CLUBHOUSE: Review: Unnerving Magazine #13

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

UNNERVING MAGAZINE issue #13.

Published in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada.

Publisher and Editor: Eddie Generous

Cover Art: Eddie Generous

FICTION:

Rock’em Sock’em Spam-Bots – by Adam Howe

Premise:

Reggie is a bouncer at The Henhouse, a strip-club in a small town. It’s a dull, painful night. Dull because there’s only one customer. Painful because Walt, the club owner, is singing, and he can’t sing. Then Ned comes through the door with urgent news. There’s trouble at the Cannery.

Review:

Since the author is a former bouncer I have to believe there’s some veracity underlying the characters and description of club ambience. But the level of humour is so broad it falls within the technique of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story.  Consequently, the only question that springs to my mind is … is it a good story?

Well, no, but it could be described as an amusing vignette. The “slam-bam” style of action and humour is well-represented by the title. If you are in the right mood you will be amused. It reads like a parody of several genres of movies, including mysteries, horror, and science fiction. Problem is, the bouncer himself explains each reference to the reader. I suppose because this adds to the sense of “tall tale shenanigans” but as a narrative technique I consider it self-defeating. Unless one accepts the premise that a strip club bouncer automatically interprets even the most dire and threatening situations in terms of what he has seen in movies. Could be. I have met people who judge their lives according to expectations raised by films and/or fiction they’ve read. Not a good survival strategy in my opinion, but I could be wrong.

It is a straightforward “action” story. Nothing complex in the story arc. Nothing unexpected in the ending. Not really the point, actually. It is one of those “go along for the ride” stories. In a sense, very much like watching an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. If you enjoy it, you’ll enjoy it. It’s that simple.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches – by Danger Slater

Premise:  

Danger pitches a film idea to Ari Aster, writer/director of Midsommar.

Review:  

Superficially, a shallow, crass idea unworthy of Aster’s attention. In reality, a sly “dig” or critique of a film that got a lot of critical acclaim but may not be quite as original as some assume. I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard enough about Midsommar to appreciate the relatively subtle humour involved (relatively subtle compared to the humour in Rock’em Sock’em Spam-bots) in this “review.” These “Failed Film Pitch” stories, a recurring feature in Unnerving, are a refreshingly original approach to presenting film reviews.

That Rambling, Shambling Password Man – by John Waterfall

Premise:

The abusive husband is dead. What comes out of his computer monitor isn’t him, and yet it’s the totality of him way beyond what he was when he was alive.

Review:

If you are literal-minded the premise of this story is totally unbelievable. Doesn’t matter. It is a powerful metaphor for the persistence of memory in a failed relationship. As such the Password Man character is an ingenious and clever construct perfectly encapsulating the overwhelming complexity and emotional vampirism years of abuse conjure up in the mind of the victim. It demonstrates why confronting the past isn’t so much cathartic as extremely dangerous, as Genny, the former wife, quickly discovers. However, the manner in which she fights back is also ingenious, and, even better, entirely relevant to the nature of the threat. I think this is a brilliant story, one that is remarkably well thought-out. Only two pages, yet packs in a great deal of sophisticated and impactful detail. I’m impressed.

The Mermaid’s Purse – by Em Dehaney

Premise:

A young boy, grade-school age, finds a shark egg-sack in a tidal pool and brings it home to raise as a pet. He dare not tell his abusive mother.

Review:

Looking after a pet shark properly in a cramped, rundown apartment without the mother noticing is a tad unrealistic, just from the logistical viewpoint alone. Such superficial concerns are addressed, but on the face of it, not very credibly. Doesn’t matter. For a number of reasons that the story makes quite clear. I’ll discuss only one.

The story is told from the child’s point of view. This is a boy, being reared in a cheerless, loveless environment, desperately seeking a friend, in this case a pet, something to love and be loved by in return. A shark is not a good choice of pet for someone seeking affection. This doesn’t even enter the boy’s mind. With a child’s sense of logic, he cares for his pet in as responsible and compassionate a sense of duty as he can imagine, all the while interpreting his task in light of his own despairing fantasy.

I still remember a few instances of doing this sort of thing as a child myself, in terms of the logic I employed. I can remember running away from home to explore the world, armed with a broken hockey stick “sword” and a garbage can lid “shield” to deal with any monsters I might meet on the way. It all seemed perfectly logical and realistic to me at the time. A child’s logic is very “real” to the child. Having these memories, I find it easy to identify with the character’s “fantasy” logic and accept it, and thus the basis of the story, as credible.

Fortunately for me, I did not experience a loveless, abusive childhood. It is the rock-solid reality of the character’s fantasy logic that binds me to him and to the story. I can identify with his pain. I can understand what he thinks he is doing.

This is a horror story, and the ending is truly horrific on several levels, all the more so since it is experienced through the “innocence” of a child’s mind. I tend to prefer Lovecraftian horror fiction (which is safely removed from reality) and tend to avoid psychological horror that borders on reality, and especially tend to avoid horror stories that involve children (even though I’ve published one in my magazine Polar BorealisThe Lonely Mr. Fish by Lily Author/Blaze in issue #7—a story which reduced me to tears when I first read it), but I have to admit this is a really, really good horror story.

The ending took me aback, and my immediate impression was that it was way over the top, but on further reflection I realized it was entirely consistent with what had actually been going on throughout. This horror story, extremely well done in conception and execution, is a model beginning-writers would do well to analyse and emulate. So, even though it seemed a bit silly at first, this story ultimately struck me as powerful and insightful. Again, I am impressed.

(The story features a great closing line, by the way. Superb, in fact. Sums up the story perfectly.)

Black Brothel: Part 2, Bloody Bachelor – by Renee Miller

Premise:

Mary is a professional prostitute in a brothel that is unusually accommodating to paying customers. Playing Eve in a theatrical orgy is par for the course. The three uninvited guests who show-up mid-orgy quickly make it clear they are not following the script.

Review:  

Starts off with hard-core sex which is, of course, ho hum to the main character. Just business as usual. The three strangers, and their actions, put the story firmly in the horror category, albeit one with an unexpected twist. Horror violence can be off-putting to some (in which case what are they doing reading Unnerving? Are they masochists?) Hard-core sex (description thereof I mean—most people enjoy having sex), not so much. Hopefully, most readers understand this is an adult magazine and not something meant for children, or innocent adults (if there is such a thing). From a writer’s point of view (and presumably the reader’s point of view), writing an ongoing series of horror stories whose main character works in a brothel is an interesting challenge. Both the story in a previous issue dealing with a haunted vagina, and this one, get full marks for guts, I’d say. (Some sort of pun possibly intended.) I look forward to what Renee Miller comes up with next.

However, I’m a little bit unsure and doubtful about the ending. If it is the end of a stand-alone story, I find it disappointing as it offers no conclusion or resolution. A story that sets up the conflict and then leaves it to the imagination of the reader to tell the rest of the story doesn’t strike me as much of a story. After all, by itself the opening act of a three-act play is not the equivalent of a one-act play, but something incomplete and a trifle annoying. So, if it is meant to be a stand-alone story it is good as far as it goes but doesn’t go all the way, so to speak. (Another vaguely pun-ish comment, I suppose.) Less than satisfying.

Then again, maybe it will continue in the as-yet-to-be-published ‘part 3.” Somehow I doubt it. Doesn’t feel like the kind of story that needs to be serialized. If it is a stand-alone I guess it could be viewed as a vignette offering the reader a “what if you were the character?” either/or choice to make at the end, as if it were a puzzle or piece of interactive fiction. If so, it doesn’t quite work for me. I would have preferred Mary herself coming up with a totally unexpected but ingenious solution, something that wouldn’t occur to me in a million years. In sum, I was eager to rely on the author’s imagination. Having to rely on my own is a bit of a letdown.

Sure, there is such a thing as an open-ended story, a device that can be used to stimulate new and insightful ideas. This technique can produce wonderfully thought-provoking fiction. In this case, however, my only thought was “Is that all there is?” I was left feeling vaguely cheated. Had I been able to read “to be continued” I would have felt better.

Perhaps Renee is suggesting there is NO acceptable means to resolve Mary’s conundrum, no matter how jaded and amoral Mary may be. In the character’s own mind, damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Maybe that’s the point of the story. I confess I don’t know.

July 14   – by Stacy Cotton

Premise:   

Teddy Bulpitt ships off to war in July of 1916. His secret girlfriend Jamie Nixon (secret because her parents would kill him if they found out) is prepared to wait for his return no matter how long it takes. Trouble is, he is killed during the battle of Flers on September 16th of that year. Most troubling of all, he comes home in 1920.

Review:

Since America didn’t declare war on Germany until 6th April, 2017, and the battle of Flers-Courcelette (September 15 to 22,  2016) cost the two Canadian Divisions participating 24,000 men killed and wounded, it can safely be assumed the characters in the story are Canadian, even though they live near a swamp and their religious beliefs seem vaguely reminiscent of Southern evangelical or some such. I point this out because I suspect American readers might not “get” that the story takes place in Canada.

The fact that the lover returns is not a spoiler. The over-the-top yet intriguingly original take on how Jamie and the community react to his homecoming is where the strength and impact of this story can be found. The premise, like most horror stories, is essentially ridiculous, but if, for the sake of the story, you accept the premise, then I would say the direction Stacy takes her story is rather remarkable. It makes for what would be an incredibly visual resolution in a gory movie, yet the expectations leading up to it are genuinely plausible, if unexpected,  within the context of the premise. It works. It shouldn’t, but it works. Another “full marks for guts” story.

I could quibble and claim that it doesn’t quite succeed as a “family gets punished for standing in the way of true love” story but that would be reading too much into it. I’ll just call it a “star-crossed lovers tale” with a shock value coming at you from an unusual angle you probably didn’t anticipate. That makes it a successful story in my opinion.

I’ll admit it does have an EC Comics retribution flavour to it, a moral fable if you will, but that’s all part of the fun. I don’t normally equate gore with fun, but the underlying originality quotient is so high I feel it IS fun. It may be you will read the story and decide I must be insane. Fact is I love concept-driven stories and the concept entertained by the villagers strikes me as so outrageous as to be hilarious, despite the consequential violence. I’m funny that way. I love quirky, offbeat stuff, especially when it is new to me. I like this story. Your taste may differ.

In truth, some readers may find this story almost unbearably grim and sordid, to the point of being creeped out by it. That, too, would make it a successful horror story. But the elements that might create that impression I’ve simply ignored because I’m overwhelmingly delighted with the sheer chutzpah of a particular concept woven into the story. Okay, maybe that makes me a shallow reader and a shallow critic. Could be I’m just easily amused. After all, I’m still fond of “The Three Stooges meet Hercules.” What other literary critic do you know who can make that claim? I is what I is.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches   – by Danger Slater

Premise:   

Danger makes a pitch at Disney studios.

Review:

The pitch involves an unusual reboot of 1,001 Dalmatians.  This time around Cruella more than lives up to her name. Creepy and amusing at the same time. In horror, what passes for light-hearted fun.

NON-FICTION:

Ooh, Spooky Movie – with Kathe Koja

Premise:  

The first movie to terrify a young girl who ultimately became a writer and film director.

Review:

Even a low-budget horror movie can deliver one of life’s vital lessons.

Too Stubborn to Quit  – by Eddie Generous

Premise:  

Eddie offers advice on how to finish the novel you’re working on.

Review:

Eddie begins by saying “Last issue I talked about opening stories with strong, inviting sentences, this time I’m going to focus on something a little bigger, and maybe a little bit more important.” Exactly. How to finish a novel. Every bit of advice Eddie offers in this article is 100% valid. You can’t afford to ignore any of it. It’s very good advice.

I’ll add one of my own. Writers think too much. Accepting that is a given, don’t waste your time mulling over your doubts. Instead, devote the insane energy of your obsessive thinking solely to the task of writing. Your novel will get done much quicker that way.

No Business Reading Something That Adult – with Leslie Lutz

Premise:

Leslie Lutz, a horror author who likes “to tell stories that challenge stereotypes about forgotten people” owes everything to a particular story she read when she was twelve.

Review:

Apparently experiencing extreme fear and dread at a young age can be quite educational, not to say inspiring.

Reviews – by Eddie Generous, Valerie Lester, and Ben Walker.

Premise:  

Six books are reviewed: The Bank – by Bentley Little, Seven Cleopatra Hill – by Justin Holley, A Face Without a Heart – by Rick R Reed, Survivor Song – by Paul Tremblay, Weird Dream Society (anthology) – edited by Julie C. Day, and The Best of Both Worlds – by S.P. Miskowski.

Review:

All are concise, quite succinct and to-the-point one-paragraph reviews. What criticism there is tends to focus on characterization problems and flaws. Leaves the impression that nifty concepts and vivid, not to say gory, action come more easily to horror writers than appropriate levels of characterization. A gross oversimplification on my part, of course. Still, I wonder.

Basically Sex Education for Me – an Interview with J. Ashley-Smith

Premise:  

Second-hand adult horror novels purchased circa age of twelve seems to have been the source-inspiration for this author.

Review:

Good old “sex-filled gory stuff” definitely triggers a young teenager’s interest in adopting reading as a pastime. If that is indeed the purpose of grade school education, school boards might be wise to reconsider their reading lists for students. Forget Homer. Clive Barker springs to mind.

Where to Start: Self-Publishing – an interview with J. Thorn.

Review:

The author says little. Most of the article involves comments expanding on what the author has said. Still, all valid points. The core of the article is the idea that writers who chose to be self-publishers must also choose to be small business-operators or they’ll never find their readers. Somewhat discouraging if you are the laid-back type who mistakenly believes you have but to publish and adoring fans will come out of the woodwork. Potentially inspiring for writers with gung-ho attitude keen on doing what it takes to build readership to profitable levels.

CONCLUSION:

This issue a good mix of fun and creepiness, with some first class writing. Eddie Generous puts out a good magazine. Not everything will be to your taste, perhaps, but I guarantee you’ll find much of it entertaining and all of it interesting. Unnerving has reached 13 issues. I suspect it has found its readership by now. I expect it will be around far into the foreseeable future. Since I discovered it, I never miss an issue. Since I’m not really a horror fan, that says a lot for the quality of its content. Always something good. Sometimes surpassingly good.

Check it out at:  < Unnerving >

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