CLUBHOUSE: Review: Unnerving Magazine issue #12

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

UNNERVING MAGAZINE issue #12.

Published in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada

Publisher and Editor: Eddie Generous

Cover Art: Eddie Generous

FICTION:

Here There be Spyders – by Graham Watkins

Premise:  

Tony and Carol are spelunkers keen to explore caves. Carol descended a shaft which suddenly narrowed at the bottom trapping her when she foolishly tried to wiggle through. Tony is unable to pull her out. Along comes another, more experienced spelunker, who knows where the entrance to the vast cavern opening beneath her is. Ideally, he should go in and push her up so Tony can haul her out. Trouble is the newcomer also knows what lives in the cavern.

Review:

The unnamed rescuer happens to be an arachnophobe. Normally, this isn’t much of a problem because the pickings for cave spiders are slim, which tends to keep the numbers down. This particular pit, however, attracts any number of small critters which tend to slide and fall into the cavern below, which in turn attracts assorted bugs, providing food not just for typical cave spiders but also species found on the surface. I have no idea if this is credible, but it doesn’t matter. Easily acceptable premise for the sake of the story.

Given that most people dislike spiders (which are actually very useful beasties), this story offers ample opportunity to creep the heck out of the reader. One very quickly feels concern for both Carol and her would-be rescuer. Especially since Watkins evokes the true-life fate of Floyd Collins, a spelunker trapped in a similar situation in 1925. For a while, people could get to him, including a reporter who interviewed him and won a Pulitzer prize for his news coverage, but rock falls put an end to supplying food and water, though voice communication remained possible. It took Floyd over two weeks to die, just three days before the rescue shaft being dug reached his body. Most of this is not described in the story, but to those familiar with his fate the mere mention of him sends shivers down your spine.

This is a very shivery story. Watkins adds layer upon layer of fear and anticipatory dread as the hero works his way towards Carol. The detailed description of the environs of the cave, and its numerous inhabitants, only add to the horror. Towards the end the reader is rooting for the rescuer to turn tail and run, never mind the damsel in distress. A dragon is one thing, but a cave full of spiders? Forget it. The actual ending is psychologically valid and just as frightening as the story leading up to it.

I once was led over a mile through a cave in Yucatan. Being a tourist site, it was reasonably well lit, and I didn’t see any evidence of spiders. However, do I aspire to be a spelunker exploring a newly-discovered cave for the first time? Having read this story, I would say absolutely not! I’ll wait for the National Geographic special, thank you very much. This be one darn creepy story.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches – by Danger Slater

Premise:

The pitch involves an ancient board game found inscribed on a deep South African Mine.

Review:  

The basic pitch is targeted at a particular producer/director whose films have earned billions, and suggests an equally profitable actor as the hero. Big budget action adventures are being spoofed here. Trouble is, though silly and idiotic, the concept proposed isn’t all that different from standard fare. Mildly amusing satire which puts me in mind of the old National Lampoon Magazine, which is to say, worth a chuckle or two. The film industry is like the current political scene, so darkly weird it is difficult to make fun of.

Circle of Lias – by Lawrence C. Connolly

Premise:

Sam Fric drove all the way to Coal Hollow for a job interview but it didn’t go well. He brought his wife and daughter with him, and they are not pleased how it went. All he wants to do is get a good night’s sleep at the Inn but daughter Cloe wants a honey bun snack and her mother insists he go out and get some. Even though it’s midnight, Sam trudges a short distance down the highway to the 711.

Review:

Coal Hollow is a mighty small place. And very dark. Seems there’s a religious event going on. At first I was hoping for something Lovecraftian, but it is more like a satire of a small-town sect combined with your typical self-help programs of the sort business men get enthusiastic about. Excessively chipper and gung-ho, you might say.

However, what happens to Sam is decidedly not funny. He has to get out of town fast as he believes he has been falsely implicated in a horrific crime. The real horror lies in being innocent yet hunted by the police with no where to turn for help; he might even get lynched by the townsfolk. How to get back to his family and take them to safety? It’s like jumping feet first into quicksand; everything he does drags him deeper and deeper into his personal maelstrom of fear and panic. If you’ve ever driven into a small town and the atmosphere doesn’t feel quite right, this story will get under your skin.

It has something of the structure of a comedy of errors, though in this case it be a comedy of terrors. I suspect the basic message is that paranoia is very, very bad for you. Sam makes some rotten choices dictated by his rising level of panic, but it is difficult for the reader to decide what he should have done instead. The most terrifying thing about this story is the overwhelming atmosphere of helplessness.

To sum up, tales of this kind, be they stories, books or films, explain why many people feel safer living in a big city than they do visiting a small town.

Jacques – (Comic) by Eddie Generous with art by Tovansakura

Premise:

Two fitness experts are driving to an isolated farm to see how the owner has done with the energy supplement they’ve been sending him. Has he bulked up or no?

Review:

Bit of an in-joke regarding a certain energy drink. I’m not sure I completely buy the premise but it is a striking example of actions having consequences which can be made worse if you are held accountable. The art is relatively simple but extraordinarily effective, being both cinematic and crisp and pure in its reduction to essentials. Am quite taken by the art. It considerably enhances the story.

It Gets Blacker – by H. Pueyo

Premise:

A teenage girl is used to being slapped around and abused by her casual sex partners. Bruises are normal. But this last time the bruises are black, and they’re not fading. They seem to be spreading.

Review:  

Hard for me to interpret this unpleasant short story. Is the girl some kind of masochist? Seeking bad sex as punishment out of self-loathing? Or is she a pathetically unlucky lost soul desperately seeking love and acceptance but constantly finding only degradation and cruelty? What do the black bruises signify? Guilt? Sin? Remorseless fate? Or some perverse sort of accomplishment? A negative blessing? Hell on Earth? I can’t figure out how to react.

I assume the point of the story is that the emotional stain so surreally described is the living reality for millions of young women world-wide. A useful reminder that the mental turmoil of many a teenager and/or street kid is far darker and soul destroying than the usual advice “You’re just going through a phase—you’ll grow out of it” would suggest. Alas, the title is an oracle for far too many young people. An important story that reveals much about one of the worst social problems of our time, but quite depressing to read. Most wake-up calls are, I guess. This one has a certain dark poetry to it. A prose poem. A grim one.

Black Brothel: Haunted Holes – by Renee Miller

Premise:  

Mary is a prostitute. Her last customer was torn to pieces while having sex with her. Mary didn’t see a thing. The police are not pleased. Barbara, the Madam of the brothel, is even less pleased. Feels they should have handled the aftermath on their own. Too much attention and the ghosts might get upset.

Review:

A banner across the title of this issue reads “Now with Sexy Stuff!” I assume it refers to this story in particular. To be sure, it includes sex, graphic, explicit sex, but there’s nothing erotic about it. Straightforward porn, really. As a story it deals with a variation of the hoariest (is that a pun?) psychological sex cliché in the history of obsessive thinking about sex. Allegedly one of men’s worst fears, though to my knowledge I’ve never met anyone who has that particular monster in their Id. I guess I should award the author full marks for guts for tackling a subject that borders on an absolute taboo. Apart from its use in pop psychology, usually for the sake of a joke, it is not, as far as I’m aware, a common theme in literature. Mind you the cliché is not evoked here by literal description of what the monster is, but rather by where it hides and what it does. It amounts to the same thing. A variation, yes, but speaking to the same primal fear.

At any rate, sex has never turned my crank in film or literature, I prefer concept-driven fiction that triggers my sense of wonder. This isn’t it.

Gutsy of Eddie to publish this. Not something I would publish. It does have elements of humour, but not enough to entertain me. For all I know this bleak view of sex may be normal for horror fiction, maybe normal for literary fiction these days, such that it will be perceived as a clever and witty parody. To me it is the kind of thing I prefer to avoid reading. I don’t find it uplifting (pun not intended) but instead rather depressing. Seems to be something of an experiment on Eddie’s part in order to get the magazine to stand out (I swear, no pun intended) from the competition. I think of it as an attempt to appeal to a niche market. Maybe it has enormous potential and I’m just being a prude. Maybe readers of this column are tired of me going on and on about it and why don’t I just say I don’t like the story and leave it at that?

Thing is as a story it is well written. The author is a woman. Can’t help but wonder what other women will think of it. Will they identify or empathise with Mary? She certainly has an unusual problem. Handles it fairly well, all things considered. From a prostitute’s point of view, maybe it’s just another nuisance associated with the trade. The story is powerful in that it raises all sorts of questions and judgements in the mind of the reader. I’ll give it that.

I’ll shut up now.

A Friend in Paga – by Brent Michael Kelley

Premise:  

An alien being arrives and demands sacrifice on the part of every human being, beginning with a ritual cannibal feast involving a family member. And then things get worse.

Review:

Sleep is when everyone is at their most vulnerable for it is when the Paga imposes dreams terrifying beyond measure. Consequently, sleep deprivation is the common lot of mankind. Except for the main character, who has figured out how to get a trouble-free, effortless night’s rest. This makes him very popular. Lots of people want to be his friend. Lots of people want to know his secret. And he is more than willing to share. In fact this is his purpose in life. It keeps him sane.

In my opinion the underlying concept is highly original, at least in my experience. Could be a metaphor for our relationship with modern society and civilization and the price and penalties we pay in exchange for permission to survive, but you don’t have to think in those terms to appreciate the story, especially if you habitually suffer from insomnia. Pretty scary stuff.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches – by Danger Slater

Premise:  

Another pitch to a Hollywood big name, in this case a major movie star. The pitch is aimed at recovering from a recent flop of his, recovering to the point of a brand new and potentially profitable movie franchise.

Review:

Story begins with commentary on how short many movie actors are in real life. The particular focus in this story is a leading man only 10 inches tall. Okay. Now we know we are in lampoon territory. A couple of sex jokes seem a bit juvenile but I guess are par for the course for this sort of thing. Overall, it is reasonably amusing and a nice contrast to the grimmer stories in this issue.

NON-FICTION:

Keyed in on the Scary Things – by Richard Chizmar

Premise:  

First scared as a very young child.

Review:

First of three articles by assorted professionals as to what first scared them. This one is but two short paragraphs, so difficult to review. Several “fright” examples are given. I can definitely see how the first one noted would scare a child, any child.

I Couldn’t Talk to Anyone about the Nightmares – by Cat Rambo

Premise:  

Cat was such a precocious reader that she was allowed to take out adult books from the library at a very young age.

Review:

Again, very short article. I’ll just say I envy her reading at a very young age the books which frightened her. Equivalent to the delicious thrills I experienced watching the Shock Theatre broadcasts alone circa seven and eight years of age.

Spooky as Hell – by Daniel Kraus

Premise:  

At the age of five or six Kraus was scared by an episode of a TV program .

Review:

Both the episode and the program are fondly remembered by everyone who watched the series. Once you learn its identity you’ll have no problem believing this is what inspired Kraus to pursue genre interests and ultimately a career.

Too Stubborn to Quit – by Eddie Generous

Premise:  

First of a series (apparently) offering advice to writers.

Review:

This is excellent. We learn that Eddie acquired more than a thousand rejection slips and used to think it most unfair that slush pile readers don’t read stories through to an end. Now that he has edited 12 issues of Unnerving he has changed his mind.

Seems he gets between 275 to 350 submissions every time he’s open. My Polar Borealis only gets about 100. Makes sense, though, as I am open only to Canadian writers whereas Unnerving accepts submissions from anyone anywhere. It is my policy to quickly read every story from beginning to end to get the gist of what they are all about, assigning “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “No” according to my initial impression, and then go back over the “Yes” choices in detail to see if my initial impression is correct and they are worthy of being published. If I don’t have enough “Yes” choices, I take another look at the “Maybe” stories. Most editors will tell you this is insane, a complete waste of time.

Eddie doesn’t believe in wasting time. He doesn’t read to the end of every story. He doesn’t even bother to read to the end of the first page. Often the first sentence is clumsy enough to trigger automatic rejection. The writer has, at best, one or two opening paragraphs to convince Eddie it might be worth his while to read further.

This revelation may hit some readers like a hard slap to the face. Face it, folks, almost no one functions the way I do as an editor. I am willing to tolerate a boring info dump as setup at the beginning, a common flaw, because I know it can be cut. The story doesn’t start where the action does? No problem. This can be fixed.

Most editors can’t afford to waste time thinking through the faults of a story and how to salvage it. As writers, you have to face the fact you only get one chance, because there are simply too damn many of you and if you don’t impress the editor with your opening you are automatically rejected. Editors prefer writers who know how to intrigue the reader, any reader, with the opening sentence or two. That’s the harsh reality.

Fortunately, Eddie provides four striking examples, each one different in approach, and discusses them in detail. He makes it clear there is more than one way to compose an intriguing opening and therefore it’s not a matter of following a magic formula so much as giving free reign to your creativity and imagination. An upbeat message to my mind. Optimistic.

This essay by itself is worth the price of the issue. I look forward to more columns from Eddie on the topic of maximising your chances of making a sale. He knows what he is talking about.

Cancer and Creativity – an Interview with William Meikle

Premise:

Meikle is a prolific writer of horror and action-fantasy fiction. Cancer temporarily halted his productivity.

Review:

Meikle details how real life horror took the wind out of his sails for a while, and how he is slowly getting back to his old imaginative self, slowly building up speed as an author. I should think other writers would be most interested in reading this.

Book Reviews – by Eddie Generous, Ben Walker, and Valerie

Premise:  

Seven reviews of horror novels and anthologies.

Review:

Short but suitably descriptive reviews. All are interesting, but as I am not much of a horror fan they don’t strike me as “must haves.” However, must admit The Big Book of Blasphemy sounds intriguing, and Creatures of Canada: A Darkling around the World like something maybe I should review. In fact, there are quite a few colour ads throughout the issue promoting various books, some of them by Eddie Generous, so I’m thinking Unnerving is a good source of possible review material. Something I’ll keep in mind as time goes on.

CONCLUSION:

In his editorial Eddie reveals his desire to make Unnerving appealingly different so that it will survive in a field where magazines come and go like Mayflies. He wants a wider readership. The contents of this issue reflect that. As he puts it “I know, shame on me for wanting to publish the suspenseful, the outrageous, the humorous, even when I know the literary horror establishment will never reward me for it … but I have a hunch about horror readers … From what I can tell it’s looking like they aren’t always digging what’s being fed to them, and for those people I present Unnerving Magazine issue #12.”

I have to admit, Unnerving always surprises me. I never know what to expect. There’s always at least one story I find personally unsettling (I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked!) and several stories that are genuinely scary and creepy. My own range in horror interest, tending toward the Lovecraftian, is somewhat limited. Reading Unnerving expands my horizon. It is an excellent horror magazine. If the horror genre is your primary interest, or even just one of many, I think you will agree. Definitely worth reading. Eddie likes to take chances. As a reader, so should you.

Check it out at: < Unnerving >

 

 

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