Intentional or not, there is a definite thematic thread running through Murky Depths #9: The Quarterly Anthology of Graphically Dark Speculative Fiction. This fine collection of speculative fiction and graphic storytelling features many stories that delve into the artifice of humanity. The tales run the gamut in their investigation on what it means to be.
Matt Finucane's "Complaint From The Other World" is an amusing, claustrophobic and, ultimately, sad short story about a man banished to the cold confines of the wall of a nightclub. His imprisonment in the wall is the result of a falling out he has with his girlfriend, who is also caught up in a group of "cult people" (witches, essentially). I won't spoil the resolution, but it's a fine short story.
"Dead Girls: Episode 1" is an engaging look at the artificial nature of life through the eyes of a Doll, a futuristic sex toy that relies on nanotechnology for survival. Richard Calder's story seems interesting, though we're just in the exposition stage. Leonardo M. Giron's artwork is excellent--detailed and provocative. I'm looking forward to more in this serialization...
Juliet E McKenna's tale "Is This My Last Testament" is a werewolf tale with a compelling narrative style--the first-person narrator is tormented by his condition and McKenna makes him a sympathetic character straddling the line between man and beast.
Derek Cagemann's "Fast Learners" was my favorite tale in this bunch. Cagemann's voice is strong--accessible and immediate, drawing the reader into a dystopia that is redolent with grim possibilities. In this case, the issue's theme is stretched in the direction of artificial intelligence. The crux of the story--about propriety and human decency--is ironically revealed through the selfish behaviors of our disgusting antagonist, Lon, who is a human. Lon is bad news, friends, and he takes what he wants, relegating those around him--human or not--to mere objects.
This story, coupled with Nathaniel Milljour's haunting artwork, stands as an excellent allegory on how dangerous it can be to devalue our basic sense of shared humanity.
"Transported Man" is a neat story--memorable and creative. Anthony Malone's tale about the transcendent powers of the orgasm is completely tongue-in-cheek, but it also delivers a lesson: stress is relative, people. Don't sweat the small stuff!
Take a look at this prose:
Liam managed a couple of startled yells before he crashed--frantically windmilling his arms through a canopy of leaves, got his foot caught in some tangled vines, was up-ended and then dropped unceremoniously onto a carpet of rotting vegetation. Above him, between gently nodding branches, he saw a flock of parakeets scattering in an arc of blue sky. He looked to his left and noticed an army of bullet ants swarming up a twisted bough. It was like God had switched over to the Discovery Channel...Glenbuck Road was gone; in its place was endless jungle.
Neil Struthers did the accompanying (excellent) art. The look on that nun's face is priceless, let me tell you.
While these stories seem grouped under the general idea of varied definitions and interpretations of what it means to be human, the magazine also has a sense of duality. A number of these speculative stories are hilarious--there's a sense of glee and a bawdy wink in about half of them. The other side of the coin includes some brooding, almost somber tales.
The magazine, while beautifully appointed in terms of the visuals, has its flaws. There are some minor editing issues, including catchable typos on the full-color, glossy back cover. There are a few copy editing issues inside as well. Still, these are minor mistakes when factored into the overall quality and diversity of this anthology.
Editor Terry Martin is building something special at Murky Depths. If you enjoy diversity and spirit in your speculative storytelling, in addition to sharp illustrations and some keen interviews, then Murky Depths should find its way into your rotation...