When publishers make changes to the appearance of a product, there are two questions: Why and is it better? To be fair, the changes to ‘Black Static’s cover from #18 to #19 are largely cosmetic. The dark, mainly black trademark appearance is still there. The information that most casual buyers would want is still there. The biggest difference is the artwork. Instead of the lettering being placed strategically over a piece of full colour cover art, in this issue, it is contained as a central horizontal strip and part of a larger piece reproduced within. There are many who will like this new look as it gives the appearance cleaner lines. The downside is that there are fewer artists showcased in the issue, a shame as there are so few outlets for artists to make their mark in the commercial market. Of the pieces within, the painting by regular contributor Ben Baldwin to accompany Simon Clark’s story ‘They Will Not Rest’ is the most atmospheric and probably the best choice for the cover. The detail in the composite illustration by Dave Senecal for Steve Rasnic Tem’s story, ‘Chain Reaction’, is intricate and worth close study.
Although a cover is vitally important to persuade the customer to pick up the item in the first place, most of those who buy do so because of the contents. This issue has the usual five original stories. Steve Rasnic Tem comes with a reputation for producing quality prose. Here, ‘Chain Reaction’ is an observational second person narrative. On a busy road, an earth embankment gives way burying vehicles. Part of the road has disappeared entirely. The viewpoint character walks along the line of cars showing us the horrific situations of the other passengers. It is a subtle story.
Whereas Tem’s offering concerns mass tragedy, Ray Cluley’s ‘Beachcomber’ is a gentle, poignant story. Tommy is a strange boy in that he can sense emotions from the things he touches. As a result, he prefers to be alone so that his is not overwhelmed by the secret knowledge of others. He finds peace walking along a largely deserted beach. He liked finding things that held happy memories. We see the story through Tommy’s eyes but it is that of the lone man who also walks the beach that is the true focus of this tale.
Joel Lane’s stories are often dark, sometime bizarre. ‘The Sleep Mask’ is no exception. Dennis is deprived of sleep and sleepwalks. He doesn’t know why but keeps falling asleep during the daytime. When he finally seeks help, he is prescribed a mask to provide him with oxygen at night. He can finally start catching up on sleep but also finds he has begun to dream and wonders if there is a dream debt to catch up on as well. Then the boundary between dream and reality begins to break down.
Simon Clark has taken the theme of sleep in an altogether direction. ‘They Will Not Rest’ is a bizarre end-of-the-world scenario. There is no explanation of how it started but the implication is real. If you fall asleep, coffins complete with decayed bodies appeared. Death was then inevitable. John, the narrator, along with Letty and Penelope, are desperately trying to stay awake. They are not the only ones. Some try bizarre methods but, ultimately, it seems that everyone will succumb. It is a supernatural story and as such doesn’t require a logical resolution.
Lavie Tidhar’s story explores the nature of angels. Joel is one. He walks in the world taking people’s deaths. They will pay for the easy rather than the painful release and in the Germany of 1940, there are plenty of deaths to be eased. Joel, though, is an angel exploring what it is like to live as a human and inevitably the two natures clash particularly in this time and place.
My personal favourites are Cluley and Tidhar’s stories because they both begin with a kind of innocence and the reactions of the characters are understandable.
One man who has championed horror for more than twenty years is Stephen Jones. In the book section, Peter Tennant considers Jones’ two most recent publications and conducts an in-depth interview with him discussing the current state of the horror genre.
This issue of ‘Black Static’ has columns by three commentators on the genre. Christopher Fowler discusses what he calls ‘precinct’ films. These are ones which have a limited environment such as a house. Mike O’Driscoll discusses the motives of real life and fictional mass murderers. Stephen Volk discusses Alfred Hitchcock and the relationship between reality and fiction in the film ‘Psycho’. All three of these columns would seem to be starting points for comment by the thoughtful reader or film buff yet the magazine doesn’t currently have a space for feedback from readers. Perhaps this is all done on-line.
There are not many genre magazines available at present. If you like horror and good writing, buy this issue for the fiction.
(bi-monthly 66 page magazine: UK publisher/editor address: Andy Cox, TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB6 2LB. Price: £ 3.95 (UK). ISSN: 1753-0709)
check out website: www.ttapress.com