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 27 (Feb 2012 – Mar 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 Gord Sellar, Jacob Ruby, Stephen Bacon, Simon Bestwick, V.H. Leslie.
NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com
Empty of Words, the Page – Gord Sellar
“Whitney breathed again…” — “February’s bristling winds had come,…”
An accessibly but cumulatively sophisticated story about obsessional love for one of one’s students – an unrequited obsession utterly felt by the reader as well as by the literature-teacher protagonist himself via the skill of the writing – the story’s writing, his own writing. And the real-life-mingled overheard *sound* of the writing in books and notes as if the curse of word-molten ebooks are already audio-beating the burning books at their own game…. I am a sucker for any story that mentions Ives, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Debussy (even Salieri) as well as Pound’s Cantos, but I am a sucker for this story *anyway*. It eventually becomes a relentless chain letter in which we shall all one day participate (Cf: the story ‘The Chain’ that I have just serendipitously read as part of a concurrent (“Derridean“?) real-time review of a story collection by another author.). “When his fascination with the w ebbed away, he looked up.” (19 Feb 12)
Perhaps this stunning story also resonates with the world’s first blank story (published in ‘Nemonymous 2’ in 2002)? (19 Feb 12 – two hours later)
The Little Things – Jacob Ruby
One of the books being ‘taught’ to the students in the previous story was ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. Now we have a very powerful and often repulsive scenario that seems to factor-in a detached monstrous life towards, say, a conceptual feel of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ … here, further factored-in towards a historically poor-house-type, God-fearing ‘extended family’ co-responsibility. We share the tentative tussle of Cassie (who looks to be about 13) with the story’s reality of deadpan, taken-for-granted predicaments, as she tries to find her own self of emotions, the correct loyalties as well as the location of the street with sloughed-off familial connections amid the poignant searching for ‘care’ to give as well as to accept, for roots to watch unroot as well as take root again. Meanwhile, the mother’s own envisaged writing is factored into the story’s writing and – like the previous story’s internal writing – underpins a tragic sense of unrequitedness. Spreading parcels of of word-text: reaching out for audibility: “This was not the first time the growths had come into the world with cries.” (20 Feb 12)
Cuckoo Spit – Stephen Bacon
“Sunlight was crowding the edges of the curtain. The clock ticked a comforting heartbeat. Timber was stretching within the structure of the building. The fridge began humming to itself, distracting her.”
[Stephen Bacon is a rising star of the Horror genre whose work appeared on three separate occasions within ‘Nemonymous’ from 2008. So very pleased to see his work synchromeshing with ‘Black Static’]. An atmospheric, well-stylised, often effectively poetic Cumbrian tale of feral concupiscence — conveying a similar (but equally different) relationship between a daughter (Megan) and her mother to Cassie’s relationship with her own mother in the previous story, both relationships containing parallel senses of detachment by creatures or outgrowths or ‘were’-nesses acting as vehicles for humanity, and vice versa. The relationships here are also well-drawn and any metamorphoses are sufficiently subtle-haunting without allaying their head-on power as horror images. No mean feat. And the cuckoo spit’s conceit as salaciousness is another subtle but striking momentariness of realisation. And, arguably, the metaphor of the cuckoo as occupier is present here. Who is the occupier? The animal-human parasite/host symbiosis? Or simply Megan subconsciously assuming control of the house just before her mother’s ‘departure’? Not even the characters always know their own motives because, in my experience, any author is often powerless to help such characters’ eventual puzzlings-out of self (thankfully). And that lack of ultimate control works for me here, even if Bacon may not have consciously intended to relinquish any authorial control for creative purposes. [Me brainstorming:- In tune with the chain of cause and effect: the empty page from the first story above: awaiting some unknown force to start writing upon it — so as to help alleviate those challenging tentative tusslings that most writers (old and new) have when beginning a story from scratch or claw. That unknown force is ‘occupying’, in micro, this portrait of Cumbria or, in macro, the fluid-glistening White Noise of ‘Black Static’ itself?] (20 Feb 12 – three hours later)
The Churn – Simon Bestwick
“Two employees’d already been sacked for ‘churning’ – instead of amending a policy because details’d changed, you cancelled it and incepted a new one, in order to claim a sale.”
Not that I was guilty of it myself, I know all about that meaning of the word ‘churn’. But before today, I had not really related it to the word ‘chain’ – nor does this story do so explicitly, but the idea as used here certainly resonates with the ‘chain letter’ conceits above and resonates again – serendipitously – with my concurrent real-time review, I mentioned above, here: and the plot resonates strongly, too, with the title story reviewed there: ‘Nowhere to Go’. Meanwhile, it is an original plot here of a middle-aged lady who is subject or subjected to encroaching ‘Gaslight’ (Ingrid Bergman) or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (Mia Farrow) types of paranoiac fear – in a very effective and shuddery way – cumulatively a masked ball to share your dreams. Occupied or occupier, mad or enmaddened, one never really knows for sure. (21 Feb 12)
Family Tree – V.H. Leslie
“People shouldn’t be so scared of embracing their bestial natures.”
This is a telling outcome of the gestalt of ‘Black Static #27’ stories in the form of, for me, a hilarious account of the human-animal ‘chain’ in the sheer explicitness of reaching its own Bestwickian mid-‘churn’ of a “missing-link” – here upon the brink of some challenging form of ‘Cuckoo-Spit’ stickiness and symbiotic feral ‘were’-ness. ‘The Good Life’ sit-com’s fashionable mock-sophisticated natural food and self-sufficiency – in family form – taken to the logically absurd gap-jumping along its chain of cause-and-effect, with the schoolboy protagonist (on the brink of going out with girls) coping with the reaction of his peers to the sudden revelation (after their ball is kicked into the long grass) of a highly embarrassing incident in one of their regular “parent share” evenings at his own house (NB: the Jacob Ruby story’s own ‘parent share’ concept as an illuminatory comparison!). Yes, hilarious: potentially repulsive, too – but with a skilful sense of thought-provoking seriousness as it touches on ‘mental illness’ in a similar way to ‘The Churn’ and, familially, to the Jacob Ruby story with its treatment of bodily-change and family-links via a semi-genealogical ‘Tree’ of sloughed-off connections. The ending allows our protagonist to make a sudden absurd jump which is, in the context, perfect: making me, in a vaguely metaphorical parallel way, proud openly to read Horror fiction, whatever people think of me. But does Gord Sellar’s ‘Frankenstein’ conceit come into it?
Another great statically dynamic group of blackstories. (21 Feb 12 – two hours later)