Black Static – issue 13
I’m starting another of my real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 13 (October / November 2009). I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Black Static # 13 – www.ttapress.com
Cuckoos – Tim Lees
“I realised that it didn’t matter what I said, or how annoyed I got: she understood. She knew.”
An effective story of today’s society, its credit crunches, its ways we take for granted … or perhaps shouldn’t take for granted. As if there are breeds apart we should recognise for what they are, even when they are younger…
It’s a subtle organic story that presents its horrors artfully but none the less horrific for that. It’s organic in the sense that it’s deriving a gestalt from the paralleling of two back-stories between strangers meeting in a wonderfully described pub scenario – and catching each other’s company conversationally and sexually as an island in today’s loneliness. I shall be haunted by what underlies their conversations staged as pub talk or small talk or pillow talk. A seriousness deriving from less serious glib exchanges thus more easily sparking a ricochet of ‘horror’ truth from the later unravelling-by-formal-text. (21 Oct 09)
The Shadow Keeper – Kim Lakin-Smith
“…that the real monsters hide beneath the look of skin.”
Personally, I think this story is in a quite different league from the author’s story in Black Static #12 (which I also reviewed). This truly special story is powerful: holding an inner darkness tonguing out from its midst as if miming an element of its own plot. It is obliquely linked to the story above (“Cuckoos“) by its treatment of children, both at face-value and inwardly … and (“but he is a child”) too easily forgiven.
All this, however, needs to be read keeping in mind the period (this month (October) in 1871) … and its unpolitical-correctnesses and superstitions. The era is brilliantly evoked as are the stress-points between the narrator’s care for the girl physically disabled by giantism and this girl’s relationship with society around her. Bullying fatally mingles with inferentially magical considerations regarding the girl’s shadow (a concept that draws themes – yet with originality and probable serendipity rather than intention – from Dunsany’s ‘The Charwoman’s Shadow’ and ‘Peter Pan’ and, dare I say, ‘The Shadow’s Departure’ in ‘Cern Zoo – Nemonymous Nine’). I cannot cover all this story’s details but they are done beautifully, leaving the reader with an aftertaste of dark brooding philosophication about its plot as well as a content open-mindedness spilling out from it with regard to your coming death because it makes you feel you have done what is right in your life. (21 Oct 09 – four hours later)
With further thought (overnight) about the first two stories, cuckoos often abandon their giant children – giant in proportion to the nest of the other types of birds, where the parents have left them to hatch and be fed by those other birds. Not sure how significant that is.
There are also elements of the shadow concept in ‘The Children’s Book’, the new mighty book by A.S .Byatt that I happen to be reading at the moment. (22 Oct 09)
Dead Loss – Carole Johnstone
“Lachlan hated bottom-trawling. Hated the very idea of it: of a vast weighted net dragged over rock and corpse and wreck.”
And the story-winners keep coming, no mistake! Hugely impressed by this tale of the North Sea near Scotland and Norway (far rougher and foreboding than that part where I live on its coast in North Essex!).
I am not an expert on trawler-fishing but this seems to evoke the state (emotionally and technically – otter boards, enabled cookies) of being right there in the thick of the British Shipping Forecast, and not only the weather – the things that one might trawl in distant trenches that either Innsmouth or Hodgson may blench at. ‘Bottom-fishing’ is a term in Investment Banking – but here Creation’s pecking-order takes on a new dimension, and you won’t know exactly what I mean till you read this literally reverberating story. The protagonist is not exactly in love with the sea. Nor is the sea in love with him. But there is a symbiosis and catharsis here that quite obliterates finer emotions about Fate and philosophy.
Like the previous two stories it tells of giant versions of things or unseen versions that things hide within themselves. Breeds apart. And here I imagine to myself that the catch will be fish bigger than even Islington Crocodiles! Giantism-in-action. Shock and awe. But I’ve only skimmed the surface. (22 Oct 09 – six hours later)
Some Of Them Fell – Joel Lane
“‘This place makes me feel really strange. It’s like the sea. It’s not old or new, just different.”
A Birmingham-ringed urban-countryside nocturne of some haunting ritual-by-passage: starting as 16 year olds in the Seventies, then into the Eighties: a group of four with yearnings sexual, fanciful and seedily real. The narrator’s relationship in particular with one of the other male protagonists (Adrian) is convincingly conveyed. Beliefs, some wild and occult, some forced on them by the harsh realities. Adrian was bullied at school because he was “thin, pale and short-sighted” (compare and contrast the girl in ‘The Shadow Keeper’) and his equivalent to giantism is epilepsy. The mysteries of selves (“But then, absolutely nothing you say or do at sixteen makes sense a few years later.”) – and the politics of selves, as they develop or change. Adrian’s sister was bullied, too, and the ‘shadow’ in that previous story here for her is ‘ground glass’. Things are far larger than any of these protagonists realised or even than what is possibly realised by the inferred author who gave birth to the story’s separate narrator’s frame of reality.
The outcome is a return to a scene where, when they were sixteen, they discovered the results of deaths of some who were then even younger than they were and who never grew older (a bit like Peter Pan, perhaps). And our journeyers through this story never find Never. They just go on perhaps … driven not into the ground but into the great ‘sea’ of human politics around them that they never really fished to its bottom. In that final scene, there is a vision by inchoate metaphor that was pre-figured earlier, but I won’t go into detail because of the danger of spoiling things. A metaphor that one can’t nail, because it paradoxically means too much by meaning too little.
The whole piece serendipitously makes a fine companion story to ‘Under The Overpass’ by Simon Strantzas – and vice versa. It is another immaculately written and provoking story, probably one I need to read again … and again. (22 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
My Secret Children – James Cooper
“They think I’m weird because I like being by myself.”
Just remove the ‘by’.
From the baiting in ‘Dead Loss’ in the stormy North Sea we now tellingly have the “dog baits” of dog-fighting sessions where the protagonist boy’s father unashamedly takes him. Where before our children suffered from giantism or epilepsy or early-death-by-glue-sniffing, we now have here the central pivot of Autism (e.g. obsession with white goods like Zanussi,with toy action-men heads, with role-playing missing or secret children). Some very evocative writing here of fallible souls simply striving to become themselves.
This story I expected to be the exit from this issue’s fiction, a summing up, a crystallisation … but instead it is a series of entries into estrangement. It is as if the gestalt I was earlier teasing into shape refuses to behave. This story, like the other four, tries to stand on its own…and succeeds. This story is the ring-leader to escape any critic who wishes to cohere them, make them whole … in the same way that the characters themselves in this story wish to become fiction’s real ‘children’ with earlier secret impulses to be Peter Pans but now unashamed, self-dramatised urges to escape the words that created them and become real grown-ups in a real world. The teacher, the father, the couple upstairs, the boy himself. As tiny as they are giant. A breed apart. A race now estranged from fiction. All discrete entities. All discrete entries.
A quintet of honestly great stories that both cohere and separate in optimum measure. Bravo! (22 Oct 09 – another three hours later)
NB: There is also much of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
My review of Black Static #12 at link immediately above.
2. Carole Johnstone left…