Black Static #39 – A Review

black static #39

Do you want to know a secret? Writing the introduction to a review is my least favourite part of the whole thing. It’s rare that I won’t know what I think of a film or story, and if I don’t know starting out where I’ll finish up, the very process of writing it tends to steer me towards one.

No, it’s the introduction. The watching the wordcount as I ramble on, wondering if I’ve done so enough that I can just jump onto the meat of the matter. I’m impatient, basically. As a kid it was the oversweet luxury of desert that I craved, and that has never really gone away.

Black Static, as ever, is the best magazine in the horror business. Certainly in the UK. Probably in the world at large. It has been a part of my diet since my student days, lounging in halls on lazy afternoons when I should have been writing essays, getting lost in worlds of darkness and monsters.

I’m not much of a marketing shill, but if you are at all interested in modern horror — or explorations of the human soul — then you could do a lot worse than a subscription to Black Static. I don’t profess to like every story, but I’ve yet to read one from which I haven’t taken something away.

Is that enough of an introduction ? (Yes, that’ll do – Ed)

  • “Kebab Bob” by Robert Ralph Moore opens this issue. It’s a surreal one, about a man (the titular Bob) joined to three others by a metal bar through their hips, after some manner of industrial accident. The story was a bit overlong for me, but it had an interesting urban legend feel, and a fairly powerful message of the downsides in normality, no matter how hard you crave it. And Bob himself is a fascinatingly formed character.
  • Tyler Keevil’s “Hot Feet” is an odd one. Plot-wise it follows a series of serial killings (maybe?) in which body-less feet appear at the beach. It is rather simple, the discoverer of the first foot turning amateur sleuth hoping to find the answer. It is well-written, with excellent prose that pops to life on the page. And that’s my excuse for not seeing the ending coming.
  • “The Brack” by Vajra Chandrasekera is another odd one, but I really liked it. In an unidentified country, a victorious veteran resettled in the region he helped to conquer mourns his dead wife, under the blank gaze of his new one. There is a rich background, portrayed in a few scattered lines about state-arranged marriage, whilst the gentle tone of the prose eases towards a final moment which is more chilling, more deeply embedded in the inescapeable darkness of the human psyche, than it has any right to be. Beautiful, disturbing horror.
  • Joel Arnold goes to a similarly dark place in his contribution, “The Toyol”. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, a girl who has lost most of her family takes an offer of ‘hotel work’ which predictably ends up with her in sexual slavery. There’s a tradition of horror stories which dig up the myths and legends, monsters and nasties of other cultures, and that is the tradition with which Joel approaches the titular Toyol. It is a skin-crawling little story, well written and managing to use the alien elements to emphasise the desperation.
  • Steven J. Dines’ “The Broken and the Unmade” is another novelette — like “Kebab Bob” — and this one centres around a Holocaust survivor. Now, usually I find that the subject has been mined a bit dry by the horror genre in particular. But Dines’ story is one part ghost story, one part about the burden of survivorship — not just those who survive the event itself, but those who survive the damage passed down generations. And it works. The emotional core is powerful, the tragedy in the most part alluded to, and the loss real. I found I had to sip, rather than drink this down in one, and it bears more than a little musing on to tease out deeper meanings.
  • Closing up the fiction, “House Party Blues” by Suzanne Palmer is more in the classic monster story vein. Which is absolutely not a criticism; I loved it. A fairly undefined and ethereal creature takes over a house, and its dysfunctional husband and wife occupants, only to be disturbed by a group of partying students in the house next door. There are two stories here; the monster dealing with the people, and the abusive marital relationship. And both are excellent.

I’m always a little wary of reading themes into issues of Black Static, because I know that’s not how editor Andy Cox picks his stories, but there is a running theme through the final four stories of abusive relationships. I’m not sure how much that actually says, but there is certainly a lot of horror — of fear, of darkness, of repulsion — in relationships gone bad.

As always, Black Static #39 boasts its two columnists, Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker. Stephen’s touches on the people who inspire us, and alongside the core of recognising those who help you get to where you are going, there is a fascinating insight to his own journey. Lynda’s approaches the cause of promoting women in the genre with some reluctance, a distaste which many of us will share that such discussion is still necessary; finishing on the note that she doesn’t want to be a women writing horror, she just wants to be a horror writer.

There are also the usual collection of book reviews (Peter Tennant) and DVDs (Tony Lee) closing the issue out, but since I tend not to review reviews (it gets far too meta and self-referential), I suppose I’m left having enjoyed my meal of horror and looking wistfully to May and issue #40.

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