Book Review: Black Static, Issue 56

“Overall, a great start to the year for the UK’s premier magazine of dark, literary fiction, which makes clear its intent to continue to be a showcase for some of the best writing the expanding and fluid horror genre has to offer.”

And so we come to the first Black Static issue of 2017, and while the general template remains the same—dark, literary fiction, discussion columns, reviews, interviews—there are a couple of firsts.

Noticeably, with the departure of Stephen Volk, Lynda E. Rucker now takes prime position as the first article in the magazine. Her latest column looks at—in a slightly oblique way—how art, and horror fiction, deals with extreme cultural and political upheaval; and examines what actually constitutes a ‘real’ horror story. Insightful tuff, as always. Following this, we have the first column from new contributor, writer Ralph Robert Moore, whose slightly rambling, deeply personal piece manages to unexpectedly affect with its conclusion. An interesting beginning.

The first work of fiction in this issue is ‘The Green Eye’, by Scott Nicolay. A very short, well-written—if nothing particularly original—piece, it feels, despite its brevity, a little bogged down in extraneous detail, much of which recalls the homely style of Stephen King (which is no bad thing, necessarily). It’s followed by a longer piece which details some of the real-life influences on this particular piece, and how the author’s experiences in general inform his fiction.

Eric Schaller’s ‘Smoke, Ash, and Whatever Comes After’ is another short work which nevertheless manages to convey both the deeply neurotic fear a parent has concerning a child’s well-being, and the creeping spectre of madness, irrationality, and unreliable memory; a kind of haunting of the mind that is the hallmark of the best supernatural fiction. Solid, enthralling, and beautifully written, it manages to surprise, mystify, and terrify through its short length.

Danny Rhodes is fast becoming a firm fixture at Black Static; ‘Border Country’ marks his fourth appearance in the magazine, and in it, he gives us a tale filled with quiet dread which expertly weaves together folk legends of witches, an attempt at a father/son bonding camping trip, and bitter, family disintegration. And although the final lines are perhaps a little too ‘on the nose’, it’s still a hugely atmospheric, melancholic work which plays out with perfect pacing and prose.

‘What We Are Moulded After’ by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou is a stunning piece of work which reinvents the golem legend as a replacement for loss and bitter love choices. It’s a deeply emotional, and affecting story which—while just about skirting the boundaries of horror—has, lurking beneath, the potential for darkness. It’s hard to emphasise just how effective this work is, the author’s skill apparent in the way she elicits deep sympathy and empathy from the reader for the soulless narrator, the golem. Marvellous.

A hard act to follow, and unfortunately Charles Wilkinson’s ‘The Solitary Truth’ marks a slight dip. Though the premise is solid enough—an elderly couple living out a rather confused and entrenched life in what may or may not be some post-apocalyptic, British countryside town—it all just feels a touch lacking in direction or intent. It meanders along, with seemingly irrelevant asides showing both husband and wife to have possible faulty memories, yet doesn’t go far enough in capitalising on this concept. There are allusions to a possible tragic fate for the couple’s daughter, but as with everything else, this feels buried under muddled prose. A real pity, as there is potential for a deeply insightful meditation on dementia, subjectivity, and memory.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s ‘The Maneaters’ is easily the best story in this issue. It is a pitch-perfect meditation on family mythology (which may or may not be real), love and loss, and the concept of fate; whether it’s something that can be changed by us or if we actually create our own self-fulfilling prophecies for whatever rationalisations. Beautifully realised, gorgeous prose, and with an unexpected and welcome ending which completely flips any expectations, it’s a story to fall in love with, and read over and over.

The last story is ‘Stanislav in Foxtown’ by Ian Steadman, a rather lovely and dark modern fairytale. Related by the titular character—Stanislav, or Stan—who is a foreigner in the UK, it details his less than stellar treatment by his employer, the owner of a fried chicken takeaway. Add to this a rather strange thread in which Stan encounters and is seemingly befriended by a group of urban foxes, and we have a story which merges a definitively urban and modern aesthetic with what feels like a pagan or folk story; one with teeth and a dark heart, like the natural world it evokes. A great piece to end the fiction on.

There are also various book and film reviews, the former of which focuses on anthologies and novellas; and there is an in-depth and interesting interview with none other than Stephen Volk.

Overall, a great start to the year for the UK’s premier magazine of dark, literary fiction, which makes clear its intent to continue to be a showcase for some of the best writing the expanding and fluid horror genre has to offer.


Publisher: TTA Press.
Paperback: (96 pp)
Release Date: 22 January 2017

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