Black Static: Transmissions From Beyond, #1

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“Bury the Carnival” by Simon Avery
“Pale Saints and Dark Madonnas” by Jamie Barras
“Acton Undream” by Daniel Bennett
“Votary” by M.K. Hobson
“My Stone Desire” by Joel Lane
“Lady of the Crows” by Tim Casson

This is the maiden issue of Black Static, a publication that was named The Third Alternative in the recent past.  The name change has something to do with a desire to clarify and distance the role of this publication from others produced by the same publisher and to emphasize, as written in the introduction, its “darker side.”  From the title, Black Static, I had concerns that my 41-year-old eyes would be assaulted by artsy black pages with eye-searing white text.  I’m pleased to report that the white-on-black motif is only on the cover and the index.  Beyond that, the magazine reverts to the standard black-on-white format with unusual and interesting highly-Photoshopped sketches and pictures thrown here and there as borders and accents.  It’s a hefty little publication containing half a dozen short stories, book reviews, movie reviews, an interview, and several charmingly, if sort of pointless, offbeat columns.

I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but I couldn’t help but see “Bury the Carnival” by Simon Avery as a really dark version of Pinocchio.  A woodcarver is accused of using arcane arts to animate his marionettes.  A newspaper reporter interviews him to try and get to the truth of the story even as the local puritans demand that he gather his creations and undo his magic.  Almost a mystery, her delving will not come without repercussions, ones for which everyone might pay.  As bizarre as it sounds, I found the Twilight Zone-ish plausibility of this story most appealing.  I will also add that the first ending, the unhappy one, was better suited to the overall tone of the story, while the second more happily-ever-after ending was a letdown and feels sort of pasted on.

From the perspective of a frequent horror reader, I’d like to see more stories like “Pale Saints and Dark Madonnas” by Jamie Barras.  It’s a very clean and incisive story about a telecommunications company in Rio that destroys the lives of some impoverished squatters to get their cell phone antennae up.  The people respond by turning to the island shaman, an elderly woman who is a kind of voodoo high priestess of the ancient Brazilian saints.  The telecommunications company, in turn, hires a hitman.  Enter into this mix a blessed son, a man who used to be a quasi-apprentice to the old woman before he left for fifteen years.  His return into this strife, this reality from which he has been so long removed, is, to say the least, a rude awakening.  The mixing of old world horror with new world realities is a juxtaposition redolent with storytelling promise.  The conflict and its resolution are full of sadness and loss.

I personally have always been fascinated by the concept of lucid dreaming—the ability to realize that you are dreaming and to control the events within your dream—even going so far as to perform some of my own experiments years ago.  “Acton Undream” by Daniel Bennett takes that concept one step farther.  Like in The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, two roommates experiment in the realm of affective dreams working from the belief that it should be possible to bring items out of your dream into reality, or even more interesting perhaps, bring items from reality into your dreams.  All I can say is, beware what you don’t wish for, you just might get it.  Though I liked this story, it does seem out of place as an almost pure science fiction story in a collection of horror.

Every young girl loves her father, right?  So it is in “Votary” by M.K. Hobson.  Votary, not the child’s name but a statement on her almost religious devotion to her father, lives in a house with her mother.  The two of them serve her father, a vast, shapeless, Jabba-the-Hut-like creature who lives perpetually in the gloom of the basement, mounded on a couch watching an old black and white television.  Their service to the man creature is disturbing, though in no way sexual, as they feed and keep him.  The mother feels smothered by this weight, her devotion to a thing that the world never sees, but the child sees him as a wondrous and loving person.  The root of this conflict between them forms the basis of a story that is almost guaranteed to make you feel, on some level, uncomfortable.

Some stories regrettably beg you to ask the question “Why?” and “My Stone Desire” by Joel Lane is just such one.  Like being pinioned in line at the grocery store by a complete stranger who regales you with a story you neither understand nor want to hear, we are told the story of a new policeman.  He meets a woman, dates her a while, fucks her under a bridge; she becomes pregnant, he accuses her of trying to entrap him with her pregnancy, and they break up.  That’s about it.  There’s a bit of weirdness at the end, almost a hallucinogenic vision of corpses making up the structure of the bridge they laid under, but it neither engenders horror nor heightens our interest in the characters.  If he’s somehow trying to insinuate that maybe he fucked the bridge that his girlfriend was a part of, that’s just too absurd to be supported.  The author does pull off a winner early on in the story with several cutting phrases that deftly and accurately describe the awful apartment in which the policeman lives.

“Lady of the Crows” by Tim Casson is creepy with a capital “C.”  Set in Prague, the story is infused with a Dostoevskyian atmosphere of brooding gothic buildings, cold rain, and inky black rivers.  It also contains a cast of characters who have been hoarding their z’s assiduously so that they can afford names like Voryzek and Zeminova and Palovsky.  A failed actor, now a theater manager, is playing host to a play company starring his ex-girlfriend, now a successful starlet.  The play: the real-life story of a woman who poisons her husbands with strychnine, then watches as they suffer their horrible deaths.  There is a wonderful, almost ethereal and ghostly beauty to this story that neatly draws careful parallels between the woman, her third and present husband, the manager, and his ex-girlfriend.  It’s a story I’ve read at least three times and will read again, I’m sure.