Shock Totem 2: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted

Shock Totem 2: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted - K. Allen Wood, Vincent Pendergast, Leslianne Wilder, Kurt Newton, Cate Gardner, Grá Linnaea, Sarah Dunn, Ricardo Bare, Christian A. Dumais, Mercedes M. Yardley, David J. Bell, Nick Bronson At eighty-two pages, Shock Totem #2 is slim, attractive and promising. I often prefer shorter periodicals as the lengthier issues seem to be stuffed with filler material, and with a total of fifty-seven pages of fiction, I opened the glossy cover waiting for a wallop of prose.

Now, the first thing I'm naturally itching to do is compare issue two with the first, solid launch. Both are attractive, sporting great, easy on the eye cover art (both issues by Hicham Haddaji), nice glassy binding and good quality paper. Internal improvements include better font which makes for easier reading, though the interior artwork is a little unclear and hence I pretty much ignored it. Content-wise the stories here are not as consistently strong as they were in issue one, though the concepts are more interesting. Darker-themed and modern ideas work well with the good mixture of dark fiction, brushes with postmodernism and much welcomed moments of absurdity and surrealism. The problem is that while there are a couple of really strong stories ("The Rat Burner," "Sweepers," "The Rainbow Serpent"), there are also a couple of obviously weaker ones which makes me think it was for the best that the editors waited a year to release issue two. Many of the stories don't quite work because their good ideas are not fully developed ("Pretty Little Ghouls," "Leave Me the Way I Was Found"), and the abundance of flash fiction is an unfortunate let-down.

At the same time it's great that the editors weren't daunted by tweaking the journal's overall content, and are offering us something different, as though we were reading independent anthologies rather than two volumes of the same periodical. Shock Totem deserves an audience and I recommend the purchase.

For my full review and comments on each story, please visit Casual Debris.