Review: Black Static, Issue 53

“Another strong issue.”

The months seem to fly by; late July and already it’s time for another issue of Black Static, that bastion of quality, literary horror. In this volume, there are no less than seven short stories alongside the usual opinion pieces and reviews. So, going from left to right …

Issue #53 opens with Stephen Volk’s ruminations on the “time suck” that online social platforms such as Facebook have the potential to become to writers and other creative persons. He convincingly postulates that there is a real danger of addiction to such a medium; for the attention it seems to confer, for the illusion of importance, for the often false sense of community and personal relationships. Interesting stuff.

Following this, Lynda E. Rucker gives us a brief overview of significant horror stories she feels embody the linking theme of setting, of geography. There are a great number of interesting writers and stories mentioned, and it might behove the avid horror reader to seek them out, if they already haven’t.

 And so to the fiction.

‘Inheritance or The Ruby Tear’ by Priya Sharma gives us a tale very much told in a classical tone, giving the impression of being produced contemporaneously with Poe or Dickens, yet its themes and content lean towards a modern sensibility. Touching on notions of grief, love, insanity, deception, jealousy, and mixing in a familiar legend with a new twist, it might not be anything especially mind-blowing, but it’s certainly a strong and solid opener.

Next up is ‘Breathing’ by Steve Rasnic Tem, a short, hypnotic, almost stream-of-consciousness piece which peels back its layers through powerful, poetic, and intense prose, mixing metaphor, dream, and aching memory to great effect. It’s a story that demands rereading in order to try and decipher its mysteries, that rare work which grows with repeated exposure. Masterful.

Third tale is ‘Dare’ by Harmony Neal, and in this we have three teenage girls who engage in a game of Truth of Dare, with unexpectedly violent results. It’s an odd story, well told, though feels partially truncated, as though it is only a fragment of a larger piece; and might have worked slightly better without the use of footnotes in the early paragraphs. These could easily have been incorporated into the story proper. Yet it still manages to convey its themes of nihilism, isolation, and insecurity well.

Another short tale, Kristi DeMeester’s ‘The Rim of the World’ is a dark, oppressive meditation on memory, sorrow, and pain, which sets its tone from the very first word and pushes inexorably to its melancholic finale. It’s gorgeous, in only the way that a well-written, literary Weird tale can be, and wrings some wonderful imagery from its pitch-perfect prose. Another piece that benefits from a second reading.

And the hits keep coming. ‘Tohuko’ (a region in Japan) by Danny Rhodes is a melancholic piece which follows its grieving protagonist who searches dutifully for his wife, lost when a tsunami devastates the area. This is an intense literary, ghost story, which is as much, if not more, about the processes of grief and misery, as it is about any potential haunting. There are some deeply moving scenes in this short story, all of which are delivered with clean, quiet, and subtle writing. It’s a beautiful work, and quite possibly one of the highlights in a volume filled with them.

Stephen Hargadon’s ‘Mittens’ is a fractured, sometimes disjointed and hard-to-sense-the-setting-of story of a man who has spent his life managing strange, carnival, and fringe, circus acts, and who appears—at the start—to have been arrested for murder. We are then presented with a hodgepodge inventory of acts he’s worked with which slowly spirals into the one act which may explain the corpse in his room and his state of undress; save for a pair of woollen mittens. As the tale reaches its conclusion, the initial blanks are filled in, but it feels as if, once more, this would have worked as a longer piece with more detail. There are some fantastic concepts and wonderful imagery here—such as the man who dazzles on stage with his astounding ability to knit, or the odd, living creature created from wool which emerges from a corpse—but it all feels partly buried under an attempt to be too clever. Pity.

Finally, we have ‘In The Frame’ by Charles Wilkinson, a rather wonderful, dark piece which is again, firmly in the Weird, but also manages to convey a small sense of Noir; most notably in its James Ellroy staccato sentence structure at the beginning, and peppered throughout the text. As we follow the hapless protagonist on his search for a strange art gallery, the world round him seems to take on a stranger and stranger aspect, leading him to the wrong gallery and some very weird exhibits. The nature of these paintings is masterfully conveyed, an almost tangible sense of the vastness of cosmic horror, and it partly foreshadows the coming fate of our ‘hero’. This fate is also foreshadowed by a painful memory, and while this memory might lead to an inevitable conclusion as to the end—a conclusion which isn’t wrong, though it manifest in unpredictable fashion—it is wholly necessary for the story to work. An excellent piece of work, and a powerful conclusion to the fiction on offer.

As always, there are book reviews by Peter Tennant, focusing on themed anthologies, and works by and connected to Clive Barker, and DVD/Blu-Ray reviews by Gary Couzens.

All in all, another strong issue of the magazine, with perhaps a tiny dip here and there in the subjective quality of one or two stories. All are accompanied by various artworks, and the striking cover of this issue is by Tara Bush.


Publisher: TTA Press.
Paperback: (96 pp)
Release Date: 11 July 2016 (July-August issue)

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