thing; but the second tale, by Gord Rollo, laid my fears to rest. His “Lost in a Field of Paper Flowers” is a tragic tale of transcendental revenge that made me smile. A dark little smile.
Gary McMahon delivers another sliver of shimmering disturbia and repressed memory with “Seven Pictures in an Album.” While Monica O’Rourke’s “Five Adjectives” is a brutal diorama of denial and avoidance. Chris Hertz gives us firebug lovers in “There Are Embers.”
Eric J. Guingnard turns in “Experiments in An Isolation Tank,” a tale of inheritance, madness and perception, all darkly shaded in Lovecraftian hues.
In Julie Stipes’s “Not the Child,” a young mother sees the harbingers of death in her neighborhood and discovers it was not by accident. Jeff Strand’s “A Flawed Fantasy” takes the picking-up-a-strange-woman-at-a-bar trope and changes the game with a clever ending.
Jack Ketchum turns in a squirmy tale of marital discourse, nosebleeds, and strange visitations with “Amid the Walking Wounded.”
And then there is “Need,” by Gary A. Braunbeck. (Deep breath.) This might be the best short story I have read years. Its premise is simple: We are all saviors and we are all monsters. Told out of chronological order, it chronicles a tragedy in a town and the mark the heartbreaking event made on those who live there. It’s a haunting tale, one I found, and still find, playing on my mind. It hurts.
None of these stories are bad. Not a single one. Some resonated with me more than others, but that is to be expected. The writing is topnotch, and the subject matter is widely varied and innovative. These folks dug their toes in and went for big game. They have the trophies to show for it.
And if a collection of outstanding horror is not motivation enough for you to plunk down your hard earned money on Chiral Mad, I offer this enticement: All proceeds go to Down’s Syndrome charities. So buy a copy. And another for a friend or relative. Maybe a few more to sock away for Christmas gifts. Support the cause and read these stories.
I applaud Michael Bailey for publishing this…
Devil’s Island, by C.M. Saunders, is a slow-burning psychological horror novel set in the UK. It is the story of Davon Rice, a soldier who has just returned from active military duty. Acclimating to civilian life again has proven extremely difficult. He spends most of his days in and out of the unemployment office, searching for the right job. With no qualifications to do anything but night security, and no car to do even that, he feels trapped and frustrated.
When he happens upon a strange email, an invitation to be the sole inhabitant and caretaker of a government facility on a remote island off the coast of Scotland, he thinks he has finally found what he has been looking for. After a short time there, though, he realizes he isn’t alone. There’s something else living on the island. Davon can feel it. It’s stalking him and aching to get inside.
Saunders writes a very believable character in Davon Rice. It is an intimate and sometimes scary picture of what life is like for soldiers returning home from war. Saunders paints the settings of the facility and surrounding island in vivid details, which made me feel like I was right there with Rice, experiencing everything right along with him. At every page, I felt Rice’s solidarity, loneliness, and paranoia; it reminded me of watching Sam Rockwell’s character maintain the space station in the movie Moon, minus Kevin Spacey’s AI, Gerty.
The majority of the story unfolds slowly, taking on a pace more reminiscent of literary fiction, building character slowly through monotonous routines, flashbacks, and internal conflict. I felt that this slow burn took too long to retain any external conflict, and I often lost interest in the story. Despite his flaws, I liked the character, and I understood what drove him to take the job on the island. Unfortunately, I spent pages and chapters wondering when something was going to happen. When it finally did, though, the story moved at a swift pace, and it sucked me right back in.
Devil’s Island has many unexpected elements, some executed better than others (the ending definitely caught me by surprise). If you’re looking for a short, psychologically-driven story, then go ahead and pick this one up; but if your reading aesthetic requires something a little more action-driven, this may not be a story for you.