Reviewed by Paul Bradshaw

The first thing I noticed about the debut issue of Murky Depths is how absolutely fabulous it looks. Its size is unique, sort of halfway between A5 and A4, and it has lovely glossy pages and a startling blue-orientated cover, a horror-based image of a blonde mermaid whose body appears to be dissolving beneath the 'murky depths' of some ocean... even though this image does not seem to correspond with anything inside the magazine. The back cover contains cheesy brief descriptions of what each author is offering to the readers of this issue... Jon Courtenay Grimwood orders you to State Your Name... this type of thing.

Once inside the magazine I was somewhat surprised to discover a mix of short prose fiction and comic strips. I have not come across this before, and I find it welcome and refreshing. The stories are quite short and easy to digest, as is the collection of comic strips. The front cover description of Murky Depths reads The Quarterly Anthology of Graphically Dark Speculative Fiction ... however, it seems like a collection of science fiction works to me; it's as though every writer is attempting to be the next Philip K Dick, with each piece featuring either the future, outer space, aliens or other worlds.

The fun begins with the comic strip Death and the Maiden by Richard Calder, which is definitely based on the three-issue space-waster recently seen in Interzone, as we encounter the character Cat once again, a future bimbo who roams around resembling a pervert's image of a prostitute. The artwork is dreadful... Cat herself looks like a blow-up doll. The plot is similar to the Interzone one, in fact it could even be the same, Cat meets a stranger who is a tad mysterious, etc, etc.

Full marks to the editor Terry Martin in his efforts to produce an entertaining mix of fiction and artwork, it's not easy as some of us know. He appears to have a penchant for the subtle ending, yet some of the tales have an ending so subtle it becomes ambiguous and merely trails off into the ether. Almost every offering has a really excellent plot and setting, with believable characters that one tends to care about almost from the beginning.

One of the best pieces in the publication is the comic strip Empathy by Luke Cooper, in which a notorious hostage negotiator enters a house where a father is pointing a gun to his daughter's head, claiming that she is an alien. One of the cop's colleagues remarks that the negotiator is so good it's like 'he sees what the perp sees'. This is realised in a super gritty conclusion.

Another good one is Supply Ship by Kate Kelly, a fiction piece featuring a lustful main character who is amongst a group of people on an outer world who appear to spend their time waiting around for a supply ship to accidentally find its way to them so that they can salvage what they can from the spacecraft. We are introduced to a small gathering of quirky characters, and then, surprise surprise, a ship arrives, and they all set to it. The final line really took me by surprise... nice one.

I can't finish without mentioning Cyberevenge Inc. by Eugie Foster. This is the type of thing that I really wish I didn't have to read. A woman has an internet stalker who is driving her nuts, every time she boots up she receives by email a sexually graphic image of a female with the face altered to her own. I suppose for the purpose of the story this poor person seems to have no idea that the simple solution would be to change her email address. Magically a figure appears on her screen who offers a solution to her problem... Cyberevenge Inc., a service that provides a solution to this kind of dilemma, a solution that, as you might imagine, involves dealing with the stalker in a disturbing manner. This is the kind of story that the old Nasty Piece of Work editor David Green would reject in one of his unique and beautiful handwritten letters.

Murky Depths costs £6.99, no doubt because of the printing costs for the glossy pages and stuff. There is room for improvement, but this only the first issue; the editor has a lot of hard work in front of him, but this a super beginning. Good luck to him!

Murky Depths edited by Terry Martin. A4/A5, 84pp, UK£6.99 or £24/4 (for other countries and payment options see website).

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