Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Shadowed Realms Issue 8

It's November, and Shadowed Realms once more catches the attention of our collective consciousness. Labeled the 'graphic horror issue', the stories broadcast here fit the criteria of what I think this enterprise should be about . . .


A story relating to love at its most primal level, Mark Barnes's SERENADE delves into the subject of infidelity and whether or not such a sin can ever really be tossed aside. 'We're all wolves in sheep's clothing,' the protagonist at one stage utters to his beloved while reclining after sex and it is this declaration which makes it a great story. Through the serenade of bygone disciples, revenge is a dish best served cold.

It's rare for a short story to be perfectly well-rounded, but CONGA JENGA by Shane Jiraiya Cummings felt like a faultless, brutal sphere. It's short, sweet, and no holds barred as our protagonist does battle with a parasite for transgressions committed in the wilds of Congo. Shane's sentences come off nicely timed, with just the proper intervals. What wonders lie in store as he develops his themes?

So many horror tales (perhaps too many), fit the premise of revenge; of justice being served. Matthew Chrulew's gives us a bleak take on the formula called IN MEMORIAM. Molly, perpetually in a disconnected state of remembrance (I loved the opening line; it was a killer), makes us grieve with her as we visit the scene of her lovers death. She finds solace, however, in a gruesome but ultimately fitting way.

Constantly evolving, Shadowed Realms does indeed feel like a cut above the rest. Personally, I enjoy the stories as though participating purely for entertainment value that has nothing to do with critique. Stories are, after all, not substitutes for reality but tools for change . . .

In the next installment I will be reviewing the concluding serials NOTHING OF HIM THAT DOTH FADE by Poppy Z Brite; AUTOPSY by Robert Hood. Also, DECIMATED by Lee Battersby and JACK O LANTERN by Eric Christ.

DECIMATED, by Lee Battersby, is a serial look at torture. These types of stories are always uncomfortable and Lee does a fine job of it. Like previous stories in Shadowed Realms, it has a kind of futuristic fatalism. Our main guy has been 'chosen' to undertake a ritual involving scalpels and insects. The sentences - especially toward the conclusion, are disturbing, so it fits nice and snug in a horror anthology. Be sure to read his biography; it's impressive. A fine line for me was: My tongue flaps about my cavernous maw . . .

Having an American author named Eric Christ certainly puts a spin on things. Here, he offers THE JACK O LATERN. It's simplistic, and funny in a childlike way. Billy's carving up the old pumpkin for Halloween, and what it has to show him, regarding his sister and father's relationship, makes Halloween a day of atonement. The only gripe is perhaps Eric's overuse of sentences following one after the other with the obvious HE.

Flanagan - our wako from the previous three AUTOPSY installment's - is back and it seems he still hasn't found what he is looking for. This one's a little shorter than the rest and I must admit to being a little confused with the conclusion as it takes on supernatural elements. Obviously, there is a species of formula in what Rob's trying to do here: numerous stories before fit into this equation; the looming question mark can either be a scourge or a blessing. Regardless, it's a fine tale all-round for fans of schlock splatter . . .

Poppy Z Brite's jilted lovers return one last time in NOTHING OF HIM DOTH FADE. It was never going to be a sweet finale for our couple Leo and Jack, but there is a romantic liberation which unites them both. Over the spectrum of the whole story we find a great character study of two discordant homosexual lovers and how calamity can often be a special kind of release.

Note: Poppy is a native of New Orleans's heart - in which she has set some of her more literal novels. Unlike her encumbering lovers, I sincerely hope she weathered the storm . . .

This issue is just as explosive and dark as ever; Angela Challis obviously has her finger on the pulse of what readers want to hear. I anticipate the next volume of Shadowed Realms as the system board lights up with nothing but all fresh material.

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