Black Static #21

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 21 (Feb – Mar 2011). As before, 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 previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here:

All my real-time reviews are linked from here:

Item image: Black Static 21 Cover

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

The stories to be reviewed have been written by V.H. Leslie, Ray Cluley, Maura McHugh, Ed Grabianowski, James Cooper.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: –


Ulterior Design by V.H. Leslie

“…the carpet laden with paper strewn like a hundred glittering leaves.”

The old ghost-story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, for me, concerns Feminism, when verities of gender and loyalty were more fixed, with period pains rather than the more positive pregnancy in this new Wallpaper story because, here, it is indeed a different world where, almost gratuitously, both male and female need to fight back against an indifferent rage of reality, as well as against each other willy-nilly in a form of inversely self-destructive ‘Humanism’ – and, effectively mixing images, within a seemingly modern casual relationship that now promises a child, this story deals with today’s immersion in material possession like property, flanked by frostbite / brittle shelter by glass, bird aggression (portending a  plague of Bird Flew-mindlessly-into-glass where even nature has become the enemy rather than a nurturer?), and this is life as we know it, internally and externally not just road-rage but the road to life-rage itself. [The wallpaper here also reminds me personally of the carpet motif in the forthcoming ‘Nemonymous Night’ in a strangely oblique and coincidental way.] (26 Feb 11)

Pins and Needles by Ray Cluley

“She’d even used the f-word, aiming it at the front door,”

I often wonder how a new story today would have struck me if I had read it ten years before.  It’s impossible to tell because of all the stories that one has read in the meantime and how each stands on the shoulders of the previous one. And this story stands head and shoulders…  The ziggy images of rocketry and pricking and the sheer flow of the narration like some classic of ‘youth’ that might have been written in some alternate world where every writer always wrote something like Catcher in the Rye or Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and all this makes me think, at the age of 63, that I need relativity, I need epiphany, I need conceit, I need YOUTH.  [And this story has one sex scene that really works. Few sex scenes work.] (26 Feb 11 – three hours later)

Water by Maura McHugh

“I needed some air.”

A well-written, well-conceived vignette, original and striking and, I guarantee, something that will make you think with thought’s equivalent of speech-bubbles – as the whole of Mum’s life flashes forward for not only her but her family. Reminds me of the pervasive environments of the Wallpaper and, less obviously, of the Pins & Needles (‘the bends’ when diving). [Obliquely, it also reminds me of my own short piece:  ‘A Dream of Real Air’ published in 1992.] (26 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

Extraneus Invokat by Ed Grabianowski

“I drew no connections.”

But I shall.  This is a theme and variations on earlier ‘pervasive environments’ (including a couple’s material property in itself due to shift from fixity by their preparations to move from it), here with a ‘wearing’ of something other (or even each other in tune with ‘Ulterior Design’?) in quite original, often fleeting, even “flickering”, shape-shifting but not mind-changing experiences; and here, also, utilising a workmanlike, transparent style, making it perhaps remarkable that the story has the skill, without attempts at subtlety or innuendo, to give me a genuine frisson of horror towards its end. That doesn’t happen often with me. And I can give this story no greater compliment than extolling that feat of simplicity of method in its somewhat less simple effects. (27 Feb 11) 

Cushing by James Cooper

“Needing to reconnect to something that felt wholly mine,”

As the closing of Gothic brackets to the opening of them by ‘Ulterior Design’, this horror extrapolation in a modern setting but with an undercurrent of Chopin is transfigured towards Hammer Films, and this is, on its own, a strange beast indeed, this story.  Often fabricated, often caricatural.  But in the context, with the eternal scratching of a mother’s intense pencil-drawings of her older son and a rat’s puncturing the pink sac of its own new-born young (cf ‘Pins and Needles’ and ‘Ulterior Design’), we have a family with severe dysfunction, but also a wondrous art installation of personal relationships framed by its own Gothicism: a Wallpaper (or drowning-butt or blood-bath?) of silent films that were originally made in sound, Peter Cushing ‘flickering’ in and out as a hero, his face filling an otherwise oval blank on the characters’ faces and vice versa (please see the cover of ‘Agra Aska’ alongside this blog-published real-time review): younger brother protagonist modulated by his older brother, and mother: and dead father: and mainly significant Frankenstein interpolations of the spoken sound or reported speech that the Wallpaper films once boasted when on the big screen. One cannot – hell! – fix this story. It is one about fixation – and obsession.  It is wildly strange on its own, no doubt (and, well, that’s OK, isn’t it?) but it is a true believable classic in the context of the rest of the fiction against which it has been drawn…and pinned to the wall of your mind. Hell! It’s simply great. Rage in a Chopinesque coda turning to “simmering anger”.  And thus I cease my own scratching. (27 Feb 11 – three hours later)



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2 responses to “Black Static #21

  1. Further notes –

    Cushing = Gushing (cf Water)
    To Catcher in the Wry, and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, please add the Wasp Factory

  2. VH Leslie’s “…the carpet laden with paper strewn like a hundred glittering leaves.” also reminds me of my points in the Peacock Escritoire review that I made. Bird flu by gifted feather from the East and the nature of books.

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