Murky Depths is a quarterly magazine of “dark speculative fiction” — I’d call it simply horror — that marries illustration — specifically, graphics (or comics, if you prefer that term) — and story in a way different from any other magazine I’ve seen. The black and white drawings sometimes intensify the effect of a story beautifully; sometimes, however, they seriously detract from a story by making it seem comic or by giving too much of a story away. It’s an interesting approach that appears to be giving greater exposure to a number of new illustrators and writers.
“Bushmeat,” the first story in Issue 18 is one in which the illustration, by Rick Fairlamb, adds to Sarah Peploe’s story. It’s a tale of a supper club that serves endangered species to a select group of customers, who eat their exclusive monthly meals wearing hoods that mask everything but their mouths, making them completely unidentifiable. The service is so good that no speech is even necessary, so that no one can be identified by his (and all the customers seem to be men) voice. One night, one of the diners chokes on his bushmeat — the remains of a great ape, fur still on it. One of the wait staff, Nick, uses the Heimlich maneuver to save his life, a gesture not exactly greeted with thanks; the man, his identity revealed, takes terrible revenge. The other member of the wait staff, Lisa, has the good sense to close her eyes, thus saving her life. But did you know how much you can see through your eyelashes, when everyone thinks you’ve got your eyes tightly shut? It’s a good, solid horror story right down to the finish.
“The Dollmaker” by Anita Siraki is less successful, and the art by Caroline Parkinson doesn’t appear to be mechanically or physically — I’m not sure of the right word in this context — correct. Dollface is a hooker who is partly human and partly machine, the result of an attempt on her life that she doesn’t remember. In fact, she doesn’t remember much of her past, though she keeps searching for it. Her story is one of finding home.
Jeremy Ryan’s “Bubo” seems to be reaching for an effect it never quite causes. The story is about gang warfare in a future where everyone gets resurrected over and over, thanks to a technology called “Re-store.” But even this amazing technology can’t confer eternal life on anyone. Pando has just returned from his eighth Re-store at the age of 30, and his body is about to give out; the doctors tell him that he probably doesn’t have much chance of living to be 40. Perhaps it’s this news that gives him the courage to take over the StreetWolves from Arcane. He does a good enough job as gang leader that the rival gang, the Black Soldiers, find their numbers dwindling. The only real fly in his ointment is that his girl is constantly pestering him about the needs of their baby. But one dies as one lives in his world, and his end isn’t far and it’s not surprising to the reader. The revelation at the end isn’t much of one, and the story simply doesn’t have the punch the writer was going for.
“I Don’t Remember” is a short story told in comic form, with the story by Paul L. Matthews, the art by Dylan Williams and lettering by Martin Deep. A man is awakened to find he has no memory, not even of his own identity. He knows he must be in the government, and that he was visiting the soldiers on the front line of a war, but nothing more. As he pleads for his life, we discover his identity, which is the punch line to the story. Again, the ending is asked to bear a weight the story does not support.
“Bad Star” by Clark Nida is about the end of the world, or as close to it as one can get and still have a first-person narrator. Dave works for the Royal Observatory, and makes a shocking discovery: an asteroid is headed for Earth, and it’s not likely to miss. The astronomers at the Royal Observatory decide not to let the news out, fearful of what it will mean for the state of the world, but other observatories who discover the asteroid just a little bit later don’t have the same scruples. Dave is about to call a childhood love, Chris, to ask her to spend the end of the world with him, when she calls him. She refuses his request that she run away with him, saying she can’t leave her kids. She is a nurse to mentally challenged persons, whom she has come to love dearly. Dave ultimately accepts her decision, so much so that he does everything he can to ensure that the final “Christmas” her facility has planned for the day the asteroid is to hit will go forth in peace. It’s sad and sweet, and the story works despite the shop-worn premise.
“Hermit Soul” by Kaolin Imago Fire is short and strange, the tale of a lover trying to hang onto his/her lover’s soul by killing his/her body (gender isn’t plain, as the story is told in the first person, with the other referred to only as “you”). It’s fairly effective, but perhaps too short to do the idea complete justice. Matthew Fryer provides the zombie story requisite to every horror magazine these days in “Honest Harry’s Budget Boneyard.” Ian Moore‘s story of “Maeve’s Moondance,” told in future tense (a style I’ve not seen attempted before) is awkward. There seems to be no reason for the style save novelty, but the story of an alien who engages in a business war with another of his species is otherwise well-written. “Technical Problems” by David Loel plays nicely with reality and fiction and how they intertwine in the depths of space. “Kill Screen” is an effective story of a deeply troubling videogame written by Chris Lewis Carter, which is unfortunately spoiled by the artwork of Jason Smith, who tells the whole story in comic form before one gets to the text.
The magazine also contains a couple of serial comics: Episode 7 of “Dead Girls” by Richard Calder and Episode 4 of “Dr. Antstein’s Brain” by Lavie Tidhar. I can’t comment on those because I haven’t read the other installments. There is also a too-short interview with Martin Baines, the artist who did the cover for this issue.