Shock Totem #4
edited by K.Allen Wood
Shock TotemPublications (2011)
Lee Thompson was charitable enough to give away a few copies of ShockTotem’s latest issue and I was lucky enough to snag one. When itcomes to periodicals, I buy the electronic versions exclusivelybecause of shipping costs to Canada, so this was a real treat. Ibought and read a Kindle edition of Shock Totem #1 not toolong ago and was eager to read some more.
This time around there was a very diverse ensemble of authors fromvarying backgrounds, with established names like Weston Ochse, aswell as first publications for authors like Tom Bordonaro. There’salso a couple of interviews, one with Kathe Koja that turns into anopining on the state of publishing today, and a chat with one of thisissue’s contributing authors, Renny Sparks, that includes discussionabout her music career. And one of the missing sections from digitaleditions is the book review portion, with some interesting looks onbooks, films, and albums by John Boden, Robert J. Duperre, and thewitticisms of Ryan Bridger. There’s also a brief essay by headhoncho, K. Allen Wood, that provides a surprising punch to thestomach.
As far as the stories are concerned, this issue begins with a tragicgem by Lee Thompson called “Beneath the Weeping Willow,”about Davey, a young autistic boy’s ordeals within his family as heand his older brother, Jacob, cope with the break-up of theirparents’ marriage. The story is told in the rare second-personperspective, which is a hard nut to crack, but Lee seemed to have theperfect story in which to use it. As for the relationship betweenDavey and Jacob, it’s heartbreaking and all too believable.
From there, we jump into the absurd with the debut story of TomBordonaro, “Full Dental,” about an office worker at hiswit’s end over the demonic coworkers he must work alongside. Tomwanted to approach this story in the same way you might approach asketch comedy routine, and I think he hits just the right note withthe juxtaposition of bloody mayhem and office politics.
I think my favorite story of the bunch came from a very short storyby Michael Penkas called “Dead Baby Day.” Now, before youget your quills up, the title is a tad misleading. It’s really abouttwo brothers. Unlike, Lee Thompson’s Davey and Jacob, Michael’s Lukeand Mark don’t have quite so caustic a relationship. Mark does ribhis little brother about his origins as they lay in their beds. Youknow how big brothers are sometimes: a-holes. Well, Luke’simagination starts running wild when Mark tells him about Dead BabyDay, which happens to fall on Luke’s birthday. Creepy, funny stuff.
There’s plenty more packed into the 130 pages and is a kind ofthree-ring circus for dark fiction. Don’t like the clown car? Thenstick around for the lion tamer. And make sure you read Cafe DoomCompetition winner’s story, “Fade to Black,” by JaelitheIngold. It feels a tad predictable at first, but the ending remediesthat.