Black Static 23 Reviewed

Black Static for June / July 2011 contains the usual reviews and commentary, while the stories are mostly by returning regulars.

V. H. Leslie appears for the second time in three issues, and already looks to be the magazine’s most prominent newcomer of the year. In ‘Time Keeping’ Howard believes that he keeps time running smoothly. It’s a demanding time-consuming job, so when he meets Helen, Howard couldn’t shake the feeling of danger. Leslie has an elegant, assured style, and while the story may need more than one reading, the (initially) opaque timeline does eventually come clear, and the reader learns what the danger is. Recommended.


‘Hail’ by Daniel Kaysen is an extremely busy story –there is much more plot than is usual with Black Static stories, which tend to concentrate on atmosphere- but it’s no less effective for all that. The narrator picks up a girl while sheltering under an awning from the rain, and she asks him directly if he wants to go back to her flat. When she has want she wants, she throws him out, from which point the more the nameless protagonist tries to escape his fate, the more tightly he is caught in its web of inevitability. Highly Recommended.


From the moment the protagonist (and therefore the reader) gradually awakens to the sound of the underground, it’s clear that Carole Johnstone’s ‘Electric Dreams’ is something special. Eli is a young man accepting food and shelter, and occasionally –perhaps enough to just get him by- money in return for hearing what people need; whether he can work miracles, is a god, or  previous events are just coincidence, Eli’s supplicants believe that he can

kill the wife’s lover

put the office rival out of action (“You won’t kill him, will you?”)

cure a woman’s mother of end-stage breast cancer

save the rats on the Underground.

Now Eli has to decide whether it’s time to change again. To start again. Two years was a long time –the longest yet- and success bred notoriety. It’s a top-notch story, one of the best in recent months.

World Horror Convention

Robert Davies won the 2011 World Horror Convention / Black Static short story contest, and from its opening line of When Jackson Cade woke and felt his right lung missing, he knew the Harvesters had come again, ‘The Harvesting of Jackson Cade’ makes it clear why. There are a couple of irritating non sequiteurs early on, but the story of physical disintegration at the hands (or should that be at the mandibles?) of the nightmarish Harvesters is unrelenting. Recommended.

Joel Lane ends the fiction for this issue with ‘For Their Own Ends,’ in which Barry awakes from a heart attack in a private hospital to find that patient care has taken a back seat to ‘market awareness.’ Lane’s prose is as precise as ever, allowing him to generate that frisson of fear with the most apparently innocent of phrases: a young man took Barry’s left hand and felt his pulse, then jabbed a needle into the vein of his wrist. Without speaking, he attached the syringe to a drip stand holding a bag of crimson fluid. Highly Recommended.



As always the fiction is enhanced by the quality of the non-fiction embracing it. Stephen Volk’s ‘Coffinmaker’s Blues’ looks at [moving] the debate about so-called “evil” away from the realm of religion and moral philosophy into the realm of science. Christopher Fowler is interested in how Spanish cinema seems to be adopting the mantle of the main maker of horror movies with the power to move audiences. Finally, Mike O’Driscoll studies the work of political philosopher John Grey, whose latest book is a brilliant dissection of our continuing desire to console ourselves with delusions, either in the form of a secular afterlife, or through the deification of humanity by means of “the abolition of death.”



Peter Tenant interviews new horror star Tom Fletcher and reviews his novels, The Leaping and The Thing On The Shore, both Cumbrian-set contemporary horror novels. Other Case Notes feature chapbooks from Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell and Gary McMahon, plus three anthologies; Dark Minds Press offer the eponymous Dark Minds, The End of the Line is published by Solaris, while Tor provide an American perspective in Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow’s Haunted Legends.


Finally, Tony Lee reviews DVDs and Blu-Rays, such as Natalie Portman’s appearance in Black Swan, and the Stanley Kubrick boxed set Visionary Filmmaker Collection, as well as a reissue of the classic Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price. It’s a good way to round out another excellent issue.

• August 5th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

Terra Damnata, by James Cooper

Terra Damnata is the first book-length work by James Cooper, whose dark, disturbing stories of dysfunctional families have been ornamenting Black Static for the last three years.

Arthur Woodbury is the archetypal Everyman living in a suburb with a wife and daughter in the comfortable suburb of an unnamed city, his car a Volvo, a bottle of sherry in the house for visitors.

But there is a darker side to Arthur. He has a serious gambling problem, and is in debt to local casino owner Norman Foley, whose ‘enforcer’ Randall has a nasty reputation for violence. Worse, Arthur and Beth’s daughter Cherise has just been killed as the novel opens.

And one rain-swept night a rich businessman arrives offering a fortune in exchange for the right to buy Cherise’s body. Although Arthur is appalled at the idea, he realizes that the money offers a way out of his debts….

Most of Cooper’s regular themes recur; the Woodbury family are dysfunctional through tragedy, and while the purpose for which businessman Gerald Appleton wants the cadaver is eventually revealed to be part of Chinese society, for much of the book it seems decidedly creepy. As is often the case with Cooper’s work, he leaves his setting unnamed and background undelineated, as if preferring to let archetypes give the story their own imagery.

It’s an approach that carries risk; at times Arthur and other protagonists seem underdrawn, their motivations skimmed over, but Cooper is a stylish writer and imparts enough traction to the story to get away with it. With its character’s old-fashioned names and close focus, it’s a novella that is very British, and strangely redolent of 1950s thrillers with actors like Stanley Baker and Laurence Harvey.

Terra Damnata marks an important step in Cooper’s career; it is a novella from PS Publishing rather than a full-length novel, but it will hopefully lead to progressively longer works, and with a gorgeously macabre cover by Les Edwards, it is a fine book in its own right.

• May 25th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

Black Static 22 Reviewed

Black Static for April / May 2011 boasts the usual array of superior fiction, comment, news from Peter Tennant and reviews from Tennant on books, and Tony Lee on horror DVDs and Blu-ray.

Stephen Volk

For whatever reason –and it’s really never explained why- this issue sees the renaming of Volk’s column to ‘Coffinmaker’s Blues.’ Volk talks about humanity’s seemingly innate tendency to create narrative from even neutral symbols, and how the preoccupations of contemporary artists overlap massively with modern horror, and urges the next generation to get into art gallerys more and blog less.

Rarely has the title of Christopher Fowler’s ‘Interference’ column seemed more appropriate than now, as he bemoans the number of gatekeepers in media and the way true creativity has been hijacked by celebrities. There’s more here, if you want to read on..


In the Fiction Section

Alan Wall makes an elegant debut with ‘The Salt of Eliza,’ a novelette that’s only marginally horror, but which is very well written. Journalist Jim is offered an outlandish sum of money by a tycoon to write an article on an elderly hotel owner whom the tycoon believes possesses the secret to –if not immortality, then a very long life.

Credulous. That’s the word that’s been used about me, more than once. Open-minded is the term I prefer. Only credulous people once believed the earth spun round the sun. Only the credulous once thought any human being would ever set foot on the moon….

Wall avoids the obvious narrative route, and rather than throwing in vampires or zombies, the story is less about Peshgau the hotelier than it is about Jim’s reaction to him. Recommended.

Tim Lees

Tim Lees returns after an eighteen month absence with ‘Durgen’s Party,’ which sounds like a Jack Vance pastiche; it’s much darker than that – the party is a sort of seance in which a dead pianist is brought back to ‘life’ to give a recital.

            “I brought her back.”

“They don’t have feelings. They’re like CDs, playing the same old tunes, again and again. Little bundles of mimetic memory…Memory of feelings. Not the real thing. They don’t suffer. Not like us.”

            It’s original, beautifully written, dark without being horrific. Highly Recommended.

 Alison J. Littlewood’s ‘Black Feathers’ uses the mythology of the raven –a bird often associated with bad omens and death- as a symbol to examine the relationship between a  little girl and her brother and their friends.

There was a raven at the edge of the woods. It was huge – even its beak looked as long as Mia’s fingers. She stared at it and Little Davey laughed at her. Mia wrinkled her nose. Little Davey was younger than her by a year, but he wasn’t that little anymore….

Filled with fairy-tale imagery, it’s beautifully written, managing to expertly blend both the fairytale and contemporary aspects. Highly Recommended.

Stephen Pirie

‘This Is Mary’s Moon’ by Stephen Pirie turns out to be the most surprising story of the lot. A low-class prostitute, Mary is pimped by the vile Mrs. Anderson, a madwoman who stabbed Mary’s mother years before, and runs her neighbourhood with cruelty and unrelenting brutality: The last of the neighbours to complain Mrs. Anderson hanged by his bootlaces from the eaves of his shed. Suicide, the Chief Inspector had said, as Mrs. Anderson had led him away to one of her special, younger girls – a first-timer just  to the Chief Inspector’s taste.  But from the grim chrysalis of Pirie’s opening, something quite lovely appears, about which it’s impossible to say any more without spoiling it. So just read it, it’s Outstanding.

Simon Kurt Unsworth rings the changes on the theme of dead children and bereavement with ‘Child,’ a short but poignant conclusion to the fiction section. Like the Littlewood, Unsworth’s narrative trajectory never takes the form I expected, and it’s all the better for it. Outstanding.


Peter Tenant interviews Stephen Pirie and reviews his new novel, Burying Brian, while the other Case Notes feature chapbooks from Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell and Gary McMahon, plus three anthologies; Dark Minds Press offer the eponymous Dark Minds, The End of the Line is published by Solaris, while Tor provide an American perspective in Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow’s Haunted Legends.

Tony Lee reviews DVDs and Blu-Rays, with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, Dario Argento’s Phenomena and the Irish Savage sounding the most promising titles.

Another superior issue of a superior magazine: Black Static continues to surprise, and to delight.

• May 18th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 2

Black Static 21

Cover by Ben Baldwin

Apologies for the delay – in almost four years, this is the first time the review has been quite this late….

Black Static for February / March 2011 sees the usual strong mix of returning regulars and talented neophytes, but this issue it the non-fiction that stands out especially, starting with genre news in White Noise, which details several new releases from Steven Pirie, Tim Lees and others.

Electric Darkness by Stephen Volk

In which Volk dresses as Father Christmas and puts the boot in to Bath City’s most famous supporter, who is almost a national treasure in some quarters.

Stand up, Mike Leigh. I’ve had enough of all your actors thinking that a speech impediment and ill-considered wardrobe is a substitute for characterization. I’m pissed off at hearing them going on and on endlessly about your “method” when the result of it seems to be the same deeply irritating whine. (It should have a verb: to blethyn)… Leigh sends out actors to observe and report. But writing isn’t just observing and reporting. It’s about imagining. 

Volk’s irritation is with those in the arts who elevate realism above the imaginary. All writers create secondary worlds, but in the case of Leigh and other ‘realists’ they limit their imaginations and substitute our primary world as a crutch, and then use this limited approach to validate their work.

Night’s Plutonian Shore by Mike O’Driscoll

In ‘The Genre Fallacy’ O’Driscoll issues a counterblast to what was largely a pompous, dim-witted and self-serving denigration of genre fiction, notably a shoddy attempt to publicize his new novel by Booker finalist Edward Docx in The Guardian.

O’Driscoll correctly identifies that ‘literary fiction’ is as much a genre as any other, and makes the point that constraining through the conventions of genre can actually result in a greater work than otherwise would be the case. 

Interference by Christopher Fowler

In the last of the comment columns, Fowler calls for a grass-roots movement to supplant the current crop of Hollywood no-brainers (How did Yogi Bear and The Three Stooges ever get green-lit?).


V.H. Leslie opens the fiction with a first sale that bodes well for the future. Daniel and his expectant partner Robyn are converting an isolated baron the edge of the woods. Robyn decorates the nursery with wallpaper that as the story progresses, Daniel finds more and more disturbing.

‘Ulterior Design’ starts with a close focus on the couple, only gradually panning out to reveal more and more of the setting, which becomes increasingly claustrophobic. Its nightmarishly fairytale feel works well until the slightly telegraphed and rather conventional ending, but perhaps any feeling of slight anticlimax is more a reflection on how good the first half is.

The art by Paul Milne would overwhelm most stories, but Leslie’s imagery is so powerful that it actually complements it. Highly Recommended.

Ray Cluley

Ray Cluley appears in a second consecutive issue with ‘Pins and Needles’ in which James, a young man profoundly obsessed with space passes his days by putting pins, razor blades, even knitting needles in places where the unwary will impale themselves.

Because it’s the only way to make you feel something. Because sometimes the hurt is good, it helps, and eventually you can get used to the bad part, the pain, if everything’s all better afterwards. Just a quick pain, a nip, just a bit of a sting, that’s all. Then gone. All better.

For a brief while Cluley offers both James and the reader hope, in the shape of Angela, a kindly, carnal dental nurse, but it’s obvious that James is just too strange, and when the ending comes it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, which may be a first. Outstanding. (And it has great artwork by Rik Rawling as well)

Maura McHugh’s ‘Water’ is short but strange.

Watery references recur in Ed Grabianowski’s ‘Extraneous Invokat,’ in which a young couple about to move home become prey to disturbing visions and other unpleasant phenomena. The artwork is by Dan Henk. 

James Cooper

James Cooper’s ‘Cushing’ concludes the fiction, with an illustration by Ben Baldwin that provides the basis for the cover. Two brothers whose father has committed suicide live with their widowed mother, who spends her days painting and sketching her elder son, while she all but ignores the younger one. This is only slightly disturbing, but Cooper heightens the sense of ‘wrongness’ with one delicate touch: in all the pictures, elder brother David’s face has been cut out, and replaced with that of Peter Cushing. With a commendable sense of restraint, Cooper creates a tension between what is stated and that left unstated, leaving the reader space to think. Outstanding.


The magazine concludes with Peter Tennant’s Case Notes (book reviews), which this time -in honour of Women in Horror Recognition Month- focuses on women writers; an interview with Australian horror writer Angela Slatter, and reviews of her three collections. Plus Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead, anthology Rigor Amortis, Allyson Bird’s Wine and Rank Poison (her follow-up collection to Bull Running for Girls) and many more. Tony Lee’s Blood Spectrum (DVD/Blu-ray reviews) profiles the remake of I Spit on Your Grave and A Serbian Film, amongst others.

 Perhaps the best way to sum the issue up is with a quote from Ellen Datlow: The most consistently excellent horror magazine published. Indeed, and Bs21 continues to maintain this consistency.

• April 15th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

The Turning Week

Well, here we are; Sunday night is already falling on the first night of winter time, and I’m just about done.

Four reviews, five guest blogs and a post of my own on Suite101, culminating in a review of the third anniversary Black Static, which is maybe the best issue I’ve read yet.  The lowest I gave any story was one of the three Highly Recommendeds, an Outstanding, and a Year’s Best contender.

Plus a horror film blog over at Film Making Mumblings.

That’s about three hours work this afternoon. More on that later…

Tomorrow I’m going to start posting extracts from Dark Spires, if I get time, I’ll do two a day — if not, I’ll do one. So expect actual blogs to be thin on the ground for another week, at least until after Bristolcon. But next week is not only post-con, but it’s Reading Week as well, which gives me about fiften to seventeen hours extra to…well, read.

Have fun this Hallowe’en night….mwahahaha…

• October 31st, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Saturday Evening Blog

I don’t often post a blog this late in the day, but it’s been an unusual day; almost perfect weather from a working point of view. Sunshine this morning for us to walk Alice around the fields, when we got home it rained for most of the day.  While Kate has lurked in the kitchen making soup and Apple Almond Cake I’ve spent the day on the usual revision.

But unlike most of the week, once the revision is done I’ve left uni work to one side to concentrate on reviews. And then, having written a couple of thousand words, the sun came out again for us to walk Alice through the park. She repaid us by bringing a stick fully fifty per cent longer than she is. As the girl used to say on the Clio ad, “size matters.” It certainly does to a dog.

Blog posts next week are going to be limited. With Damage Time out in the US on Tuesday, I’ll be posting extracts from the novel. And I’ve four reviews to go up on Suite101, all horror, which I’ll be linking to on the day they’re posted;

Stephen King      — Carrie

Joe Hill                 — 20th Century Ghosts

Gary McMahon — The Harm


Black Static 19

Right, that’s it for now. Off to eat some pizza.

Have fun!

• October 23rd, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Guest Blog at TTA Press

October is Anthology Month, over at the Black Static section of the TTA Press Forum (TTA are also purveyors of such fine periodicals as Interzone [SF] and Crimewave [crime], as well as the dark and disturbing Black Static).

Peter Tennant has reviewed anthologies –and nothing but anthologies– in Black Static #19 and in the run up to Halloween, and has invited several editors to come and talk about their favourite horror anthologies.

I’m the latest guest editor to post about my own personal favourite on their Desert Island Anthology thread. I’ve picked Ellen Datlow’s wonderful Inferno, and you can read all about it here.

More guest posts tomorrow, over at another writer’s blog. Can you guess who it is yet? (I have absolutely no idea why I suddenly started channelling Rolf Harris then — don’t worry, it isn’t him!)

• October 19th, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Monday Morning

It’s been a productive morning — I’m now 20% of the way through Ultramassive, 21000 words in, and I’ve critiqued a short story for Critters to keep membership of that that particular group ticking over.  Plus the review of Black Static 17 is posted.

So now –since it’s 23c in the shade and it feels criminal to be inddors on such a nice day, I’m going to sit under a tree and catch up on some z’s for an hour. There have to be some benefits to being a writer, after all….

• June 28th, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Black Static 16 Reviewed, Plus Comments

The Saturday review at Suite101 this week is Black Static 16, but before you click on the link –or not– I want to add a coda.

I mentioned that it’s the first full colour Black Static, but Suite’s policies preclude me from saying that the whole magazine is jaw-droppingly fucking gorgeous.  I had my doubts about a full colour edition, simply because  it’s a magazine of dark fiction, which just goes to show that

a. sometimes bright colours can enhance the darkness

b. I know nothing, absolutely nada, about artwork. Except what I like.

Oddly, the Lynda E. Rucker artwork, which is among the strongest in the issue, seems to be uncredited.

On another point, space precluded me commenting in more detail on Stephen Volk’s ‘Electric Darkness,’ which was like a shot in the arm. This is how it starts:

There’s this story. This guy went to live in the wilderness with grizzly bears… He admired their grace and ever since he was a kid he adored them. He thought, if I treat them well, they’ll have no reason…to attack me.  On the contrary, they’ll love me like I love them and we’ll all live happily in the forest together. Well, one day the fucking grizzlies turned on him and ate him.

I know the feeling.

Volk recounts the series of setbacks and the periodic depression that plagues him (and sometimes the two are linked, and sometimes they’re not) — and wonders why he bothers.

It touched a chord because I’m slightly melancholic by nature, and also lately because I’ve begun to note the switchback nature of writing for a living.

Possibly every beginning writer dreaming of the first sale thinks that after they’ve made the breakthrough, it’s happily ever after. In fact, given long enough a writer’s career seems increasingly to me to be like a game of Snakes ‘n’ Ladders. Volk’s article nails it absolutely, and in the process outlines how he copes. Anyone who suffers from depression, or whose career is going through a rough patch should read it.

Black Static is a great magazine, and 16 is an exemplary issue, but in any case this month’s Electric Darkness alone is worth the cover price.

• April 24th, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 1