Whispers of Wickedness 11. Winter 2005. D-Press. Pp. 60. £3.00 (£10.00 4-issue subscription)

Reviewed by Djibril

The independent horror magazine Whispers of Wickedness has been published on paper for a few years now, in parallel with a thriving website (http://www.ookami.co.uk/) featuring short fiction and art, and one of the most lively literary bulletin boards I have seen. For the first ten issues of the paper magazine, WoW was distributed without charge, even the postage making the editor a loss (although D-Press chapbooks—three of which I reviewed in an earlier issue of this magazine—are charged a nominal price, and circulated through various international online distributors). It is fair to say that with issue 11, the first to charge a fair price on the cover, Whispers of Wickedness has come of age. At nearly twice the length of previous issues, with excellent production standards and a glossy cover, perfect bound; fiction, poetry, and other writing, as well as professional artwork, all of the standard we have come to expect, or even higher, this magazine is excellent value for money.

The opening story, ‘Atoner’ by Terry Gates-Grimwood (of whose work, it will be no surprise to learn, we are already fans here), is a dark, futuristic tale of social injustice, terrible vengeance, and horrifying, arachnid aliens. Beautifully constructed plot, with rising tension and the protagonist's genuine, tangible fear—both of the sadistic capital punishment he is avoiding, and of the voracious aliens he is sent to deal with by the sinister space-magnate—combine to make you both care, and genuinely worry about, the outcome of the tale. Although the aliens are justly slightly unconvincing in being almost identical to Terrestrial spiders, the story largely avoids cliché both in the delivery and the dénouement.

The second story is a perversely festive offering from small-press legend Peter Tennant. ‘A Mother's Pride’ shows us the poisonous small-mindedness of a petty bourgeois mother whose only son is about to marry—against her advice—an older women with children by a previous union. Meeting the wickedly described "Anti-Claus" in a both sensuous and creepy dream, the depths of her superficiality are stripped bare for all to see. A typically irreverent and playful story, giving fresh life to several of the genres best clichés; very nicely done.

‘Dead Animals’ by Leo Siren is a moving story of a loyal but apathetic son, a mentally ill but harmless mother, and their lives that are turned upside down by the return to the fold of the troublesome older brother. Simple enough in concept, economical and colloquial in execution, the story builds to a believable climax and holds it, leads to a rounded conclusion rather than treating it as a punchline like so many stories do.

Alison J. Littlewood offers us ‘Pretend That We're Dead’, a first person narrative by a person obsessed with the idea of playing corpses on television, who progresses to playing dead in public in a uncanny combination of practical joke and performance art. The obsession with death—research for the role—borders sometimes on worrying psychosis, but on the whole we are left with the impression of a harmless, if pretty weird, hobby.

‘The Reality Mechanic’ by Sarah Dobbs is the story of a tractor mechanic in a small town, whose head is full of numbers, but is stricken dumb by grief and shame. Spending his life with only a lame, stray dog, and the ghost of a comatose girl for company, he is barely tolerated by the townsfolk for the same reason that he hides from himself. A story full of both pathos and hope, that promises and satisfies both in generous measure.

Traditionally this reviewer has been a staunch opponent of absurdist writing, of satire that descends into farce: I disliked both Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Gray and Susskind's Perfume for their lack of grace and subtlety. Upon first reading the work of Rhys Hughes, I thought it was going to be more of the same, but my open-mindedness in persisting was (unusually) rewarded by a much more subtle and clever class of absurdism than I had before encountered. ‘The Candid Slyness of Scurrility Forepaws’, while no less farcical, in places, is an even more delightful story, worthy of Umberto Eco at his best. I shall refrain from spoiling the reader's pleasure by saying anything more about this story—the title is all the clue you're getting from me—except to enjoin you, even if you read nothing else, to buy the magazine for this piece alone.

This issue also contains non-fiction by Aliya Whitely and Neil Ayres, poetry by Liam Davis, Alexis Child, and Florence Stanton, all of which are in the best WoW tradition: atmospheric, dark, unexpected, inventive, surreal, and/or readable. This is truly a magazine to compete on the small press stage, and I only hope it does nearly as well as it deserves.

Buy WoW #11 from http://www.ookami.co.uk/

Buy WoW #11 from Project Pulp

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