Shadowed Realms, #8, Nov/Dec 2005

Sunday, 20 November 2005 04:07 Jason Fischer
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"Serenade" by Mark Barnes
"Decimated" by Lee Battersby
"Nothing of Him that Doth Fade" by Poppy Z. Brite
"The Jack-O-Lantern" by Eric Christ
"In Memoriam" by Matthew Chrulew
"Congo Jenga" by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
"Autopsy" by Robert Hood

Shadowed Realms
is a great little "dark fantasy" e-zine, which seems more and more to be an accepted way of saying "horror."  It is nothing new for Shadowed Realms to marry a theme with each issue.  In his editorial, Shane Jiraiya Cummings describes #8 as the "visceral horror" issue, and for the most part, he is right.  The stories range from a little nasty to downright revolting and gory.

Though everything in this issue is a fair to good story in its own right, normal stories are hiding out with the horror ones and hoping no one will notice.  Though one or two rogues stole through the editorial gates, Cummings should be praised for the stories he selected, and this issue is well worth a read. 

It should also be noted that the website is well presented and professional, and the flash intro is a real treat, with a droning pulse and a screeching crow scaring the bejesus out of people like me who leave their speakers up high!

"Serenade" by Mark Barnes isn't a bad story, but it certainly isn't spectacular.  We are presented with an unfortunate accident: a head-on collision between a revenge story and the fantastical element that has been inserted into this tale with the proverbial crowbar.  Barnes is a graduate of the last Clarion South (Australia's answer to the popular sci-fi "boot camp"), and technically there is little to complain about. It's a great little dialogue-driven piece, but unfortunately it doesn't work as SF.  With little effort, this could be turned into one of those "you've cheated on me, and here is my elaborate murder/revenge so you will never do it again" stories that usually find print in Women's Weekly, and unfortunately that is where it belongs.

"Decimated" by Lee Battersby is more like it, a skin-crawling visceral horror story, designed to make you flinch and grit your teeth.  Battersby maintains the pace cleverly, placing backstory and setting effortlessly, and leaving the reader wanting to know more.  A good example of flash fiction, and a great example of how to make a reader cringe.  A must read for this issue, and another great effort from this talented Aussie.

"Nothing of Him that Doth Fade" by Poppy Z. Brite is part three of a serial story (parts one and two can be read on the site, so don't worry).  This is an interesting effort but DO NOT READ THIS BY ITSELF.  You will be disappointed if you do; it is not a standalone story.

The psychology of the two protagonists is unraveled well, and the setting is accurate in every way.  Brite presents the reader with beautiful and even poetic imagery, but ultimately fails to deliver on little more than anticlimactic indifference.  This is a real shame because the buildup to this point was worth reading.  Having said that, as an erotic piece, this story is amazingly deep, and the intensity of the protagonists' relationship almost makes up for its shortcoming.

I'm surprised that this was presented as a serial in an e-zine; it doesn't really seem to belong to a site like this.  For a dark fiction piece, the horror element seems glossed over, but is still worth a look.

"The Jack-O-Lantern" by Eric Christ is an evenly paced story straight out of horror's old school.  It's disturbing enough to give you the creeps, but not so ghastly you'll need a bath afterward.  There are a couple of great little twists in the plot, not a mean feat considering it's just under 1000 words.  On the negative side, there are a few cringe-worthy moments, and the dialogue occasionally crosses the line and becomes cheesy.  Christ might have been better served avoiding these weak comments and strengthening the introspective narrative that really makes this piece work.  This story marks Eric Christ's professional debut, and one can only hope he goes on to produce more works of this standard.

This issue of Shadowed Realms is lucky enough to feature a few Clarion South alumni, including "In Memoriam" by Matthew Chrulew.  Chrulew's offering is initially straightforward, deceptively so.  Again we have a revenge tale, but this is an example that really works, and as events take a sharp turn from the normal and into the perverse, this story lands itself fairly and squarely into the category of Dark Fiction.  Short, sharp, brilliant.  "In Memoriam" is a great example of doing more with less, and this story is worth reading for the vivid imagery alone.

For skin-crawling and gory, "Congo Jenga" by Shane Jiraiya Cummings is top stuff.  In this vignette, we see a sick pervert on the receiving end of voodoo justice, the victim of a curse that evokes the feel of Thinner by Stephen King.  I almost had to read this one peering out between my fingers, and despite being subeditor of this magazine, I feel Cummings is more than justified in presenting this fine offering.

"Autopsy" by Robert Hood is another serial effort, and you have to give Shadowed Realms credit for hosting two of these in the same issue.  This is the final chapter of a four parter originally published in Bloodsongs #1.  As part of the driving force that produced the Daikaiju! anthology (an Aussie publication full of Godzilla's giant buddies breaking things), it is no surprise that a little beastie makes an appearance.  But enough with the spoilers.

This was meant to be great in the way that Re-Animator is great—Hood gives a clever nod to that in this disturbingly gory piece—but something is lost in the translation to short fiction (the entire piece is about 5000 words).  This probably couldn't be helped, and as a mini-Re-Animator, this is more hit than miss...for the first three chapters.

In this, the fourth installment, I felt let down.  Hood gave a great buildup and backstory, presenting a believable protagonist, despite the fact that he is a walking trope.  He carves 'em up better than Hannibal Lector, and lures his next victim to his well-equipped Den of Evil, and by the end of part three the reader should be on the edge of their seat.

However, in part four, I was left shaking my head.  Without spoiling it for those who wish to read the ending, it soured the whole thing for me.  The pacing is still brilliant, and the clarity of the text masterful, but in terms of suspending my disbelief, I was left digging for a parachute as that particular plane fell out of the sky.  The whole thing hinges on a Dickensian neighbor and a ridiculous concept.  Where Cummings succeeds with a "beastie in the body" idea in this same issue, Hood seems to have given up by this point—which is a shame because he is capable of much better.