Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Review: Black Static Issue #1

Black Static would have been the 43rd issue of “The Third Alternative” (TTA) and released two years ago but the inclusion of Interzone into this stable of magazines required a restructure. No point in competing against yourself. Part of the restructure became allowing TTA to fully embrace its darker side. {Insert evil laugh here} Hence the birth of Black Static.
It’s amazing the magazine actually made it into the light of day, let alone into the hands of subscribers or reviewers. The copy I have is a third reprint of the first issue. Printing issues requiring changes that required further changes may have been enough to derail less determined editors. Thankfully not so in this case and Black Static has been officially delivered to its anxiously waiting public.

I had heard only good things about this British magazine and was not disappointed by my initial experiences.

Stephen Volk’s column “Electric Darkness” discusses the current state of Dark Fiction on the small screen. His insights are amusing but highlight a growing mentality of “playing it safe” by those that control the purse strings. He expands his theories to include Dark Fiction in all its forms. It is a well written column with some interesting thoughts.

“Bury The Carnival” by Simon Avery is simply brilliant. This is short Dark Fiction of the highest calibre. A tale of a magician/puppeteer in a small town and a local reporter who hunts down his secret, only to discover a secret of her own she never knew she had. The prose is excellent with descriptive passages of outstanding quality and the characters are beautifully crafted (in more ways than one) allowing a strong buy in by the reader.

After such a strong opening for issue #1, I was a little disappointed by the remaining content.

“Nights Plutonian Shore” by Mike O’Driscoll seems to begin as a commentary on the media in general. As this is a Dark Fiction magazine I patiently continued to read, expecting the discussion to turn to specific dark offerings in media not covered in other columns. Unfortunately it turned into a diatribe against the media in general over the handling of the Madeleine McCann abduction case in Portugal. Due to the delays in releasing the issue, the comments are unfortunately those of someone not fully informed and are easily interpreted as simply “having a go” at a ferocious European media, in particular the British press.

“Pale Saints & Dark Madonnas” by Jamie Barras is a tale based on true events in South America. It involves an age old religion based on West African Voodoo, transported/transplanted along with slaves in the early 1800’s and continued by the poorer classes in the slums of Rio to this day. The story is well written but skims across the surface of what could have been a much deeper and more disturbing sequence of events.

“Interference” is another column within the issue. By Christopher Fowler it descends quickly into a social commentary slanging off the lack of morals and increasing apathy in England. That maybe so but I’m not sure what it has to do with Dark Fiction.

“Acton Undream” by Daniel Bennett is an interesting premise for a dark tale. If we could dream things into reality, could we then undream real things into oblivion? Unfortunately the possibilities were not endless for the author and seemed to take a relatively mundane trek to a telegraphed ending.

Yet another column then separates the fictional offerings. “Blood Spectrum” by Tony Lee reviews Dark Fiction on the big screen. Unlike his two previous columnists, Tony discusses Dark Fiction on the big screen! This was surprising after the complete lack of pertinent content in the earlier commentaries. Tony gives the reader lots of useful information on films and everyone involved in the making of them. He provides more than enough detail for any movie goer to make an informed choice on their next cinematic experience.

“Votary” by Mary K. Hobson is, as the title suggests, a story of devotion - between a daughter and her father. But because this is a tale of Dark Fiction, there is a twist. The story has well defined three dimensional characters (some much larger than others) that allow the reader to gain an empathy with two rather nasty pieces of work. The second shortest of the offered works, it easily deserves its place in this first issue.

“Japan’s Dark Lanterns” is a column by John Paul Catton, told in a satirical manner, regarding the current (May 2007) state of affairs in Japan. Offered as a transcript of an interview between a teacher and one of his students, it is a light hearted look at one man’s opinion of modern Japan. Although amusing to read it touches on some serious political and social issues. Not sure what this has to do with Dark Fiction though....

“My Stone Desire” by Joel Lane is a dark tale of reminiscence by a police officer. During his last year at the academy, he meets a young woman and begins a journey of self awakening. Filled with metaphors, the shortest piece in this issue makes for interesting reading.

“Case Notes” by Peter Tennant is a comprehensive section of the magazine with “Bury The Carnival” being the only section to take up more pages. The first section covers a review of Michael Marshall-Smith’s (or his other by-line Michael Marshall’s) latest two published titles. Peter gives a good overview of the artist and the two books: The Servants and The Intruders.
A transcript of an interview between Peter and the author is then offered although this is very short with only six questions answered.

Peter moves onto reviews of three novellas although this takes a second to differentiate from his involvement with Michael Marshall-Smith as it’s tacked onto the bottom of a page with no heading of its own. Still his reviews are straight forward and pull no punches. He calls a spade a spade and a lack of innovation, “just solid storytelling”.

Again without fanfare or title, “Case Notes” moves on to cover stories involving vampires. After offering up reviews on six titles and interesting side facts, he continues to review other Dark Fiction/Horror books without letting the reader know that, what looked like a special section on vampires, is now over.

“Case Notes” is filled with good stuff but it is not well laid out.

“Lady Of The Crows” by Tim Casson is an interesting tale that is filled with tension building, well built characters and great descriptive phrases that – fizzles into nothing. I thought it was a column on dark theatrical offerings to begin with (which I thought was a cool idea), but turned out to be an interesting opening to what quickly built into a well paced and well written piece of short fiction. The last twelve paragraphs were rushed through leaving me wondering why the author had gone to such lengths to rush it to an unsatisfactory ending. Did the editors need to cut it off right there and then to fit it into the issue at the cost of a better ending? I hope not.

In the end, Black Static didn’t quite reach the heights I was hoping it would. Three of the “features” weren’t relevant to turning TTA to its darker side as mentioned in the editorial “White Noise” first up.

They have had a huge amount of teething problems getting the first issue of this magazine out to the public. Feedback through their readership and from reviews such as this will shape future issues for the better – I hope.

For any writers of Dark Fiction out there, I would suggest you buy the first issue, if for no other reason than to read Simon Avery’s “Bury The Carnival”. To the editors of Black Static I would suggest they ensure their features/columns are relevant to the magazine’s overall aim otherwise cut them and spend the extra money on some additional fictional offerings.

I look forward to Issue #2 with the new format that they had so many issues with on the release of Issue #1.

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