Okay, although this isn't my first owned copy of Black Static (I'm a recent subscriber and have just renewed that subscription), it is my first completely read one (and I'm sorry and don't all scream at me at once and I have dipped in and out before...), so I feel I can give this issue a proper review.
Whilst I didn't read it all in order, I will format the review according to the structure of the magazine, so...
Comment: Stephen Volk
Now, this issues' comment (I don't get BS for the comments as such, I get it for the stories so this is really a first for me to read these articles) from Mr Volk concerns pitches and selling your concept through a confident pitch. It relates very specifically to screen-writing and the film-making/TV world, so to be perfectly honest, it was of little interest to me. I'm sure, though, that it contains invaluable advice for those who are operating in this arena and there does seem to be a lot of budding screen-writers in our community.
Comment: Lynda E. Rucker
This article had far more to pique my curiosity. Ms Rucker opens her piece with a quote from the film Martyrs and then proceeds to discuss and detail (as much as you can in column this small) the role of the female protagonist in horror, specifically related to how women are perceived as victims. It focuses on the physical, the appropriation of the female body to provoke...sympathy? Disgust? Is there simple misogyny at work, or is it something deeper? It's a fascinating train of thought and one that deserves much more space in which to examine all the evidence. Ms Rucker uses the final third of her article to look specifically at Pascal Laugier's film Martyrs (and if you haven't seen it, get the hell out and buy it!), which is the quintessential 'female as victim' film, exploring within its own context this theme. Ms Rucker managed to make me see the film (a film I find powerful, disturbing and profoundly empathetic) in a new light and that's no mean feat. Great stuff.
Short Fiction: The Second Floor by S. P. Miskowski
The first piece of fiction in this issue and my first taste of this writer's work. I find it profoundly difficult to discuss short stories, not least because there is more danger of giving essential details away that the reader would far rather find out themselves. So I will simply try to give my personal impressions of each story.
The Second Floor is a rambling account of a woman who revisits the apartment she shared with friends many years prior and as a result, relives some memories. It's beautifully written and while I was a little confused as to where the horror was (bearing in mind that horror has become such an expansive genre of late), I thought it was a lovely meditation on memory, nostalgia and the unreliability of both. Though it didn't set my world afire, I will definitely be seeking more of this authors work.
The Grey Men by Laura Mauro
Again, another writer whose contribution here is the first of theirs I've read. This was actually the first story in this issue I turned to, not least because I had been told that a previous story published in an earlier Black Static was excellent and I was hearing great things about this one too (I have since ordered the back issue for the previous tale). Well, it certainly didn't disappoint. I was completely blown away by this story. The writing is top-notch, the subject matter both surreal and subtle, with a deep core of emotion running through. It basically follows its main character Adam, as he struggles to deal with and reconcile his reaction (or lack thereof) to the appearance of hundreds of figures which simply hang in the air above his town swirled in mist and fog. And that's all I'll say, aside from reiterating how accomplished it feels. I was hooked and utterly invested in it, and felt a real stab of poignancy at one exchange of dialogue.
The Visitors by Stephen Hargadon
The narrator of this story sits in a pub and relates snippets of memory, history and local goings-on as he waits for his unnamed visitors to arrive. It's a stream of consciousness which slips ongoing dialogue in between paragraphs relating his personal observances and occurrences. I have to be honest, this one didn't do much for me. While it's not badly written and the structure is interesting, I found it too ambiguous as to what it was trying to aim for, or too rambling. I also felt that again, the story had little to do with horror except for a scene I felt was tagged on. Not terrible, it just didn't grab me.
The Fishing Hut by Steve Rasnic Tem
A man takes a detour off the beaten track to find a fishing hut spoken of by fellow anglers in this dark story by one of the giants of the genre. Perhaps the most straightforwardly obvious horror story here, it also allows for interpretation and ambiguity in its short length. Using an activity that's normally associated with contemplation and tranquillity, Mr Tem creates an atmosphere that exudes subtle dread and oppressiveness. Like the occluded surface of the waters they drop their lines in, there is the sense that more is going on beneath the surface here. Though perhaps not quite as high in my estimation as a few other stories here, it is nevertheless a solid, atmosphere piece of work.
Hungry Ghosts by Emily B. Cataneo
Another cracking tale carried off with a sure hand and deft writing. This is one I definitely can't say too much about because I feel even the tiniest of detail might give away something crucial. Suffice it to say that I really loved the tone of this story; full of portent, heavy with a sense of fatalism and a deep through-line of melancholic empathy. It's as much about memory and secrets as it is about the horror it describes. Really, really enjoyed this one and another new name to add to those I need to seek more from.
The Frequency Of Existence by Andrew Hook
Now, I must confess, I have heard of Andrew Hook - in fact, I've met him once or twice but this is my first taste of his writing (sorry Andrew!). However, it certainly won't be my last. Despite this being another story with no obviously identified horror (and I apologise for keeping mentioning that, as I know it can differ from person to person as to what horror is), I loved this story. The narrator relates his time spent with an enigmatic and contrary partner, as he photographs her. Memory, art and emotion collide in a pitch-perfect tale written with stunning and assured prose. I loved it so much, it finally motivated me to seek out more of Mr Hook's work. Great stuff.
The Drop Of Light And The Rise Of Dark by Cate Gardner
By far the shortest tale on offer here, that does not in any way negate its power. I have only read one other story by Ms Gardner, the short Nowhere Hall published by Spectral Press, but that was a great favourite of mine too and one of the few pieces of written fiction to send a genuine shiver rippling across my skin. This one takes a very simple seeming scenario and weaves a dark, brooding story full of menace and terror, which ushers in some real, heartfelt emotion. I was genuinely sucker-punched by this one and will definitely revisit it. It also pushed me into buying Ms Gardner's collection of short fiction.
The Cleansing by Danny Rhodes
The final piece of short fiction in this issue concerns a generic tower block estate and the discoveries by two young girls of a black tarry substance which festers in the basement of one tower. There's a lot on offer here - from the obvious visceral horror of the unknown substance, to the mysterious disappearances of some residents, to undercurrents concerning the decay of communities and society - except, I have to say I struggled with it. Although there are some nice scenes here and the idea is interesting, there was something about it that didn't engage me. I think a large part of it was the fact that the author kept using 'the younger girl' and 'the older girl' to denote his two main characters. As petty as it sounds, it kept irritating and throwing me out of the story. Perhaps if there had been designated names, it might have made a difference, but unfortunately this was my reaction.
Interview: Helen Marshall
This is a pretty decent-sized article which delves into Ms Marshall's two collected releases of short stories before an in-depth interview with the author herself. Having never read any of her stories, I was interested to know what the impressions might be of those tales. By all accounts, the collections sound very interesting and have been praised from a number of quarters. I do confess to feeling a little intimidated by the detailed content as they sound very intellectual and if there's one thing I'm not, it's intellectual. I'm a pretty basic person/reader (as can probably be seen from my short reviews above) and often feel out of my depth when certain subjects are discussed or raised. However, the interview with Ms Marshall is extremely illuminating and of great interest to both readers and writers, and I shall endeavour to give her fiction a proper read soon.
Finally, there are the usual interesting reviews; books reviewed by Peter Tennant, and films reviewed by Tony Lee. As always (and with any review), these things are to be taken as guides to content with often entertaining personal viewpoints, and as such, your own mileage may vary (as the kids seem to say these days...).
The magazine is also peppered with lovely illustrations by Richard Wagner and Ben Baldwin, with a gorgeous fully painted cover by Wagner which, for me, recalls the zombie 'Bub' from Romero's Day Of The Dead.
So, that concludes my first review of my first fully read Black Static and I'm sure it won't be my last. Not by a long shot.