Saturday 20 August 2011

Black Static 24

A really strong issue this one - I flew through the stories a. because I enjoyed them so much and b. because they're all really short.  Perfect length in fact, there's nothing worse than a short story that out-stays its welcome (except maybe a novel that does the same, although there's more likelihood of giving up on a novel part way through -  I'll stick with a short to the bitter end).  The articles were as entertaining as ever, my favourite being Stephen Volk's Coffinmaker's Blues - I always find names a problem when I'm writing and frequently chicken out completely and don't use them. (Or I'll sometimes use names that are clever in-jokes - or at least what I imagine to be clever in-jokes). As for the stories:
Dermot by Simon Bestwick is first up and quite an opener it is. The story is cleverly written, raising questions as to what exactly is going on (who is this Dermot bloke? What exactly is Special Projects?) before revealing all - as is appropriate - at the climax.  And what a climax!  From mundane beginnings - man gets on bus - to something quite fantastic (in all senses of the word).  Dermot has special skills, skills he shares with the police for the "good" of mankind.  Those skills come at a price however - and the discovery of what that is provides a genuinely horrific and hard-hitting end to the story.  I'm new to Simon Bestwick's writing but have been impressed by what I have read - this story and his contribution to Death Rattles.
A Summer's Day by K. Harding Stalter is up next, and takes the form of a stream of consciousness (or perhaps unconsciousness) from the mind of what appears to be a human guinea pig for neurological "interventions".  Areas of his brain are probed to see what reponses are induced - all in front of an audience of students. There's no context given as to why this is happening - although the implication is that he is a criminal rather than a patient.  It's this lack of context that makes the story so strong however - given that these are internal thoughts being described it's hard to know what's real and what's being induced by the insertion of a range of probes into his brain.  As to the climax, it's open to any number of interpretations - which can sometimes be frustrating but works wonderfully in this story.
Recently Used is by Ramsey Campbell, a writer whose work made up a major proportion of my reading in the eighties and nineties, providing a more understated counterpoint to the (albeit enjoyable) excesses of Clive Barker.  I have such admiration for him that I was a bit daunted at the prospect of reviewing one of his stories ("I am not worthy...") This is, however, a beautifully written story - an examination of loss and grief.  It's incredibly sad and the ending is really powerful, offering little in the way of hope. Scary and moving - it doesn't get any better than that.  The best story in this edition.
Still Life is by Simon McCaffery and is a story I enjoyed very much.  Bizarrely enough, a while back I wrote a story about the type of creature that features in this tale and also used the Gulf War as a kind of backdrop to it.  I'm glad to see that Simon had more success with his story with regards to publication (mine currently languishes in the files of Triskaideka Press, awaiting the inevitable rejection slip...) as it is a very enjoyable piece of writing, a nice piece of gothic horror with a modern slant.
How The 60s Ended By Tim Lees is the last story and unfortunately - in my opinion - represents a fall at the last hurdle in terms of the quality of the stories in this edition. Which sounds a bit harsh - and probably is.  I didn't enjoy it as much as the other stories mainly because of the style it was written in - I don't have any problem with first person narratives but this one was written in a very staccato style, lots of short sentences, almost like bullet points and didn't flow very well. It's a melancholy story - as befits its subject matter - but I'm not entirely sure what it's doing in a horror magazine as it's a real stretch to classify it in the genre.
All in all though, a really strong issue and further proof that Black Static really is the best of its kind around. (Preferred the old covers though...)

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