Black Static #38 (Jan/Feb) – A Review

black static #38

I don’t think that I’ve ever seen an obituary in an issue of Black Static. Interzone includes brief notes on genre figures who have passed away, as part of Ansible Link. But the obituary — the glowing tribute to Joel Lane in Black Static #38, penned by Nicolas Royle, is something else.

I never met Joel, and I only read a few of his stories. They had a dark, brooding atmosphere which resonated with a distinct sense of place. He had a distinctive and powerful style of writing, focusing on very British locations, and the weird close to everyday life.

When he sadly passed away at the far-too-young age of fifty, my Facebook page was alive with people shocked, hurt and in mourning at the lost of someone key to the genre. Although I didn’t know, the shockwave which his death caused was undeniable and inescapable. A picture has emerged of a British genre stalwart taken too soon.

And as such, the idea of an issue of Black Static in tribute is very attractive indeed.

  • Andrew Hook’s “A Knot of Toads” opens the fiction, with a story about an apparent curse and the man who carries it. Tied up with various collective nouns just to appeal to logophiles like myself. Groups of animals herald (natural) deaths in people the main character meets, and the story wallows in blind wandering through the shadows of could be, would be, maybe not, and the lack of clarity is the narrator’s mind fighting between reason and superstition. Beautiful.
  • “The Last Fear” by Tim Waggoner is another slightly odd one. Centring around a man tormented by the same dream each night. The layers of psychoanalysis exploring basic fears are detailed and intriguing. But at its most effective core, is a simple and unsettling story about fear.
  • “Passion Play” by Malcolm Devlin was one which really sang to me, probably my favourite of the lot. Wrapping up a Crimewatch-style re-enactment with imagery of the passion of the Christ (not the Mel Gibson film). The beautifully crafted prose gives life to childhood friendships and rivalries, and those urban whispers of ghost stories. In the case of a disappeared girl, the questions around those who saw her but didn’t see are the darkest which stand out in the light of attention.
  • Maura McHugh is a very talented writer, of whom I have read regretfully few tales. Her story here, “The Hanging Tree” is a work of beauty, centring around a girl scarred by the death of her father on the day of her birth. The shadow of the titular hanging tree lies heavy over the community, and the main character herself, its branches stretching deep through everyday life. A powerful tale of the long-standing effects which tragic events can have.
  • Danny Rhodes’ “Passchendaele” is an oddly mournful and nostalgic tale, centred around the battlefields of World War One France, now returned to picturesque farmland. It is a darkly beautiful story, with an awareness that the truth of things, of what has gone before, is never very far beneath the surface.
  • Closing the fiction this issue is the novelette “His Artist Wife” by John Grant. It is a strange story, which moves like quicksand, continually shifting. It was a hard one to get a handle on, as it is never quite clear how the story runs, and it took a confusing while to realise that was the tale itself. A strange, ghostly tale about the end of relationships, and the unreliable nature of memory. A decidedly and appropriately poignant note to finish on.

This is a weird, slightly mournful selection of stories. Which fits the mood like a glove. I finish with a slightly heavy heart, but like I have seen a wider glimpse of the world.

There are the usual reviews of books, films and DVDs, including a very interesting interview with author Gary Fry. And there are the two columnists: Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker.

Stephen finishes the two-part column he began last issue, looking at the threats of a changing world to writers, particularly screenwriters. It is a frustrated gasp of annoyance from someone who knows first hand. It’s not a picture without hope, but I do hope that a great many people read it. Lynda’s column focuses on the image of horror, the brand. It’s a subject I’ve been known to muse on myself, but Lynda looks at how the perception of horror can put off potential fans, and she does it very well indeed.

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