Black Static – Issue 15
I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 15 (Feb / Mar 2010). I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Black Static # 15 – www.ttapress.com
From the DFL review of Black Static #12: “…real-time is treated here with TCP ointment.” ..
Eight Small Men by James Cooper
“The Matron has scrubbed our skin until we look like lobsters, driving the TCP deep into every pore.”
This is a substantial work of haunting and disturbing strength. It tells of two brothers fostered out to a house where the Mother is called Matron and the father Aubrey and their real son, Roach. It is, for me, an enormously nightmarish version of the Narnia scenario where Christianity and high fantasy are twisted beyond recognition. Something nasty happened in 1984 which is relived in cross-parallel with a return to the house in 2009 for the first time since it happened. A return by the two brothers to visit Aubrey who lies dying of Cancer. From a highly personal point of view, this story somehow obliquely reminds me of some of my own fiction that was eventually published in the ‘Weirdmonger’ book (eg ‘Angel of the Agony’ and ‘Bobtail’) but Cooper’s story is far more rigorous and skilfully stitched or unstitched at greater satisfying length and completely original in its own right. I am moved by it a great deal.
“…slowly chips away at our resilience, by redefining the very language we thought we understood.” (22 Feb 10)
The Knitted Child by Simon Kurt Unsworth
“…by the pattern of interlocked stitch and thread.”
Roach’s object (of fetich) in the previous story becomes another here, in this densely textured nocturne of prose – here the object being a symbol of loss as well as of hope, rather than crude obsession. An object that is a connecting link or gift of deeply dark poignancy between generations (four generations, i.e. about to die, middle-aged, young and never to live). An object that is, in some ways, its own fetich, one with its own soul (a soul which is that of us readers?). I once knew a distant relative in the old days who had merely a shapeless blanket that long lived similarly for her as the object in this story does. I now wonder – did that shapelessness itself yearn for the shape that ‘story’ gives it – for us to love because, unknowingly, it loves us? Every woman eventually learns to cross her own river’s curse, perhaps, towards the personal open-ended ending of ‘story’ that is hers alone? Beautiful stuff. (23 Feb 10)
Maximum Darkness by Alan Scott Laney
” ‘We’re all connected through a multitude of strands stretching throughout the universe…’ “
I can’t divorce this story from the context of this review, one that draws its own connections. Personal connections for me like the additional blog-comment somewhere below I posted this morning that now also applies to this story as well as the previous one! This story of a ‘forgotten author’, a ouroboros destiny within fiction-as-a-thing-in-itself. Also relates to the rat-hunting in the first story. And the objectification of aura presented by the knitted child in the second story.
‘Maximum Darkness’ is well written and weirdly seems personal to me more than it is to the inferred author. Therefore, if it is also a great story in its own terms, I am the wrong person to confirm. But I seriously suspect it is. I only hope the inferred author already has more stories written or about to be written and is not circle-trapped within this his first (a fact I inferred, against my will, from a short biographical sentence at the end of the story).
“He wanted to think about other things, nothing things…” (23 Feb 10 – three hours later)
Babylon’s Burning by Daniel Kaysen
” ‘We worship Gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone,’ she said. ‘They’re the go-to Gods, for people like us.’ “
This story is shaped like a poem on the page. Staccato in places.
Inducted fraternally (as in the first story), here a translator of poems becomes mixed up (in a similar way as the protagonist in Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’) within a masquerade or enactment of ritual, an enactment leading in this story to a rationalization — via Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ — of torture and suicide bombers and other justifications-of-means-by-ends, plus connections of ‘word’ with ‘world’, role-playing a truth-and-reality game (a la ‘Big Brother’?) and the ultimate fetiches: Gods believed to be truly living within the iconised objects dedicated to them.
A truth that actually shimmers stronger for this story from the context given by the previous stories. Impressed? Certainly.
[I wonder how many other men believe they’re not virgins when they are?] (23 Feb 10 – another 2 hours later)
Death By Water by Sarah Singleton
“There was a comfort of sorts, in movement.”
[I am proud that a Sarah Singleton story once appeared in ‘Nemonymous’, in 2002.]
Although this story represents a substantial musically detached ‘coda’ for the fiction in this issue of Black Static, intrinsically, for me, by intention or not, it is also a wonderful movement in the symphony itself, representing a culmination of the fetich gestalt, whereby, when seeking reunion with a dead loved one, you offer up to a medium what you consider to be the ultimate iconised object, i.e. a cherished keepsake of that loved one. A fetich with its own soul that fetichises itself.
Here, the male protagonist, seeking his dead wife, is pushed from pillar to post, from medium to medium (in strengthening degrees of off-the-wall mediumship), with his relay-baton fetich-keepsake…amid a beautifully, poetically dark rite-of-passage, following (similarly to ‘The Knitted Child’) a woman’s loss that has drowned in what I earlier identified as the ‘river’s curse’. Here, though, more a canal than a river. Leading to an exquisitely devastating culmination — mixing positive and negative: the joy of watery movement (by the dead woman donning the fish fetich like a skin) and the consummation of loss. (23 Feb 10 – another 5 hours later)
NB: There is also much of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
Having now allowed full percolation of my real-time ‘streaming’ above regarding the five stories in BS15, I think I can safely say they leave, for me, an amazing aftertaste. Cumulatively, as well as separately, brilliant stories all.