Tag Archives: Barbara A. Barnett

Black Static #25 – Fiction Review

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 25 (November 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/

Item image: Black Static 25 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 Alison Littlewood, Christopher Fowler, Ray Cluley, Nathaniel Tapley, Barbara A. Barnett.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its fiction: – www.ttapress.com (25 Oct 11)


About the Dark – Alison Littlewood

“The tree stood in the centre of the school yard and its branches had been cut off to stop kids from swinging on them.”

A story of subtle emotional and sexual feelings between three almost grown-up school-kids who explore a cave when on truant, but those feelings are threatened by a subsuming by words (“Stories are for kids“) and by something else with more power even than the words, particularly for one of them whom you are cleverly allowed to dare inhabit as a reader-become-protagonist: and I have acted in a diversionary way by use of that initial headquote above from the story (I usually give such keynote quotes for stories I review): and here as an oblique (if, for me, uncannily relevant) way of avoiding a direct spoiler: a literal spoiler forming — or formed by — the words.  This proved to be a compulsive, suspenseful, spooky story: a story that is enhanced by the blacker-surround-sound print format of the first few paragraphs suddenly becoming, in utter contrast, a form of silent but visible ‘white noise’ as one turns the page while entering the blackness for the first time and for real and with greater effect by use of the print format: “You going in?”  (25/10/11 – ninety minutes later)

The Curtain Parts – Christopher Fowler

That’s when the real discoveries are made, when organisation collapses into chaos.”

Flat-sitting – rife with class and gender consciousness – this is an effective build up of neighbourly dangers for our female I-narrator as the mortice locks in an earlier story I reviewed by this author (“Locked“) [and the hotel-like balcony-apartmentation in another story (“The Conspirators“)] become different locks, different balconies: Sado-Masochistic neck-locks that only spatchcock scissors might prise free.  The school-kids in the previous story when they grow cynically older and still “bare-breasted” or peachy-testicled, still seeking each other amid the world’s darkness become themselves?  The tree in the schoolyard now Daedalus’ trojan horse? (25 Oct 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Travellers Stay – Ray Cluley

She gave the room key back to him so whatever it opened up would be his fault.”

…or the reader’s fault? Another lock to unlock like this magazine’s earlier neck-lock and please don’t forget those jumbo cockroaches in the previous story before reading this one. This fiction gestalt is a darkness of words – here now separating out into what I imagine would feel like pins and needles of roach words metamorphosing into exterior Kafkas rather than organic ones.  On another level, this is a very disturbing Motel story that has a a feel of the seedy Wild West but is probably just round the corner from where each of us readers lives.  Here the kid becomes the schoolyard tree himself with a bark-like carapace, no doubt…  I seem to be heading towards a gestalt within a gestalt, a Cluley one: my previous reviews of this author [“Beachcombing” “At Night, When the Demons Come” “Pins and Needles“] being vital parts of the real-time word-musician in me waiting to get out and perform live.  And many of the apostrophes in this story text seem to be squeezed between letters rather than having a space of their own (look and see) – literally. Like the smuggled mites of imagination encroaching… “He brought his arm out from under the covers to reach for her…” (26/10/11)

The Holy Spear – Barbara A. Barnett

What had happened to the man who could sing through the pain and play his role to the end?”

…attuning the rock musician in the previous story to the opera singer hereIn many ways a stock Zombie story, but it is better than that for me because I am a sucker for the new-found genre of ‘Classical Horror’ of which this is an example (‘Parsifal‘ also being my favourite piece of music) and because of the snapping ‘needle-pack’ as another separatable-carapace or neck-lock, and the earlier disfigured tree in this magazine now the holy spear – or the metamorphosis into monsters, yet not being monsters if they then kill other worse monsters – but, meanwhile, only the act of sacrifice-and-reward in our spirituality will answer that conundrum. Irrespective of these connections, it is a very thought-provoking story as a discrete entity of fiction. And a compelling Zombie one, to boot.  How I hate the word ‘Zombie’, though.  “Beyond the barricade, every man was a praying man…” (26/10/11 – another 2 hours later)

Best. Summer. Ever. – Nathaniel Tapley

“A family room Dave. One with a balcony.”

I spend the end of most of my real-time reviews stretching towards – then normally reaching – some coda. Ironically, in this edition of BS that is special to me for obvious reasons, you’ve caught me Natt Mr Tapley cockroaching into my last sock. Absolutely hilarious. And uncodifiable. (26/10/11 – another 2 hours later)



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Black Static #20

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 20 (Dec 2010  / Jan 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.

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: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

Item image: Black Static 20

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

The fiction to be reviewed: as written by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough, Nate Southard, Norman Prentiss, Barbara A. Barnett, Ray Cluley.

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

For example, Peter Tennant’s  continuously excellent ‘Case Notes’. In this issue, his reviews of Horror books are second to none, as ever.  To cross-check them with my own real-time reviews, this issue’s PT reviews overlap with my own in these three cases: Remember You’re A One-Ball by Quentin S Crisp, Literary Remains by R.B. Russell, Lost Places by Simon Kurt Unsworth. (24 Dec 10)


The Compartments of Hell by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough

“…but then who knew when this shit had started hitting the fan?”

It’s Christmas Eve and if this is Santa Claus’ present to me – it’s certainly a present to the world from out of the blue – a post-apocalypse “it’s the thought that counts” – as those who have cracked and spiked enough are protected from the most gruesome, brain-ripping images I think I have ever read. By a long way!  And I would have spliffed and spliced what I just said with not only a prayer of thank you but also a f**king prayer of thank you. And I don’t usually swear.  This shit hit this fan, then, when these two authors came together – and produced this gotterdammerwrung (sp?) of guts.  It’s spilled all over Christmas.  No exaggeration.  (24 Dec 10 – two hours later)

(review to be continued here in due course after Götterdämmerung or Christmas whichever comes first or last)

Going Home, Ugly Stick In Hand by Nate Southard

It’s as if the characters in the previous story have, in extremis, downloaded Ian Dury’s Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick … or an early Beetles’ hit.  This is another post-apocalypse (a potential one or in the making), well-written, skittering, chittering, Whovianly monstrous in places – but do post-apocalypses cancel each other out? An apocalypse with a different apocalypse’s post-apocalypse? Or f**king vice versa? Another dying fall. We wonder if resolution is possible or we are being left to wonder serially whether man or manster will beat the other, through drugs or the adrenaline of sheer bravado in ludicorous expected defeat.

Gratuitousness made purposeful because we never find the purpose but we hope purpose lurks somewhere….like life. A piece of avant garde contemporary classical music – and Nate’s story is just the second movement or entr’acte or premature coda? We shall see whether the percussionist’s bust his drumskin. (25 Dec 10)

The Covered Doll by Norman Prentiss

“Sometimes things happened that didn’t happen.”

I am excited about this story for three reasons (separate and overlapping): (1) It is a touching image of childhood, hauntingly written about the ‘possessions’ of childhood. (2) At first, I was reading this as delicate contrast to the previous two stories’ apocalypticisms, but there is a telling eruption in this story similar to Meloy-and-Pinborough’s various eruptions and eructations – but here the signs of birth pangs rather than death. A squirming mass, nevertheless. This echoes back with retrocausality. And then forward again to make this story even more horrific. Forever. Perpetuo Moto. (3) Serendiptously, there are even more telling echoes with concepts of life and death via the ‘containers’ of each – strong echoes that were demonstrated yesterday, here in the UK, by Christmas Day’s edition of ‘The Royle Family’ on high-viewed popular TV.  Amazingly so.  Phenomenally so. Undeniably so. Those who watched it will know what I mean. (26 Dec 10)

Four reasons! See my concurrent review of Crimewave 11 (the Ilsa J. Bick story). (26 Dec 10 – three hours later)

The Wounded House by Barbara A. Barnett

“I yanked the covers over my head. I can’t remember if I slept again that night, or if I had ever woken to begin with…”

Let me take this stage by stage. This is a haunting story of a girl’s relationship with a grandmother and grandfather, their house, its redolent nostalgia-in-wallpaper-and-carpets…

In itself, remarkably well-written. But I can’t judge it properly. How can I? OMFG, but its relationship with the previous story and last night’s Royle Family is unmistakeable and incontravertible. The ashes almost in the Dyson!  What can have I opened? Seriously. OMFG. (26 Dec 10 – another 7 hours later)

At Night, When The Demons Come by Ray Cluley

” ‘It was f**king her?’ / The girl sucked in a breath. / ‘What?’ I reached for my gun. / ‘You said a bad word.’ ” [My asterisks]

I want to know if Meloy is harnessed to the back of Pinborough, or vice versa? This final story makes me ask that question. You won’t know why. Yet. 

“They were born to the ashes that came after.”

“I learnt that Cassie had sixteen dolls and teddies…”

This story is very powerful, apocalyptic … complementary to as well as ‘containing’ the fiction cacophonies and adagios that preceded it. Words wriggling out like several little new-born puppies or not, but “We did what we had to when we saw what was coming out”…  You see, only words can convey horror. Visuals – even with, or despite, today’s CGI effects – are certainly not in the same game. When words in fiction come together at their optimum (by design or serendipity), the nightmares are real, with new feelings injected straight into the brain forever via some indefinite sense that the reading of words facilitates and that watching or seeing never can. These ‘word-worried’ feelings are not forgotten, as a film of feelings often is forgotten when you walk home from the cinema or remove the DVD. And here, in these five tales, we have words unintentionally aimed from five separately independent angles of authorial attack. A mighty catapulting of serious demonic, eruptive forces that, with some quieter, darker moments, threaten your sanity and sleepfulness. It is up to you to channel those forces.  But rely on no drugs to protect you. (26 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later)


“But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye”

A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash


NB: Any writer whose single story or novel or collection is real-time reviewed on this site before 30 April 2011 is – inter alios – eligible to submit a story to ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’.


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