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 24 (Aug – Sep 2011). Received as part of my subscription to this magazine. 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: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
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 Simon Bestwick, K. Harding Stalter, Ramsey Campbell, Simon McCaffery, Tim Lees.
NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com (16 Aug 11)
Dermot – by Simon Bestwick
“He sidles up closer to the window and watches Salford glide past him in the thickening dusk,…”
An impelling, rather than compelling, build-up via some tacit simple prose about all-too-human policemen in their special room at the police station in interface with the recent riot troubles? – or, if not, with what? Indeed, with what? But I have a problem. If I say that effective build-up leads to one of the most shocking dénouements it has been my pleasure or displeasure to experience in a work of fiction (so incredibly full, otherwise, of ‘stuff’ despite its relative short length) – then it may be a let-down or a relief when you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with me. So I will merely let you loose in its words without my assistance – with your own psychologically hairless body and baby-mind as a metaphor for you as a reader of this fiction (possibly only like that till you finish it!) – and judge for yourself, if you’re not irreversibly scarred or simply changed, that is, by the story and, therefore, unable to rationalise about it at all! Seriously. Even whether it is in turn a metaphor for recent troubles and the collusion and/or non-collusion between the various parties. [What’s the difference between ‘implicit’ and ‘complicit’?] (16 Aug 11 – another hour later)
A Summer’s Day – by K. Harding Stalter
“Yet I am told by learned men that the fault lies not in my stars, but in my cognitive architecture.”
I was spoilt for choice regarding key-note quotations to start this short exercise in appreciating the theme & variations of another relatively succinct fiction, one, like the previous story, packing an ‘experimental-laboratory’ power-paranoia, but this one is more an SF distillation of savoured-liqueur jabbing images rather than tacit punches. But neither story is the lesser for that comparison. The reader seems involved directly, here as a focal point of surgery – in Ancient Greece or in other eras of clumsily inward body-seeking… The crowning glory is not trepanning but some physical communion with an extrapolative formation of living communication-entities similar to nokias or, even, tweets – “…birds sing at dawn…” Or so I read it. (16 Aug 11 – another 3 hours later)
Recently Used – by Ramsey Campbell
“The address system must be overdue for maintenance; the receptionist’s voice was so splintered that the last words could almost have been the harsh cry of a night bird.”
There is much implicit in this story. But this reader is again complicit. Not only because, here, the story parallels the previous story with medical accoutrements in a medical place (here an English (I sense) hospital labyrinth I utterly recognise and have also become lost in), not only because it also parallels the previous story with the poignant potential of mobile-phonery, not only because I fully empathise with the protagonist and his wife (by dint of possibly being them for real by the accident of sensing they are a complicit couple even if this couple is, presumably, configured by fiction while we are not) – not only indeed because of many things, but also because it is genuinely (as someone else has already said elsewhere about this story) ‘heartbreaking’. And when one is complicit, that is not an easy thing to put out of one’s mind, even if one wanted to do so. (16 Aug 11 – another 3 hours later)
Still Life – by Simon McCaffery
“She could leave and post to all her Facebook friends what a sicko he was.”
Separate in itself, this story is an uncompromising word-photograph of an uncompromising war photographer, wars of the last 20 or so years. And of the synergy with his latest girl friend as they explore – in striking, searing detail – the album of his professional past, imbued with his personal present. It echoes, too, the surgical ‘hospitals’ and intensive uncare of previous stories, with a power perhaps even the author of this story couldn’t have predicted. A clinical irony of mass-digital communication that has been subsumed by its earlier prehensile darkrooms. Capa, Callot and Carpenter. The prose is powerful, the ending even more powerful than the prose that contains it, an ending that emerges in the developing-plate of your brain. (17 Aug 11)
How The 60s Ended – by Tim Lees
“I pointed out the whole aim in a fight was not to take your own medicine,…”
Although completely satisfying within itself, this threnody of an era represents, whether intentional or not, the perfect coda for this set of fiction. The era? I suspect it is some 5 years later than my own core experience of the 60s in England (yet, instinctively for me, true in spirit as well as reality), and a boy’s school, and the playground emotions – then projected towards sex, loyalty (two’s company, three’s a crowd), hospital, mobile phones, “mad spells“… And it is ‘heartbreaking’, too. Yet, uplifting. Even though this reader conjures up the small human bones one needs to collect one day from the corner of an ancient classroom, if it hasn’t already been demolished. Or the corner of a police cell. A cancer cell. Or a charred corpse on a complicit battlefield. “My dad had fought in one World War, my grandad in another. / I’d always known that, when the time came, I’d have my own war to face,…”(17 Aug 11 – seven hours later)
This review dedicated to Colin Harvey, whom sadly I met only once.