Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- 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
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
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Tag Archives: Stephen Graham Jones
by Stephen Graham Jones
What the fifties gave the horror movie was a crop of radiation-grown monsters come to punish us for our sins. Pretty much, they were our sins, given monstrous form. They were there to teach us a lesson, just, all they that had to do that with were claws and teeth, wings and fire. These monsters were impossible, unlikely creatures simply because exaggeration was the only thing that could shake the self-satisfied fifties from its smug recliner, scare it out onto its well-kept lawns.
But by Jaws 1975 (a year before for the Peter Benchley novel), heedless scientific progress wasn’t the cautionary tale we needed to be taught anymore. Was it?
Well. It might very well have been radiation from the Venus Probe that got corpses climbing from their graves in Night of the Living Dead just a few years before. And in 1974, the acoustic properties of cutting-edge “scientific” farming equipment had done the same in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. And? Is it really any coincidence that the USS Indianapolis Quint’s the survivor of, it had been delivering Little Boy, the first atomic bomb humans had ever used on humans?
Think about it. Quint says there might have been a thousand sharks there for that feeding frenzy. A thousand sharks getting the taste for human blood. A thousand sharks cutting through the waters a ship had just gone down in. A ship that had secretly been carrying the world’s atomic bomb. Now, imagine if you will that, in 1945, we might not have completely known about radiation shielding. Imagine a loose rivet if you will, one that leaks radiation into the belly of the Indianapolis.
Now picture that irradiated portion of the hull sharing its pulsing green glow with one or two of those sharks come in to feed on the lower halves of all these sailors—that is, sharks getting a distinct taste for human flesh—and add that with what Brody researches up, about how we don’t even really know how long sharks live. Which is to say, we don’t even know if they die at all.
Then take into account that this particular shark that’s come to Amity Island for the Fourth of July (that is, when America celebrates in gruesome fashion, with mock-bombs in the air . . .), it isn’t really acting very sharky at all, is it? Granted, the initial kill we see—the drunk night-swimmer out by the buoy—that’s just a shark being a shark. Also, the shark coming up for the kid on the raft: that raft could have been a seal from the shark’s angle, right? By the time the shark knew any different, it was too late.
But we, and Amity Island, soon come to figure out that this shark isn’t any normal shark. No, this is a monster shark. This is a shark behaving in a fashion not at all in keeping with its kind.
First it sneaks into the ‘pond’—the estuary that’s supposed to be safe. Particularly, it sneaks there when there’s such better feeding out on the proper beach. And, once there in the pond, the only thing stopping it from getting to the police chief’s son is one unlucky guy in a rowboat, who quickly gets chewed through. That the son is the target is pretty obvious, from what I guess we’d have to call the point-of-view of the giant dorsal fin, as the shark pulls its first swim-by, its mouth momentarily too full for a second chomp. And, granted, there’s a way to read the story that this shark going for Brody’s son, that’s just to focus the story down to the people who matter—it’s dramatic economy. But another way to look at it is that this shark, it knows who it needs to take out, up on the land: the main authority figure. The one who wants to close the beaches.
As far as the beaches and their closing go, this shark, it’s right in line with the mayor. Which is to say, it’s aligned against Brody. And, like the mayor, it’s working events and situations in order to neutralize Brody—just, unlike the mayor, this shark has row after row of teeth, and no voting body to answer to.
This shark, it’s thinking. It’s got strategy. It can imagine a goal ahead of itself in time, and then work methodically towards that goal—unlike any of its shark brethren, all locked in the perpetual moment, as it were, operating on mere stimulus-response.
Monsters aren’t stimulus-response. Justice is so more complicated than that.
Next? Off-screen, this massive thinking shark, it takes out one of the boatful of hunters out chumming the waters—kind of a little dumbshow, illustrating again how unsharky this shark is behaving: instead of running from danger, it eliminates that danger. Understand that, in the open sea, when mating or territory or the current meal isn’t at stake, a regular shark has no reason to stick around when things get hot. No reason to go after a boatful of hunters. Unless that boatful of hunters has, say, insulted it.
Meaning? This is a shark that might have feelings.
Very unsharky. Matt Hooper should have said something about this. Or, he does, to Quint, with “You ever have one do this before?” which is followed up nearly immediately by Brody asking Hooper, “Have you ever had a great white—” but Hooper, frustrated, cuts him off with a flat, hard “No!”
No, this is not how typical sharks act.
This shark, it’s special. “Mr. White,” Quint calls it, even, lending his opposition a proper name, not just a species.
It’s getting personal, yes. Which we see when the shark, insulted by not one, not two, but three barrels being harpooned to it, proceeds to resist its own survival instinct and turn the predators into the prey. And not just in a single attack, either, but through a steadily mounting warfare of terror, as if—get this—as if maybe this shark, it’s aware that these people on the boat have interiors as well. Thoughts and feelings that can be manipulated to the shark’s advantage.
For the whole movie, this shark has been swimming closer and closer to a different identity, a different status. When it focuses all its attention on the Orca, essentially Ahab’ing Quint, it becomes a legitimate monster—a creature of monstrous proportions, acting outside its typical behavior patterns. More or less, it’s doing stuff for what we would call ‘human’ reasons, not shark reasons.
So, to wrap up already: how to make this monster?
Irradiate a long-lived shark in 1945, give it a taste for human flesh, plant a seed of human awareness in it, and then set it on a decades-long quest to finish the feeding frenzy that got cut short by rescue in 1945.
Yes, Quint is on a revenge-arc. Most definitely. He hates all sharks.
This shark, though, it just wants to finish its meal.
Can you see this shark as Quint’s pulled from the water, into his lifeboat? Can you see those doll eyes taking a snapshot or two? This is when the shark’s a “mere” three meters, say. But, thanks to the radiation, it’s already growing at an accelerated rate. Over the next thirty years, it’ll be eight times as big.
To understand this, look at Quint’s story from another angle. The Final Destination angle: sailor escapes what should have been his death, and then, a neat three decades later, that death swims up to his boat, bites him in half.
Kind of fits, yes?
And, the shark itself, it has a story as well. A typical shark, it pretty much needs two basic things: water and food. So, this shark, when it goes atypical and foregoes food in favor of revenge, it’s very much asking for justice to pay it a visit as well (for stepping outside its prescribed boundaries), and it’s only fitting that the thing that finally explodes its head, it’s the opposite of the water it so desperately needs: air (-tank).
And, note that for this read of Jaws to actually apply in a way that makes sense, it’s not at all necessary for Quint to ‘recognize’ this shark at the last moment—a tell-tale scar, say, or a missing eye, a notched dorsal fin. Really, Quint’s estimation of all sharks as pretty much just “sharks he hasn’t got around to killing yet,” that almost requires that he not distinguish one shark from the next. His own need for revenge has made him blind, has denied him the ability to discern one shark from the next. Could he, then he might elect not to smash the radio, thus severing all ties with the land and ensuring his own doom.
However, that this might be his particular monster come to chomp him, that gives the story a certain elegance, doesn’t it? It’s closing a circle that opened in 1945.
No, it’s no accident that the Hiroshima bomb the Indianapolis was smuggling across the Pacific was “Little Boy,” and that the first time we actually see actual blood in the water in this story, it’s from a “little boy.”
Neither is it any accident the “monster” in Jaws, it’s only name—aside from the Latinate—is “Mr. White”—which is a color America never actually calls itself, expect in contradistinction, when referring to all the “other” people of the world by colors.
“Mr. White” indeed.
But that comes back to bite us, doesn’t it?
That comes back to bite us in half.
Jaws is finally, and fundamentally, a story about heedless scientific progress. Specifically, it’s a story about using that “progress” against others. Jaws is a warning of what happens when we do. A bomb was dropped thirty years before the movie came out, but we’re all still living in the fallout, even now.
America, it drags an ugly, ugly past behind it.
We’re going to need a bigger boat.
Stephen Graham Jones
14 May 2016
Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, six story collections, more than 250 stories, and has some comic books in the works. His current book is the werewolf novel Mongrels (William Morrow). Stephen’s been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Awards for Multicultural Fiction, three This is Horror awards, and he’s made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Novels of the Year. Stephen teaches in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California Riverside-Palm Desert. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two children, and too many old trucks.
Growing up is hard work, hard enough for the “normal” kids who live in a stalwart house, planted atop a hill or the end of a cul-de-sac. Hard enough for the ones with both parents and them working good jobs that pay plenty of money to pay the bills up and keep the pantry and bellies filled. Hard enough for the ones that are doted upon, loved and lauded.
The kids who have different scenarios to navigate…well, they have it harder. Mongrels is a story about growing up and werewolves. The copy wants you to think it’s about growing up werewolf and maybe it is. But the thick and wooly of it is growing up and out or down and inward. Sometimes both.
Mongrels is about a boy, never named and often known by the profession he thinks he wants to ascend to at that moment. He was born different, into a family of werewolves. After being buoyed by the wild and sometimes frightening tales his grandfather told him, his family loses him. This event leaves a stamp of uncertainty and loss on the boy as he embarks on a series of adventurous disasters living with his Uncle Darren and Aunt Libby, as they bounce from small town to small town, usually in the dead of night, just to survive a few more days. There are those who are after them, some know what they are, others do not. The space they occupy doesn’t often put them in touch with the nicest of people. During it all, he is anxiously awaiting his first shot at transformation. He watches most of the events cloaked in human guise and therefore anchored to both sides of their existence.
Mongrels crawls along, sometimes jumping and running at full feral abandon, its steps are sure and strong. From seedy trailer parks and ramshackle dwellings, part-time jobs and petty theft, werewolf fights and violence, the boy’s world is a world of wonder and heartache, a world of longing and questions. Will he grow to be a werewolf like his family or is he an outcast? All seems to swell and swirl as the running seems to get them closer and closer to nowhere and the change they are hoping for, but will it be the change they all really want and need?
Stephen Graham Jones has a knack for writing honest and with great open feeling. His wonderful prose takes the hobbled hope and prideful innocence of this young boy and allows it to walk all over you. Leave marks for you to pour over as runes. It’s an almost quiet tale a lot of the time, the action is that of a heart cracking to let all the sadness trickle free or a face slipping from smile to sneer and back again. It is recollection draped in oil-stained denim and sweat. It is Springsteen or Marty Robbins drifting on a night breeze from the window of a battered Trans-Am. It can be all of those things and so much more. The story takes you to a place we’ve all been, steps we’ve all made, but also to spaces never seen, never set upon by human or beast. Mongrels is as honest a thing as you’re likely to read. And it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while.
Mongrels is available through Harper Collins, which means any decent bookstore anywhere ought to have it. So you have no excuse for not buying it.
There are currently about nine-hundred and thirty-two Lovecraft-themed anthologies out in the wild, with maybe another seventy in the works. It’s a popular concept. I like Lovecraftian fiction but quite similar to the way over-saturation made me cringe at the word “Zombie,” I’m starting to wince when I hear the “L” word.
When I was asked to review this book, I hesitated until I saw the authors involved. It includes some of my current darlings: Cameron Pierce, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeffrey Ford, and others. The idea of this anthology is refreshing, instead of asking authors to channel their inner Lovecraft they were told to read his famous essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” and then turn in a tale inspired by quotes from it.
So it ain’t all tentacles and fishy mutants. But don’t be all that sad, those things are in here too.
The volume opens with “Past Reno,” by Brian Evenson, in which a man runs both from and toward his past, wanting to claim and also deny his inheritance. Paul Tremblay delivered a short strange tale called “_______” in which a family grows closer in a subtle and unsettling way. Stephen Graham Jones’s hands in “Doc’s Story,” a fantastic story of a family and their curse. Like everything else that the man has written, it’s brilliant.
Cameron Pierce’s “Help Me” is a bizarre and heady tale about a man and his otherworldly catch. Tim Lebbon‘s “The Lonley Wood” is a dark voice in an echoey chamber. Closing out the collection is “The Semi-finished Basement,” by Nick Mamatas, a darkly wry tale of a local group who meet and discuss world demise over cookies and drink…this one has teeth and a great winning smile.
There numerous other tales as well, featuring rituals and sacrifice, evil fairies and demonic beings, monsters and misdeeds. All are pretty good.
Overall this is a satisfying anthology. Editor Jesse Bullington has done a good job of putting together a sharp product, unique in its premise and put together well. The stories are strong and while some are a bit, I’ll say, dry, most go down easy and quick. The number of new writers (defined as names I was not familiar with) is pretty high and I wasn’t disappointed by any of them. If you’re a fan of all things Lovecratian, then make a spot on the shelf for this one.
Available through Stone Skin Press.
We are very proud to announce the release of our ninth issue!
Click for larger image.
In this ninth issue of Shock Totem you will find not only a brand new, previously unpublished tale by Stephen Graham Jones, but also an interview with this modern master of words. Kathryn Ohnaka presents “Buddy,” a twisting, slithering serpent of a tale. The words are pure poetry, with fangs. “Saturday,” by Evan Dicken, follows, creeping and crawling and filled with Things that whisper of doom.
Similar whisperings can be heard in Bracken MacLeod’s “Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods” and most of you will know the voices. Tim Lieder’s darkly rhythmic “Hey Man” will get you toe-tapping and “in the mood.” With a touch of science fiction, Emma Osborne’s “The Box Wife” is sure to leave you uncomfortable. The box wife is one and many, but you’ll recognize all.
Stephen King once called Jack Ketchum “the scariest guy in America.” What scares the scariest guy in America? Karen Runge. And you’ll know why after reading “Good Help.” Peter Gutiérrez provides the poetry with his outstanding “Anteroom.” Closing out the fiction in this issue is S.R. Mastrantone’s “Alan Roscoe’s Change of Heart,” a tale that chips away at a well-mined vein–the near-death experience–but manages to produce an untouched gem.
In addition to the previously-mentioned conversation with Stephen Graham Jones, F. Paul Wilson is also interviewed. The seventh installment of our music-meets-horror serial, “Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes,” tackles the 80s and Catherine Grant provides the editorial, a scary piece that hits close to home for creators and readers of horror.
All that and more!
Here is the official Table of Contents:
* Unacceptable Content, by Catherine Grant (Editorial)
* Buddy, by Kathryn Ohnaka
* Saturday, by Evan Dicken
* Morning Books and Evening Books: A Conversation with F. Paul Wilson, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods, by Bracken MacLeod
* Anteroom, by Peter Gutiérrez (Poetry)
* Strange Goods and Other Oddities (Reviews)
* Hey Man, by Tim Lieder
* The Nightmare Rolls On: A Conversation with Stephen Graham Jones, by Zachary C. Parker
* You Are Here, by Stephen Graham Jones
* The Box Wife, by Emma Osborne
* Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes, Part 7, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod (Article)
* Good Help, by Karen Runge
* Alan Roscoe’s Change of Heart, by S.R. Mastrantone
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)
As always, thank you for your continued support!
Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.
Do you like being punched in the face? How about being kicked in the shins? Maybe someone holding you at knife point and making you lay your hand on a table so they can smash it with a hammer sounds like bliss? All of those brutal and violent scenarios have a lot in common with David James Keaton’s collection, Fish Bites Cop!: Stories to Bash Authorities.
Oh, I don’t mean it’s a painful read or anything; I mean that at any given juncture, in any story, the unexpected veering violence could take hold and you could lose and eye—or even bladder control. Fish Bites Cop is a collection of 30 short tales. The only thread that tethers them thematically would be that there is usually at least one cop, fireman, or EMT in each story. There is also a lot of death, anger, and, for some odd reason, hand deformities.
I won’t go into every story but I will touch on the ones that left scratches. “Trophies” is the opener and a wonderfully bizarro intro it is. Through seemingly strange circumstances we get to see what lies beneath. In “Schrodinger’s Rat,” we are introduced to a group of prison inmates and witness their odd dealings and shenanigans. Brutal and witty while never losing its edge, this ain’t no Shawshank fo’ sho’!
“Greenhorns” is a tale of a group of fisherman with a much more sinister agenda. “Three Ways Without Water (Or the Day Roadkill, Drunk Driving, and the Electric Chair Were Invented)” is my favorite of the bunch. What a delirious kick in the pants it is. Part weird western, part bizarro, it’s like Cormac McCarthy’s drunken cousin after he raided the medicine chest. I mean, it has everything: vampirism, zombie horses, gun slinging, shape-shifting, and did I mention zombie horses? Glorious!
“Castrating Fireman” is a darkly comic romp that is and isn’t what its title implies. “Three Minutes” is one of the few tales that feature “Jack,” an EMT with some serious issues. In “Clam Digger,” a younger sibling must come to grips with the events that ended with his older brother’s demise. “The Ball Pit (Or Children Under 5 Eat Free!)” is a troubling tale that hints at post-apocalyptic fringes but never reveals what’s behind that dark curtain. And for the grand finale, he smacks us over the head with “Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker,” a gonzo bloodbath of law enforcement and craziness that should be the punch line to its own joke: What’s blue and white an red all over and goes a hundred miles an hour?
So, is it a good book? You bet. I dug it. But I must be honest and inform you that it is not for everyone. If you like gritty noir-ish bizarro stories and people, with authority figures who are as flawed and warped as all get out, this is your Easter egg. If that isn’t your thing, then you may want to sit this one out. There’s a bench over there, right beside the nice policeman.
Fish Bites Cop is available through Comet Press.
The New Black is a collection of twenty neo-noir stories. That is the promise from the back cover of this new anthology put out by the fine folks at Dark House Press and edited by Richard Thomas. No, not the guy who played John Boy on The Waltons. This cat is cooler. Way cooler.
Now, full disclosure: I have no idea what neo-noir means. I don’t much give a flying fig about genres and sub-genres and their sub-genres. I like good stories, interesting stories. I love strange stories, especially. And I loved this anthology. Loved!
After a forward by Laird Barron, we get to the stories. Opening with a tragic and deeply troubling tale by Stephen Graham Jones, “Father Son, Holy Rabbit,” which stuck in my head for days! This is followed by Paul Tremblay’s “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks.” Another gut-puncher of a story about loss and regret and fear…and love. I almost jumped ship after this one, as I was not sure I could troop through another eighteen tales of this caliber of heartbreak. But I soldiered on.
Lindsay Hunter’s “That Baby” is a sideshow freakazoid parental nightmare. “The Truth and All It’s Ugly,” by Kyle Minor, is a disorienting re-tooling of Pinocchio or Blade Runner. Kind of. Craig Clevenger’s “Act of Contrition” gives faith fangs and something sharper and deadlier. With “The Familiars,” author Micaela Morrissette delivers what is my favorite of the bunch, a stunningly beautiful and terrifying tale of a child and his imaginary friend. Really, this one will knock you out.
“Dial Tone,” by Benjamin Percy, is a tale of loneliness and loss of one’s self. Roxane Gay’s “How” is a unique and wonderfully odd little story told in short instructional blocks. Roy Kesy’s “Instituto” is about vanity and its ultimate price. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” concerns a boxer and revenge. “Blue Hawaii,” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, is a scathing diorama of a deeply flawed pair and their demons. Joe Meno’s “Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush,” is a stunning and strange drama about an ostracized and pained young man and his struggles with getting on in his world.
“Christopher Hitchens,” by Vanessa Veselka, tackles faith and loss and stars grief and dolphins. “Dollhouse,” by Craig Wallwork, is an effective haunted house story, and that’s a very simplified synopsis. Trust me. “His Footsteps Are Made of Soot,” by Nik Korpon, is a haunting tale of home surgery, resentment, and mortality. Tara Laskowski’s “The Etiquette of Homicide” is a how-to guide to being a killer for hire. This story has one of the best last lines EVER!
“Dredge,” by Matt Bell, shows us a twisted glimpse into the lonely and odd circumstances of a sad man and the dead girl he finds. Antonia Crane turns in the metaphorically titled “Sunshine for Adrienne,” wherein we wallow in the tragic misery of a very broken girl. Richard Lange’s “Fuzzyland” is a brutal excursion into denial and running from yourself. And then we hit the final story, Brian Evenson’s “Windeye,” a delirious nightmare about a house with an extra window.
The New Black is a great collection of incredibly unique fiction. I honestly liked every story in here, and I usually don’t say that about an anthology. It was also nice to encounter so many authors with whom I was unfamiliar. A strong compilation of talent. Very strong.