Surreal, #1, Winter 2005

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Short Stories
"Shed" by J.A. Konrath
"Reflection" by Kevin Anderson
"Whatever it Takes to Forget Her" by Mikal Trimm
"Life Cycle" by Shawn Jeffrey
"Vade In Pacem" by Monica O'Rourke

Contest Winners
"Blood Moon Rising" by Justin Gustainis
"Inside" by Nicholas Tyler
"Janey" by Shawn Arntson

"Chimera" by Gerard Houarner
"Dr. Henderson's Thursday" by Leila Eadie
"Lusard Street" by Patricia Russo
"Grandpa's Flesh" by Bonnie Mercure

Identifiable by its "Dawn of the Dead" style cover, Surreal is a new quarterly horror magazine.  There are tales of the supernatural, the undead and the occult, as well as book reviews and articles galore.  The internal artwork is quite good, and Surreal promises to be a great horror publication.

What really makes Surreal stand out is the quality of the non-fiction articles and interviews.  Fans of the horror genre will appreciate the interviews with author John Saul and director Ed Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project fame.

There is a swag of intelligent book reviews, and a separate section for genre video games.  Of note is the interview with Hiroyuki Koboyashi, producer of Resident Evil 4.  Roleplaying games also get a look in here, and White Wolf's Director of Marketing speaks about the latest version of World of Darkness.

"I was a Middle-Aged Zombie" is a fun article, detailing a day in the life of a B-grade zombie actor.  "The Ghosts of Mississippi" is a well researched look at some of the infamous myths of the Mississippi.  There is an interesting account of the life of legendary blues man Robert Johnson, reputed to have made a deal with the devil for his success.

Surreal is a professional market, paying contributors well for their stories.  It is a shame then that a couple of the stories in this magazine are below-par.  This is almost forgivable for a first issue, but hopefully the editors will be more selective in future.

While most of the tales are thrilling page-turners, some of the pieces included would be better suited to an e-zine or semi-professional market.  Having said that, it is still worth buying and reading Surreal for the stuff that does work.

The abstract "Lusard Street" by Patricia Russo has some terrific moments in it.  Some evocative and tight imagery, especially the description of a truly blood-curdling creature.  Following a similar theme, "Life Cycle" by Shawn Jeffrey is quite good.  A streetwalker in the family way receives a very different delivery from the stork!

"Reflection" by Kevin Anderson was a A fine example of a short story, this brief piece is a neat little tale with a believable character and a quirky ending.  Nothing is wasted, and Anderson does more with this page of story than some of his fellow contributors do with thousands of words.

"Grandpa's flesh" by Bonnie Mercure is mostly good.  The imagery is crisp and the pacing just right.  The ending is too abrupt and leaves some questions unanswered, but overall Mercure presents the reader with an interesting idea.  She successfully places the backstory without turning it into an info-dump, and it's just a shame we don't find out what happens next with the flesh eaters!

"Vade in Pacem" by Monica O'Rourke is a good short piece, and "Whatever it Takes to Forget Her" by Mikal Trimm was one of the best stories in this issue.  A very enjoyable yarn, with an honest-to-god surprise at the end of it.

"Dr. Henderson's Thursday" by Leila Eadie starts out well, but becomes predictable, resembling the plot of a B-grade horror flick.  Insane killer doctor "experimenting" on people in a psych home?  Yawn.

"Inside" by Nicholas Tyler isn't the best choice, and needs more focus as a story.  It seems a bit contrived that someone would have their name and address on a set of dog-tags.  When the young protagonist flips the bird to the psycho who happens to grab these dog-tags, it is no surprise that he is followed home and dealt with.  The writers builds up some good tension when the boy is trapped in the car, but it still needs some work.

"Janey" by Shawn Arntson was not too bad, and was only let down by the "shock" revelation at the end.  Instead of being a thrilling twist, it then comes off more like the punchline of a bad joke.

"Chimera" by Gerard Houarner was a bit of a disappointment.  With an excellent approach to an old idea, all it lacks is a crisp ending.  Unfortunately, the narrator is allowed to ramble on, to the point that the reader almost wishes he hadn't survived.

"Shed" by J.A. Konrath was not the worst story in this issue, but the obvious Nordic references at the beginning and the clumsy mention of Crowley are a little groan-worthy.  The flash-back to the men's execution is interesting, but not enough to carry this story out of its formulaic sloth.  The characters don't possess authentic voices, and while there are a couple of tense moments in the shed, this story doesn't offer anything original to the genre.
While the ending in "Blood Moon Rising" by Justin Gustainis is an honest-to-god surprise, the dialogue between the two characters doesn't quite gel.  Amusing once you realise where it's going, and not too bad, but not too great either.
Overall, Surreal was a very informative and enjoyable read.  If they can continue to provide the same standard for articles and non-fiction, it should have a long life.  With some judicious use of editing, the quality of the fiction should improve in future issues.