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

Anthology Update

This is the stage of editing Transtories that is proving most difficult, and most instructive.

It’s the first time that I’ve had to deal with the consequences of an open call for subs –Killers, Future Bristol and Dark Spires were all invitation only.

One practical effect is that there are far more stories to read for an open sub anthology than for one with an invitation only policy, which of course takes up more time. 

Unsurprisingly, stories fit into three roughly equal categories; the ones that are easy to accept, the ones that are easy to reject, and the last ones, which are almost there, but not quite. These are the ones that call for multiple readings.

I’ve asked for a couple of rewrites for my preferred ones, but in some instances there seems to be something of a communication gap, and I now have the dilemma of how much more time I spend trying to nudge these stories toward the quality I’m looking for.

Meanwhile, I’ve posted a couple of acceptances, and I’m intending to add more at the rate of about one a day; it might not be exactly that, but I need to have the line up completed by Eastercon.

Which is where I’ll be attending a launch party for not one but two books containing my work at the same time.  (I’m not the only person claiming this singular honour, so you have even more reason to turn up and buy both books!)

First up is Further Conflicts, Ian Whates’ sequel to his 2010 anthology.

It has a fine BSFA nominated cover by Andy Bigwood, and I get to share to Table of Contents with my stunt double Tony Ballantyne, fellow Angry Robots Lauren Beukes, Andy Remic and Dan Abnett, as well as Gareth L Powell, Eric Brown, Kim Lakin-Smith, Adam Roberts and others.

I’ll talk about -the other title- The Sixty: Arts of Andy Bigwood next time. 

Before I go, you’ll notice that I’ve posted links to all the books here; in the interests of full disclosure, I get a small fee if you buy through the site, and you get to save money – so it’s win-win. 🙂

• April 6th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Books • Comments: 0

One Day

It was raining earlier, so deciding that we’d wait it out, I’ve just returned from a late trot round the park with Alice. Rarely have I needed a walk so badly as a result of reading a book.

I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first a quick reminder that there’s just one day left to submit to my anthology Transtories

But back to why I needed that walk.

I’d just read One Day by David Nicholls, and found myself shocked by the violence of my emotional reaction; walking Alice round the park meant that I had a chance to work out my thoughts about why I’d gotten so upset.

But first, a warning.  There is a major spoiler following, and while I’m not normally reluctant to reveal twists if they’re germane to the ending, this would actually destroy the very effect I’m trying to explain – SO FINISH READING NOW if you don’t want to know what happens.

The plot of One Day revolves around the long-term love affair between Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, students in Edinburgh who share a one- night stand after their graduation ceremony on St. Swithin’s Day, 1988 (that’s July 15th, for those of you who don’t know the legend). The novel charts their anniversary over the next nineteen years – usually they spend it together, but sometimes just write to each other.

Because by 1989 Dexter and Emma have gone their separate ways: Emma finds her ambitions worn down by life in the late 80s and 90s; she takes up acting, in an interactive drama troupe, then gets a dead end job in a fast food chain, before training as a teacher. Dexter drifts through life on charm, before blagging his way into the media on the strength of his looks.

In the late 90s Dexter’s fall from grace as a TV presenter is as sudden as his rise, while Emma quits her teaching job after an abortive affair with her headmaster. Dexter marries while Emma lives alone, but they continue to see each other each year, and there is never any doubt that love will prevail in the end.

Are you still reading? Didn’t I tell you to stop? Okay, on your head be it…

Dexter finds that his wife is cheating on him, and the following year Emma is shocked by how gaunt he looks after his marriage implodes. Emma by this time is a successful children’s novelist living in Paris, but realizing that this may be their last chance, she leaves her boyfriend to return with Dexter, helps get him back on his feet, and they marry on St Swithin’s Day, 2003.

So far, so contemporary romance; I know exactly where this is heading, except that there are still sixty-five pages to go, and there must be another twist. Sure enough life’s not so good by 2004; Dex and Em are trying for a baby, and they quarrel, and they arrange to meet in the evening to celebrate their anniversary – it’s a working day in the shop for Dexter, while Emma tries to write, goes swimming and heads for home:

The rain became heavier, oily drops of brown city water, and Emma rode standing on the pedals with her head lowered so that she was only vaguely aware of a blur of movement in the side road to her left.

The sensation is less of flying through the air, more of being picked up and hurled…the people crouching over her seem fearful and are asking her over and over again are you alright are you alright. One of them is crying and she realizes that she is not alright….

Then she thinks of Dexter…he’ll wonder where I am, she thinks. He’ll worry….

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and she is gone forever. (pp.384 – 385) 
I’m a little embarrassed now at how much I mourned a fictional character. It took me several minutes to be able to pick up the book again, and continue, now in a very emotional state, reading what happens over the last fifty pages. Which is not at all what I expected — but I won’t tell you, because you’ve had enough spoilers for now.

All writers manipulate their readers, but Nicholls is extremely adept, while I had some personal hot buttons which Nicholls pressed. Dex and Em are depicted in all their beautiful and awful detail, and Emma reminded me so much of my ex, while the sheer shock of the accident only adds to its verisimilitude; if TV has one massive failing it’s (generally) telegraphing plot twists through the soundtrack.

The strength of the novel (and the point of this rather rambling post) is that you may think that you know what’s coming, but life doesn’t give you spoiler alerts.

• March 31st, 2011 • Posted in Books • Comments: 0

New Story Appearance

Newcon Press has announced its forthcoming anthology Future Conflicts edited by Ian Whates.

The book will be published in April and launched at Eastercon.

The table of contents is as follows:

Introduction – Ian Whates

  1. The Wake – Dan Abnett
  2. Unaccounted – Lauren Beukes
  3. The New Ships – Gareth L Powell
  4. The Harvest – Kim Lakin-Smith
  5. Brwydr Am Ryddid – Stephen Palmer
  6. The War Artist – Tony Ballantyne
  7. Occupation – Colin Harvey
  8. The Soul of the Machine – Eric Brown
  9. Extraordinary Rendition – Steve Longworth
  10. Yakker Snak – Andy Remic
  11. The Legend of Sharrock – Philip Palmer
  12.  The Ice Submarine – Adam Roberts
  13. Welcome Home, Jannisary – Tim C Taylor

Counting Ian. Whates –the editor- there are no less than five Angry Robot authors present in the contents list, as well as my stunt double, Tony Ballantyne, and near-neighbour Gareth L Powell.

Yes, that is me you see at number seven. I’ll be putting pen to paper for anyone who wants copies signed at the launch party at eastercon.

See you there, maybe?

• February 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Books, General, News • Comments: 0

A Life Invisible

Walking the dog this morning was surprisingly pleasant, since we managed to duck in between the showers, and in between them the morning was more like March than February. The ground was decidedly boggy underfoot, but Kate didn’t mind, I was in wellies, and Alice has four wheel drive.

Most of the rest of the morning was spent fitting a new printer – not that there was anything wrong with the old one; it was a leaving present from Unilever, and it prints like a dream. The problem with it – as I’ve found– is that replacement cartridges cost £45 each, and there are four of them.  It was actually cheaper to buy a new printer than two new cartridges. But as always it seems, fitting a new printer, which I expected would take a few minutes turned into a two hour job.

I’ve had several people observe how quiet I’ve been this week, which seemed odd, considering I’ve been working like crazy – but I realized after i’d thought about that it’s been time-consuming stuff, like this which comprises a life all but invisible to those on-line, and finishing articles and stories for submission to magazines, which I can’t talk about too much about until I can actually announce a sale. So that’s invisible too.

But I hope to have a small announcement soon.

• February 5th, 2011 • Posted in General, Uncategorized • Comments: 0

New Anthology — Transtories

I’m delighted to announce that Aeon Press have agreed to publish the next anthology I’m editing, to be titled Transtories. I’ve known Rob Nielson, John Kenny and the other members of the Aeon Press team for nearly four years now, and they’re great guys who take their work seriously, and their partying equally so. They’ve been stalwart promoters of Irish SF, but at the same time have championed fiction from both the UK, US and non-anglophone countries.

They kindly took my novelette ‘On the Rock’ for publication in Albedo One in 2008, and we have several other projects bubbling away, but for now Transtories is the one I want to focus on. The submission period will open on March 1st (anyone who submits early will have their submission deleted unread, and will probably break out in boils as well!) and run until March 31st. Submissions guidelines are over at the Aeon Press website.

And while you’re there, take a look at John Kenny’s page for Box of Delights, a horror anthology that will also be coming out later on this year.

• January 20th, 2011 • Posted in Books, Events, General, News • Comments: 0

Dark Spires News

Did you know — and as Diggory Venn would say, not a lot of people know this – that today is the 83rd anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s death? And to mark the occasion, Ove Jansson’s excellent Cybermage site has posted the anthology’s first review.

Until now, the book has been available to order as a paperback, either from the site or at conventions, and for those readers who don’t embrace dead tree format, as a mobi or e-pub download.

But now the good people at Wizard’s Tower Press –who actually reside deep within Hardy Country– have also been able to make the book available as a Kindle. To mark the occasion,  they’ve posted an extract from Roz Clarke’s wonderful ‘Last Flight to West Bay’ to read for free on the website.

This is terrific news because amazon is a whole new ball game, and makes the book available to a whole new set of readers, which for a small press is absolutely crucial.  It also means a slight price reduction to American readers, since until now WTP have only been able to price in sterling, and PayPal adds a conversion fee. And for about twenty-four hours only, they’ll be knocking a pound (about US$1.60) off all formats.

On another front, I’ll be posting about an anthology I’m going to edit soon, but today is Dark Spires’ day, so head on over to Wizard’s Tower’s site, and read the first installment of Roz Clarke’s story for free, and save yourself some pennies if you like it!

• January 11th, 2011 • Posted in Books, General, News, Reviews, Writing • Comments: 1

A Month of Daily Science Fiction

This morning a friend of mine sent me a link to a review at Diabolical Plots.  They reviewed the stories posted on Daily Science Fiction‘s website throughout the magazine’s first month, last September.

Amazingly, he picked my story Chameleon as the best of the month. I’m staggered because as I said in an earlier post, the story virtually wrote itself, and I don’t feel that anything that easy to write could be that good. Which just goes to show the discontinuity between what’s in my head, and what’s in a typical reader’s.

And secondly, he damns with faint praise Mary Robinette Kowal’s brilliant American Changeling, which was not only my favourite story in September, but in any month.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to compare opinions, and to get the insight that many review sites won’t review DSF because ‘there’s too much to review.’ Hopefully Diablical Plots doesn’t feel that way, and will produce a review of October and subsequent month’s contents, because an awful lot of new, upcoming and talented writers are publishing new there — and it’s free to read.

You can read the full article here. If you’re familiar with the magazine, you might like to compare your picks with Frank’s. If you’re not, go and see for yourself.

• January 7th, 2011 • Posted in General, Reviews, Writing • Comments: 0

The Turning World

This piece has now been taken offline.


• December 21st, 2010 • Posted in General, Writing • Comments: 0

New Month, New Post, New Stories

I said yesterday that I was going to analyze the data from the spreadsheet of hours worked in November, didn’t I?

Sadly, things don’t always go to plan. Life has a habit of throwing up surprises. I had to run some copies of Dark Spires over to Bath so Cheryl could take them to the BFS London night (I have considerably more storage space, so the copies stay at mine until they’re needed).  And I realized that I was overdue with a piece for Angry Robot, which took most of the morning.

So instead I’ll focus on the new month; and to celebrate, point you towards a new story – or rather a mini-collection. Angry Robot have added Nano Editions to the Angry Robot store, and my contribution is Four Flash Fictions, three of which have never been online before – indeed, one of them has never been published before.  

I hope you enjoy them.

• December 1st, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 0