Poem – “A Fortunate Purge”

A Fortunate Purge

No more sewage clogs the valve
Incorporated Hades of garbage
The underbelly of the empty mall

I was the only one alive that night
The bandaged sandman stalked me
Through the court of rotten sausage
I can smell everyone that died here

Forbidden curse or fortunate purge?
Plastic entangles my twisted ankles
And I fall… fall into burning garbage
The underbelly veiled by neon lies,
Blue powder and simulated diamonds

No more humans clog the valve
Incinerated Hades, brainless body
Skeleton beneath the empty mall

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Poem – “The Unsacred Water”

The Unsacred Water

Submerged, the stained-glass chapel
A locked coffin brimming with dead roses
The skulls of the damned tower high
While the sacramental pool stagnates –
The unsacred water birthing bacteria,
Mitosis, evolution and eventually
Bloodborne plague

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Book Review – The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits by Matthew Meyer

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Full Title: The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits – An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic
Genre: Mythology / Dark Fantasy
Publication Date: June 1st, 2015
Publisher: Independent

Don’t ever practice demonic rituals without the guidance of an expert, kids.

The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits is a sequel to Meyer’s yokai encyclopedia, this time delving into more occult aspects of Japanese mythology, such as curse and blessing practices, ideas of hell and heaven, and particularly infamous phantoms. Unlike your standard run-of-the-mill yokai, have the misfortune to come across one of these and you’re pretty much screwed.

There is an entire section on my homeland… I mean, a horrific place I’d never heard of and certainly don’t own a summer home there – Jigoku.
You could call Jigoku the Japanese equivalent to Hell in western religion, and is heavily intertwined with Buddhist philosophies. Descriptions of Jigoku make Dante’s Inferno look like a jolly walk through the park. Like Dante’s Hell or perhaps a foul-tasting but elaborate cake, Jigoku is made up of increasingly unpalatable layers of suffering.

“Mugen Jigoku, the hell of uninterrupted suffering, is the eighth and deepest circle of hell. […] The souls down here are so hungry and thirsty that they tear apart their own bodies and drink their own blood in a useless attempt to ease their suffering. Words literally cannot describe how awful this hell is; if Mugen Jigoku were ever accurately described, both the reader and the writer would die from the sheer horror of it.”

Ushi no toki mairi is a pretty notorious ritual this book talks about in-depth. I knew about it before, but did NOT know how bad the implications of it were. It shows up in a lot of classical Japanese art as well as manga and anime – if you’ve read anything by Junji Ito, you’ll probably know his character Souichi, whose signature is the ringlet of candles and nails associated with the practice. I found the similarity to voodoo fascinating.

That’s just touching on a few strong points, really the whole thing is full of interesting curiosities and superstitions.
Unlike Meyer’s previous yokai book, probably not as many people are aware of these parts of Japanese myth and ancient religion. This is also an especially cool and professional book, and it’s not once boring. Meyer also created paintings for each entry, all of which are great.
Sadly, as I mentioned in my review of The Night Parade, these can be hard to come by in physical print. You can still get eBooks readily, but this is the sort of book the coffee-table format is made for.

Book Review – The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons by Matthew Meyer

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Full Title: The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons – A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai
Genre: Mythology / Dark Fantasy
Publication Date: March 1st, 2012
Publisher: Independent

Remember, phantoms are more scared of you than you are of them. Well, except in the many cases in which they aren’t. In which, tough luck!
Yokai are “ghosts” from Japanese mythology. I say “ghosts” in “quotes” because the meaning of yokai can be rather vague, and can extend to monsters, human ghosts, animal spirits, cryptids, demons and more tangible curses alike. They range from adorable and welcome in the household, to elusive and oddball, to violent and vindictive should you dare to seek them at the crossroads.

There is a yokai for every niche, anxiety and injustice you can blurt out. Pick out a nightmare you remember some imagery from, and there’ll be a yokai to match it.
My personal favourite is the bloodthirsty tree, Jubokko. I also enjoy the company of Jikininki, but find craving fresh humans to eat for all eternity to be a melancholy way to exist. Every time I talk to one, I’m grateful that cannibalism is a choice rather than a necessity for most people.

I’m also rather fond of the Nuppeppo just because its history is weird, to say the least. The Nuppeppo is essentially a great stinking wad of unused human-like meat and there is more than one recorded case in history of people coming into contact with it. Supposedly if you can catch it and cook it, it and will make you live forever.
If you could stomach the rotting, slithery mess… Ugh, nevermind. No thanks.

I have to say, a comprehensive book on yokai was much needed and The Night Parade is exceptionally awesome. As rich as the source material is, there is a surprising barrenness of solid Japanese mythology books in English.
The effort and talent that went into this guide is phenomenal. It’s organized, heavily researched and the author’s paintings are crisp and beautiful. Unleaded creative fuel.
I’ll always favour the visuals in books like this, but Meyer’s artwork really is cool. I didn’t even realize they were digital pieces until it was mentioned.
Some of the more obscure yokai you can’t actually find creative interpretations of anywhere, even in classical paintings.

It’s depressing that The Night Parade is hard to find in print. A vibrant, colourful collection such as this ought to be in physical print. It’s still on Kindle though, so not all is lost.

Poems – “The Devil’s Laughter” / “Yearn”

I had nearly finished a delicious in-depth article dissecting themes of cannibalism in fiction and why it disturbs people, that was scheduled for today. Apparently it got eaten. So here are some poems instead.

The Devil’s Laughter

The mad boar usurps the knife
Methane and dried blood compose the earth
Hot, weary, malignant dreams of falling

Falling through flame, falling from grace
Blood pulses in the forest’s untapped vein
Whose is it? The torturer’s or the tortured?

The butterfly of two larvae, one ideology
Rapier sinks into skin, but further into psyche
Primal shriek becomes the devil’s laughter

Yearn

Always the same red, blue, black face
I recognize you even under your mirror
Indescribable envy of a lover lost,
I can sense where he lingers in your eye

You blessed your love with bony knuckles,
Traded it for a monster to kiss your feet

How disheartening it is for you to fake tears
When you held paradise and crushed it

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Poem – “In the Oil”

In the Oil

For a time I am symbiotic with the oil
The grease is my flesh and I am the meat
A limbless monstrosity,
She who swims in the residue of gold
For a time I am drowning in glyceride

My heart lies a cooked mess in slimy ribs
Rabid dogs will covet them from afar,
In fear of the burning oasis of liquid fat
The dragon who swims in residue of gold
Losing scales of human in the sea of glyceride

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Book Review – Carrie by Stephen King

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Fiction
Publication Date: April 5th, 1974
Publisher: Doubleday

“The low bird is not picked tenderly out of the dust by its fellows; rather, it is dispatched quickly and without mercy.”

You know Carrie. I know Carrie. Carrie has had enough of being the weakling bird, so she becomes the phoenix, out of blood rather than ashes.

There are many others before me who have had the chance to say it better, but if it isn’t a powerful allegory for cruelty towards young women, I don’t know what is. Zealotry and fundamentalism throwing punches with one hand as Carrie’s mother, and peers throwing punches with the other. I can’t blame her for her miniature apocalypse.
What’s so grotesque is that Carrie’s classmates have all gone through the same period. Surely some were at embarrassing times, surely. But yet they are so merciless to her as to treat her like a circus freak.

Coming from someone who’s recently left that weird, enclosed world – the godawful, always unspoken dynamic that seemed to go on in school, it never changes. All so important at the time but seems so pointless when you leave. There’s always someone it was worse for, that you wonder about.

The prose is pretty straightforward but yet you can feel Carrie’s humiliation tangibly, her dread and anger. She’s not alone in being a tragedy, though. Most of the female characters when alone and at most candid, have something horrible driving them – Sue’s misfired attempt to help Carrie that causes her stigma and trauma for years, Chris’s abusive boyfriend combined with her petty need for revenge. You could even call Carrie’s mother tragic – there’s something disturbed churning in the head of anyone who behaves like that thinking it’s pious, but the reader’s never sure what it is. She never wanted poor Carrie, that much is obvious.

Carrie is not in my opinion, Stephen King’s best novel. There are rough edges and the format kind of spoils its own plot. Worth reading of course, but has more of a human tragedy feel than a “scary” atmosphere. I have a huge admiration for Carrie anyway because it brought light to so much other fiction of the time wouldn’t touch. Typical horror, being the brave genre knowing no one will give it the credit it deserves.

The Transience of Survival Horror

Be prepared. This is more of a meandering enigma I wish to solve than a real observation, but why is the survival horror genre so rare in video games? I wouldn’t call it an unpopular genre, not with all the zombies gnashing thick bundles of brain everywhere. You can find a plenitude of survival horror books and films in both zombie and non-zombie flavours. So why not games? Nobody seems to make them often anymore, and the older ones developers made have become impossible to get, or were a rarity in the first place.

Continue reading “The Transience of Survival Horror”

Poem – “Last Dreamtime”

Last Dreamtime

Sap of blood spun from your branches,
Mother of the vanishing dreamers,
Take me far from here where I shall suffer forever
Mother of the fluid blossom, take me home
I know there are no sacred houses in your hour
And I will be safe from the human judgment
Mother of delusion, there is no organic pain with you
Never more shall I feel my intestine, slowly dying
Struggling to be free from a body of anxiety

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Book Review – Eden by Michael Robertson

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic / Horror
Publication Date: September 27th, 2014
Publisher: Independent

“They’ve more than coped. They’ve thrived. Who’d have thought that the next evolutionary step for humankind would be to take away our ability to think? Remove our ego, and we stop destroying one another.”

Eden is a pair of twin stories, “Eden” and “Pandora”. In both, the dead live again but incomplete, trapped in a sleepless state of blind hunger by a virus or else a curse. Eden stands out as different because here, existence as a zombie is seen for how undeniably tragic it is. Thought-provoking and bleak, it might be beautiful poetry if it didn’t involve eating the human you used to be.
I’m not normally a huge fan of zombie books but I enjoy them if they are unusual or fresh, and this short novella does a good job of that for being a read of only an hour or so.

“Eden” is the stronger short, being about a father and son living, or shall we say surviving in a government containment center, left to watch the remnants of their desolate world die through screens alone. They note that it seems disturbingly peaceful now compared to how it used to be, which carries a lot of terrible implications for them now that they seem to be worse off than the undead. This is definitely the better of the two stories, and you grow surprisingly close to the son, Mark, and his predicament as he begins to see less and less light from his future.

“Pandora” is confusing because it seems to start in the middle of the event, without really explaining what led to it. There is an elusive box that unleashes the undead, but why did the characters even have this, and how in the world did they get ahold of it? “Pandora” is good, but could’ve branched out. It feels like something was lost in the midst and it leaves so many questions in its trail.

Book Review – Better the Devil You Know by Bey Deckard

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Publication Date: October 1st, 2015
Publisher: Independent

Wherever the soul lies, I feel mine has been vivisected to shrivel in shame just for being familiar with this novel. I don’t even feel good about writing a review, and I write gruesome stuff for a living.
It’s pretty controversial, being banned from a handful of book outlets, notably Smashwords. Quite ironic, considering Smashwords is known for not rejecting much in any genre.

Better the Devil You Know is a straight-up Alighierian horror dressed up as an erotic romance. A knife-wielding demon in the skin of an unusually flirtatious angel, if you will.
I admire Deckard’s bravery in publishing this book, but am tortured in giving it a good rating. To say it is “disturbed” is an understatement. Calculated and extreme violence abounds.
The reason I think I liked it in spite of its gut-churning details, is because I find novels on the facets of human cruelty to be poignant and more potent than other novels.
A heartwarming book will be kind and remembered fondly now and then, but a heart-crushing book will survive time and not allow you to forget it. This one definitely won’t.

Bey Deckard is a talented writer, especially with characterization. This makes the extreme violence that much more unpleasant because the author builds a sense of sympathy for even the characters you know will die.
Well, except for the protagonist. There is no sympathy for him. I hesitate to call Byron Danielsen a “pro“tagonist, as ending up in an enclosed space with this man is a fate worse than death, but that’s what he is.

Byron is the source of the book’s controversy and discomfort, a serial killer and torturer with no emotional scale in particular. Karma won’t even touch the man with such a hostile, almost alien set of mannerisms and even when he dies and goes to Hell, the devil himself is like:
“Is this even a human being?”

The religious themes when Byron goes to Hell bothered me some. It’s very Inferno-esque, but it’s not that the themes are offensive (though they easily could be, fair warning) but that they’re not handled that well. I think in trying to steer more towards realistic fiction than paranormal, a lot of the underworld-building was handwaved away. Hell is basically like a bunch of office buildings that are perpetually on fire or otherwise buried in stone.

Better the Devil You Know is outrageous and revolting, but also a little tragic. It’s egregiously mislabeled, so much that it seems trolling – I found that it was categorized under “romance” – and is definitely more cut out for someone who like disturbing thrillers. Sure, this is emotionally strong and painful, but it is NOT a love story. Unless you consider demons posing as a man’s victims to torment him romantic.

If Better the Devil looks like something that’s up your alley, go for it. It is in all fairness a well-written and original book, but don’t say I never warned you. Graphic content abounds and I’ll note a trigger warning for torture and dark sexuality.

Book Review – Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dystopian
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: April 26th, 2011
Publisher: Vertical

What makes a human? Emotion? Fear? Intellect? Or is it just flesh?
I always hesitate before labeling a book “insane”. “Insane” doesn’t tell you anything. But… a guy gets impaled through the stomach by a toilet in this book. I’m afraid the word I need for this doesn’t exist, so I’ll have to settle for “insane”. “Pathologically brilliant” may serve as a better substitute, if you so prefer.
Somewhere in the dimension beyond where anything is offensive was this story’s birthplace. It’s a great statement about dogmatism, but the blackness of its humor has pinned open more than a few eyelids, so be prepared!

Lychee Light Club is a mad dystopian drama about a high school chess club that devolves into a death cult à la Lord of the Flies. They become obsessed with Nazi occultism and eternal youth, and don’t care who they have to blind, disembowel or execute to get it. Mostly adults and bullies they don’t like at first, then each other. No one’s really off the table.

I imagine this is what LotF might’ve been if it had had a bleak industrial setting and Roger had usurped the group instead of Jack. Club captains Zera and Jaibo are much like Roger and Jack, with their callous cruelty multiplied by ten. Kamiya and the original Light Club’s members are almost voices of reason. Almost. But they too have shed their fair share of blood.

The club’s ultimate downfall is a robot they create together to bring them this coveted eternal youth – named Lychee for the fruit used to fuel him. Lychee is made out of human bits and scrap metal, but the human in him is what becomes their undoing.
A little bit of involuntary nausea and perhaps splurging is inevitable with some of this manga’s imagery, but it’s by Furuya, so it’ll be the prettiest nausea you’ll ever get.

I don’t turn down ero-guro books as a rule if I happen to find them. They tend to be obsessive and erotic and disgusting, and kind of like force-feeding your future nightmares new material, but every one I’ve ever read has been so good. Ero-guro is above all a genre of satire and is very self-aware. Lychee Light Club is in part an affectionate parody of the controversial artist, Suehiro Maruo and his (in)famous masterpiece, The Laughing Vampire, which had a similar dystopia. Maruo even shows up in a cameo as a crazy old street prophet. Fitting..?

The Laughing Vampire… oh, I could go in circles for months about how much I enjoyed that book. It’s kind of disappointing that many readers won’t get that Light Club is an homage to it, but it’s hilarious for those who do.
This comic’s not for everyone. The foul content is top-capacity, and you probably wouldn’t be able to let your poor old obaasan borrow it, but if you’re tired of reading stable and regular manga, the Light Club’s always waiting for you.

Book Review – The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Historical Fiction
Publication Date: June 22nd, 2017
Publisher: The Asylum Emporium

“I shall devote what is left of my life to making my prison my palace. Just think of it, ladies: an asylum, by definition, ought to be a sanctuary for those who need one, and I fear I shall always need one.”

Not even the devil could envy the madwoman.
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls juxtaposes Autumn’s personal experiences in a modern mental hospital with the dark magic realism of a fictional womens’ asylum in the mid-1800s, told by an alternate Emily “with a Y”. Emilie and Emily begin to communicate through journals and letters, and find that though the façade of their fate has changed, underneath it… nothing’s gotten better.
A point needed to be made about mental healthcare for women, though it’s one that jitters the nerves of the stomach to think about too much. I believe Autumn’s succeeded, and for that you should read it.

For awhile, I was obsessed with Emilie Autumn’s music. I mean totally engrossed in dark cabaret – finding her album “Opheliac” had a massive impact on what I desired to create in life. I still love her music and I recommend that album especially.
I had heard about The Asylum and craved it desperately. It needed to become a part of my permanent cerebral library by any means necessary, but at the time it was rarer than unicorn blood and about as expensive.

By the time I’d found one of these elusive collectibles and was able to borrow one, I’d rather worn myself out on Autumn’s discography, so I think that combined with the sheer unavailability of the thing had a bad impact and I didn’t like it much. The new version, which is thankfully quite easy to find, is a thousand times improved. In a way it comes across a twisted reversal of A Little Princess, with themes of isolation and friendship in hard times.

Continue reading “Book Review – The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn”

Book Review – The Gown by Emilie Autumn

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Short Story / Horror
Publication Date: February 19th, 2018
Publisher: The Asylum Emporium

The tile of the ward is colder than death’s heart, and yet it always tries to coax us back into its arms with a lie about its nature.

A young woman is admitted to a hospital several times over her life, at first for an innocuous general visit as a teen then for her deteriorating mental and physical health as an adult. Each time one same old gown turns up, stained with the blood of a past embarrassment that seems to haunt her, an omen which only seems to serve to add insult to her injuries.

“The gown had become a staple of her wardrobe, a reviled relative that would not die and kept visiting even though he was not wanted and he knew it very well.”

All mental illness stories, true or fiction, tend to be horror stories. Horror plants its flora in the guts of fear and tragedy, and mental illness breeds both in abundance.

A criticism of The Gown is that the protagonist is overreacting to an unlikely bloodstain, and that it isn’t a “realistic” depiction of mental illness.
You have to consider what the stain means in the context of paranoia, though. To a person admitted again and again to a hospital in a fragile state of mind, how could it seem like anything other than fate taunting “No matter where you run, you’ll always end up here.”
Being mocked and constrained by even the little things in your environment is any mental illness in a nutshell, which is part of why it’s so hard to fight them. There is not really any freedom that’s meant for your hands, even if you had everything in the world at your disposal. It will just turn against you, eventually.

So, I find this story quite realistic, save for perhaps the over-the-top ending. I didn’t think the study questions were really… necessary, but I do think the subject of this short is one more people should consider from other perspectives and ask themselves about in-depth. It can be the tiniest, most inanimate, most innocent things that trigger the worst catastrophes in us.

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Publisher: IDW Publishing

I am a pretty hardcore Silent Hill fanatic. So much that it tires others, in fact.
To me, the series is an interactive artwork combined with the nuance of a novel’s characterization. Sure, it’s got quirks and bad entries on its belt but I don’t care. I genuinely don’t understand how you could enjoy horror or surrealism and not love something about Silent Hill.

As I said in my review of Omnibus I, the early comics are a terrible place to begin the series but I’m also hesitant to recommend them to fans because they barely share a canon and make some rather… interesting alterations…
Omnibus II is a squillion times better than I, on the other hand, so I’m comfortable recommending these to anyone. These are fantastic and do the series justice. A little odd storywise, but the dialogue is good and the art is godlike in places. (Or devil-like? Whichever you prefer…) The physical books of the omnibuses do not match, which is irritating but minor.

A quick rundown and my thoughts on each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz”

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 14th, 2008
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Silent Hill is one of my eternal favourite video game series. The original quartet in my opinion is something of a “heaven experience” – beautiful but tense. It is the closest I feel we’ve come to an interactive nightmare that anyone could have right in their living room. The fact that everyone interprets the quartet so differently and yet tends to love it dearly the same can attest to that. It’s strangely personal for a lot of people, something a video game doesn’t typically manage. Why is this, do you think?

Silent Hill is entertaining first and foremost, but it was also an (underappreciated) innovator in serious, mature themes for the medium and dealt heavily with religious abuse, depression, childhood trauma and suicide with a thin coat of surreal horror. Plus the format gives a sense of venturing into someone else’s inner, secret dreams and decoding them. It catches people off-guard, in the best way.

If you’re familiar with Silent Hill already, then you’re aware there can be a lot of… iffiness with its spin-offs. At best, you get something rare and amazing like Shattered Memories, and at worst you get an endless stream of pachinko machines coming out your ears.

The comics are a mixed bag but far from unholy. The second omnibus is loads better, but the first omnibus does have consistently good art and a few interesting stories.
If you are not familiar with it and thinking the comics would be a place to begin Silent Hill‘s story, that may not be a good idea. Unless you just love horror comics for what they are and want to try them out for that reason, the original quartet or the first film would be worlds better. Shattered Memories or Origins wouldn’t be bad either.

You can in fact go into the first omnibus not knowing anything about the series at all and it won’t make much difference. I promise. Omnibus II has somewhat to do with the series’ canon, but these comics included in I eschew it.

My general consensus with Omnibus I is that it’s frustrating but readable. They totally ignored everything established by the series. Despite having full rights to do whatever they wanted!
However… the art is impressionistic and often pretty, and if you ignore that it’s supposed to be Silent Hill they are much better as stand-alone comics. The short stories in the middle are really fun. The physical book is also of very high quality materials.

Now that I’ve rambled on forever, here’s a quick rundown of each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin”

Book Review – Snowy Pines by Chris Snider

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Publisher: Independent

Carson McClain is having a rough time of it – his wife blames him for the accidental death of their child, and the stress of trying to earn her affection again has led him to remote Colorado, where he wrecks his car in a severe snowstorm. When Carson wakes, he is trapped in an abandoned hospital, inhabited by the damned and nightmarish. Poor Carson, it seems, is unwelcome even amongst monsters.

I am always alert for creepy hospital tales, realistic or fantastic. I enjoyed the mystery of Snowy Pines, though it is more action horror than psychological. I have a soft spot for diabolical abominations, so I really liked the descriptions of the horrors Carson comes across and has to evade or fight.
I noticed a few shout-outs and homages to my favourite series ever, Silent Hill, as well. (Shotgun in the nurse’s locker, anyone?) Given it takes place in a decrepit, dark hospital, I don’t see how you could help but mention the series that made the setting popular.

I don’t have many criticisms, but I felt that more time dedicated to fleshing out the side characters wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Carson is a decent and well-written hero, or antihero depending on your interpretation, but the other cast are seen in rather monochrome shades.
Snowy Pines is a short novel you can dissect in a day and night and is enjoyably bleak and strange. I do recommend.

Book Review – Zerostrata by Andersen Prunty

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Bizarro / Fantasy
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2008
Publisher: Eraserhead Press

“That wasn’t what I wanted. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t want to be a kid again. I just wanted to be in Zerostrata. I just wanted to look out over things, from that height, with virtually nothing holding me back from the world around me.”

Zerostrata is a story of innocent wonder, things falling apart and being mended. This is the kind of book that cuddles up to your heart and brain and presses out all the decay and sadness, if just for a precious while. It’s the strangest of soul-searching adventures.

The magnificent “Zerostrata” is only a treehouse, precariously perched in the tallest tree in town, in the yard of Hansel Nothing’s childhood home. It’s a moldy old deathtrap, but it’s Hansel’s favourite moldy old deathtrap, and when he returns to his mother’s strange, sad house from the mystery of the abyss and sees that things are in the same shambles they always were, Hansel turns to Zerostrata for comfort. One night in Zerostrata, he looks through the window onto the flesh of the world below and sees a girl running naked on the street – her name is Gretel.

I suppose you’d think this makes it a retelling, wouldn’t you? But I don’t exactly know what to call this book. Zerostrata can’t be bothered trying to squeeze into labels, it just is what it is and it’s beautiful. It’s a little living melancholy wearing a fairytale mask, but there’s a bittersweet realism about the characters even when they’re climbing to the moon and warping reality. Continue reading “Book Review – Zerostrata by Andersen Prunty”

Poem – “Hematoma”

Hematoma

Who grinds the skulls of us while we sleep?
Children shriveling in the mildew and hay
An anathema, a hematoma with sentient speech
Tainting with whispers the thoughts we daren’t speak

Who lurks in our hearts in the time of dark?
Child of the shadow of the eclipsed moon, laughing
Slaughtered by the spear of man-made plastic
But its creek of blood had run dry aeons before

©S. M. Shuford 2018
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Art Book Review – Autopsyrotica by Chad Michael Ward

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Photography / Horror
Publication Date: May 1st, 2006
Publisher: NBM Publishing

Ward’s art is daring and sinister. Its human skin is sepia, like an antique photograph found in a secondhand music box stolen from a dead woman’s vanity.
As for horror, it’s subtle and leans more towards gothic burlesque and steampunk than anything, with a touch of Victorian occult smeared in there. I found Autopsyrotica (how exactly is this pronounced?) by chance. My buglike antennae start beeping whenever oddball horror artbooks are present, so I was intrigued when they scouted this out.

The positive is of course, the photography. It looks straight out of a back alley surgery or a seedy velvet-curtained stage in an alternate early 1900s. Wherever Ward found all these rotten experiment chambers and unhallowed vampire tombs, his work on capturing their residents is darkly beautiful.

Image result for chad michael ward autopsyrotica

For the negative, it seems awfully small for its cover price. The paper quality is decent, but half of the book is blank-ish pages with a small blurb of commentary on them. As if to tease you further, the last page is a collage of artworks that weren’t fully pictured in the book. Cruel.