I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the main fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’ – Issue 18 (Aug / Sep 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.
Three previous DFL real-time reviews of Black Static: http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/black_static__issue_12.htm and http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/black_static__issue_13.htm and http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/black_static__issue_15.htm
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Black Static # 18 – www.ttapress.com
Authors: Nina Allan, Carole Johnstone, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Nicholas Royle & Mercurio D. Rivera.
Orinoco by Nina Allan
“She saw how each word had a story to tell, if only you would let it…”
And, strangely, that’s possibly all I need to say. Nature as an agog audience of literature (Saki, Rilke, Bronte…) and we are perhaps part of that Nature behind the aquarium glass reading the words in the world beyond. A poignant tale of created love and loss where the creation and the created are seamlessly brought together and then apart, one truer than the other, and not necessarily in that order. A delicately told London urbanfic upon the edge of Terror (literally). Where there are vulnerable, almost sexless, skin and bones under the prose but once revealed they are (at least temporarily) capable of swimming upon (or through?) gossamer angel-wings. Reality because the words say it is. (21 Aug 10)
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Carole Johnstone
“As Janis turned into Military Road, it started to rain again.”
I wondered why I sensed myself destined to real-time review Black Static 18 when I picked it up accidentally today. You see, this is the first Horror Story I’ve read based on my home town but not only that it is also based on the exact area of that town where I was brought up from age seven: i.e. Military Road, Old Heath Road (my actual address*), Hythe etc. A walker following adolescent pathways.
So I am no independent judge of this story. Yet I somehow know this is a remarkable tightly threaded threnody of staccato surrogate stalking. The prose is pitch perfect. And its ending also strangely relates to the ‘aquarium’ in the previous story. More dead loss bottom-fishing in the urban storm. It’s Ramsey Campbell but with Garrison Church bells on. I loved it!!!! (21 Aug 10 – three hours later)
A Man of Ice and Sorrow by Simon Kurt Unsworth
The few stories of SKU I’ve read have always impressed me greatly and this is no exception. It tells of a blighted family, Edward Mains (the main protagonist) and his son Johnny Mains and his wife Elise Mains. Earthed into the soul by snowmen. Actually – and I have no doubt about this – the story is a very clever variation on the theme of Vigeland Park, Oslo, i.e. the plaintive arms of statues & sculptures in coiled embrace – pillars of people – families in mutual retribution – but all here, within SKU’s fiction, in the shape, not of sculptures, but, yes, of snowmen. The prose is stitched with complexes of emotion and bereavement and sad separation of a married couple who couldn’t face destiny.
It’s Ok making sure one’s own house is insured against hiatus of electrical, gas or water supplies but when the mains blow on the borderline between one’s jurisdiction and just beyond it, then the real problems arise…. Moreover, the best description of snowmen I have ever read. (21 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
The Obscure Bird by Nicholas Royle
” ‘It’s because of the serrations on my remiges.’ “
A highly disturbing nocturne of a couple’s potential child loss upon the edge of Nature garbed as Nurture as well as Terror (cf. that child loss & staring self-consciousness in SKU’s story and the ‘aquarium scrutiny’ in the Nina Allan (and her story’s swimming angel-wings) and such scrutiny in the Carole Johnstone together with its paranoiac stalking – and the nature study as a ‘brown study’ in all stories) – here now, at least partially, related to Tweeting (that I’ve given up in recent months together with my Facebook account) – so I’m Ok. Social Networking is the vilest ‘stalking’ paranoia imaginable, perhaps. So, now, I can detachedly, objectively, chillingly watch this story spread its silent wings, watch it develop and re-develop (with all good stories not only developing but also re-developing in aftertaste or hindsight like this one skilfully or instinctively does). I doubt you will be able to watch this story quite as objectively as I do if I imagine you being the type of reader this story deserves. But that’s cool. (22 Aug 10)
Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us by Mercurio D. Rivera
The first four stories in this book seem somehow to form a claustrophobic symphony as if by Arvo Part – feeding in and out of themselves, as I tried to show above, as well as being separately readable stories of distinction. Starting this fifth story, I quickly assumed it would be a wild and different Coda for the Part symphony, being a mutant Copland, with mongrel Spanish/American Chandleresque freeflow amid an alternate war against ‘Chinos’, spiced with S&M and Voodoo. And on the surface this is a breath of cruel air in such a way – a very readable experience beyond my normal reading material – until I gradually realised this story is the keynote of Black Static 18’s Story Quintet, a companion piece in pattern to the Nina Allan story (a climax to its introduction) — and the paranoiac stalking and fear of loss in the other stories — while being again upon the Edge of Terror (Terrorista) – where the aquarium has become a cage (cf the Nazi Holocaust in our real world), and the writing of stories fusing Truth and Untruth in the Nina Allan has become here the paintings and sketches of the main protagonist while the claustrophobia has become a new House of Leaves (hinted at early on in the story when the viejo vanished into the floor).
Good job I passed Spanish A Level in 1966. A bit rusty, but enough to cope with this story.
A mighty Story Quintet. (22 Aug 10 – four hours later)
NB: There is also much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its main fiction: – www.ttapress.com
*edit (24 Aug): see 2nd comment below