Nothing underscores quite how behind I’ve gotten with my reading, as much as the new Black Static dropping onto the doormat before I’ve even finished with the last one. Yes, I confess my shame.
It’s to do with a busy schedule, I would stress, rather than any particular flaw in this issue. My reading is apparently quite heavily reliant on the two hours daily that I spend commuting to work. A sizable chunk, in fact, of my life has been spent in the company of the pages of Black Static on trains, over the years. And it can get damn spooky on a rickety late night London Bridge to Brighton, with only cutting edge short horror for company.
A good way to make the time go quicker, at least.
- “Be Light. Be Pure. Be Close to Heaven” by Sara Saab opens the fiction, a story of a strange cult of self-mortification, whereby believers accept their god through the sacrifice of a part of their body. A young girl grapples with the decision, as her childhood friend and sweetheart turns away from the true path. The cultish undertones mix with the body horror for a story which sets the teeth on edge.
- “Scarecrow” by Alyssa Wong is another adolescence themed story, where a boy deals with the crushing death of having killed the boy he loved after bullying by peers. The manifestation of guilt through the sueprnatrual; it’s never quite clear whether the crow-like symptoms emerging in the boys are real or metaphor. Whichever, the tragedy is thick and strong, wrapped in the beauty of teenage romance, with a note at the ending of the pain of being left behind to get on with life.
- Noah Wareness’ “What Happened to Marly and Lanna” is another story of childhood — maybe a theme, or maybe just fertile ground for horror? A brother and sister care for and eventually bury their dying dog, with parents negligent on the periphery. This one lost me in terms of the plot progression, and particularly the significance of the Salvation Army stuff, but the voice of the narative is undeniable. Childlike, heavy with surreal interpretation of events beyond the narator’s (and mine, apparently) understanding. Not my favourite, but I could see that it might be other readers’.
- “Patrimony” by Matthew Cheney was something of a different order. In some sort of post-apocalyptic world without, for whatever reason, children. A stranger arrives, and sets about impregnating all of the women. He moves on, and the victims track him down for punishment — but his cruelty is reincarnated in not only the offspring, but in the brutality of the victims. A potent cycle of violence in the ruins of civilisation, which picks at the thin shroud between us and barbarism. Definite hints of the abyss over which we all hang.
- Vampire stories are a bit overdone these days, but “Goat Eyes” by David D. Levine shows the spark of creativity which retains. After an attack by a vampire, the narator hides away in her home, doubting whether what she saw really was what she thinks it was. When she’s almost back to normal, she find apparent evidence, and turns vigilante — with consequences she didn’t expect. As a sexual assault metaphor, it’s a little blunt. But then perhaps it should be. And it adds that malicious, predatory, sexual element back into the vampire psyche. An entertaining and interesting little story on a number of fronts.
- Kristi DeMeester’s “December Skin” is another dark one. A borther and sister stop at a motel, on the run from the darkness inside her. It’s short, to the point, but poignant for that fact. The ending isn’t a surprise, but it’s tilted at so expertly in the final line, with such sinister subtext, that it sends a shiver down the spine. Brilliant stuff.
- Closing out the fiction, we have “The Bury Line” by Stephen Hargadon. Theme-wise, it doesn’t sit with the others, but it makes itself into something interesting. An office worker recounts his previous bosses, and present day encounters with them working on the railway. It’s a bit odd, but fits its theme of office-work despair and screaming at the blandness of the world. The idea of something more, working beneath the surface is an engaging one which fits well with the vessel of the railway network. I may be a bit biased, though, given as I mentioned above that I’m a regular commuter. But the wrapping up of the story in an element of supreme tragedy, and the idea of dying so slowly that you don’t notice it, those are some interesting ideas. A slow story, one to ruminate on; and a good one to end on.
As ever, the magazine’s two columnists ply their trade before the fiction.
Stephen Volk does what he does best, peeling back the layers of the genre to expose an author I had never heard of: Dennis Wheatley. The thing I love about Stephen is his passion, and it is that which gives life to a dead author who I have never read before. He’s a good ambassador, is Mr Volk.
Lynda E. Rucker’s column looks to extremity, and how we should feel about the extremes of horror as a genre. It’s an interesting thought, and one which will be familiar to anyone who has ever sighed when reading an opinion piece blaming some piece of art for an atrocity, or who has wondered on the pseudo-censorship of certain themes being explored (or not) in fiction. Sensitivity, yes, but Lynda’s point that storytelling needs to be about truth resonates strongly.
So apologies for the late review. It was, as I’m sure you can see from the reading, not due to any dislike I had for the content. I’ve read better issues, admittedly, but Black Static on its worst day is still better than a thousand other fiction magazines on a thousand different shelves. There’s a reason I’ve been reading it since my university days, and its the self-same reason that you should pick up a copy.