A friend of mine recently expressed an interest in short stories. Seeing as it was my introduction to the modern short story, Black Static was the natural choice. And it was this freshly finished issue which I proffered.
Thirty issues have gone by since my first issue , and a lot has changed. But the fiction hasn’t. My first real introduction to the cutting edge of modern horror was through those pages, and every two months the stories still snap with fresh ideas and new names.
The reason for this little spiel is this: you should buy Black Static. You should buy its SF sister magazine Interzone, too. I subscribe, which takes away the pressure of remembering to buy them every two months, and you should consider that too. If you love horror, you’ll love this. If you don’t love horror — well, maybe this will change your mind.
The other purpose of this little introduction is to point out that I don’t currently hold in my hands the current issue — so form an orderly queue to point out corrections please!
- Opening story, “The Crone at the Meadow Gate” by Tim Casson, is a hypnotically odd one. I studied Russian history in sixth form, so any mention of the name Grigori Rasputin peaks my interest. I don’t want to give too much away, because the pay off really is worth it, but it takes Russian history and mixes it up with flavours of folklore to give the former a different, darker twist. This is exactly the sort of story I like, with some brutally dark imagery.
- Chris Barnham’s “Ravello Steps” is another story heavy on imagery. In the heat of an Italian holiday, a husband attempts to follow his wife as she disappears — a regular occurrence — and instead witnesses something deeply strange. The storytelling technique, blending two storylines simultaneously with a internal telling effect, is deeply creative, and the plotline subverts halfway through. Chilling on an emotional and instinctual level, enhanced by the hot weather imagery.
- Now “Golden Avery” by Sarah Read is deeply different story. The story of two girls, from high school to college, always on the different alternating sides. There’s a theme of bullying and revenge, but actually I think there is something much deeper and much more malignant here. A dirty mirror on social attitudes and self-image, a hint of something unpleasant lingering under the surface.
- Stephen Hargadon’s “World of Trevor” hit a curious chime, following a protagonist in a circle of habitual drinkers. The oddity of the “regulars” seen through the eyes of one of their own. The casual crazy is a little less amusing when it starts to suck you in, all to the dulcet tones of Ringo Starr. It hits you, if not where you live, then certainly at the pub round the corner.
- “The Hanged Man” by Steve Rasnic Tem was one which grew on me. To begin with, I wasn’t keen. It is the story of a man whose repeated self-hanging has left his head and neck, er, floppy. On the one hand, it’s a bit daft. But if you look deeper, there is a serious and emotional point of the delayed and continuing repercussions of the decisions we make, on ourselves and those around us.
- Paul Meloy’s “Reclamation Yard” closes the fiction, like a warped version of “Where the Wild Things Are”. If the wild things wanted to eat you, that is. The protagonist, a small child, sees everywhere the monsters of his father’s book, and as his father’s sanity slides away he starts to realise that maybe the tale of monsters, and a monster which feasts on the despair of children, wasn’t just a tale. There’s something about children in horror, the innocence allows an exploration of fundamental natures which is what Meloy does here. It reads as part psychological exploration, and part children’s story romp, with something dark and serious lingering in the background. The illustration work by Ben Baldwin is nothing short of breathtaking, and this story did leave me nursing a tender ache in my chest. A great note to close on.
But as my fellow Black Static readers will know, that isn’t the end. There are the excellent-as-ever columns from Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker. Stephen’s regular guided tours of the world of the screenwriter are something I enjoy a lot, and he always brings a cynical eye. Lynda’s columns tend towards genre self-examination, and she holds up her usual mirror here — continuing on the theme of her recent column on expanding the reach of horror as a genre.
There are also the usual sections where Peter Tennant tells you what to read (including an interview with horror supremo Ramsay Campbell), and Tony Lee tells you what to watch. The non-fiction is to be relished as much as the fiction, and it brings together a holistic vision of a genre which leaves the comfort zone, to really find out what is lingering in the shadows.