Despite the fact that it hasn’t yet gained the full-colour interior which its sister magazine already enjoys, I do think that the change in format has done Black Static a lot of favours. It has a professional, slick appearance, with a weighty feel in the hand.
The addition of a longer-form novelette to the fiction roster — which I presume is a standing change? — is welcome, broadening the scope of what really is the only game in town, in terms of a high-quality British print periodical dedicated to horror and general dark fiction.
And I warn you, this seems to be a particularly dark issue. The stories within it haunt the shadows, and pull you in a little closer. It doesn’t shine a light into the darkness, but pushes the darkness out into where you’re reading.
Into where you live.
- The opening story, Laura Mauro’s “When Charlie Sleeps”, has an almost Lovecraftian feel to it. Three women in a London squat nurse a monster in a bathtub, which may or may not be the avatar of London. It’s a dark tale, steeped in layers of mystery, and with a profoundly uncomfortable strain of domestic violence running through the background.
- It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Ray Cluely won this year’s British Fantasy Award for best short story, given the sheer number of the things he’s had published in Black Static. This issue he has “Bones of Crow”, which is one of those slightly surreal stories which feels like a half-remembered dream. It hints at the childish glee of discovering a mysterious clutch of eggs, and blends that excitement of potential with the crushing reality of life.
- “All Your Faces Drown in my Syringe” by Ralph Robert Moore is one of the most viscerally dark stories which I’ve seen in these pages. A couple are cursed to have their — well, his — family demons manifest through paranormally short pregnancies. I don’t pretend to know what the ritual was about , and there was a lingering sense of what the hell. But the simple, cumulative horror of a couple undergoing childbirth catastrophe over and over is a repeated punch to the gut, as optimism is kindled and extinguished in a bitterly repeated cycle.
- In a similarly vein, DeAnna Knippling’s “The Strongest Thing About Me is Hate” is very dark. A letter from a woman to her brother tells her side of a childhood tragedy. The narrative is misleading, with corrections included in the text itself. But whatever interpretation you take, the darkness beneath the surface hints of some horrific trauma left to fester.
- Every time I review one of Priya Sharma’s stories, I seem to end up praising her as one of the most exciting new talents in horror/fantasy at the moment. I’m afraid with “The Sunflower Seed Man” i’m going to be doing the same. The story of a reluctant mother being brought closer to her daughter through bereavement pairs creepy plant-based weirdness with some stirring ideas about people.
- The fiction closes out with “The Sound of Constant Thunder”, a post-apocalyptic novelette by Steven J. Dines. A former litter picker remains in the abandoned and irradiated remains of an unnamed southern English city, being tormented by the memory of his father. It’s a strange wasteland of cannibals, dead children, and half-mad wanderers; a brutal, stark and depressing tale, which in another issue it might shock on that front. But it is a good story. Well written and meaningful, with a great deal of emotional weight behind it. I do wish the titular Wi-Fi induced ‘thunder’ had been more explored a bit more, but it does serve perfectly as the isolation factor of a character more at ease in the wasteland than civilisation.
Black Static isn’t just about the stories, though. Columnists Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker both offer excellent perspective on the genre. Volk launches an attack on the depressingly low regard in which writers are apparently held in the film and TV industries. And someone of his experience would certainly know…
Meanwhile, Rucker takes on the portrayal of madness and women, using particular reference to American Horror Story: Asylum, beloved of this parish. It’s a well informed journey through different gender roles in horror — and reality. It’s good stuff, but I do wonder if it wouldn’t benefit from a bit of a longer form.
And really “I wish it were longer” applies to the whole thing. Now I suppose I start counting down the days until issue #38.