Interzone 258 / Black Static 46

A Real-Time Review by Des Lewis

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INTERZONE #258

Stories by T.R.Napper, Julie C. Day, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Christien Gholson, Malcolm Devlin.

BLACK STATIC #46

Stories by Steven J. Dines, Neil Williamson, Damien Angelica Walters, Gary McMahon, Sarah Read, Ralph Robert Moore.

There is much else in both these magazines just received today as part of my subscription.

TTA PRESS: May – June 2015

My previous reviews of TTA publications are linked from HERE.

As and when I happen to read them, I intend to real-time review the stories from these two magazines separately and in the order they have been published – by means of the thought stream found below or by clicking on the title of this post.

17 thoughts on “Interzone 258 / Black Static 46

  1. A SHOUT IS A PRAYER / FOR THE WAITING CENTURIES by T.R. Napper

    “The conversation like stones briefly skipping across the surface of their own narcissism, across some tantalizing reveal of the wonder of their own identity, before they departed to a new group to skim their stones across.”

    Like stones, like teeth. And that is exactly what happens.
    Two parallel stories interweaving, joining up satisfyingly at the end, if not for all the characters. A treatment of privilege and hardship, past and future, a prize fighter for sport and a real fighter in a war, the same thing, the same man? The same love for family. A clever, nicely detailed, botted and implanted story that shouts or prays (stones and teeth) through the socially changing centuries by memory pin or classical music in the enamel… Those ‘waiting centuries’. With ornamental verses while we’re waiting.

    “‘I want the wait staff out of my kitchen, now.’ He turned without waiting…”

  2. THE RE’EM SONG by Julie C. Day

    “A clatter of teeth scattering across a table, a quick scuffing of enamel on wood.”

    Now having read the Day I am struck by that quote’s connection with the Napper, as if I were preternaturally destined to notice such a niche or esoteric resonance between the first two stories. The Day also has ornamental verse, now as counterpoint to the rich tactile and spiritual ambiance of the world of unicorn re’em, their horns, their blood, their trade, the feral cruelties involved and brilliantly described, even if deadened by intervening time or ‘fantasy distance’. And a counterpoint to the on/off relationship of the central ‘marital’ couple, a sort of skilful deadened Alzheimer’s to protect the memory of any disloyalty between them and to foster their instinctive love: a love that reminds me constructively, if vaguely, of the love threading through ‘The Buried Giant’ ambiance of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel (my review of it here) and vice versa from Day to Ishiguro.
    There is an imperviousness, a powerful ‘mistiaeval’ tantalisation to the Day. This makes it seem unnecessary for us to transcend, by a ‘shouting or praying through the centuries’, our own modern cyclic Alzheimer’s when reading the Day story – unnecessary for us to nail an understanding of its raison d’être, its otherwise resistant plot.

  3. DOORS by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

    “I kissed her because I could.”

    The Damaged Sleepers through the Doors of Nostalgia, as we follow the time-deadened Narrator, whose personality we can only infer from her own words, as she in turn follows each alternate-world door of a fairground ride that is the story itself. Dealing with her special needs brother, the yet undealt-with memories of her mother and father, her need for sororal-sapphic love clinched with a ring… Whether she finally chooses the right door or not, whether Nostalgia is future’s retrocausation upon the past or, more commonly, the future’s multiverse bending into shape from the past…
    Another Stufflebeam clean slate? Another attempt at choosing a Nostalgia that actually warrants the meaning of that word? Seems to have at least some bearing on the Napper and the Day, too.

  4. Da Vinci

    Da Vinci

    ANGEL FIRE by Christien Gholson
    Coincidentally, I am reviewing Interzone 258 in parallel with ‘Thus Were Their Faces’ by Silvina Ocampo here, with plenty of angels, plenty of fire, plenty of self-destructive evangelism, as in this Gholson. A man who hates what made him what he is, Napper’s earlier depiction of privilege represented here by the jargon of of high finance, rubbing shoulders with the poorest of the poor as well as the rich, a man of sport as well as of war, a text imbued with poems by TS Eliot and Rilke, a hollow cynical man himself. Ten headed sections, Ten Disobeyals not Commandants. Everything dies, even the sun will die, whither Icarus flew. No Stufflebeam doors for him to escape through, neither to change his future nor his past. No escape from the deadening present moment?

    “We are these beings and we are not these beings.” – from this Author’s previous story TRIBUTE in Interzone.

  5. HER FIRST HARVEST by Malcolm Devlin

    “…but together, the movement, the colours and the music combined to bleach such process from her mind. She felt herself existing solely in the present…”

    This process is the dance at the debutantes’ ball as if straight from Jane Austen as filtered through the story’s quote from Katherine Mansfield. But much more than that, the story is an exquisitely enthralling treatment of sowing and harvesting one’s own bodies. The descriptions of the fungal growths involved are wonderfully evocative. And the sense of this Interzone fiction’s eternal present moment, as a gestalt, is transcendent, serendipitously reflecting, inter alia, Stufflebeam’s lady protagonist’s sense of conflux. I read this Devlin today in difficult waiting-room circumstances (the waiting centuries passing by in a trice?); it held my attention all the way and lifted my spirits as a potential classic to remember.

  6. SO MANY HEARTBEATS, SO MANY WORDS by Steven J. Dines

    “On paper, I am good with words, too. Over one hundred short stories published. A dozen appearances in ‘Best Of’ anthologies. Two British Fantasy Award nominations.”

    Although this novelette is an entropically numbered narration by such a writer described in my quote above from its text, this is not a writerly or meta-like fiction. It is, instead, a very powerful, heartfelt vision of ideals and their shattering. It does involve that writing ambition, though, against the backdrop of the counterproductive climate (economic and weatherly), where the sun is as needing of care (or nurturing or even hating) as his own three year old son – and his pregnant-again wife, and his father, now as ‘special needs’ as the writer’s own son – and the rented property wherein that sunlessness creates mould and then coughing. I cannot do justice to that mould. It explicitly echoes (as well as contrasts with) the bodily fungal crop in the Devlin story reviewed above, here by a stunningly nightmarish vision in a children’s play area at night. Amazingly, it also, with utter explicitness, echoes the ‘doors’ of choice in the Stufflebeam story above, and the ‘special needs’ boy there and now in the Dines. I cannot do justice to this work full stop. It has striking phrases and homilies. It bites at you, fills you with a cancerous sense, whether you already have that sense within you or not, I guess. It uplifts, though, despite its numbered decline. As if downcast Fate is what breathes life into decisions, choices of leaving or staying, and never can one choose whether the final outcome is bad or good till you get there, and look back.

    “A carpenter who craved sixteen hour days his entire working life.”

    “Sometimes we crave the words we need to hear.”

    “Sometimes the words he chooses have a logic of their own.”

  7. Photobucket

    THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STAMPS by Neil Williamson

    “…that she could feel his warmth through both their coats.”

    This is an ingenious work of traditional pre-WWW moeurs that, here, pervade the chintzy lore of a war-widowed guesthouse landlady and her ‘commercial agent’ lodger, and, without fear of embarrassment of riches, I can say that this is a haunting classic. It really is. A perfect blend of the previous story’s downslope of entropy (the Williamson also has the invasive concepts of the words ‘mould’ and ‘cancerous’ used here) and a stoical acceptance of unrequited love becoming as strong as having, in the first place, the love itself for real, as later filtered through my memory of the magic of 1950s or 1960s tactility that the internet has since destroyed – and battered suitcases, lovingly fried sausages for breakfast, afternoon tea in seaside cafes and envisaged wild adventures ‘abroad’ on worthy commercial business. The world was bigger then. With the secret positioning of gloriously variable postage stamps, inter alia, this story is also optimal WW Jacobs.

  8. FALLING UNDER, THROUGH THE DARK by Damien Angelica Walters

    Transcending a traumatic event regarding a loved one is like taking that event on to oneself, re-living it, re-enacting… After her dedication in studying the statistics of chance that it ever happened in the first place. A relentless incantation or refrain of findings. Here drowning. By numbers. Guilt at replaying one’s own actions and at blaming others for it. Here the story tantalisingly transmutes all that re-enactment into a form of rescue itself, as if Kara has Ark embedded on purpose.
    “It was a mistake, but she can fix everything.”
    Most children have ‘special needs’. All three-year olds certainly do. Some stories form a dark alchemy. Like this one, and Dines. And Stufflebeam.

  9. MY BOY BUILDS COFFINS by Gary McMahon

    “It was as if something were keeping him that way,…”

    …as if the coffins were meant to be used as arks – prefigured by the previous story, ‘falling under’ again, here. A good thing rather than a bad, amid the raging seas of life? The simple flowing language was engaging, and the eponymous ‘objective correlatives’, as well as that of the wedding ring, were memorably resonant. I said before, I think, that every GMc story is a good one, but some better than others. I also said, that I was always convinced by the end of a story, even if I had doubts at the beginning. This was the other way round. The thought of this latest ‘special needs’ boy – the latest within the set of fiction I am reviewing above – together with the nature of the discovery of his building coffins is striking, haunting. The consequent worrying by the parents understandable. POSSIBLE SPOILER: The outcome was for me overly contrived into a frightening vision, which detracted from its fright. I was intrigued, however, by the thought that the whole ‘switch’ was a good thing, a kindness to be cruel by providing us escape, by leaving us our changelings. “It was as if something were keeping him that way, cold and lifeless, yet pristine: like the sanctified remains of a saint.” So, perhaps, I am convinced by the story eventually, by dint of my having to real-time review it afterwards!

    • I had failed, till now, to make the significant link between Dines’ “the shadow looks like it might be a rabbit” scene and GMc’s “Mr Jump was Chris’s pet rabbit.”

  10. And in view of those two rabbits, one cannot help wondering why the next emotionally ‘special needs’ boy in the story below that I have just read is called Warren…

    MAGNIFYING GLASS by Sarah Read

    “‘This house is like a fishbowl,’ he said. / ‘Well, swim to your room and unpack.'”

    Another powerful vision. Another mother and son, trying to find a new life, perhaps out of their depth, fled from her husband, his Dad, to a house with many windows, still uncleared of the previous owner’s accoutrements, where an old man used to collect penis ornaments… Genuinely frightening circumstances of a haunting by handprints upon the windows, but on which side of the windows, and coincidences of message left behind or just planted that remind me of my own connections when I read these stories back to back… Like this mother who keeps seeing her son travel back in time till he is 5, then 4, then 1, then 0. Walters’ drowning by numbers again? Or Dines’ downslope of chapter headings as backward numbers?

  11. MEN WEARING MAKEUP by Ralph Robert Moore

    “No sadness like a child’s sadness. They haven’t learned yet to hide it.”

    A boy called Buddy, I imagine, caught in the headlights… But that is not whom this story is exactly about. It’s about YOU. And that’s just the author striking a note for his orchestra of words to start proper, I guess. And, indeed, this proper story — telling of another one of those ‘special needs’ kids, bullied and bashed out by humiliations of life, now grown up as that very YOU in this off-the-wall, off-the-forest-track fable of clown tribes and haul masters — is, excuse my language, f**king inspiring.
    For the ‘lost boy on the beach’ to the ultimate YOU, this ultrafiction does its own bespoke Holy Hosanna! A perfect coda to this set of stories. For all woe cakers, coffin makers, door turners, stamp lickers, rabbit owners, dying drowners et al, a perfect exhortation of a story. A perfect story simply in itself. The only way to do justice to it and to discover what bits in it I have missed out telling you, just you f**cking sit down and read it.

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