Shock Totem #1
edited by K. Allen Wood
Shock TotemPublications (2011, digital edition)
originally published in 2009
It seems short fiction markets are a fleeting thing. Some crop up out of nowhere, then disappear as quickly as they came. The ones that survive are to be commended--and read. Shock Totem came out with its first paperback issue in the summer of 2009, and this summer sees its fourth edition coming out as a physical copy. But, at the same time, Shock Totem #1 has been re-released as an e-book. An insanely affordable one at that, with an asking price of only $1.99 on the Kindle Store. How could I resist?
Now, with the digital release, a couple things have been left out. Namely the reviews and artwork. But, the stories and interviews are intact, and that's the meat of this publication as far as I'm concerned, anyway.
After a brief introduction from its editor, K. Allen Wood, Shock Totem #1 kicks off with a barn-burner of a story by T.L. Morganfield called "The Music Box." Just imagine those cuddly plush dolls that we used to love playing with as kids, and maybe some of us have passed those toys down to our own children. Now imagine those toys are alive--and they know how to hold a grudge. Yeah, this one was creepy in all the right places and really set a tone for the rest of the book.
More horror abounds, with a quick, quirky read from Mercedes M. Yardley called "Murder for Beginners," which has a couple of women having a remarkably casual conversation while standing over the corpse of their former lover, a married man they've just murdered. Yikes.
Another couple of the standouts for me were Don D'Ammassa's "Complexity" and David Niall Wilson's "Slider." And best title has to go to Kurt Newton's "Thirty-Two Scenes from a Dead Hooker's Mouth." Just read it. Disparate in tone, each brought something really dark to this little collection. In fact, as you read from cover to cover, you find the diverse array of stories really only has two things in common: they're dark as hell and really well written.
If the fiction isn't enough, there are a couple of interviews with the likes of John Skipp and Alan Robert. All things considered, Shock Totem may not be as shocking as you might expect it to be, but it certainly taps into those dark facets of human nature, one way or another. It's also nice to see each author explain at the end of the book the impetus for each of their stories. With such diversity, the book feels like a three-ring circus of the most macabre variety.