Black Feathers – edited by Ellen Datlow




Pegasus 2017

Stories by Sandra Kasturi, Nicholas Royle, Seanan McGuire, Paul Tremblay, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bowes, Alison Littlewood, Jeffrey Ford, Mike O’Driscoll, Usman T. Malik, Stephen Graham Jones, A.C. Wise, M. John Harrison, Pat Cadigan, Livia Llewellyn, Priya Sharma.

When I review this book, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

18 thoughts on “Black Feathers – edited by Ellen Datlow

  1. O TERRIBLE BIRD by Sandra Kasturi

    “Was it you?”

    A flecker-slicing, feather-bladed poem that brushes me with a tinge of the Hitchcock and its swooped children’s party, and more. What gestalt of such a flock is worse than the birds themselves? If the cap fits, wear it.

  2. My real-time reviews are based on my first reading of a fiction work. I reviewed this first story in 2010, in the context of the other stories in Black Static #18, as follows…


    The Obscure Bird by [Nicholas Royle and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.]

    ” ‘It’s because of the serrations on my remiges.’ “

    A highly disturbing nocturne of a couple’s potential child loss upon the edge of Nature garbed as Nurture as well as Terror (cf. that child loss & staring self-consciousness in SKU’s story and the ‘aquarium scrutiny’ in the Nina Allan (and her story’s swimming angel-wings) and such scrutiny in the Carole Johnstone together with its paranoiac stalking – and the nature study as a ‘brown study’ in all stories) – here now, at least partially, related to Tweeting (that I’ve given up in recent months together with my Facebook account) – so I’m Ok. Social Networking is the vilest ‘stalking’ paranoia imaginable, perhaps. So, now, I can detachedly, objectively, chillingly watch this story spread its silent wings, watch it develop and re-develop (with all good stories not only developing but also re-developing in aftertaste or hindsight like this one skilfully or instinctively does). I doubt you will be able to watch this story quite as objectively as I do if I imagine you being the type of reader this story deserves.  But that’s cool

  3. The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids by SEANAN MCGUIRE

    “One for sorrow, two for joy, three’s a girl, four’s a boy. This is a nine-bird day, and I am on edge from the beginning. Something is going to happen.”

    Brenda, meaning ‘raven’, we’re told, is 15, living with her mother Joyce and step-father and younger brother whom Brenda finds to be a much better person than his father, her brother as real son of Joyce and Brenda’s step-father. There’s an inner pareidoliac pattern there somewhere, I infer, of numbers and of feathers under the skin? Sorrow and Joy, and other meanings attached to each number, and whether the numbers and meanings are random or changeable by strict rules or ad hoc inventable, I never fully understood. But rules would make the pattern a less significant pattern than what one could cajole from a story’s or a book’s preternatural gestalt. Brenda is special (treated as such at school) and needs to count corvids to rule her day, and on the day that the resultant number by the birdbath is threatening rather than promising, that starts the story of what we experience here, through Brenda. The words themselves, I found, made a pareidoliac pattern, too, a pattern for readers with special needs in reading. I should know. And it works perfectly. Believe me. I cheated a bit, but I am sure Brenda did, too, to make the story work as well as it does. The outcome kept secret, for now.

    “It fits together. It feeds itself.”

  4. Something About Birds


    “…and I have to admit, when I first read the story, I didn’t see the word “Dad” there. I was surprised to find it on the second read. Many readers report having had the same experience. Did you anticipate that happening?”

    An interview, threaded through with Facebook social media interactions, an interview with an author plus concocted interwoven afterword about the interviewer’s favourite story-of-many-interpretations entitled “Something About Birds” by the interviewed 75 year old author. The gestalt has a ritualised ‘eyes wide shut’ or Fowles-Magus syndrome, one whereby I, too, tussle, by implication, with bird mask, beak, talons and nudity.
    But who eclipses whom?

    “That’s the true power of story. That it can find the secrets both the writer and reader didn’t know they had within themselves.”

    (And what about Mr H____ and Kittypants? Perhaps the rest of this book will inadvertently help me?)

  5. Great Blue Heron by JOYCE CAROL OATES (And HERE and HERE.)

    “In his sleep the husband does strange, sculptural things with pillows: bends them in two, sets them beneath his head vertically, merges two pillows into one, lies at an uncomfortable angle with his head crooked. Yet he sleeps soundly, the nocturnal birds rarely wake him.”

    And sometimes memorials in a cemetery are sculpted as stone pillows.
    Claudia, teacher in a girls’ school, loses the husband effectively through his being too good-hearted. Indeed, the story is tellingly full of oxymorons, the weightiness of thick air, the thinness and thickness of headstones, mixed feelings, people conveyed with the aura of acting not only like a ritual or choreography of nice birds but harsh prodding ones, too. Including one of those characters in literature you may never forget: Claudia’s brother-in-law. Is his prodding an act of care or harsh greed? The image of great blue heron is also memorable, hunter and angel, I guess. It is also a blend of the bereaved couple (if a couple can be deemed as bereaved when one of them is the dead person over whom they are bereaved.)
    This substantive story continues to resonate, even as I write this. Scratching my roof close to the ceiling where I sleep. Warbling somewhere. It will continue to resonate tonight, I predict, as I try to get comfortable in bed near that shape that has shaped the other half of the bed for almost two generations.

  6. The Season of the Raptors by RICHARD BOWES

    “But I did snap photos of myself in the mask and put them up on Facebook. For a day or two, it amused online friends who were bored by their jobs.”

    When this story’s pair of hawks first became famous in Washington Square, I thought of ‘Wings of the Dove’, a novel of predators and prey. And Henry James is here distilled into a relatively more staccato Kubrickian ‘eyes wide shut’ game of Consequences, from hawks to rats, homing gulls and eagles, self-pleasuring by youths in a boat, reincarnated boys in cages with wings, a Venetian mask, not forgetting the Educated Chicken. A pareidoliac pattern.
    Loved it. All it needed was Flannery’s gorilla.

  7. The Orphan Bird by ALISON LITTLEWOOD

    “….but he could just make out the suggestion of a form here and there: darkness that hinted at empty sockets, twined shapes not quite like branches, interlaced so that nothing could separate them.”

    Things found separately dead become the gestalt of all the dead?
    This starts as a workmanlike story about Arnold, a young man in tune with mud and swimming, painting bitterns and other birds, keeping albums of his paintings, but gradually we begin to wake up within his head, accretively more aware of him, stranger than we thought, via his being bullied by other boys at school, now reading medieval bestiaries, inventing the word ‘loak’, and much more, an allegory spurned, of some chicks owned and nurtured and other chicks disowned, to hatch and live beneath this Cumbrian lakeage…or die? A curdled, if not muddled, vision that I am still working at, as it hatches inside my head. And I wonder if it is significant that bitterns are the only type of heron who flies with its neck retracted. (I needed to read up about bitterns and other things in this story, an activity that has been an interesting education for me in itself.) And a scene of Arnold watching a magnifying glass being focussed with the sun into a poor kitten’s eye. I wonder if we yet know Arnold well enough to know which boy did this, the bully or himself?

  8. The Murmurations of Vienna Von Drome by JEFFREY FORD

    “News of a body seemed always waiting just around the corner until late March.”

    Late March is real-time today…
    This fantasy adventure, sometimes a frustrating game of Outlandish Consequences but one that eventually pans out into its own murmuration of words, that I might call its gestalt. Telling of two companion investigators trying to track down a Beast that attacks its victims for their spleens. A finely word-honed fantasy, of a girl then woman with a familiar as bird, her disease tainted family tree, a work bordering on a confused romp, combining perhaps Leiber, Peake, Aldiss and something unique – with striking bodily horror, but, above all, unmissable breathtaking murmurations of starlings in specific shapes, including the shape of the venue’s cathedral and a giant cat, and with given names for people and places for us cerebrally to relish and savour…
    Arguably, it’s imbued with Humorism, in more ways than one! Including references to the Four Temperaments or humors, one of which involves the spleen. Also it fits In with the medieval bestiaries of the previous story.

  9. Blyth’s Secret by MIKE O’DRISCOLL

    “Time contracts and expands without regard for reason.”

    A disturbing story about corvids, carrion, canaries and a chain of coins.
    It blends the bird as a familiar in the Ford story, the autistic or abnormal character counting corvids in the McGuire and Arnold in the Littlewood. Here a special needs but qualified-studious loner as narrator, with a caring sister, studies birds and their communication with humans, dissects dead ones as part of his qualified study, but I guess he is not similarly obsessed with children as others suspect he might be. A telling tale of society’s growing aggressive suspicion where suspicion is not deserved. A clever story that is empathic at the same time as our never being certain if the protagonist (like the earlier ‘omniscience’ about Arnold) is reliable in what is communicated to us – or how reliable his bird-familiar (a jackdaw called Blyth) is in what it communicates to HIM!

    “What is it with dead birds? What is it you do with them?”

    (This book has made me photograph two ready-dead birds so far, as evidenced in an earlier post above!)

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