Swill 4

One of my fellow Viable Paradisers, Sean Craven talked about the magazine he edits with Rob Pierce, Swill. At first, Sean didn’t mention the magazine by its name. I told Sean I would be happy to review his magazine over here at the Tamago. Then there was this email, telling me that Swill was on its way. I thought Sean was self-effacing.

The mission of Swill in part, according to its website, is that the editors wanted more entertaining stories on the literary scene. The magazine is called Ill Literate. Also, the site says the editors prefer literature, but not Literature. I have some bad news for the editors. The stories are entertaining. Some of them are also flitting dangerously close to the Literature border.

On the whole, Swill 4 is a pretty good read. All seven stories explore the seamy and unsavory, the horrible and the frightening. Humanity’s less redeemable traits are put on display for the reader, in stories that deteriorate into psychological nightmares.

John Shirley’s You Blundering Idiot, You Fucking Failed to Kill Me Again! reminds me of the stories highlighted in Tales of the Crypt. While the alien conceit doesn’t work for me, the dark humor of a young artist’s attempt at hiring a moronic hit man to help him commit meaningful suicide fascinates, entertains, and repulses me, all at the same time.

Girl Like That by W.G. Kelly would be a story I’d be happy to teach in my English lit class. The situation seems base line normal, but as the story progresses, it reveals depths and psychological twists in complex characters that surface as high stakes are peeled back during a life or death struggle. It’s easily my favorite piece.

Rob Pierce writes a more avant-garde story. Mud People gets right down to visceral motivation. It’s harder to interpret and understand on a surface level, but raw emotion examines humanity through the eyes of the other. Brian Haycock’s noir cab driver in Mackler’s Last Fare sketches a nasty picture of morality in a seemingly normal man. In Holy Adam and Saint Jason, Steve Young offers up an unreliable narrator’s slice of life during the murder trial of his infant son.

In Hate Her, Hate Her, Tribulator!, Steve Craven intimates that the emotions of humanity can pollute even a more sophisticated species. Part sorcery, part psychological drama, and part SF thriller, the story is a slow build to a torturous conclusion for the main characters.

The English teacher in me would be remiss not to mention My Day at the Mall with Paul Bowles and Jack Kerouac, a playful fantasy of two aging egos set loose in a mall during the Christmas shopping season. The story achieves both comedy and tragedy before its finish, with poetic elements of description that emulate Kerouac’s style. Author Craig Hartglass is dangerously skirting that Literature border.

The art work gives me pause. It’s not bad. It’s full of imagery I can almost identify as familiar shapes, but which in the end morphs into images which disturb my psyche. Given the content of the stories, the play between normalcy and the macabre, I’m sure that’s the point.

Overall, I’d recommend Swill 4. I wouldn’t recommend reading it late at night, and I would expect to be disturbed. With the intent of this magazine, that’s a hallmark of success.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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