Published by TTA Press
The folks behind TTA Press demonstrate just why they have a reputation as the cream of the crop of British bi-monthly horror fiction with Issue 34 of Black Static, packing in a collection of tales that seek to trade sharp, visceral shocks and supernatural scares for a focus on character study, mere sense of the otherworldly and existential disquiet.
Nina Allen provides opening tale “The Nightingale”, a story unfurled by its wheelchair-bound protagonist, Grace, as she recounts her present-day work creating a mechanical Nightingale prop for a new film adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s eponymous fairy tale. Sprinkled between is the development of what may become an extra-marital affair, and the gradual unfolding of fantastical childhood experiences that in their own way led to Grace’s current physical disablement. While not particularly scary in a sense, Allen’s take is impeccably written and consistently enthralling – the voice of her protagonist so affably relatable that it’s impossible not to engage. As the lines between the real world and fantasy begin to blur in different aspects of Grace’s life, the sense of encroaching otherness becomes driving, consuming, and glinting of menace where none is directly offered or overtly intended. It’s a finely balanced piece of work that plays on the mind long after finishing – albeit for reasons of literary stature over fearful remembrance.
Next up is Joel Lane’s “In This Blue Shade”, wherein an underground enforcer with a sexual predilection for young men finds a secluded tryst with a male prostitute proving a potentially fatal experience. Lane’s approach here develops towards a realm seemingly outside of the brick-laden reality in which it begins, turning what is in essence a relatively simple chain of events into a jarring experience. There’s a satisfying level of nervousness involved with Lane’s transplanting of the reader into the eyes and mind of his protagonist, but with little poignancy on offer come the dénouement, events ring disappointingly hollow.
Ilan Lerman follows up with “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”, the story of young Jim Atkinson, a boy contending with the world of schoolyard politics, bullying, and a more insidious force of abuse taking place behind locked classroom doors. In keeping with the feel of this issue of Back Static, Lenman takes a view of reality here and heaps a layer of the fantastic on top of it. Are the images Jim sees true representations of the horrors abound at his school, or mere childlike embellishments of a situation he’s simply too young to fully comprehend? What begins as an uncomfortable account becomes doubly so, right up to shiver-inducing finale filled with learned helplessness and horrifying subjugation. With a perfect marriage of the tangible and the fantastical, Lerman reminds us that sometimes the greatest horrors are to be found right under our noses.
“Bullet” by Andrew Hook takes us further down the rabbit hole as a man’s search for his missing girlfriend on the streets of Bangkok merges with the acquisition of a fictional lost novel (the titular “Bullet”) by Franz Kafka. The use of a (however fictional) Kafka piece as a plot instrument should go some way towards indicating the reality-warping intentions of Hook’s piece, as events build their way towards an almost total detachment from the world as we know it. Hook’s narrator is measured and focused, if frequently outside the realm of what one may consider conventional or straight thought — though considering the culmination of the story this would appear to be wholly intentional device that, again for this issue of Black Static, leaves us with a highly capable piece of work which confidently plants that gnawing uncertainty and discomfort at the tip of the spine.
Sean Logan’s “The Tower of Babel” winds up the fiction on offer here, and in spectacular fashion, as a group of holidaymakers find themselves in the midst of an Italian folk carnival that turns out to have much a more sinister, and profound, significance than they could ever have imagined. The less said about this one (for fear of spoilers alone) the better, but suffice to say that Logan’s piece is essential reading. A sympathetic protagonist and his believable comrades are quickly drawn in expert fashion, and the threat faced hearkens to the world of HP Lovecraft, with parallels to John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and its exploration of the creative as gateway to, creator, destroyer and, indeed, protector of realities. Excellent stuff that shouldn’t be passed up.
In addition to the fiction on offer, authors Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker both turn in comprehensive and thoughtful columns dealing with the genre past, present and future, and in the back end we have an extended Q&A with author Mark Morris alongside the regular impressive gamut of book, television and film reviews. All in all, another excellent issue that showcases TTA Press’ knack (and guts) for delivering something chillingly different to the norm.
Black Static and its sister magazine, Interzone, are available from the TTA Press Online Shop with subscription options available worldwide. Digital editions are available at Amazon UK and Amazon US (look for Issue 34 soon). Various book stores across the globe also carry the publication, so be sure to keep an eye out.
4 out of 5