Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review: Shadowed Realms Issue 7

Shadowed Realms sets a high standard for writers and readers of the dark persuasion. Right off the bat in the introduction, the scene is set with some eerie, brooding music: we know where we are, here , and we know which genre we're going to be privy to. Featuring a seedy suburban back-water on the front, this no-shame approach works.

Nothing of him Doth Fade, by Poppy Z Brite is included here as a multi-part serial, and for a good reason: it's the best tales that are given this treatment. Immediately, we are placed into a thirty-something male relationship, a participant as they bicker endlessly on their Australian holiday sojourn from the States. One could argue that it's formulaic , we've seen countless stories across the spectrum presented in such a fashion , by for my money these tales never lose their allure. King himself has rendered it into an art-form (Children of the Corn, Rainy Season) and Clive Barker (In the Hills, The Cities) but Poppy puts a spin on things with this gay couple's vain attempt to rekindle their once healthy rapport. I won't prattle on about this story: for me it's a work in progress. Suffice to say elements of recent blockbuster Open Water here surface, and a reader will look forward to what's in store.

Another serial, Autopsy, by local Rob Hood, follows. It's a well known sub-genre, and after reading the title thought I was in for another belt of King's Autopsy Room Four . . . but this tale is a little stranger, a little darker, and we're thrust into it with no introduction , and certainly no apology. Flannagan, a disgruntled figure who feels he needs to 'find' something in people , literally , has developed a concrete way to make this possible. Dissecting his subjects with no more aplomb than fixing up a culinary dish, that 'something' keeps eluding him. Only through finding the right victim will his curiosity come to fruition. Rob's deft handling of the evisceration scene's are penetrating, so too the tension that builds. Only readers with a strong stomach may apply here.

An interesting title in the collection is Triad in the Key of Lies by Joseph Paul Haines. The story is poetic, but somewhat bloviated with such lines as 'The sky blue as innocence' and 'the sun warm as forgiveness' Aside from these tiny triad's in themselves, it's elegiac as we see a police-officer make a fatal road mistake with a special woman , and, punctuated with italics, will ultimately get his just desserts.

Brisbane writer Trent Jamieson gives us Downpour , a strange, very short beast. With such a short stanza it's difficult to coherently describe it. It may well be that it holds different meanings for different readers. After a massive drought, a community band together and summon dark forces to their aid. What it bids, however, is not what was originally bargained for: the old adage of everything the Devil offers turns sour.

Malik Rising by Paul Haines is a concise, futuristic blend of a group of religious zealots offering themselves as guinea pigs to purge a civilization. The viral strain is cursed and enigmatic; I had the feeling this could be expanded into novella length to resemble something not so unlike 12 Monkey's.

The next tale here has a similar theme of faith. Flight, by Josh Roundtree is expedient in its attempt for the protagonist to showcase loyalty through strange and arbitrary ways. For instance, Ray (our protagonist), has made for himself a set of crude metal wings 'ribbed with bones and assembled with care.' Through the ministrations of a street-witch, he is forced to carry out a deed which will ultimately decide if she is a prophet of truth or damnation. Although not stated, you get the feeling these stories are set in some far-future destitute landscape.

With only a couple of lines Tom Wiloch gives us Paper Cut. The title gave me a shudder, but the story a lingering question mark . . .

Next on the agenda is Professional Responsibility, by Nathanial James Parker. Through dialogue, Parker wants us to explore the doctor/patient relationship in a hostage situation. Here, we sympathize more or less with the psychotic kidnapper. All doctors (especially psychiatrics); seem to have an irritating arrogance that belies their chosen occupation. In an unsettling finale, patient becomes the teacher. It's simple, but very entertaining.

Without publications like this one , albeit on the net , and the individuals working hard behind the scenes to make them happen, Australian dark fantasy and horror could be waylaid into a quagmire without hope of redemption. Shadowed Realms is bold, innovative, and presently has just half a dozen editions (they are all available on the site) so it is only in an infancy stage. Each issue contains five to eight stories , and, with a new one every two months, the future of Shadowed Realms seems to be in good hands. The editor and publisher Angela Challis has an impressive background with all things alternative, and with Shane Jiraiya Cummings clicking away to give it a Cimmerian underbelly, this is one writer and reader who will be coming back for more.

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