Black Static #49


Fiction by Ralph Robert Moore (Dirt Land), Thana Niveau (Going to the Sun Mountain), Stephen Hargadon (The Toilet), Erinn L. Kemper (Gramma Tells a Story), Tim Lees (The Ice Plague), Simon Bestwick (The Climb).

TTA Press Nov-Dec 2015 – my previous reviews of this publisher HERE.

When I carry out a real-time review of the fiction in this magazine, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above……………………………


9 thoughts on “Black Static #49

  1. DIRT LAND – a novelette by Ralph Robert Moore


    “Radishes are so easy to grow. Twenty-eight days, and that redness is ready to be pulled out of the dirt.”

    This is possibly one of the most difficult works I have ever had to review. How do I do it justice, how can I say to some of you that I love it when some of you will strenuously insist that I should hate it, how can I say to some of you that I hate it when some of you will insist perhaps even more strenuously that I should love it? Something like fighting on Facebook over this Dirt Land’s “gold award” for literature. Who can stoop the highest, who can stoop the lowest, in extolling its dire delectation or spewing on about its disgust? I give ALL of you the finger, and say that there is a special award for this work that is neither love nor hate – nor anything in between. There can be no name for such an award, but whatever the case, this work deserves it. Fighting it out each side of a septum, but that’s not half of it. At some points I could hardly bear to read it, then hardly bear to put it down.

    These people live in the ‘hollow’, Hollis’s hollow; their auras as human produce have a sense of believability as real individuals, believable with a deadpan acceptance of their crazy hard lot in life and of what behooved or befingered lot comes out of the ends of their life and limb, cloven or sexually precocious or foully frolicking quite unforgivably with stolen innocence, or whatever. They all have their mutual cohorts of sheer outdoing hate of each other; you gotta love how straight up they are in their hate, but with some shoots of love growing in that Dirt Land, a love that tries to raise its head between the hates, like that struggling love between Audrey and Roy. Roy who is scared of his own feet, and Audrey scared of her own blighted hollows, but love each other they do, not passionately, but enough.

    Rooting for Roy, you sense you are on a loser; rooting for radishes, though, from the Dirt Land is a rooting of quite another desperate sublimation of hope. Onions, too. Hence my raised bed in the lead photo for this my real-time review, taken and placed above hours ago before I had started reading it. This emotionally devastating story. This incredibly inspiring story.
    Inspiring that it was possible for someone to produce something like this at all
    – especially from scratch. Along with dirt’s gold coins. Sausages, too. The eggplant moussaka for Miss Abergine, notwithstanding.

  2. GOING TO THE SUN MOUNTAIN by Thana Niveau

    “I don’t care about scars. I care about not being touched.”

    From the point of view of Lys as one of two sisters, the other named Glacia, this is the evolving tale of their becoming “urban explorers”, then travellers towards Alaska, after, we infer, their father’s scientific experiments and becoming too close to his daughter Glacia, reminiscent of the Dirt Land’s unforgivable onset of men upon innocence, and here the Niveau level is reached, the glitch smoothed, as those men are viciously punished, mixed with images of glaciers, volcanic lava, snow, fire, as we learn powerfully of the synaesthesia of Lys, for numbers, letters, deliberate mis-spellings, sharp and inimical as some of these letters and numbers are, but names like Sun Mountain more amenable, a rite of passage where lily-sharp Lys subsumes her own sister to help carry out the casual killing of those who come too close, with Lys even tearing off her own skin where she herself had been touched. Actually, this is my clumsy attempt to convey a story that conveys an artful traction of symbolism, that, like the Dirt Land, also conveys much more in subsequent resonance than I can ever hope to encapsulate here.

    “…the volcano sitting in the middle like a hollow mountain.”

    As an aside, glaciers, as you probably know, have a technical term for breaking up or multiplying, and that is ‘calving’:
    This fact is a truly astonishing, if unintentional, link to the calving in the Dirt Land.

    “The area was full of U-shaped valleys that had been carved by advancing glaciers…”

  3. THE TOILET by Stephen Hargadon

    “Broad daylight is just the night time with the lights on.”

    The first two pages of this story’s text had the lights off! But I managed to see in the dark, especially as I already knew that Hargadon is my cup of tea as a writer.
    Here the drink is stronger, Knicker Sniffer on the pump, in a basement pub that used to be a public convenience, and whatever name they gave this pub through various ownerships, the locals still called it The Toilet.
    By the way, in the last few weeks I have been pigging myself on Ligotti HERE, knotting my poor privates ‘gainst night piss, and many a Ligotti story does genuinely include an explicit Lavatory (so-named) as well as his trademark dark existentialism, and a prevailing theme is his Scatology of Eschatology. So this Hargadon came as a refreshing (!) coda to that anti-natalist Ligottian binge of mine. But Hargadon’s actual labyrinth of The Toilet’s own lavatory has to be read to be believed. It is something else altogether. REALLY. And the spanner in the works is not just what hits you in the head with it, but a whole gamut of hyper-ripe scatology, because if I described it properly you’d not even GO there.
    And some Detective is mistaken for a Doctor in that toilet’s toilet. Ligotti is full of such Doctors.

  4. GRAMMA TELLS A STORY by Erinn L. Kemper

    “Well, those boys, my brother, and his friends from the big city, they got me, didn’t they.”

    …reminding me of Uncle Hollis and the generative repercussions in the Dirt Land. And the goggled virtual reality, even, of Niveau’s ‘father’ among scientific experiments who got too close…? A sense of inbreeding, too, as with Moore’s version of calving?
    Meanwhile, this story certainly resonates on its own behalf, with or without the context of other stories in this magazine. A striking ghost story from the point of view of the tutelary ghost herself (Gramma), a point of view as spoken through dialogue with a seeming kindred spirit named Nissi (not a ghost herself) who has come to this jungle casita where Gramma once lived, Gramma now a noise in the roof, expressed by a language scribbled in dirt by puppies as well as by Niveau’s synaesthesia of letters, and other sharp things that jungles have, Kemper’s language being poetically jungle-like while also mixed with Niveau’s cleansing symbols of subsuming fire or snow. Cleansing here as cruel to be kind, complete with firefighters. Even a calving-likeness from Niveau’s version: “An earthquake in the area had pushed the reef up, too close to the surface.” And an intensely poignant dual time vision of Nissi’s loved one, once swimming, then cleansed by fire, the doodles left on his book bringing a tear to the eye. Some really strong prose in the Kemper that takes time for the reader to pick through tactilely. And I have not come across a passage as powerful about being a ghost among other ghosts as this one: “It’s a strange feeling being dead, a spirit roaming around, fueled by anger and vengeance. When they crawled up in me, joining their ghost flesh to mine, I was almost solid.” That will likely stay with me forever.

  5. THE ICE PLAGUE by Tim Lees

    “I wheel him down the hallway and his voice is thin and scratchy and it sort of scrapes at me,…”

    With its relatively plain style, this story is, nevertheless, a powerful depiction, through the eyes of a well-characterised porter in a hospital, of a gradual onset upon the population of an icy malaise (the description of which is conveyed very effectively and you need to read it to absorb its subsuming nature), – a sort of Ligottian existential plague (shells, husks, “a faint sound like conspiracy.”) as well as a physical malaise (akin to accretive zombiehood?).
    There is a ‘Ghost Doctor’ in the hospital (cf the ‘Doctor’ in Hargadon), not a ghost of a doctor, I sense, but someone who treats (near-)ghosts as patients, including, we infer, the narrator eventually, who thinks of his own lost love, allowing us to empathise with Niveau’s snow and fire and Kemper’s snowy and heat-fevered bereaved poignancy (“Heat that touched like a flame.”)
    The narrator rubs shoulders with a heated mosh pit of clubbers, I sense, in tune with the sexual nature of the Moore story. With the subsuming snow aside. And just a smidgen of icy ‘calving’-like forces in the “big grey Pelicans come swooping across the waves.”
    The more people that stay well the more likely that others like you may stay well…but with a chilling undercurrent… “A moment when it seems that we are all one person, all the same.”

  6. THE CLIMB by Simon Bestwick (open the third one down for more SB reviews of mine)

    “The hill itself put Bryan in mind of a frozen wave – ”

    Astonishingly, another vision, at the beginning of this relatively short story, of the calving, and, eventually, in this story, of BOTH nuances of calving represented by Moore and Niveau, with the haunting ending, not lambing, so much, in this evocative Lancashire Lake District, although that is possible, but something truly, semi-gratuitously, terrifying in the context of the rest of the story, then, in the context of all the fiction in this magazine. It packs the punch of the whole lot, pent up till now.

    Again, like the Lees, a deceptively plain style, and here conveying, I sense, a genuine personal striving. A powerful tale, indeed, with, alongside the other stories, its own sharpness of scratching twigs and a brittle sound as if of a bird, at the beginning. The ‘lost love’ poignancy, too, this time his Ann who died from cancer, for whom he is climbing this hill (to him an Everest), a promise of ascent he once made, an admission, too, making this final climb full of crucial importance and a sense of guilt (a guilt that, looking back, seems to have threaded all these stories, without my mentioning this fact). And then…
    “And on the churned and sodden turf, something moved.”
    The rest is not history, but this story.
    Short, but hardly sweet.


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