I recently received Black Static #45 and Interzone #257 as part of my subscription to TTA Press.
My previous reviews of TTA Press publications linked from HERE.
Stories by Steve Rasnic Tem, Laura Mauro, S.P.Miskowski, Danny Rhodes, Stephen Hargadon, Andrew Hook, Emily B. Cataneo, Cate Gardner, Alastair Reynolds, Tendai Huchu, Rich Larson, Aliya Whiteley, Fadzlishah Johanabas.
I intend to real-time review the stories from these two magazines in the comment stream below as and when I read them…
Hungry Ghosts by Emily B. Cataneo
“She adjusted her white sleep mask. For as long as I could remember, she had worn that mask,…”
A little girl describing her Mother, as part of a cultural cycle of existence, the ghosts in their basement ever needing to be fed. The girl grows into her teens during the course of this story she tells us, yearning to break this cyclic sacrifice, to flee to the ocean, to escape the story itself, as it were, a story where she promises, at least twice, in writing, a gentility of mint tea and more. I sense that the readers, as well as the others she finds herself enticing, will end up visiting her by merely visiting the story itself even before reading her Meme of invitations…
…or the rest of these stories?
The Drop of Light and the Rise of Dark by Cate Gardner
“They waited for the eclipse to end.”
There is something astonishing and, by the nature of this brief story, terrifying that I should be destined, based on my initial seemingly capricious decision to experience the stories alphabetically by surname, now to read about an eclipse of the sun, on the very day when there occurred such a rare eclipse, one that was in the news headlines all day today. So that redoubled the terror of this second little girl story (here physically disabled) who imagines the eclipse never-ending as she tries to struggle downstairs to find her parents or her best friend. Or her own version of ‘basement’? The ending is a happy one, the ending is a devastating one. Take your pick. Like the previous one, you need to climb down with her to find out.
The Visitors by Stephen Hargadon
I could quote every sentence in this story as a particular gem or as a representative resonation of meaning for the whole story, so I won’t quote any. You reader only have yourself to answer for, the only reader you can trust, and, for you, this is a Hargadon ‘perfect storm’ of a Friday evening in a British city and its pub…a story to go with the two other black-nostalgia and overheard-conversation Hargadons that Black Static alone has invaluably provided for you and the rest of the world. To the many cosmopolitan authors and readers of Black Static, this Hargadon and the previous two other Hargadons must seem like a wonderfully imaginative Interzone scenario of alternate world or far future SF. But for you, it is life itself seen through the half-cynical, half-spiritual prism of pubtalk and half-cut human relationships, even the story’s last twist of the strongest-weakest love-hate relationship of them all, the coming together that is you. A genuine irresistible last one for the road , as you prepare for your own last road.
The Frequency of Existence by Andrew Hook
“Why are you photographing the sky?”
As Hargadon is, for me, a sort of a drug of the past, this fine example of Hook is a hook into you the reader’s time-flow, a sort of Reiki preternaturality blended with Warhol objects parading like a Duchamp pissoir in paint, as if written for you, alone, to supplement the Hargadon pubtalk down-to-earth side of your character with this hook of a more experimental-artistic or avant garde side. This magazine’s earlier Cataneo’s ‘Meme’ as a cyclic portrayal, including that from developing film in darkroom basements to digital nostalgia-hooking scenes or selfies of photography, plus the contrast of your passing ‘bee in the bonnet’ side with the eternally pervasive you. Life flickering by, waiting for this Hook to freeze it at last.
Now to the Hat as Meme…
The Worshipful Company of Milliners by Tendai Huchu
“Kitsi noticed a lot of people milling about in fine hats…”
A miraculously bitter-sweet, laudatory-satirical vision of fiction-writing involving a Millinery Factory in Harare, staffed amid rivalry by those who create invisible hats for fiction-writers, or at least invisible to those of us wearing them. Even if ‘fiction’ is defined similarly to ‘fraud’, the truth of these barely feline travelling-hatters (beautifully characterised) is incontrovertible to me despite being invisible to me, and, so, the writer who wrote about them possibly has the most beautifully appropriate hat that any writer has been gifted to wear. Tellingly, though, I sensed the italicised sections were written when he wasn’t wearing it…
Just noticed that I mentioned ‘bee in the bonnet’ about the Hook story before reading this Huchu one.
Songbird by Fadzlishah Johanabas
“The exposed skin at the back of my neck is already itching and I have to clench my hands to stop myself from scratching.”
There seems some connection between that itch here and the itch in the Huchu story that I failed to mention above. There it was the Meme of invisible Hats, here a more ‘Mad Scientist’ grafting of tubes … except I can tell it has been written by a sane knowledgeable one! Yet both stories do have the aura of what the Johanabas story calls “The memory surfaces like a half-remembered dream”, as perhaps all the stories so far read for this review also possess. The Johanabas one has the song, though, a song with the unique hook of emotion-trafficking like syphoning lust from sexual encounters with blade-runners and double-crossings and eventual flight of the songbird…. And much else I won’t tell you. You just need to sing it all in and then, hopefully, sing it all out.
Brainwhales Are Stoners, Too by Rich Larson
“Null of me. I know. I take my hair back and settle the cap on.”
Youngsters, Theo Vandermeer and Beatrice, primed for life or university, canoodle and meddle, amid an accretively Finnegans Wake-like word-joining fugue, with a blend of Huchu’s Hats and Johanabas’ ‘Mad Scientist’ cables and Cataneo’s ‘memebranes’ (my underlining). Their meddling is a prankish cable-cap linking in with a huge laboratory-beached Brainwhale, who’s lost her son…. And I loved it. “…batting like a cat at a scarf that drapes down from one of the hooks in my unfinished ceiling.”
The Grey Men by Laura Mauro
“…a strange, abstract skyline emerging from the darkening mist.”
Fitting my mood at the moment, this is an extremely haunting story, amid the earlier Hargadon-like British workaday commuting pubworld, of encroachment by mist and fog – and the populace suddenly seeing grey men (large as Larson’s whales or here ‘submersibles’ above the basement that is all of us?) hanging amid the fog from the sky; a magician’s trick or viral advertising, and hanging from what hooks upon what wires? Here, another mother’s lost son as in the whale story, another black nostalgia concerning the protagonist’s brother who died from cancer … But is the fog inside his own head as if wired into it, are we seeing it only because he is seeing it? The ending is transcendent, now not fitting my mood but remoulding it?
The Second Floor by S.P. Miskowski
“The one exception was a collaborative project funded by the city, a sprawling work combining musicians, acrobats and found text.”
A found text like this, read out of order, on the second floor, above backstory’s ‘basement’, I guess. This, for me, is a high-literary work, as if by Elizabeth Taylor or Elizabeth Bowen, where Jane, once starveling theatrical student, now found good and gala-ised, returns to the bed and breakfast establishment where she originally lodged with those acting colleagues of her backstory, almost an enforced mission, by text or taxi, to dirty her hands again. Find the theatre again, where once she found her self, later lost, now due to be found again, like a friend’s text, a friend that is her own self as well as other passing strangers masquerading as friends upon the trodden boards. A theatre with a backdrop of scenery hung on hooks or those earlier grey men now on hands and knees? A found drama. A place that once had a backed-up toilet.
A Murmuration by Alastair Reynolds
“…the clouds sagging low over the trees and bushes of the marsh, their greyness relieved only by a bold supercilial swipe of pale yellow above the horizon.”
I have been absorbed by this monologue as a rhetorical moebius between peer and peer, or, by its end, self with self? It fascinatingly describes a science of a Murmuration of birds, it’s Canetti ‘Crowds and Power’ as hive-mind, empirically installing rogue elements into otherwise cohesive swarming etc., comparing with Art as well as the Internet, involving the politics of scientists, their rivalries, ambitions, refereeing each other’s work. Huchu Hats or Brainwhale ‘memebranes’ upon the individuated Murmuration as masks or ‘digital hats’. The monologist’s own mind is something we can’t quite see beyond the Mauro ‘grey men’ hanging in their own sky like human-shaped murmurations, as our monologist plummets the empirical swarm toward the blades of a ‘grey tower’ turbine. He even explicitly compares this Murmuration concept to the particle work by the LHC at CERN, and this is the first time I’ve seen the book I created in 2009, CERN ZOO, come to such vivid life! Very satisfying.
The ‘digital hats’ above should be ‘digital hoods’.
And I seem to have assumed the monologist is male. Without rereading it, I cannot be sure if this is made clear by the text.
The Cleansing by Danny Rhodes
“The younger girl pressed the button for the basement.”
This clinging evocation of a cross-beat story depicts the entropy of a council estate being cleansed by what actually dirties it, like religions ethic-cleansing with spreading cancers of themselves into new (e)states – and just the mention of ‘Afghanistan’ in this text adds to such a phenomenon that the ageing residents of the estate flee. The story also resonates strongly with the Cataneo Gardner stories with the dark aura of young girls following toward ‘basements’. But, also, whether as a result of my capricious order of reading these stories or some deeper preternaturality, the immediately previous Murmuration ‘cloud’ and its various rogue implantings and almost cosmic entropy created by ‘man’ was a highly effective backdrop to this story’s so-called spreading state of ‘cleansing’…
The Fishing Hut by Steve Rasnic Tem
“We’re all onions, you know.”
Another wonderfully dark and male- or oldster-ripe ‘onion song’ from Tem. The male on leave from his wife and doctor travels through the fog and almost like my own preternatural ending up near the end of this rite of reading with this fishing-hut of a story about a fishing-hut, Hut as a sort of inverted Huchuhat with the river actually running through it in a gap in the floor and inscrutable strangers in there fishing, too, like Mauro’s grey men,…fishing in and from a shape-shifting Murmuration of fish and shadowy water… hellishly riparian undercover as well as inspirationally earthing me to something wise and solid, during my current personal encounter with life’s sudden entropy.
I know I was instrumental in first publishing it in 2012, so perhaps it is not surprising that I have an obsession with Aliya Whiteley’s story ‘Songs for Dead Children’: probably for me one of the most devastating stories ever written, especially if you enjoy Mahler… But it also resonates with my rite of reading here, particularly with the Cataneo Gardner stories and others, Mauro, Rhodes and the defining Hats and phrenology and cabled Brainwhale and Songbird grafts and caps…
Blossoms Falling Down by Aliya Whiteley
Meanwhile, this wonderful Whiteley ‘coda’ entitled ‘Blossoms Falling Down’ resonates in a completely different way with the whole rite of reading I have just experienced, if diaphanously so, Proustianly so, with infusions of tea and Geisha orientality. With evocative tiny poetic Haikus as Hooks. Also, I mentioned earlier that Hargadon’s story might make some of the more cosmopolitan readers think it is an Interzone SF vision rather than a Friday night in Manchester and its pubs, but now we have what I visualise as a discrete world of decks, a vast spacecraft, with these various contrasting lands from Old Earth as these decked sections of it. A compartmented Murmuration or MEMEbrane. And instead of Steve Rasnic Tem’s Hut’s floor being missing over a black river, Whiteley transfigures this… “The fourth wall is missing; instead there is a projection of a cherry tree in blossom.” Whitelely has a very fine milliner.
THERE IS MUCH ELSE (ARTICLES AND ARTWORK) IN BLACK STATIC AND INTERZONE TO INTEREST AND ENTERTAIN RESPECTIVELY THE HORROR AND SF ENTHUSIASTS.
[Aliya Whiteley had a story in Horror Without Victims and another astonishing story entitled ‘Songs for Dead Children’ in ‘First Book of Classical Music Horror.]