As with my Interzone review last week, I’m afraid I have missed an issue of Black Static in my reviewing quest. Unforgivable, I know. But I’m back to it this month, and ready to give my thoughts on the stories and non-fiction within.
One thing I will say first, though, is just how striking the artwork is. Black Static usually does showcase some of the very best each and every week, but to my mind issue #34 is particularly bold. From the electrically chilling cover artwork (by Ben Baldwin), to the images for each if the stories. Joachim Luetke’s deeply chilling KKK-esque image for Sean Logan’s story “The Tower of Babel” is particularly deserving of mention, especially from a name I don’t think I’ve encountered before — and worth checking out.
But anyway, you all came here for the reviews of the stories, didn’t you? So let’s get on with the show!
- Nina Allan seems to be becoming quite a TTA feature lately. Her name hasn’t been uncommon on the pages of Black Static, but between her recent novella “Spin“, and this novellette “The Nightingale”, her fiction is certainly a flavour of the moment. And there’s a reason for that. “The Nightingale” weaves together strands of the titular Hans Christian Anderson story, fairies, and the semi-bereavement of a woman dealing with new disability. It was both touching and mysterious, robed in a sense of ephemeral yet weighty fantasy.
- I don’t like it when a story goes over my head. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I can’t shake the feeling that that was exactly what happened with “In This Blue Shade” by Joel Lane. Like all of Lane’s stories, it mines deep emotion. The story weeps with the fresh grief of bereavement, reflected in the very language Lane uses to describe the cold wintry landscape, as Lee’s disconnection with modern life leads him down a darkly violent path which only has one possible end — and yet I am plagued by the nagging thought that there was some level of meaning that I have missed.
- Whilst I don’t usually have favourites as such in magazines and anthologies, I was instinctively drawn to Ilan Lerman’s tale “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”. Set in the post-war years, it shows us the dark spectre of childhood abuse through the innocent eyes of a child. Its darkness is palpable, yet portrayed unknowingly through its young narrator as Lerman weaves in other threads through the father’s shell-shock left over from the war. Playground-set stories like this always resonate with me, and I think they’re something which most readers will be able to relate to, even as the haunting melodies of school assembly hymns send shivers down their spines. This is the first story of Lerman’s which I have read, and on the strength of it I sincerely hope it won’t be the last.
- Next, Andrew Hook’s “Bullet” was a story of complex construction and idea which from the first few words sang to me. The main character searches the backstreets of Bangkok for a girl who he has just met, and who has apparently disappeared. The story is interwoven with a strange crime-noir “version” of Franz Kafka’s “The Castle”, and the conclusion leaves the reader with the unsettling questions of how much was actually real. An excellent story.
- Closing off the story section, “Tower of Babel” by Sean Logan is a chilling rendition of the outsider tale. Four people on what is nominally a business junket spend some time on a small and isolated Italian island, and get a front-row seat at one of the more bizarre old country superstitions. It feeds on a relatable strain of envy, inadequacy, and the secret belief of all writers that their ilk are all that stands between the world and eternal darkness. And who is to say they are wrong?
As always, in addition to the fiction there are the columns. Witty as ever, Stephen Volk’s “Coffinmaker’s Blues” discusses horror in the theatre. This is something which I haven’t actually experienced — I don’t, I confess, go to the theatre nearly as much as I would like — but about which I have always been curious. Volk’s investigation is well informed by his own (extensive) personal experience, and when he concludes that “…maybe theatre is the only place to do truly exciting work now“, you can’t help but suspect he may be right.
The second column belongs, these days, to Lynda E. Rucker — entitled “Blood Pudding”. This is her debut, which has got to be a fairly terrifying prospect for even the most seasoned of writers. Thankfully, Rucker seems to be a natural, and her piece on the importance of the unknown to horror hit the nail precisely on the head. An auspicious start!
And there we are. Black Static always skates close to the edge of modern horror, exploring the darker regions over the edge of the map. Issue #34 doesn’t disappoint in that fare. It is 96 pages of the best fiction and non-fiction, and really is essential reading for anyone with any interest in the genre.