Black Static 78/79

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TTA PRESS 2021

My previous reviews of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tta-press-interzone-black-static/

Stories by Neil Williamson, Tyler Keevil, Zandra Renwick, Ashley Stokes, Rhonda Pressley Veit, Jo Kaplan, Alexander Glass, Jess Hyslop, Stephen Bacon, Mike Buckley.

When I read these stories, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

21 thoughts on “Black Static 78/79

  1. UPLAND WILDLIFE by Rhonda Pressley Veit

    “The sun goes to bed early up here.”

    A deceptively powerful novelette once you get into its Normal Valley, tuned to its stress and the turn around of a snake’s head between two distinct well-characterised but often bad-headed families in unaware combat from the start, and the outcome will continue to surprise you even after it has finished, its conscious head still alive even now quite a while after I reached the end, a horseback ride of a journey, your horse chosen from an equine brothel, as it were, and I would go as far to say it is potentially a horse-shod, literary masterpiece in the long, long, perhaps eternally long hindsight, before it bolts from unexpected scares, blending a whole gamut of hicks versus horse rides, getting a feel of the bodies of those you help to dismount, steeped in instinct and outlived deaths. Manly Wade Wellman and O. Henry, eat your hearts out. The holiness of snakes, their culling by priests and the breaking in of siblings as well as of arms. And a showy blood red SUV carrying its own semen inside it. Yes, instinct good and normal. Even if plots sometimes morph during the length of living hindsight. Read at your own risk, any insurance cover waived. Any kindly meant iced water, notwithstanding.

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/rhonda-pressley-veit/

  2. 6779E1C2-66C6-4DBD-A47F-350FDC825D03

    Cover art: Richard Wagner

    THESE BIRDHOUSES ARE EMPTY NOW by Jo Kaplan

    “The room was imbued with the spirit of decay.”

    It as if the cult of gestalt is out of fashion, now. This story — with some engaging turnings of phrase, but whether Widdershins or not is somehow questionable — is creepy enough to warrant attention; also it’s as if the reader and his natural cohering power of gathering the plot’s connections within and without, is as deconstructable as the house itself where a woman and her father are trying to make repairs, the house as once childhood home of the woman’s mother and her mother before her being as unstable as an ironing-board tends to be when stored in cupboards. Or the shape of dust motes blending with the father’s guilty pipe smoke. Or secret rooms. Does the father belong here, too? Does the woman? What is the secret ritual (based on spells and so-called poems in old found notebooks) that threads the ladder of descent of all three women, or are they the same woman? Were the birdhouses that the father and daughter once shared building — as they now share rebuilding this house that is spiteful enough to resist their efforts — originally in the garden of this rambling house or of another house where the father and daughter lived after leaving the mother here to die? This story is either deliberately confusing, in which case it is a worthy one, or accidentally so, in which case it possibly isn’t. Whatever the case, I enjoyed it, sometimes even against my own critical inclinations. Highly tantalising. With bits of clunky horror, too, just to increase any possible doubt in the deliberate or accidental literary deconstructions as well as in the very existence of the characters and the place or places where they lived, and in whatever dark ritual powered their connections.

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/joanna-parypinski/

  3. DELIVERY by Tyler Keevil

    “Keep on trucking, Keep her on course. Keep it on an even keel.”

    A genuinely compelling and suspenseful night-travelling tale deconstructing a lifetime as a lorry driver heading for Wales, disarmingly going gently into that good night upon the moving stage of such a giant vehicle, with the mind upon a forthcoming audition to fulfil his long-term ambition, at the age of 40, to become at least a jobbing actor. Not necessarily ventriloquism, but a genuine picking up of a skittish mouthy hitch-hiker with a maximum of maxims, like ‘break a leg’ and so forth, all delivered with an aura of threat. The threatening outcome is perfect, a to be or not to be that haunts and builds a constructiveness to this deconstruction as the previous two stories resisted it in their portrayal of actors on different stages, one the wild outback of Appalachia, the other the inside of a house.
    This Keevil read moving and felt heartfelt. And believable, as if the words were written with a suspension of disbelief inspirationally built into their disarmingly straightforward tone and register of delivery. The perishable fruit we freight through life made to seem permanent and worthwhile. While at the back of the mind we know, or even hope, that our load will one day be gently shed. All part of the performance.

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/tyler-keevil/

  4. OF WRATH by Zandra Renwick

    “Just wait till you see him!”

    A truly exquisite, painfully beautiful prose fiction, and I continue to be astounded how many works I have been reading during this age of co-vivid dreaming that are thus. This one starts with the narrator woman archaeolgist, here brushing with paleopathology, arriving at another of those ‘churches’ the martyrdom and angelology of which she finds ‘difficult’ as part of her satisfying research, no doubt. Here in Italy, she is met by the head of the latest researches in the cathedral, another woman. The almost waking dreams and given knowledge found at this site combine to re-rehearse the mid 18th century opera conducted here and two boys who experience the then castrato fulfil his promise of the soaring voice conveyed by the best description I have ever read about such voices surely quite beyond the angelic power of countertenors today. A work of knives, and orchid stems, and perhaps sexual resonances of boy with boy, woman with woman, and a choir master in love with the potential of the boy’s voice or with the boy himself, all as patterned by the paleontological site remains discovered and the dream-reality rhythm of the very words exposed here on the page amid the dreamt or real theatrical mechanics of the gods, all beyond my description, possibly conveyed only by your reading the dark and light of this accretive story, and by the narrator’s holy “holistic intuitive flashes”, as with my own glimpses of gestalt in the real-time of such books — books being written today in soaring tune with others in the Oxymoron and the PAlimpseST.
    Deconstruction and its opposite, simultaneously.
    Humble holistic glimpses on my part, if pretentious ones! And I am still working on the significance of this story’s title! Any ideas I can triangulate, please place in the sub-comment stream below.

    “‘Not asleep. Dreaming.’
    ‘A regular dream? Or…’”

  5. If man is five
    Then the devil is six

    A PHANTASMAGORICAL BESTIARY OF LA BREA TAR PITS
    by Mike Buckley

    And I’m even older than Steve. I am very old.
    I loved these characterful segments of prose as a bestiary about some who visit (or work at) the museum of tar pits and about those preserved in its aspic or hospice. Pre-historic or post-.
    Including a single human called Nelly Immortalis.
    Because I understood none of it. Yet I understood everything. Dead or alive. Dungeons without dragons. Or with. Rules of permanent existence by a dice throw of outdoing death with its own consciousness.
    A truly magical work without any magic at all. Cheered me up and cheered me down, as I sit blinking at it, like a wolf frozen in a rabbit’s headlights. Or vice versa.
    If Literature has its own preserving tar, this is it. That sludge that fell on the sea’s controlling underwater man. Go gently into that good night, as it says above earlier in my review of the holy holistic whole of Black Aspic.
    BESTiary? Remember Pangloss, I say.

    “The gears of life and love and heartbreak and death have been grinding forever.”

  6. SUBTEMPLE by Ashley Stokes

    “Government diktat. Council edict. The start of what they now call The Great Disorder. The Year of Fear. […] Last night they announced it was over. ‘Places where the public congregate’ can reopen.”

    This is a staggering work, and I am finding it very difficult to believe that I just read a story quite like this one, almost as if it has sent me mad! Not necessarily because I was destined to read it today of all days when the loosening, deconstructing, recongregating of our own pub lockdowns etc. commenced today in my own real-time, but mainly because it explicitly hints that we have all been touched by a co-vivid madness from which we continue to suffer, and it includes a brown book that tells the alternative facts of some of its characters as this story itself does about all of us, a ‘preternatural’ factor of fiction I have been increasingly finding in the process of gestalt real-time reviewing during lockdown…
    The story itself — one that is genuinely well-written and decidedly disturbing and imaginative — is almost beside the point. But that is the point. The reopening of a pub after lockdown, its upstairs flat and its downstairs brewery system, a collaborative business now being reopened, a business between two well-characterised men one of whom is the narrator, a narrator we depend not to be unreliable, and the sexual implications concerning the other one’s ‘discreet’ wife, and the legends of crime attaching to this building, and eventually the getting drunk on spelunking, as it were, while we delve with them deeper and further into this type of HOUSE OF LEAVES … hop leaves for real ale, I guess.

    “…fermenter, fermenter, fermenter, fermenter.”

  7. THE MOON-BOY by Jess Hyslop

    “— despite their origins — a kindred spirit, a meeting of ways both pure chance and yet dictated long ago by a universal design bigger than either of them could conceive. Two orbits by fate aligning.”

    A visit to another science museum of tar, and its eventual uncloying. An interzone of young love. The story of Naomi’s ideals, not content with a boy friend from the local posh school, but a pale tall boy from the Moon Colony, where bubbles existed primed for trysts beyond the tainted touch of boring expectations down here. He would offer her an orchid not a rose. Yet, this story has a beautiful ‘soft tread’, not one fulfilling such ideals, but constructively deconstructing them by sleight of creative anti-climax, as indeed it would indeed have been “boring, boring, boring” beyond any false fermentations, if this story had reached its otherwise predestined climax of reader satisfaction. The soft tread as her mother’s “steps soft on the stairs” in contrast to her father’s harder edges, forging a new orbit with her mother to escape from the dark side of the moon — a ‘dying fall’ ending, transcending any would-be punch line to it, a subtle music of style that makes it all now seem exquisitely UNboring, a gently ineluctable escape reaching out for different ideals…

    My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/jess-hyslop/

  8. THE GREAT WEST GATE by Alexander Glass

    It is indeed — like I said about the ‘Birdhouses’ story above — as if the gestalt has grown out of fashion. There, with separate generations of one woman, we don’t know where one ends and the other begins, a disarming resistance to and deconstruction of the circle of synchronicity as well as of straight line cause-and-effect. Here we learn about such generations of a man called Brand, a name that seems to relate to Mint as in minting coins, in an atmospheric, Kafkaesque story of a house by an apple tree, a mother and father, and that man when he was a boy, their son and the Wall viewable nearby, whether it be a circular or a straight Wall — containing his world or containing another world beyond? A story of dark delivery trucks and fugitives like today’s Magwitch to his apple Pip, a reading journey that will haunt you as you envisage making such a journey forever, unless you forget this story as you might have forgotten many stories over many years of reading them. I try myself to mint or brand stories by — if sometimes failingly in recent times — stamping them on my brain by means of this real-time reporting on them to others, others who will remember them for me when I am gone beyond the Wall, whichever way I go, from or to.
    This work seems to do this as if half the battle is already won, given the salvage of the gestalt that no longer seemed to work in this book till now…

    My other review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alexander-glass/

  9. THE UNDULATING by Stephen Bacon

    “I sometimes think about how it would be to die in my sleep. It’s the way most of us would choose to go. You never wanted that.”

    A tricksy, tricky work eventually revealing a brain-burr of a provocation that is plucked from its box of delights. It’s as if this whole book’s context so far duly undulates, by some ungraspable fantasy of connection, and threads through these stories, as if each person that is ‘you’ has more than one life running into another, not needing thus to ‘go’ at all. Let alone return.
    The narrator here as an erstwhile ten year old speaks to ‘you’ as if it is to the person in the previous story come from across the Wall of Self, whether here as Uncle or Father, like a puck batted back and forth, in a beautifully limpid opening of an old-fashioned children’s story, but then with the sudden arrival of dark forces in a black car to take that paternalistic figure away similar to the opening of The Railway Children, here snatched from a house called Twelvetrees with an idyllic childhood shattered, a place now concreted over amid grown-up dreams of a down-and-out. The prestidigitation of a sprite or hobgoblin from your earlier tricks performed for a child’s entertainment, tricks with the box now a matchbox stemmed or stalled with its own real innards that were never removed. A Mad Scientist’s showy glass vial with an elixir or a panacea of rescue? A yo-yo as the recurrent undulating return of the puck to hand … but which return is really ‘you’? Makes you wonder who or what it was that actually did return amid undulating train smoke at the end of the Nesbit….

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/stephen-bacon/

  10. And ’undulating’ is the perfect word for the rhythmic slosh of a launderette’s washing machine working before it suddenly erupts into a cacophony of spinning or tumbles with the puckish ricochet of a hard nugget or foreign body… but it’s the silence with which it ends that is off-putting, I guess…

    THIRTY-TWO TUMBLING TEETH by Neil Williamson

    “…passing from drum to drum like a conjuror’s trick.”

    …and you never know what you might find inside and indeed I did not predict that I would ever read such provocative and slick interstitial motions of words in a story about a meticulously characterised launderette and its nightshift working repair man, particularly a 24 hour launderette, one entailing customer subscriptions ….his sad backstory panning out in the numerate biology of baby and adult teeth that I have just researched in honour of this work. Teeth being passed between drumrolls like batons between each version of this book’s resurrected salvation of self.
    Nuggets of bone in another museum for this book, not a tar museum this time, but balled into white tack in the shape of a skull. A marriage needs to be worked at, whatever the pressures of work and of respective marital shift patterns of time, and life’s accidental tragedies, too, along the way, and who blames whom for them more than one’s self. And what circumstances more than mere Zoom witchery took more than a mere map of the head of his daughter Layla to such a Lay-By of lavation?

    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/neil-williamson/

    ==================================================
    Another set of remarkable Black Static stories, and good luck in crossing its new watersheds of horror literature to come. My many detailed reviews of its fiction since 2009 are linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tta-press-interzone-black-static/
    Thanks also to Black Static for publishing a story of mine in 1995 in its own pre-resurrection of self as The Third Alternative, a story that I was very proud to see chosen a few months ago for THE BIG BOOK OF MODERN FANTASY.

    end

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