Thursday, June 10, 2010

Black Static #16

Black Static #16
TTA Press

Jonathan McCalmont, reviewing this issue of British magazine devoted to horror in all its aspects, tries in a few paragraphs to disguise the fact that one can say just two words: all the stories in this issue are crap. Clearly, McCalmont does not want to offend the creators of the magazine, that`s why he invents numerous theories that justify its reluctance to call a spade a spade.

Have read the issue, I can not agree with McCalmont: stories, consisting the number, are not shit (well, OK, one of them is really is), but really pretty good.
Before we start with the prose, there is worth saying a few kind words to non-fiction section. Peter Tennant and Tony Lee are as always inclusive, generous in word and accurate in the estimates.

The issue is opened with one of the most powerful stories, «The Overseer» by Tim Casson. In his story, coincidence faces fate, despair faces faith in the best and the ability to watch faces the ability to see. Darius, who could become rich and not work until the end of his days, did not listen to wise advice of his father, wanted to commit suicide, but eventually had enough to eat pills and drank whiskey and passed out. After waking up there is no question about any wealth: for a living, he and several of his friends work in a kind of plant under the supervision of a mysterious man in a mask of a jackal.

The described time and place may resemble the early twentieth century London, but if the capital of the United Kingdom in the story is mentioned, we can only guess about the time. The atmosphere in the story is very gothic, dark, ominous. The main character feels doomed long before something happens with him. Due to the unforgettable atmosphere Casson managed to create a strong story about that is not horrible when you are watched, but it`s more terrible when you watch himself.
The story by M. J. Preston is much weaker. His «Extreme Latitude» is a diary of one of the scientists at the station, located near the North Pole. He feels lonely - and tends to become more self-absorbed. He almost can not go from the station and, eventually, begins to hear a strange noise.

This story is too cold, like the scene of action, and scientists are too plastic to empathize at least someone in the story, it`s like a diary written not by man, but cookies auto-filler.

«One Last Wild Waltz» by Mike O`Driscoll could won, put the author the fantastic element aside at all. The narrator's brother dies and he goes to brother`s funeral, but rather because he wants to see the wife of the deceased, since a youthful years he didn`t lost love to her. But even after the death the deceased shows his bad character, not giving lovers to live peacefully. Characters are described with affection and precision, but because of the horror element of conjecture at the end of the story, the whole composition seems rather far-fetched. It spoils the story, but not enough to just admit his failure.

Alison Littlewood`s story turned out lyrical and persuasive one. In her «The Empty Spaces» protagonists, two widower, live in their old age years in one house. One of them, Laurie, at the doctor says that he saw Marilyn Monroe in his room. His neighbor and the doctor suggest that Laurie has Charles Bonnet Syndrome: when due to poor eyesight brain itself fills the rest of the picture his eyes do not see. Laurie does not agree: it seems to him he really sees things that are actually there.
Despite the fact that one hero of the story has poor eyesight and the other - hard of hearing, the author`s hearing and vision is good: Littlewood wrote quite an original story which has almost the perfect rhythm and a very smooth writing. The best story of the issue.

The issue turned out good, if we assume that more than half of the stories in it is successful.


  1. Hi Ray --

    If I thought the stories were shit I would say so. Believe me. What I think they are, mostly, is okay. Not great, but okay. If I go on about the stories it's because I think it is important for a critic to 'show his working' and explain why it is that he thinks what he things.

  2. Dear Jonathan,
    I think the stories are not great, yes, but good ones (not all), too.
    Just neighbourhood of Sturgeon`s Law and criticizing the stories makes
    this neighbourhood slightly awkward for writers.

    (You run really interesting blog! Podcast round-up was very useful.
    And thanks for pointing out to Jean-Patrick Manchette. Six of his
    novels were translated into Russian.)

  3. Glad you like my blog Ray :-)

    Regarding Manchette, you lucky Russians! Mercifully I speak French and am tracking down the originals.