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Black Static # 17 - June-July 2010

01/05/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Black Static # 17 – June-July 2010 in the USA - or Buy Black Static # 17 – June-July 2010 in the UK

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bi-monthly 66 page magazine: UK publisher/editor address: Andy Cox, TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB6 2LB. Price: GBP 3.95 (UK). ISSN: 1753-0709.

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Anyone picking up a magazine will want to know if it contains the kind of thing they like to read so first impressions are extremely important. Specialist magazines for the steam railway or wildlife enthusiast are easy to spot as are the gossip orientated weekly editions aimed at the (mostly) female clientele. Other magazines have to try harder.

Leaving aside the lettering, which has its own format whatever magazine it appears in, this edition of ‘Black Static’ sports a brooding, decaying inner-city-scape by Ben Baldwin. The restricted colour palate adds to the noir effect. Although parts of it are reproduced inside, this creation deserves a page to itself in a future edition. As a cover, it conveys the darkness that infests the souls of many of the characters in the stories within the magazine. Artwork in magazines is often neglected as many use standard images based on brief descriptions of the prose they are accompanying. Here, though, each artist – and there is one large illustration for each piece of fiction – has tried to match the sense and emotion of the story by capturing its essence in the illustration. Not everyone will like the style or execution of the artwork but that is an irrelevance as part of the role of ‘Black Static’ is to introduce us to new artists as well as to new authors and new ideas. As a personal preference, other than the cover, my favourite is the illustration by Rik Rawling for Daniel Kayson’s story, and not just because I like snakes. It is a simple image and has a brightness not found elsewhere but at the same time is full of quiet menace. It compliments the story excellently.

A few issues earlier, Christopher Fowler and Maura McHugh set the readers a challenge by beginning a Campaign for Real Fear. Entrants to the competition were asked to write a five hundred word story on themes that held real fear for the writer. Printed here are the first ten of the twenty that impressed the judges most. Although there is good writing within the constraints of the competition rules, these samples show up the problems of trying to write at this length. This is particularly so with horror which can rely heavily on description to convey the sinister atmosphere.

There are four longer stories in this issue. ‘Zombie Cabana Boy’ by Suzanne Palmer (illustrated by Dave Senecal) is, as the title suggests, a zombie story. The narrator went on holiday to an exotic Caribbean resort after the death of her husband of twenty-six years, open to the kind of fun her marriage had denied her. She falls in with Helen and her friends and discovers that the boys provided for casual sex are actually zombies. She goes along with it until she becomes attached to one of them. This is basically a good story which is a little confusing at times. It is not completely clear who she is relating the story to or the circumstances of the confession. The feeling is that it was trimmed to fit a particular word length and some of the essential information was side-lined.

‘The Three-Legged Bird’ by Vylar Kaftan (illustrated by Ben Baldwin) is a thought-provoking story revolving around hope and superstition. It is set in a brothel in America where all the girls are Korean and were hoping for a better life away from poverty. When a bird flies into the window and lands with a broken neck on the ledge beneath it they are provided with a distraction from waiting for the next customer. The horror comes from the exploitative situation these girls have found themselves in. The bird appears to have a third, vestigial leg and, in the Korean villages, the samjogo is a three-legged bird of great power. The way that the characters and their reactions are portrayed makes this the best story in this issue.

‘The Lady In The Tigris’ by Daniel Kaysen (illustrated by Rik Rawling) is a story of madness. From the start there is something unsettling about the first person narrator. He is convinced that hospitals burn the dead and radio masts turn their particles into policemen ready for an alien invasion. The author has been able to get into a disturbed mind extremely well in order to create the ambivalence of this story.

John Shirley is the author of numerous books and of ‘Faces In The Walls’ (illustrated by Ben Baldwin). Here the narrator is paralysed, struck down by a virus. He has been neglected and abused in an apparent coma for six years and cannot communicate his awareness. His only friends are the faces in the walls. They do not show themselves to anyone else. Beth is one of them. She died in the same room many years before and urges him to get out before he dies, too. For a long while it is not certain if Beth is a ghost or a figment of the narrator’s imagination. It is this that adds to the quality of the story.

All four of these stories are worth the price of this issue.

This issue also contains the regular book and DVD reviews sections. The featured author is John Connolly. Peter Tennant has done a comprehensive overview of Connolly’s series of supernatural crime thrillers set in New York. The interview focuses largely on ‘The Gates’, a 2009 book targeted at young adults but still in keeping with the themes that border on the line between horror and thriller. Connolly’s work is written about with an enthusiasm that makes the reader unfamiliar with his work want to give it a go. Also featured in some depth are the more recent (presumably as no publication dates are given) books by Michael Shea and John Llewellyn Probert.

Pauline Morgan

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