Short Stories

Interzone #254 (Sep/Oct 2014) – A Review


interzone 254

Does TTA Press head honcho Andy Cox read my blog, I wonder? In the case of the reviews of Interzone and Black Static, I’d have to say yes; more than once he has shared them on Facebook and Twitter. So it was pretty clear that he’d read them — at least enough to make sure that I wasn’t slandering his name.

But now I wonder if he might not have been listening a little more carefully; this is because issue #254 contains, for the first time, a pair of columns.

This is a feature which Black Static has boasted for a long while, and which regular readers (Hello to both of you! -Ed) will know that I have long said Interzone needed. And whilst Jonathan McCalmont isn’t a name immediately familiar to me, Nina Allen is exactly the sort of person this job demands.

Read on…

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Table of Contents for Infinite Science Fiction One


infinite acacia

Unforgivably, I seem to have missed the announcement by publisher Infinite Acacia of the table of contents for their upcoming anthology Infinite Science Fiction One the other week. Why is it unforgivable? Because my story “Nothing Beside Remains” is one of those which will be gracing its pages!

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a fantastically enthusiastic and attentive editor getting this story ready for publication, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m not sure of a release date yet, but I’ll post it as soon as I hear. In the meantime, here are the awesome writers I will be sharing pages with:

  1. “Real” by Janka Hobbs
  2. “By the Numbers” by Tim Major
  3. “Tin Soul” by Elisabeth Bannon
  4. “Six Minutes” by P. Anthony Ramanauskas
  5. “Matchmaker” by John Walters
  6. “The Wedding” by Nick Hilbourn
  7. “Slow”by Jay Wilburn
  8. “Gospel Of” by Rebecca Ann Jordan
  9. “The Silent Dead” by Dan Devine
  10. “Nothing Beside Remains” by Matthew S. Dent
  11. “The Night with Stars” by William Ledbetter
  12. “Butterflies” by Doug Tidwell
  13. “Rolling by in the Moonlight” by Liam Nicholas Pezzano
  14. “Infinity” by J.B. Rockwell

“News from Unknown Countries” by Tim Lees – A Review


news from unknown countries by tim lees

(Amazon, 240pp, £3.21)

This review (or a shorter version) was originally published in issue #251 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

I’m reliably informed that this is the first self-published book which Interzone has reviewed. So no pressure then — I suppose that must be the hand of God on my shoulder, rather than Jim Steel and Andy Cox. I think I’ll leave that comparison where it lies…

Tim Lees is not unknown to [Interzone‘s] pages. His short story “Unknown Cities of America” featured in issue #249 – of the others, three each appeared in Interzone and Black Static, and two in The Third Alternative. When he sent me the collection, Tim said that he saw e-publishing as the future, and viewed this as a sort of experiment. So at least I’m not the only one sailing boldly into the unknown here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Unknown Cities of America” doesn’t itself feature in this collection, but thirteen other tales do.

Read on…

Interzone #251 – A Review


interzone #251I’m sure somebody will disagree with me here, but I don’t know of any fiction magazine as consistently striking as Interzone.

Obviously a book, or magazine, shouldn’t be judged by its cover, but presentation is important, and the new(ish) design of the Interzone cover supplemented with a succession of frankly fantastic artwork, only makes the interior more enticing.

Interzone‘s in the wild are a fairly rare occasion — the shelves of W.H. Smith being stocked mainly with nonsense — which is a shame really. Actually, I think this would stand out a mile off on a newsagent’s shelf.

And if I saw it there, hell I’d pick it up! Wouldn’t you?

I’m not sure what the point of this little pre-review rant is, just that some of the best genre material is something of a secret by the simple fact of a lack of exposure. There is no reason at all that magazines like Interzone should be just for established fans.

Read on…

What’s in a title?


andromeda

As a writer — particularly a short story writer — one of the most difficult parts of creating a story is actually naming the damn thing.

So many works-in-progress and, yes, the neglected hulks of abandoned half-completed tales, bear names such as “Black Hole Story” and “Horror #17”. Not terribly exciting, I know. Usually once the beast is completed, a title does present itself, and there are the rare gems where the title falls into place during the creation process.

But no, there is a distinct art to titles, and it’s an art which I’m very much an admirer of. Not simply in fiction — though I will say that I have particular love for Heinlein’s time-travel classic “All You Zombies”, and the Hugo-nominated “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick — but actually I find that the titles of TV series episodes are where some of the best work is to be found.

Read on…

Black Static #37 (Nov/Dec) – A Review


black static #37 Like  Interzone, Black Static has found its way to my doormat.

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.

(more…)

Save Escape Artists podcasts!


escape artists podcasts

When I was in  university, I travelled by train a lot. Mostly this was due to having a long-distance relationship for two and a half of the three years (we’re now living together, and will be soon celebrating five years of our relationship, for anyone who cares) and travelling two to three hours across the country most weekends. And to fill that time, I read.

To start with, I read novels and magazines. The likes of Black Static and Interzone and the now sadly defunct Murky Depths. I devoured fiction, and even sometimes my textbooks. It was in this mad hunger for the storytelling — and a desire to escape the interminable boredom of public transport — that I discovered the Escape Artist podcasts.

It was actually through TTA Press’ own (apparently also now-defunct) podcast Transmissions from Beyond that I came to encounter first Escape Pod, then Pseudopod. And I was hooked throughout and beyond my university years. More lately I’ve even started listening to the third sibling, PodCastle.

But now these titans of (free) genre fiction are under threat, and they need your help.

Read on…

“Across the Event Horizon” by Mercurio D. Rivera – A Review


across the event horizon by mercurio d riveraThis review was originally published in issue #247 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

(NewCon Press, 268pp, pb £11.99)

When I was a fresh-faced pup, new to the beckoning worlds of science-fiction and their siren calls of “what-if”, one of the first stories I chanced upon was in TTA’s own podcast –- a little tale entitled “The Scent of Their Arrival”, by a wordsmith called Mercurio D. Rivera.

It clearly had some sort of impact, given that I’m still devouring any and all speculative fiction with the gleeful gratitude of a starving man given a pasty. So it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that I jumped at the chance to read and review Rivera’s short story collection.

Read on…

“The Unspoken” ed. William Meikle – A Review


the unspoken

(Karoshi Books, 140pp, eb £2.88 pb £8.99)

These days I tend to get quite a few books and anthologies to review. Which is nice. Free reading material, and clearly someone somewhere cares what I have to say about it. Which, as I say, is nice.

“The Unspoken”, however, is a bit different than most of the stuff that I get. For one thing, it’s a charity anthology. Billed as horror authors fighting back against cancer, it has seventeen stories from some of the big names at the ragged edge of modern horror (and, yes, some names I’m not familiar with too).

As far as pedigree goes, you don’t get bigger than Ramsey Campbell, the mainstay of British horror himself, writing the introduction. Ramsey rights about his own brushes with cancer within his family — a testament to how deeply its tentacles snake — and how people are never really gone as long as we hold onto their memory.

And roll on the stories, seventeen wordsmiths fighting back with their pens.

Read on…

Black Static #31 (Nov/Dec 2012) – A Review


Black Static #31So here it is at last. My long promised review of Black Static issue#31.

I’ve been reading TTA Press’ horror mag for the same length of time that I’ve been reading its sister magazine Interzone, and the heir to The Third Alternative was even then established as a monolith of the UK genre scene. I think issue #10 was the first one I read, and as I opened the glossy cover and dipped into the stories I think that was the moment I became truly hooked on the short story.

I think there’s room for a whole blog post of my musings on short form fiction, but this is neither the time nor the place. Instead, what I will say is that whether you love short stories or are simply curious about them, whether you are an adoring devotee and junkie of horror or just want to know what makes it tick, Black Static reallyought to be your first port of call.

Its present form is somewhat different from that first one I tore the plastic off. A recent redesign has seen it taking more of a comic book look — strongly reminiscent of the late Murky Depths. And if this issue is anything to go by, editor Andy Cox is moving towards including “novelettes” — loathsome terminology, in my opinion — as an integral part.

The stories, though, are still what the whole thing turns on, and so without further ado, my thoughts on them:

  • “Barbary” by Jackson Khul: We open with one of the above mentioned novelettes. I don’t think I’ve read any of Khul’s writing before, but this is a very good piece of fiction. It follows an ailing sailor, who discovers that the cure to his chronic pain is the embalmed deceased of ancient Egypt. I won’t go into details about the plot, as although it was very good, it was the peculiar and slightly archaic way in which it was written – fitting the plot like a glove – which fascinated me. It has a flavour of Lovecraft, with its dark subject matter, and its style of writing. Thankfully no racism here though. An excellent piece of fiction.
  • “Sister” by Seán Padraic Birnie: In contrast to the preceding story, this is a raw, personal and emotional form of horror. After his sister’s death, the main character builds an effigy of her, a monument into which he pours all his grief. The writing has a hollowness to it which will be intimately familiar to anyone who has ever suffered loss, and the beautifully crafted ending is both moving and decidedly chilling.
  • “The Perils of War According to the Common People of Hansom Stret” by Steven Pirie: I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this. I liked it, I’m fairly certain about that, but it’s a rather strange little story. Set during the blitz, it’s unclear whether “…Perils…” is alternate history or not. It shows a bombing — or possibly German invasion — of an English street from the perspective of the various peoples present, with all the while one character looming like a spectre of death made incarnate through the War itself.
  • “The Things That Get You Through” by Steven J. Dines: another odd one. I spent most of the time reading it thinking that it was much too long, and that whilst the writing was sound it was dragging like an insufficiently supported canvas. However, once I reached the end I changed my mind completely. This is another grief-themed piece, using the five stages of grief as a mechanism to drive the story. The slow pace drives perfectly the process-like nature of bereavement, and sets up for a fantastic final conclusion. A really excellent story and piece of horror.
  • “Skein and Bone” by V. H. Leslie: the final novelette, this one following two sisters on a holiday to France. On their way from Paris to La Rochelle, they stop off at an apparently abandoned chateau, and – well, you can see where it’s headed. This is a tour de force of horror ideas, exploring sibling relationships, vanity and intrusion/isolation/otherness. You know the ending is coming, but it’s the manner in which it does that provides the fascination, and a thoughtfully sinister pay-off at the end.
  • “Two Houses Away” by James Cooper: Cooper is undoubtledly a very gifted writer, with a lot of ability, but I’m afraid to say that I often feel like his stories go over my head. And that’s true of “Two Houses Away” in many ways. Another grief-themed story – a theme for the issue, perhaps? — the central idea around which the plot revolves is the mysterious reappearance of an old man’s deceased wife. It’s well written, and raises a powerful atmosphere of anticipation, but I’m afraid the climax just seemed too ambiguous and open-ended for me.

So there we have it. If I’m honest, I more frequently find stories which don’t quite resonate with me in Black Staticthan in Interzone, and I think that’s because of the former’s tendency towards the experimental cutting edge of its genre. Horror is a very personal genre, and what doesn’t do it for me might well have the opposite impact on someone else. And, actually, I can’t recall reading a single bad story I’ve read on Black Static’s pages.

The magazine also features book and DVD reviews (which, again, I won’t review here). Additionally, it has two non-fiction columns, from screenwriter Stephen Volk and novelist Christopher Fowler. Volk’s column this issue is the concluding section of a two-part retrospective on his brilliant TV mockumentary Ghostwatch. And Fowler gives a frankly excellent summation of the career of a professional writer, particularly his thoughts on compromising your brand. Well worth a read, both of them.

If anyone reading this thinks that horror is just ghosts, gore and serial killers, I urge them to get hold of a copy of Black Static. I’m a firm believe that you can tell a lot about a society from the things that terrify it, and the stories which are on the front lines of the genre at the moment are a psychological, introspective crop focusing on grief, lost and exclusion. Make of that whatever you like, except that it does lead to some brilliant storytelling.