Book Review: Black Static, Issue 52

“As a showcase of the quality that Black Static regularly bring to the table, issue 52 is possibly an excellent place for a novice to start, and for regulars, should provide ample reasons to keep subscribing/buying.”

Black Static should be a familiar publication to most horror writers, even if they haven’t read it. It is considered by many to be the epitome of literary horror and dark fiction, and while one might still find the tried and tested tropes from standard horror fiction–ghosts, vampires, monsters, and (gulp!) zombies–within its pages (and though there are also a number of non-fiction sections it is without a doubt that short fiction remains the magazine’s focal point), they will undoubtedly be presented in new and unique ways, the viewpoint firmly on the human condition as opposed to the monster itself. A number of these seemingly perennial creatures appear in the stories presented in issue 52 of the bi-monthly magazine, including possible zombies/infected and a changeling, amongst others, but the overriding theme of the issue seems to be family and close relationships; fractured, skewed and infused with aching emotion as they are.

In the first and longest story, “Wetwork” by Carole Johnstone, we have two weary police officers–partners whose connections run deeper than work–wandering through a bleak, rundown Glasgow that is host to either zombies or some kind of infection, with their ‘beat’ anchored on The Derelict, a twin-tower style double block of flats that’s both abandoned and subsiding. Completely–and smartly–skirting a standard ‘zombie narrative’, Johnstone pens a tale that is both horrific and human, emotional and devastating, but infused with a quiet, mounting dread. Utilising phonetic Scots speech in the dialogue (both Glaswegian and Doric), she grounds her tale in the grime of the city, while her sharp, economic but descriptive prose pulls the story inexorably towards its gut-punch ending. It’s a powerful start to the issue and sets a high bar for those following.

“Deep Within The Marrow, Hidden In My Smile” by Damien Angelica Walters concerns a tale of familial discordance as two young girls become step-sisters when their respective widowed parents marry. The story unfolds with languid yet purposeful and poetic prose, the gradually increasing–yet not outright–hostility faced by the young narrator underpinned by flashes of the weird, by a heartfelt confusion, even by a measure of melancholy. It’s haunting and gorgeous; ambiguous yet also clear and complete; and continues to demonstrate the immense talent of this writer.

The theme of broken families and dark secrets continues in Robert Levy’s “The Oestridae”, in which a twin brother and sister in their early twenties receive a visit from an aunt they don’t recall ever hearing about, in the wake of their mother’s unexplained disappearance. The isolated, dusty, farmhouse setting gives the story a timeless, dreamlike quality, which quickly turns to nightmare as the two siblings are each affected by their aunt in different ways. The writing is expansive, flowing and engrossing, every sentence infused with threat and dark mystery; the foundations of the narrative shifting, unstable and portentous; violence hinted at and glimpsed, yet more affecting than a fully described scene. A wonderful piece of writing suffused with a sense of dark myth and otherworldliness.

Verging on flash fiction is “My Sister, the Fairy Princess” by Michelle Ann King, a short yet affecting piece that follows two very different sisters as they sort through their recently deceased mother’s house and possessions. Despite its brevity, the assured writing takes in memory, family history and secrets, and hints of the supernatural that become more bold towards the end. Though it might have been better served by a slightly more ambiguous conclusion, it still nevertheless manages to convey all the jealousies, rivalries and insecurities of sibling life.

Finally, we have Ralph Robert Moore’s “Trying to Get Back to Nonchalant”, a very dark, very emotional piece of writing wherein a damaged ex-boxer enters a relationship with the receptionist at his doctor’s, getting to know her strange, young daughter in the process. The writing here is crisp and deliberately staccato in places, giving it a particular noir flavour, and although the surface narrative seems straightforward–dealing with various forms of illness and bereavement–the dark undercurrents suggest a portentous and ominous future for the young girl. Another excellent story closing out the five published here.

In summation, a particularly strong issue of the ongoing magazine which is rounded out by original, commissioned artwork to accompany each story, the ever-present ‘comment’ columns by Stephen Volk and Lynda Rucker, reviews by Peter Tennant (books) and Gary Couzens (film & TV), and an informative and in-depth interview with author Paul Meloy. As a showcase of the quality that Black Static regularly bring to the table, issue 52 is possibly an excellent place for a novice to start, and for regulars, should provide ample reasons to keep subscribing/buying.


Publisher: TTA Press.
Paperback: (96 pp)
Release Date: 28 April 2016

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