Book Review: Black Static, Issue 57

“A particularly impressive volume of the ongoing magazine and a strong indication as to why any serious reader of literary horror and dark fiction absolutely needs to take out a subscription with the publishers.”

Time seems to flow far too fast these days. Nearly a quarter of the year is gone already, and here we are with another issue of Black Static, the UK’s high-quality periodical for literary, dark fiction, thought-provoking articles, reviews, and interviews. In this volume we have three long-ish novelettes and one short story rounding out the fiction, all of which are accompanied by some fantastic artwork by the likes of Ben Baldwin and Richard Wagner.

But first are the articles, and Lynda E. Rucker’s regular column deals with the very purpose of writing, asking whether authors should aspire to art for its own vision risking unpopularity, or simply cater to what it would seem the public want (or remain in a comfort zone), and the possible pitfalls of both. Food for thought. Ralph Robert Moore talks about how we can misinterpret works of art (all media), and how sometimes audience interpretations might not tally with the original intent of the artist.

And Moore sticks around with the first fiction offering. ‘Will You Accept These Flowers From Me?’ is a compelling and melancholic tale of a stage magician who feels—with good reason—that his big chance is behind him. Yet he continues on, with his unusual assistant Bella, a chimpanzee. Though occasionally stuttered with tense changes that don’t feel part of the story, and a confusing opening which sees the protagonist slip from hotel room to stage with no obvious break, it nevertheless has a wonderful seam of subtle, cynical emotion, a slipstream sensibility, and a fantastic sense of creeping horror towards the end.

This is followed by Simon Avery’s ‘Sunflower Junction’. It concerns a middle-aged fellow who, whilst perusing the music collection of an aging junkie living in the same Victorian-style apartment building, comes across an album called Sunflower Junction. In trying to track down the musician responsible—a rather obscure and near forgotten individual—we are taken on a beautifully written, tragic tale which the broken pasts of all its characters, and how they struggle to cast off the shackles of experience. It ends on a note of fragile, delicate hope, necessary to what’s gone before, but unexpected and moving. A stunning novelette, that is perfect as is, but would also work just as well in a longer format.

‘Shadows on Parade’ by Mike O’Driscoll follows a young woman who, due to tragedy in her past, suffers from a kind of short term memory loss. In that, she needs—or feels she does—to take photographic and video evidence of her day to day life with (past) partners in order to feel she is real. We meet her in the midst of an apparently volatile relationship, and flit back and forth in time as the nature of her affliction becomes clear; or at least as clear as a few intimating words can be. It’s deeply emotional, engrossing, and wonderfully written; and manages to surprise and confound at every turn, even unto the end.

The final story is by far the shortest, a mere four or five pages in comparison to the previous three long stories. And it does suffer somewhat, being that it feels over almost before it’s done. ‘The Chambermaid’ by Aliya Whiteley is a quick piece which, while very well written, feels like it’s only a snapshot of a longer piece. The main character has barely enough time to reveal herself to us, and a secondary character—vivid and intriguing as she is—comes and goes in a moment. It’s a shame, because the themes and concepts would work well in a longer piece, giving them—and the characters—space to breathe.

Last, but by no means least, are the reviews and interview. Gary Couzens takes us through the latest releases and rereleases on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Peter Tennant has a look at various works of fiction concentrating this issue on Black Static contributors. Tennant also has a deeper look at the work of Andrew Hook, in preface to a rather in-depth and hugely informative interview with the man himself.

All in all, despite a few minor editing issues, a particularly impressive volume of the ongoing magazine and a strong indication as to why any serious reader of literary horror and dark fiction absolutely needs to take out a subscription with the publishers. It really is a testament to the efforts of Andy Cox and the rest of the team at TTA Press that they manage to consistently put out a periodical of generally high quality. Long may it continue.

PAUL MICHAELS

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

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