Eskapix, Volume 5, January 2011

Review by Patrik Centerwall


Eskapix is a hardcover horror/pulp magazine published at least twice a year. The contents are mixed: short stories, feature articles, sometimes comics. The feature articles are usually about horror, rock music, and spectacular crimes. Several of the short story authors are regulars and with a couple exceptions they have to my knowledge not been published elsewhere. The quality of the fiction of this horror/pulp magazine is usually high and the present issue is no exception. The reader is treated to several well written and interesting pieces of short fiction. Since John Ajvide Lindqvist hit the bestseller lists with Let the right one in in 2004, there has been an increased demand for horror fiction in Sweden. More horror authors have been published and as this makes a magazine like Eskapix less of an odd man out among Swedish magazines, it is certainly to be hoped that Eskapix sooner or later will be able to reach a larger audience on the Swedish-speaking market.

In “Pupillen” (The Pupil) by Lova Lovén, blind masseuse Amanda receives a customer who frightens as well as fascinates her. Stylistically the story holds up well, but somehow it fails to engage the reader. Amanda’s visual impairment is skillfully employed as a means to keep the reader unaware of exactly what is happening, but it could have been used more effectively to build suspense and the story would probably have benefited from being told at greater length. Moreover, a change of narrative perspective robs the ending of some of its impact.

After a couple of grim winters, it is not difficult to visualize the enormous pile of snow into which a small child burrows in the beginning of CJ Håkansson’s “Jag bor här” (I live here). Using small, simple strokes Håkansson paints compelling and persuasive portraits of his characters and elegantly, step by step, turns up the sense of horror and uneasiness, and plain wrongness. The ending is a classical one, perhaps a little bit predictable but without marring the overall impression. It’s not easy to make the incredible credible, but Håkansson pulls it off and once more shows that he is an excellent author who could become a contender for the title “Swedish Master of Horror”.

It isn’t difficult to imagine hearing the eponymous band playing in the background when reading “Vid Helvetets portar” (At the Gates of Hell) by Malin Rydén. As a reader, I feel what the protagonist feels, I am carried away. I see the muddy festival where the gig takes place. This is a very elegant and memorable story, with much food for thought. Rydén describes the setting convincingly and manages to capture the mood of the audience, captures what it’s like to listen to music that arouses feelings. The brief prologue—about how the protagonist, a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, discovers the band which later reunites—feels credible and makes for a forceful entry into the story. Moreover, it is appreciated that Rydén leaves it to the reader to decide whether what happened should be taken literally—as a supernatural story—or be interpreted metaphorically.

The writing in Stewe Sundin’s “Parabellum” is beautiful, vibrant, and engaging. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the plot. It starts out well: Benjamin is returning to his parental home by the sea to visit his old friend Ester, and their conversation hints at some terrible event in the past. Promising, but Sundin does not deliver. It never gets either exciting or interesting; the story remains too vague and hovering. The reader can make guesses but would need something more concrete to go on. A great pity, considering the elegant writing, the plot concept, and the inspiring setting.

“Mättnad” (Saturation) by Susanne Samuelsson is an almost fragmented story, with short sentences that suggestively build a disquieting atmosphere and gradually make us understand the turn of events that led up to the present. This ruthless story is also rather vague, but Samuelsson exploits this vagueness and uses it in combination with some chilling clues to enable the reader to create their own image of the terror being depicted. The abrupt, choppy prose is effective and intense, but would probably not have worked if the story had been longer.

The last story of the issue is an “Eskapistle”. For every issue of the magazine, an illustration is published on the magazine’s website——and the readers are invited to submit a very brief short story of no more than 300 words inspired by the illustration. The winning eskapistle in this issue is “Sisters of Mercy,” penned by Hanna Svensson. Despite not having many words at her disposal, Svensson manages to serve enough details for us to fill out the gaps and be profoundly touched by the story she tells.

Eskapix volume five contains more than prose fiction—there is, for instance, an article about the king of B-movies, Roger Corman; an essay on how the depiction of vampires has changed over the decades and centuries; and a lyrical poem. On the whole a very impressive issue of a very good magazine. We have had very few science fiction/fantasy/horror magazines in Sweden; it bodes well that Eskapix is this good.

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