It is hard to find a body of work more darkly enjoyable than the twenty issues (to date) of Something Wicked magazine.
Founded as a print magazine in 2006, Something Wicked, edited by Joe Vaz and Vianne Venter, moved online in 2011. Although the magazine often develops showcases talent from its native South Africa, it has published authors, interviews, reviews and non-fiction from all over the world. Something Wicked is currently going through another change of format, making now the perfect time to catch up on its back catalogue - especially since most issues are now available on the Kindle.
Now that the gushing is out of the way, here's a not-so-random collection of stories:
"The Genesis Jack-O-Lantern" by Richard H. Pitaniello begins with the line "Mary Wildred first knew that something was the matter when she found a dead rat on the floor and her Hallowe'en jack-o-lantern's teeth were bloody." The lonely teenage Mary has inadvertently birthed a monster and has no idea what to do with her (murderous) (gourd) creation. Mr. Pitaniello has the opportunity to play the story for laughs but instead leads the reader on an increasingly disturbing splatterpunk journey. The result is something worthy of the early (and best) Clive Barker, down to the horrifically twisted ending and lingering imagery. Art by Vincent Sammy, who does his best to make the reader has nightmares. (Something Wicked #8 - this issue also contains works by [and interviews with] Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz.)
"Concerning Harmonies and Oceans" by K.A. Dean begins as a conventional post-apocalyptic dystopia. A young boy from a low caste is given his moment - a chance to join his city's choir and earn promotion for his entire family. As the reader follows his struggles, more and more about the world is revealed. Decadent floating cities float about on a submerged world, lazily fighting for dominance like spoilt aristocrats. Our protagonist's own struggle soon becomes interlinked with the survival of his city - if it even deserves to survive. It isn't just that this is a compelling world (and fans of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series will especially enjoy it), it is that Mr. Dean unveils it brilliantly. For a short story, this is an epic; a combination of character building and pacing that manages to pack in more than most doorstop fantasies. (Something Wicked #17. This issue also contains a profile of the author, stories by Mel Odom and Cat Hellisen, and a hilarious interview with Sam Wilson and Charlie Human. Gorgeous cover by Vianne Venter.)
"The Perfect Man" by Sarah Lotz. Ms. Lotz has yet to write something I haven't loved, and this story, her first published work, is no exception. A yuppie dinner party dissolves into chaos, predictably aided by society's new trend in having zombie celebrities. The hostess, Sonia, is the one salvageable soul of the lot - which explains why she spends the evening becoming increasingly fixated on her gorgeous, subservient, (undead) "Brad" instead of her rubbish husband and their obnoxious friends. (The result is a slightly less romantic, more brain-eating version of the science fictional love triangle in Pat Murphy and Mark van Name's "Desert Rain" - although in this case, Ms. Lotz ostensibly plays the situation for laugh, while concealing a suitably pointed social message underneath. (Something Wicked #1. Also with stories by Jurgens de Lange, Jonathan Perry and Domenico Pisanti and art by Vincent Sammy, Jesca Marisa and Neville Howard, amongst others. Not bad for a debut issue, right?)
Normally, I'm not a magazine reader (a long and boring story in and of itself), but the advent of eBooks has opened up a whole new world of periodicals - Something Wicked has fast become my favorite of them all. Rather than luring in readers with big names and lackluster filler, the editors have clearly (and with great enthusiasm) sought out and encouraged new - and often risky - talent, regardless of genre.
It would be naive to say that I've loved every story I've read, but Something Wicked has an extraordinarily high hit rate. There's a great combination of daring taste and excellent talent on display, making this an incredible collection of magazines.