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 26 (Dec 2011 – Jan 2012). 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 Ray Cluley, Mark Rigney, Gary McMahon, Andrew Hook, Carole Johnstone.
NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing – Ray Cluley
“My story will not need a firsthand account of mermaid song.”
A substantive story that the reader needs to dive deep within and not re-emerge too quickly – for best effect. I hate films, so to say a story is cinematic is often not a compliment from me. But here it is and it is. As well as the evocatively personal-internal, I truly relished this filmic Nicaraguan ‘genius loci’ and brilliant cast-characterisations of a Lobster-fishing ‘sweat-shop’ – and the protagonist (complete with maternal back-story) who grapples with various forms of image-hyperbole or mild elephantiasis of the Lungs as well as (in his life, at various stages, coming together here as an accreting analogy or metaphor that one truly can see on the big screen of one’s mind) of Bodily Strokes, Aspects of God, Bends, MRI Scans, Wheelchairs, Lobsters, Lethal-Chambers (my expression adapted from R.W. Chambers not this story’s) – plus the many skilful Compressions of Counterpoint between TS Eliot’s poetry and the events in this genuinely classic story that will no doubt be anthologised several times again – and of Mermaids. A fiction finger-holing the deck-bars of our own ship of reason from which we can swim hardly far enough?… (20 Dec 11)
The Demon Laplace – Mark Rigney
“Causal determinism. One thing proceeding from the next, ad inifintum.”
“Ad inifintum“, aptly working via some form of ‘casual’ rather than ‘causal‘ chaos-theory upon a mail-worker’s ‘tabula rasa’ destiny (here, in this story, tellingly, a “tabula rosa” one). I really enjoyed this story, as casual things became literally “causal“, indeed retrocausal, regarding a Faustian spectrum-of-importance from potato-peelers and bananas to love-life and the continuation of fate as a fruit of love-life into a continuation of life itself “ad inifintum“. Not only casual, “Most of it was banal.” But beautifully written and characterful. Seriously memorable story: a new O. Henry or Jerome Bixby? “…but he could not help casting back to how their blissful courtship had spilled itself out like some eager rolled-up carpet, as if it had all been pre-ordained.” An audit-trail of Fate as a tempting form of virtual watery-grave to go diving in with only makeshift breathing-equipment? (20 Dec 11 – another three hours later)
Remains – Gary McMahon
“She might panic and have some kind of episode. She was always having some kind of episode.”
A story with a lifetime or serial subscription in its midst: as if life needs the out-of-one’s-own-hand “hand of God” (compare and contrast: the Rigney) to renew, to allow it to keep coming back with episodic horrors. As if revealed by the MRI Scan from the Cluley, the bones show through. A classic McMahon, that takes place – with iPod – via an urban bereftness and, in resonance with the Cluley, via a mother as back-story, here with a poignant hauntingness that keeps on coming back. Underwritten: subscribed. (20 Dec 11 – another 2 hours later)
Dizzy Land – Andrew Hook
“Funfairs and the promise of something illicit always went hand in hand, despite the Hook the Duck attractions for the little ones.”
This story’s California Sands, Norfolk, I imagine, is a ‘genius loci’ similar to Jaywick Sands, Essex, near where I live – so I can fully empathise with the nature of a new funfair being built there. The story conveys this brilliantly (in and out of the cold desolate seasons) with a number of strident ‘funfair’ similes or analogies of its own (like the breakfast fried-egg: the eye in Un Chien Andalou…) — I can’t quite believe, also – in addition to its own stand-alone memorability – the strength of its synergy with the previous stories, particularly the first one. The Lethal-Chamber, now spinning; the Bends of the Heart both physically and romantically (cf the previous ‘female’ back-stories, here more in tune with the Rigney one); sinking or being sucked down towards this story’s version of Mermaids… A truly great story, made even greater by its surroundings in this magazine. Well, I’m a sucker for seaside funfairs, anyway. Especially those that truly live, like this one, a fixture as brash symbiosis between the local council’s needs for local empolyment etc and the protagonist’s needs, inter alia, to fill the holes in his heart. By contrast, travelling funfairs are here also explicitly related to the solar system: giving me a hint of astrological harmonics underlying all these stories, Hand of God or not. A fixture like the Sun or those spinning round it. (21 Dec 11)
The Monster of Venice – Carole Johnstone
“I however was my mother’s son – in all ways, as it would bear out to my cost -”
More often than not, an anthology (or, say, a group of stories in ‘Black Static’) ends with a story that presents a telling or oblique coda to the previous symphony of fiction. Here, however, this last story is the culmination of the symphony, leaving us – in equal tellingness – bereft of any coda. You see, Pain has done its work. The ‘dying fall’ of Mahler’s Ninth as climax, not coda. And Mahler brings me to ‘Death in Venice’: and its ending with Dirk Bogarde – well, you can all see what I mean when you read this story’s powerfully depleting (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) finale. This is 15th Century Venice (and it goes without saying with this author, masterfully done as a ‘genius loci’) – yet with the same commercial concerns as a Funfair in California Sands or the red “gold” of the Mermaids. This presents the now final accretion of the maternal back-story – and Pain as a living character itself. The protagonist even studies astrology to assuage it. And reaches towards, now, a ‘female’ front-story that he causes to “enfold” him by enfolding it (like the earlier lobster-sea or the lethal-chamber or the hand of god or the urban playing fields or the causally determined audit-trail). It’s as if this whole symphony’s arch of themes has come full circle but as an inevitable Wish-predetermined inversion of itself. The darkest possible finale to one of those overall gestalt reading-experiences you can now ‘bank’ and say to yourself: ‘there it sits’ … and, then try to get on with your life – and with the Christmas season as it happens to be as I write this. Not Easter. (21 Dec 11 – two hours later)