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/
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 here. In 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)