|Murky Depths Issue #1 - A Review
||[Sep. 3rd, 2007|01:52 pm]
When I heard that Terry Martin was thinking of starting a print-zine, I wished him luck and thought to myself, "Poor guy." I never doubted that he and his giant right hand man Matt Wallace could pull it off. It's just that after pushing 10 issues of Apex Digest out the door, I'm beginning to wonder if publishers are all sadomasochists.
A year (or so) later, and Murky Depths #1 arrived at my doorstep. And damn, is it a nice looking publication.
The magazine is comic-book sized (width and height) and is 80 pages in length. There's a distinctive comic book feel in terms of font choices, layout and typesetting, and most of the art. For a first issue, I will confess, Terry Martin shows some skills as a typesetter. Whoever chooses the artwork over at Murky Depths also deserves plenty of kudos. I felt that every piece of art was attractive, of high quality, and suitable to the stories. The magazine is printed on high-quality glossy paper, similiar to Interzone (that other slickly produced British SF magazine). There are a few typographical issues (straight quotes and curly quotes, etc.), but these are minor and really don't distract from the reading experience.
But how are the stories?
Murky Depths presents two styles of fiction: prose and graphic. Allow me to get this quibble with the graphic stories out of the way -- I simply did not enjoy them. The artwork was excellent, yes. But the storytelling was fractured to the point of being annoying. However, I will confess that I'm not a big reader of comic books or graphic novels, and the style has never appealed to me (other than mainstream writers such as Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis.)
The stories selected by Martin and Wallace all present a consistent editorial vision. They're the type of stories that intentionally don't give you answers, but they make you want the answers. The best story in the issue that also follows this editorial vision comes from the pen of Anne Stringer. "Naught But Ash" is a post-apocolyptic tale (or seems to be) about a small town dealing with the execution of a man who has commited a hideous crime. The narrator, the town's doctor, leads up through the nightmare scenario and gives us a firecracker of an ending that made me want to write a lengthy letter asking the author to write a follow-up story just for my own entertainment. Stringer knows how to invoke mood and setting, and shows us that she isn't messing around. The woman knows how to write.
A trio of stories from Lavie Tidhar, Paul Abbamondi, and Douglas Warrick (oddly enough, all three are past Apex Digest contributors) earn nods of appreciation from me, as well. The Abbamondi story titled "67442" won't strike you as anything mind-blowingly original, but it's a micro-story that does its job, and does it well--presents a situation and resolves it with an entertaining twist. Warrick is a young writer that I love. He has shown that he knows how to write stories with heart, sort of like a up-and-coming Gary Braunbeck. In "Come to My Arms My Beamish Boy", Warrick takes us on a heart-wrenching journey into madness via an elderly man with Alzheimer's. Tidhar's "The Pattern Makers of Zanzibar" is about what you expect from him these days: poetic, rich in historical details, and memorable. A journalist is exploring the slave trade for a London newspapers during the 19th century. What he discovers there is both deadly and chilling.
Eugie Foster's "Cyberevenge Inc." takes an old plot -- a mysterious internet entity promises to rid the protagonist of whatever problems they want (sort of a Three Wishes on a genie concept) -- and almost pulls off a nice story, but the conclusion left me feeling somewhat cheated. Almost like Foster had written herself into a corner and called upon a deus ex machina to pull it out.
Luke Cooper's "Empathy" read too much like a Dead Zone goes Dark episode. Interesting read, and notable enough that I wanted to mention it in this review..
There's plenty to like in Murky Depths #1. I really hope that readers will take to the magazine. It deserves a chance.
Get your copy at the Murky Depths website.