Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted

Edited by K. Allen Wood
Published by Shock Totem Publications

Culturally, we tend to adopt a dualist approach to the holiday season, bookending our naughty/nice deliberations between those representative yin-yang extremes of the color spectrum, Black Friday and White Christmas. Perhaps this is the kind of simplicity we need to get through the Exodus-rivaling travel, wallet-flogging, and family intrigue, not to mention all the trite, overdone bitching over department store Christmas muzak casually rattled off ad nauseam—as if buying toilet paper to the strains of Kelly Clarkson’s latest breakup anthem back in October had been some kind of transcendental, edifying experience! Which is to say, amidst yuletide chaos tradition is employed as a small oasis, and we seize upon it for whatever serenity it can offer us.

Now imagine you’re standing next to the tinsel-festooned tree in your mother’s living room, nursing a second eggnog and wondering how long you can resist those Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sugar cookies. The Burl Ives is on repeat and you’re smiling and nodding even though you haven’t picked up a goddamned word Uncle Ralph has been laying down lo these last forty-five minutes.

Screw it, you say to yourself, Rudolph can light the way down my esophagus for him and his whole gang.

Ralphie finally pauses to take a breath and you make an escape speedy enough to rival those epicene teenage vampires that are all the rage these days. You’ve almost reached the dessert spread when the sound of breaking glass stops you in your tracks. A fat man in a crimson suit lined with white fur waves jollily through a shattered windowpane then thrusts an industrial sized nozzle into the room. The intermittent, multihued illumination of the outdoor Christmas lights reveals a hose snaking across the backyard to a tank soldered onto the back of his souped-up sleigh. You are tempted to utter some of the same obscenities dad did while staple-gunning those blinking faux icicles and glowing plastic evergreens to the eaves, but before the vituperation finds its way to the tip of your tongue an elf hits a switch on the sleigh, the hose engorges, and soon the room is awash in bloody gore—plasma and fat and bits that could probably be put together in the form of an organ by Auntie Ester, the family’s jigsaw master.

Ho, ho, ho! Never sounded so sinister.

The preceding scenario is something of an allegory for what Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted achieves. This excellent volume of sublime malevolence from the provocateurs at Shock Totem magazine dispenses with the goodwill toward men fairly early on and sets about planting sticks of dynamite around that aforementioned oasis. Fair warning: The humor is black, the twists are twisted indeed, and before you stick a finger in the splatters of red stuff coagulating everywhere, please be aware chances are it is not cherry pie filling.

It would be a shame, really, to degrade shock value with a detailed review. But in the interest of whetting appetites let’s just say that in the skewed Shock Totem reality bad clowns occasionally become even worse Santas, some elves are not nearly as gregarious as Dudley Moore and Will Ferrell, getting exactly the gift you ask for can be more curse than blessing, and not all kids take Santa’s “naughty” verdict lying down.

Oh yes, K. Allen Wood and crew go there…and then some. Remember when Siskel and Ebert threw a tantrum back in ’84 over Silent Night, Deadly Night? Those scolds had no idea. The stories in Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted make Silent Night, Deadly Night look approximately as gritty as The Muppets Take Manhattan.

As an added bonus Shock Totem peppers the volume with holiday recollections of several horror fiction luminaries—brief respites from dark otherworldly visions, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartrending.

Christ, what more could a fan of horror fiction ask for, really, than a poem by Jack Ketchum about decorating a Christmas tree stoned out of his gourd in 1969?

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Shawn Macomber

Shawn Macomber is a Miami based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason, Radar, Yankee, The Weekly Standard,the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Decibel, among many other fine and middling publications. He has reported from five continents covering everything from combat in Iraq, riots in the Baltics, and two presidential elections to designer cat shows at Madison Square Garden, the cross Carrot Top bears, and the Carcass “Exhumed to Consume” reunion tour. His story "Demon Envy" will appear in Shroud #12. More info at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Escape from Zombie City

by Ray Wallace
Published by Apex Book Company

RAY WALLACE hails from the Tampa, FL area and is the author of The Nameless (Black Death Books). More than two dozen of his short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as The Zombie Fee: VOL. 1, The Blackest Death: VOL. 1&2, and Erotic Fantasy: Tales of the Paranormal. A few of his other stories have appeared at The Chiaroscuro website where he took first place in their second annual fiction contest. He also wrote a long running book review column for The Twilight Showcase webzine and now writes reviews for Chizine and His most recent novel is Escape From Zombie City.

In the past few days, I have been bombed; fallen to my death on top of a zombie; mauled by zombies in an elevator; captured by religious fanatics for the sake of sacrifice only to be bombed again; trapped into a car and eaten to death; shot execution style by the military; shot off the top of a building; trapped on a boat, pulled under by zombies and eaten to death while drowning; and turned into a zombie. All of this is thanks to Ray Wallace's Escape from Zombie City. Escape from Zombie City is a story in which the reader is periodically given choices, and these choices lead to different endings. Most of these endings result in the death of the reader, but one leads to ultimate survival. This book is built around the model of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books popular with tweens in the 1980s and 90s, but with far grislier content.

While the concept of a CYOA novel for adults is not new, this is the first attempt I know of using zombies, which seems like a natural fit. Zombie tales, be they fiction, films or otherwise, center around the choices made by the protagonists attempting to escape or simply survive. These choices sometimes lead to freedom, but usually lead to one or many of the main characters being eaten alive. In Escape from Zombie City, you face the same fate. The choices readers make can lead to freedom, but usually lead to the reader's demise. As the series title suggests, there literally is only one way out.

There are a few issues with the various plots. For example, in one narrative, the reader's gun gets stolen, but a few pages later, the reader uses it to beat off a zombie. Other narratives are quite short, the length of a short story, which makes for a disappointing read. But of course, that's all part of the adventure. Reader's can learn from their mistakes, flip back a few pages, make better decisions, and survive. That, or they can die an equally horrible death. Wallace makes sure that happens a lot.

All in all, the cleverness of the novel and its nostalgic throwback to CYOA novels more than makes up for any disappointments the reader might have with the book. Ray Wallace's Escape from Zombie City is a really fun read and welcome addition to zombie literature.

Buy it here.

Reviewed By Joshua Gage

Joshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, "breaths", is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was recently published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. He stomps around Cleveland in a purple bathrobe where he hosts the monthly Deep Cleveland Poetry hour and enjoys the beer at Brew Kettle. Hooks and Books