“Certainly more than enough to interest even the most casual reader of literary horror and dark fiction.”
The months—and years—seem to roll around far too quick, these days; only very recently, it seemed there had been a new Black Static, and here already is the next issue. So what delights does this volume of the best UK periodical for dark fiction hold for us?
First off, is a rather poignant and reflective piece from Stephen Volk, who pens his final column for the magazine after twelve years or so. It is, fittingly, a rumination on his own current (and past) creative whereabouts, and also takes in the very nature of why we tell stories in the first place. A very well-considered piece to end on, and This Is Horror wishes Mr Volk all the best in his future endeavours.
Following this, Lynda E. Rucker looks at the use of children and childhood in horror and dark fiction, citing films and books both of the past and current. Insightful stuff, though heavy on the nature of children as victims and suffering protagonists, but sidestepping the use of children as malign antagonists. Perhaps another column … ?
And so to the fiction.
First up is ‘McMara’s Rock’, by Stephen Hargadon, easily the longest story here (verging on novella length). It is a rambling, almost-stream-of-consciousness tale of a mysterious split rock in a field in rural Ireland, which finally settles on two brothers who come to inherit the land (and rock), and their tangentially tragic, yet wildly different lives. Though lyrical and poetically detailed (as befitting a story set in Ireland from an Irish writer), it takes far too long to get to its point, and buries both its rather predictable ending and its hints at a larger cosmic horror in a wealth of gossipy narrative. A shame, for there are some wonderful images to be had, and a keen sense of the tragedy of insanity.
Next is Lisa Tuttle’s ‘A Home In The Sky’, a rather lovely and melancholy piece about the desperate desire to become a homeowner, and the shame of not being able to afford to. Wrapping its fateful heroine in a blanket of slightly surrealist absurdity, it manages to both unsettle and move the reader with some perfectly-pitched, pacy prose.
‘Pigskin’, by David Hartley, re-imagines a nightmarish version of Orwell’s Animal Farm, but makes it wholly his own, creating one those rare pieces of fiction (in both the written form and in film) which manages to fully embody the aspect of what nightmares feel like. It’s darkly poetic, blackly humorous, yet beneath the grime, gore, and horror, actually has something to say, but says it without preaching. Some wonderful imagery held together with highly original prose.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (surely the greatest name for a writer, ever??) gives us ‘Something Deadly, Something Dark’, an absolutely absorbing tale of a band playing a micro-tour in a quarantined section of America called ‘the land of the dead’, where strange shadows, flora and fauna have arisen, and those caught inside can never leave. It is a journey through the darkest nightmares as the hapless musicians haphazardly negotiate the dangers and some to realise even those closest to them might be ‘other’.
In ‘A Very Lonely Revolution’, Simon Avery creates a delicate and moving examination of love, loss, grief, and the desire for something that is, perhaps, unattainable. Its very subtle horror continually threatens to give way to clichéd scary movie fare, yet easily wrong-foots us as it sidesteps this with ease, progressing to a deeply moving finale, which even contains a glimmer of fragile hope. A wonderful piece which deserves to be explored further in a more immersive tome, we hope.
The shortest story by far, is the last; ‘Vaseline Footprints’ by Jeff Bowles, which allows inside the head of its unnamed narrator. It is a visit we wish we could forgo, telling as it does of dead bodies in closets, of the many ways he wishes his boss would die, and of the painful ministrations he must make to his wounded feet. Though well written and containing some nice imagery, it ultimately feels a little lacking, and though very short, still manages to meander without really coalescing into anything outstanding.
Last but not least, there is a very in-depth and informative interview with rising dark fiction writer V. H. Leslie, the usual informative book and film reviews, and some wonderfully dark artwork by various artists to accompany the stories.
In conclusion, perhaps a slightly uneven volume this time, though certainly more than enough to interest even the most casual reader of literary horror and dark fiction. And some absolutely outstanding pieces of fiction, which—subjectivity being what it is—might even differ from those cited above for other readers.
Publisher: TTA Press.
Paperback: (96 pp)
Release Date: 15 November 2016
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