We thought that Halloween was the perfect occasion on which to combine Magazine Monday with Horrible Monday and bring you a review of a horror magazine. Black Static is a British horror magazine notable not only for the high quality of its fiction, but also for its great commentary and extensive reviews of horror films and books. This was my first experience reading the magazine, but my plan is now to subscribe, because this is great stuff.
Simon Bestwick’s story, “Dermot,” starts off calmly enough, with a man who seems mentally disabled boarding a bus. He’s wearing a suit that seems a bit big, but it’s clean and pressed, and he’s carrying an old-fashioned briefcase. He sounds, from the description, like a man who is playing dress-up, pretending that he has a job. He seems harmless, but he makes people uncomfortable; the man next to whom Dermot sits on the bus gets up and changes seats for no apparent reason. Dermot doesn’t care, but it seems like an unkind act by that nameless man. The scene abruptly changes to an office in a police station, a department labeled “Special Needs,” and the reader begins to wonder whether this is where Dermot works. The officers working there, though, have some sort of dread of their jobs. They’re the butt of jokes by others in the department. When Dermot gets to the door, it seems that the jokes come because these officers work with individuals who do, in fact, have “special needs,” though at first that seems like a relatively harmless pursuit — but those officers seem afraid of Dermot, and why is that? It isn’t until the deal between the police and Dermot is made explicit that the horror of this work is revealed. You’ll feel your stomach turn over when you get to the denouement.
“A Summer’s Day” by K. Harding Stalter is mysteriously creepy. The reader doesn’t learn exactly who the narrator is, but he seems to be the victim of torture, day after day, year after year, to the point where he’s named the instruments used on him: Macintosh, Carmichael, McKinsey, Jones. He is used to demonstrate something to an auditorium of students. Is it torture, or medicine, or something else altogether? The story doesn’t say. But one day, at the conclusion of that day’s festivities, he escapes into the summer. The grass and ground beneath his feet, the sun and shade, all are almost new sensations, it’s been so long since he felt them. And how does our narrator use his freedom? Ah. That would be telling.
A new story by Ramsey Campbell is always a treat, and “Recently Used” has an elegiac quality that can lead you as easily to tears as to horror. It’s a story of loss rendered as nightmare, and communicates something of the never-ending grief caused by the death of a loved one. “You’ll feel better soon” is not something one can say to Charles Tunstall. This is a story that only a master could write.
Have you ever loved someone who loved even the darkest parts of you – indeed, who perhaps loved those parts of you the most? Jeff finds such a love in Rachel in “Still Life” by Simon McCaffery. Why doesn’t he realize there’s something odd about a woman who loves to look at his photographs of charred corpses and other horrors of war? Are Jeff’s motives in taking these pictures — to make war so horrific that it will stop — really as pure as he tells himself? Is Rachel too enamored of his work? It’s a cautionary tale, and then some.
“How the 60s Ended,” by Tim Lees, is a less successful story about a friendship between two young boys. This ghost story is a bit too gentle and subtle, failing to deliver the punch one would expect from the notion of a child’s death.
There are 12 pages of horror film reviews in a column entitled “Blood Spectrum” by Tony Lee. I’m astonished that anyone can view that much horror in a mere two months, and still find time to write about it all. The reviews are short and to the point, making it easy to determine whether a particular film is one you’d like to watch. I’m not a horror film aficionado myself, finding such films too gruesome, even though I can read the most gruesome stories without flinching. But if I watched horror films, I’d find Tony Lee a very fine interpreter. Peter Tennant’s “Case Notes” follows, with smart, in-depth reviews of horror fiction. Tennant writes with cold passion about books he enjoyed and the books that disappointed him, noting faults and flashes of brilliance. Black Static would be worth purchasing for the reviews alone. Tennant also interviews Kaaron Warren in this issue, causing her fiction to move up in my “to be read” pile.
There are three columns at the front of the magazine, allowing three writers to talk about whatever takes their fancy. Stephen Volk writes about how to name characters in “Coffinmaker’s Blues.” Christopher Fowler writes about the resurrection of censorship in “Interference.” Mike O’Driscoll writes about our seeming willingness to trade privacy for security — or even just for gossip — in “Night’s Plutonian Shore.” It’s an interesting trio of articles to find in a horror magazine; all three are well-written and interesting to read. Finally, the magazine also contains a column entitled “White Noise,” containing snippets of news for horror fans.