Black Static #33 (Magazine)
Published by TTA Press
Regular columnist and author Stephen Volk opens Issue 33 of Black Static with an affectionate, and very personal, celebration of the late Peter Cushing -- paving the way for the Spectral Press release of his novella Whistable. An impassioned, moving piece, Volk's commentary generates a sense of veneration and respect that immediately serves to elevate his upcoming work to the level of must-read and defies the brevity of his column with the sheer delivery of soul.
Christopher Fowler follows up in his "Interference" column with an equally well measured and thoughtful dissection of taste, tact, and lack thereof amongst genre media -- championing the best artists' calculated use of extremities of both good and bad taste in the name of genuine effect beyond easy audience manipulation. With that, we move on to the showpiece of any Black Static issue: the fiction.
A wide variety of tones cover this issue, beginning with James Cooper's solemn and offbeat Stray Dogs. Cooper's narrator is a tortured soul -- a social outcast suffering from what he believes to be Renfield's Syndrome, struggling with an insurmountable desire to ingest and assimilate fresh blood. How he goes about the demands of his affliction, however, is anything but conventional vampiric shock tactics or erotically driven deceit. A fractured and weary mind worn down by not only the lack of the warmth and love of family, but the impotent will to deliver his own to those who would truthfully accept it, our protagonist finds some light in Sam -- a young resident of the local children's home who stumbles across him at the abandoned house that he makes his hideaway. Cooper's story is a deeply involving tale filled with a palpable sense of longing and regret, reinforced by an ending that reminds us that often the fairest course of action benefits us least. It won't be forgotten in a hurry.
Next up is Tim Casson's Dust Storms, which switches between a man's search for a missing boy and memories of a seemingly terrible event and moment of mystical realisation amongst the war-scattered sands of the Middle East. Unfortunately, it doesn't particularly manage to come together in as solid a fashion as necessary, with Casson's approach to the veiled climax failing to pull the curtain back with sufficient intensity. Marred by its reliance on obscurity, the story remains the showcase of a capable writer however lacking in shocks and chills it may end up being.
On the other hand, Andrew Hook's Rain from a Clear Blue Sky is a knockout, as the author sets us off on a treacherous hiking expedition with a group of friends determined to take on the most infamous locale of their experiences yet. To divulge too much is to spoil this pleasingly creepy chiller, but Hook's approach to the (very real) Third Man Syndrome slowly pulls us down a path fraught with unease, crisis of identity, and some genuinely spine-tingling passages.
Carole Johnstone's Sign of the Times delivers the longest story of the issue, and also the most bursting with subtext and social dissection. Set in Scotland, Sign of the Times follows the relationship between young protagonist Pete and his friend Vinnie. Vinnie's a Dog-Head, one of a race of people who suddenly returned to the Earth -- human bodies with the heads of dogs, the kind often noted in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, for example. In our modern times, the Dog-Heads are relegated to managed "zoos", kept locked away from humanity and provided for in basic measures. Their plight doesn't go unheeded by young Pete, as he gradually integrates himself in their lives, especially that of Vinnie's family and wise old patriarch -- much to the chagrin of Pete's abusive, alcoholic zoo-keeper father. Just why the Dog-Heads have returned, however, is a mystery to humanity -- and it just may be a cataclysmic cycle repeated throughout history. The sense of place in Johnstone's world here is impeccable and populated by similarly realised characters. Pete's initial encounter and fractured conversation with Vinnie is staged to perfection, with every movement and snort of the dog-headed individual rendered straight to the mind's eye with ease. A touching core of developing friendship in the face of adversity sets up tragedy and regret that ultimately comes to be not only Pete's, but ours, in another of the best pieces of fiction to be read so far this year delivered in the pages of Black Static.
Rising star Gary McMahon gives us his usual high quality next, with Sometimes Everything Gets So Strange It Starts To Make Sense and once more confirms that the man's knack for nihilism knows little bounds. Following a stint in prison, McMahon's protagonist, Ben, finds himself lost in the cold reality of urban life. Struggling to maintain a job he hates and keep himself on the straight and narrow, his ever-crumbling world begins to come together with the strange inclusion of a seemingly alive, creepy little puppet that he discovers hanging from a tree in his local park. As everything else falls away around him, Ben seeks purpose, solace, and love in his newfound companion before... well, I'll stop there. Some will certainly dislike McMahon's entry here solely for how relentlessly downbeat the entire affair is -- but the effect is palpable, set to leave a depressive vacuum in the chest and a one-two punch to the stomach to remind you just how shitty a place the world can be. It does its job, and with gusto, so don't expect to be out picking daisies for a while after finishing.
Michael Kelly's Turn the Page finishes off the fiction for this issue, with a short and wistful representation of the final moments of an artistic life fulfilled. Lacking an horrific or dark approach, Kelly's piece seems short on relevance amongst the pages of Black Static, but its literary merit is certainly worth mention, with confident prose and an adoration for the written word carrying it to its conclusion as effortlessly as its peaceful protagonist.
On top of this, we have a lengthy interview with "Knock Knock" author S.P. Miskowski alongside the usual high-quality gamut of book, television, and film reviews. All in all, #33 is a top-notch issue that's well worth picking up.
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