Published by TTA Press
Continuing to assert its reign as the most essential regular publication for fans of literary horror, TTA Press’s Black Static magazine delivers another predominantly excellent selection of spine-tingling stories with Issue 32. Before the fiction begins, columnist Stephen Volk delivers an amusingly scathing attack on the perception and position of writers in the world of filmmaking which finds itself a perfect partner in Christopher Fowler’s immediate follow-up — a brief yet hope-laden insight into marketing, characterisation and the importance of remaining committed to goals which finishes on a starkly poignant note that should ring true for any aspiring novelist.
Issue 32’s chills kick off with Tim Casson’s measured, Gothic tale The Withering, in which an investigative reporter travels alongside astute medium Miss Appleby as she lends her particular services to a murder investigation in which an innocent boy may be set to hang. Utilising a particularly morbid set of tools, Miss Appleby may commune with the dead, thereby learning the truths of their demises. This particular case proves more difficult than expected, however, when shady practises, superstitious vilification and political/financial clout all raise their ugly heads. Casson paints a wonderfully realised setting for his proceedings, his pacing rounding out the atmosphere deftly. The sense of foreboding is ever present, and sequences such as a risky night-time grave exhumation ooze Hammer-esque class, while the ending’s bleakness is brave yet perfectly fitting. A cracking start to the issue.
Ilan Lerman’s Love as Deep as Bones chronicles the physical and mental descent of a drug addicted couple as their gradual shift to spending more time medicated next to each other in bed than actually living their daily lives gives way to a depressive, low-key approach to body horror and the personal tragedy of addiction and relationship breakdown. Like many situations involving the hopelessly drug-addled, there is no happy ending to be found (nor, indeed expected by Lerman’s sombre prose) here. Rather, a lingering sense of loss and discomfort forms the author’s emotional payload.
The high quality offerings continue with Ray Cluley’s brutal The Death Drive of Rita, Nee Carina, which follows the twisted titular character as she orchestrates various horrific and fatal vehicular collisions as sacrifice to her personal god of roads. Left terribly disfigured by an accident which took the lives of her husband and children, Rita now exists solely to pay tribute to her new deity as she constructs an effigy in her home using trophies taken from the scene of her various intentional catastrophes. One of the longer stories in this issue, Cluley’s work is also one of the best. Intriguing, involving, and running at a perfect pace, Rita’s methods and behaviour are consistently surprising and devilishly cunning, gradually revealing an antagonist whose story teases sympathy despite her quite obvious, and dangerous, level of insanity.
Priya Sharma’s The Anatomist’s Mnemonic delivers the classic short, sharp visceral shock that we all love with the story of a young man whose overwhelming desire to find a woman with the perfect pair of hands leads to an expectedly horrendous outcome when he finds himself strangely attracted to a medical illustrator whom he seeks to hire. While the finale can be seen coming some ways before it does, its impact is no less disturbing thanks to Sharma’s careful construction and a finish that pulses with violence, frenzy and perverse satisfaction.
Drew Rhys White gives us Black Sun next, whereby an unidentified narrator guides the reader in eulogy of the last days of a murdered young boy. Building a tone of reverence, White gradually unfurls a sequence of events that see the bookish young Roman chased, harangued and attacked by schoolmates who live in another wing of the housing scheme he and his father occupy. In a masterful turn, however, the author orchestrates a devastating rug-pull that reveals the more twisted minds at play here are not those that were expected — forging a moral challenge and skewing of perspective that twists a tight knot in the stomach.
Our final two shorts for this edition are Lavie Tidhar’s What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Z—— , and Steve Rasnic Tem’s Bedtime Story. The first of the pair delivers an overwhelming sense of melancholy and loss, no doubt concerned with bereavement, but finds itself cripplingly buried in a scarcely penetrable shell of abstractness that offers very little chance to obtain a tangible hold on just what is actually going on here. Tem’s entry, however, is a skilful little spine-tingler that sees a young girl relay a particularly affecting scary bedtime story to her father, mixing horror and fantasy in a tale that pushes those existential shiver buttons perfectly.
Finally, we have a Q&A session with Tem, and Black Static‘s usual gamut of high quality, on-point film, TV, and literature reviews. All in all, it’s another stupendous issue for the publication.
Black Static, and its sister magazine Interzone are available from the TTA Press Online Shop with subscription options available worldwide. Various book stores across the globe also carry the publication, so be sure to keep an eye out.
4 1/2 out of 5