Black Static #36 (Magazine)
Published by TTA Press
If there's one publication out there that can always be relied on to consistently deliver the goods, it's Black Static. A morbid critical will for an issue to come dropping through the letterbox that fails to scratch that spine-chilling urge seems to find itself repeatedly thwarted on a bi-monthly basis, and Issue #36 isn't content to buck that trend with its deft mix of the visceral, the ghostly, and the metaphorical.
Opening up the fiction in this issue is Jacob A. Boyd's hugely enjoyable No Kill, No Pay, which, moving from the spectacle of a snow-laden plane crash, enters into a space of more personal musing, melding the supernatural world of lycanthropy with the similar pack hierarchy of the high-flying business world. Looking to join the upper echelons of management, protagonist Howard accepts an invitation from his boss to attend a hunting party at his remote cabin, joined by other members of the supervisory team. The lycanthropic twist isn't difficult to see coming, but Boyd's sense of place is impeccable, drawing the snow-covered surroundings and tense survivalist atmosphere with aplomb. Howard's actions form the core of the tale here and are unlikely to be just what you're expecting come the jaw-dropping finale.
Stephen Bacon's Apports weaves a tale of vengeance on both sides of life and death, as a bereaved father figure sets out to deal violent revenge on the man responsible for the death of his girlfriend's young son in a failed suicide attempt. Tracking down his prey through less-than-legitimate means, our would-be vigilante finds himself coming upon a man already reduced to a state of tortured limbo – trapped in a daily existence from which death would prove a welcome relief. Bacon's story is a very short one, but all the more effective for it – weaving guilt, grief, existential dismay and realm-breaching rage into a package that will have the hairs on your arms standing up with one simple line: "You should see his face at night. Fucking terrifying."
Tim Waggoner's Day 12 reads like an unfilmed episode of "The Twilight Zone" or a forgotten EC Comics entry, recounting the desperate fight of the final survivor trapped on a plane that has seemingly become a living, sentient entity – draining the life force of its passengers as it bids to stay in the air. With his strength waning, our narrator sets about attempting sabotage from within – like a malignant infection in the belly of the beast – but this strange new breed of creature has an immune system of its own: the resurrected corpses of the drained victims still resting in their seats. Waggoner's tale is well paced, punchy, fantastical and schlocky in just the right manner. Like a weird tale of old, it's a fine example of horrific escapist fare ending on a pitch-perfect note.
In somewhat of a tonal slip for the issue, we come down from the adrenaline-fueled high of Waggoner's ending and into Christopher Fowler's more sombre The Scent of Roses. A marrying of historical reality (the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and fiction, Fowler's entry proves the weaker link in this edition. While undeniably well written, and teeming with guilt and heaviness of the heart, it feels incongruous amidst the other included stories with an ending that is disappointingly flat and predictable in its introduction of supernatural elements.
Heading towards more modern social settings, V. H. Leslie's Namesake sees a seemingly successful online dating meet-up between relationship seekers J and Andrew taking a trip down a very bleak road with the revelation of a certain secret hidden in the attic of Andrew's flat. With the constraints of the short format, Leslie puts a good effort into maintaining a slow burn for the initial build-up with demonstrable skill; yet, the emotional lengths to which our leads' involvement stretches is less than convincing by the time the finish arrives, feeling more hyperbolic than genuine – though it must be said that it doesn't manage to thwart the bleak brutality of the denouement.
Taking a similarly bleak and realist approach, imbued with the fantastical, is Ray Cluley's The Festering – easily the darkest and most disturbing entry in this edition of Black Static. A story of a young life ruled and twisted by parental neglect and forced maturity before it's due, The Festering is unremitting in its desolate outlook on the base functioning of a broken home and the summary effects on the attitude and world view of a barely teenage girl. With the festering of the title being an unsettling representation of hatred, spite and despair made pulsating flesh, Cluley builds to a finale loaded with insidious, low-key malevolence and hopelessness, effective in both a social realist and a genre approach. It's heavy, challenging and uncompromising stuff, and it's an excellent piece of work.
Also packing out this issue is a Q&A with author Nina Allen, alongside the usual swathe of quality film and literature reviews. Stephen Volk's regular column also proves as insightful as is to be expected, and Lynda E. Rucker's excellent column from Issue 35 reaches its conclusion. It looks like there's simply no stopping Black Static when it comes to standing as the cream of the crop for bi-monthly genre writing, quite frankly.
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 (below left) and Amazon US (below right). Various book stores across the globe also carry the publication, so be sure to keep an eye out.
4 out of 5