“Extreme Latitudes” by M. G. Preston

This very short story appeared in Black Static #16 and was the first (and last) time I encountered the work of M. G. Preston. It had about it the feel of a ‘make weight’, well written but nothing particularly original to say.

The story takes the form of a journal written by Krog over the course of eight days, from the 1st through to the 8th of December. Krog is stationed at Fagmeneske Weather Station, 1000km from the North Pole, and the location is now at the start of a three month long period of darkness. To summarise, it’s dark and it’s cold, and the mood is pretty bleak, all of which we get told in a self-consciously scene setting come info dump first journal entry.

Krog gets hung up on an intermittent humming he hears and cannot explain. In his mind it ties into events in his past, and a leaning towards scientific investigation of the ostensibly supernatural sees him conduct terrible experiments on himself and others, with a casual hint dropped as to the possibly more prosaic nature of this humming.

At the bottom this is what one editor I submitted a similar piece to referred to as a ‘and then I went mad’ story. Krog’s inner landscape is perhaps intended to mirror the bleak and despair inducing outside world, and yet the highly artificial nature of the journal entry format deprives the reader of any real chance to experience the reality of ‘arctic night’, it’s just something Krog references in passing. Instead we’re given a patchwork of memories, dreams and offbeat hypotheses, which combine to send the man over the edge, and well rendered as these are they don’t quite bring Krog’s psychosis alive, don’t make it seem like anything more than an arbitrary fictional construct.

The setting, which is what gives this story its uniqueness, isn’t really utilised to any meaningful effect, and all we’re left with is just another of those ‘and then he went mad’ pieces (or, more accurately, the setting gives free rein to the madness already there), well written as you’d expect given the market, but with nothing particularly original to say. The story needed more space in which to breathe and come to life.

Oh well, nobody expects me to have been blown away by every story Black Static has published, do they?

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