CLUBHOUSE: Review: Unnerving Magazine issue #11

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

UNNERVING MAGAZINE issue #11.

Publisher: Unnerving, Powell River, British Columbia, Canada.

Publisher and Editor: Eddie Generous

Cover Art: Eddie Generous

FICTION:

Lazarus – by Feby Idrus

Premise:  

She’s a stripper looking to pick up a customer between dances. Starts talking to Calvin, a nice-looking young guy. He doesn’t stare at her the greedy way the other guys do. He makes eye contact. Talks to her like she’s a real person. What a change from the usual. She decides to take him home with her.

Review:

Great galloping Ghu! I was shocked by this story. Don’t know what I was expecting but it definitely took me by surprise. The combination of explicit sex and explicit violence practically knocked me off my chair. I was stunned.

Thing is, my taste in horror runs to H.P. Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson. I’m used to sex and violence themes buried in metaphor and symbolism, habituated to hidden meanings in forms that I tease out of the text while exhibiting a subtle sense of embarrassment along the lines of “Gee, am I the only one reading this into the story? Maybe the readers of my review will think I am projecting my own twisted mindset on an utterly innocent writer? Gosh, dare I interpret this in Freudian terms without running the risk of exposing myself to psychoanalysis by my readers? Is the author writing about deep, dark, sexual desires or merely describing an unusual garbage bin?”

These inner anxieties strike me as the equivalent of worrying about exposing my ankles in public while putting out a blanket at Wreck Beach, the clothing-optional beach in Vancouver, B.C. where I used to live. (I mean, I used to live in Vancouver. Not at Wreck Beach, though I know people who spend most of their time there.) In other words, my prudery is positively Victorian compared to current times, I suddenly realise.

Fact is I have never read a modern horror work. At least nothing as horrific as this. It has a simple, straight-forward style, yet is well-written, conveying the emotional mindset and motivation of the stripper quite well. Blunt and subtle at the same time. Convincing. And terrifying. If I had read this as an adolescent I probably would have taken a vow of celibacy.

I mean, Calvin does everything right, the way young men on first dates are supposed to. He’s polite, pleasant, easy-going, engaging, caring, makes her laugh, and, above all … is damned unlucky. What happens to him sets my teeth on edge. Nice guys finish last doesn’t even begin to describe it.

To top it off, the author is a music teacher and an arts administrator. Figures. I often used to wonder what went on in the heads of such when I was in High School. Now I know. Scary.

I confess I wouldn’t publish this story, good as it is for what it is, in my Speculative Fiction Magazine Polar Borealis. Too shocking. Not for my readers. For me! Doesn’t stir my sense of wonder so much as creep me out. Is that what horror is supposed to do? I guess so. Nowadays.

Cutting Class – by Evans Light

Premise:  

All the twelve-year-olds in the grade seven science class have been looking forward to this day. Well, not all of them. Some have been dreading it. But not David! He’s eager! He’s been reading up on the subject, even fantasising about it. At long last he’ll get to dissect a dead animal. Maybe a cricket or a frog, but what he really wants to cut open is a baby pig. He can hardly wait.

Review:

So, obviously, the title is appropriate. I remember grade school biology. Had to dissect a frog. That didn’t bother me. What upset me was that the frogs were still alive, though rather sluggish for having been kept in a fridge. None of the boys were willing to pith the frogs, i.e. stick a needle in their brains to kill them. All the girls volunteered, rather gleefully I thought.

But what really made me shudder was the grasshopper, or, judging from its size, the locust I had to dissect. The good news is that it was already dead. The bad news is I had an extreme insect phobia back then. The teacher ordered me to go ahead with the dissection. He was quite adamant. So I did, everything but the head. “Why?” the teacher demanded.

“Because it’s the seat of its consciousness. I don’t want to activate it.”

Point is, the mere setting of the story is unsettling for me. Yes, I won an award for my work in High School Biology class, but it wasn’t from dissecting things. Just that my experiment lived long enough to release them safely back into the wild. (Did you know tiny salt water crabs prefer back bacon to any other food? I was surprised by that.)

But enough digression. This story is not explicit but more psychological. Contains a touch of future history which helps set the plot. Bit of a throwback or homage to the old EC horror comics of the fifties. This one I would publish had it been offered to me. What ties me, and I suspect most readers, to the story is my own past experience. In that sense it treads in the footsteps of Stephen King a little bit. Not too scary, but it works. Unnerving.

Fat Ma – by Andrew Hilbert

Premise:

Kristen is called back to the family home in California. Since her dad, Earl, passed away, it seems Ma has been eating less and less. Now it appears she’s stopped eating altogether. Kristen figures arranging a pizza party for the whole family is the solution. Ma always did like pizza.

Review:

Pizza is good when you want it, but if you don’t, the smell and visual appearance can be off-putting. I doubt any of the pizza franchises would want to sponsor this story. I’ll just say Ma makes up for lost time. Her behaviour and even her appearance become rather surreal. Everything negative, absolutely everything cruddy, every disgusting aspect of pizza you can think of, is lovingly described in this story. It’s like an emergency intervention designed to cure you of eating pizza.

There may be a message about out-of-control consumerism or lack of restraint and self-discipline, but it’s more of a transformation story or metamorphosis that Ovid never conceived of yet is almost as mythic as his tales. Like a scene out of a movie by David Cronenberg. A bit of an acquired taste, not for everyone. Didn’t care much for it, but I have to admit the description is quite vivid. So, in its own way, horrifying. Leaves a bad taste.

Neck of the Woods – by Russell J. Dorn

Premise:

Three young girls are camping in the woods. They enjoy it, though the night with the wind howling through the trees is a bit scary, but after all, the tales about the witch who lives in the woods is just a silly bit of nonsense designed to frighten young girls.

Review:

One clever aspect of the story has the girls attempting to frighten each other with spur-of-the-moment made-up tales about the powers of the dreaded witch-of-the-woods which a) sets the mood and foreshadows what eventually does happen, and b) anchors the witch and her powers firmly within the forest setting. As a result the story is all of a piece and not a case of “the witch” plunked down in an arbitrary location.

What happens is very appropriate to the setting, and curiously and oddly practical, at least from the witch’s point of view. I don’t like camping and have too much imagination to fall asleep easily in a tent that is probably setup smack dab in the midst of a wolverine migration route, or on the Wendigo’s home turf, so it doesn’t take much to scare me. Dark woods will do it. A witch, not so much. Monsters scare me more. Still, an interesting take on the old fairy tale concept of running into a witch in the forest, with a number of original touches I’ve not seen before. May possibly have a greater impact on women with memories of girl guide encampments out in the wilds.

Play Dead – by Thomas Pluck

Premise:

The story begins with a Kodiak bear attack in Alaska, then flashes back to a working class family struggling to avoid being driven from their home.

Review:  

This, too, could be something out of the old EC horror comics. A tale of revenge that is morbidly satisfying if somewhat improbable. But massive trauma is a credible motive for revenge if it has reached the level of obsession and primary purpose. In real life people have killed for less reason. So, I have no problem accepting the premise. Would have accepted it for publication had it been submitted to my magazine.

The Halloween Monster – by Alison Littlewood

Premise:  

Cam used to enjoy Halloween. Her father used to dress up as a monster and make it so much fun. This is the first Halloween since he died. Her mother is very distressed. Won’t accept the holiday. Forces Cam out of the house. She figures she is a big enough girl she doesn’t need to fear being out on the street at night during Halloween. Then she runs into the neighbourhood bully and his two friends. They want her to help catch a neighbourhood cat they intend to kill. She has no choice. Even though she likes cats.

Review:

I like cats, too. Quite a bit. For cat lovers this story is a bit of a roller coaster ride. It is clearly set in England, which is all the more disturbing since English culture in general is noted for its love of animals. (Absolutely dotty over hedgehogs, for instance.)

What gives the story considerable impact is its unexpected ending. The resolution, if you can call it that, is psychologically astute. Feels very apt and real, if not necessarily what the reader was hoping for. I would call it a frighteningly mature horror tale, and a good, strong ending to the collection. Yep, I would have bought this one too, though I find it genuinely disturbing. As a well-written horror story should be.

NON-FICTION:

Did Dracula Have a Daughter? – by Jeff Strand

Premise:  

Jeff’s first exposure to horror, at the age of six, was a book titled Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Monsters, But Were Afraid to Ask.

Review:

Apparently every issue of Unnerving contains three brief articles by well-known horror writers describing what first turned them on to the horror genre. Jeff has published more than 40 books and been nominated four times for the Bram Stoker Award, so he certainly qualifies.

I see a rough parallel between his reading the above-mentioned book and my reading early issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, but I won’t say anything more as I don’t want to give away his description of the significance of his discovery.

The Scariest Thing Ever – by Kate Jonez

Premise:  

For Kate it was finding a certain novel on her mothers book shelf when she was in grade five.

Review:

Very short article so I’ll say nothing.

It Got Under My Skin – by Laird Barron

Premise:  

For Laird it was a 1970s movie that was on TV while he was playing on the floor at about age four.

Review:

I’ve never seen the film in question but hey, even Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would be scary to a kid that age. Possibly his parents assumed the movie wouldn’t frighten anyone, or maybe they just didn’t notice it was on. Some people put on TV as a kind of white noise to help them think while doing some task or another. Still, I was only three or four years older when I started watching Shock Theatre and its Universal horror films all on my lonesome, and they never harmed me in any way. I think.

For the Good, Body and Mind – by Eddie Generous

Premise:  

Eddie poses the question “How do authors stay physically and mentally healthy in a sedentary and secluded profession?” to three writers.

Review:

One somewhat startling “fact” is Eddie’s comment that the social media commentary by horror writers tends to be rather depressing to read, as if most horror writers struggle with depression. Mind you, maybe that’s true of all writers. Certainly, the imposture syndrome is always topical at writers conventions because just about all writers struggle with self-doubt, perhaps as a result of receiving so many rejection slips in a lifetime of waiting for indications of acceptance and approval. Lesson to be learned: Don’t be a horror writer?

Getting away from the writing desk and indulging in physical activity, especially if it involves interacting with other people, seems to be the number one solution. I was amazed that Joe R. Lansdale writes no more than three hours a day. Possibly the secret of his success.

Overall a very thoughtful and perceptive article. Offers good advice.

CONCLUSION: 

I can’t help but compare Unnerving to my own magazine Polar Borealis. Like Unnerving, it is a one-man operation with the one individual doing everything. And just like Eddie, I pay one cent a word. Both magazines typically exhibit a wide variety of tales in terms of tone and style. In my case concentrating on SF&F with just occasional horror, whereas Eddie publishes strictly horror genre stories, albeit of various types.

A huge difference is that each issue is available in both e-book and paperback form via Amazon for reasonable fees. In addition, Unnerving is a publishing house for Horror books. So far Eddie has published 15 novels, 15 collections and anthologies, and 10 novelettes and chapbooks. Featured authors include Renee Miller, James Newman, Christa Carmen, Jessica McHugh, William Meikle, Eddie Generous himself, and others. I can’t imagine the amount of work Eddie has put into all this. I have enough trouble just publishing my magazine. And Eddie is evidently a prolific writer too! Where does he find the time? I’m assuming he drinks even more coffee than I do. Industrial amounts, must be.

I should mention I published a story by Eddie in issue #8 of Polar Borealis in December, 2018. Titled White Ghost Fur it was a classic supernatural tale set in the howling wilderness typical of a Canadian winter. The sort of thing that makes the reader want to migrate to an island in the Caribbean and stay there. Evocative and chilling in more ways than one. Judging from this one story, Eddie is good at writing horror. That makes him good at editing horror, I suspect.

Getting back to Unnerving the Magazine, issue #11, its first story, Lazarus, was a huge wake-up slap in the face to me. Most unexpected. I wondered if all the following stories would be similar. Not the case. Everything else was relatively tame in comparison, being far less explicit in vivid gore and more in the nature of concept-driven fiction, yet creepy and unsettling. The concepts worm their way under your skin, so to speak, or perhaps I should say, into your brain.

In sum, the quality of horror fiction in Unnerving is quite good, some of it outstanding. The horror genre, apart from anything Lovecraftian, is not one of my personal interests, but I plan to read and review every issue from now on.

To readers who prefer the genre above all others, Unnerving is a “must read,” and probably perusing the books offered by Eddie would reward your interest as well. I’m impressed by what Eddie does. You will be, too.

Check it out at: < Unnerving >

 

 

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