But first a public service announcement. Tonight Matthew, not only am I blogging here but I’m also blogging over at The Future Fire website, giving the world the benefit of my wisdom on the subject of Hardcore Horror, or something like that. Go check it out, and you may find lots of other stuff over there that’s worth a minute or ten of your time as well, but do remember to wend your way back here when you’re done, as I get lonely on my own.
And so to business, the business in question being a somewhat belated discussion of the last four stories published under the umbrella of the Campaign for Real Fear, which appeared in Black Static #18.
Give Me More Eyes For Nakedness by Paul Synnott
Valiva has moved into a new flat and is being menaced by her neighbours, or at least I think that’s what it’s about. She is an unreliable narrator, and what happens could well be no more than a reflection of her troubled mental state. It’s a very visual piece, with imagery of blinding and the protagonist’s tongue being cut out, as if she is being isolated from the world, a narrative that is both surreal and brings to mind Polanski’s Repulsion filtered through J-Horror’s artful dislocations. And yet I wasn’t completely won over. While vaguely disturbing, it was also disturbingly vague and lacked the narrative cohesion that would have given the minatory events that occur a focus, so the end result is more an unrelenting barrage of effects than actual story.
Dreadless by Anna Rogala
A short but moving piece that juxtaposes early hints of an idyllic and hopeful love affair with scenes of mental breakdown and eventual suicide. There’s a bitter irony underlying it all in that the demands and ultimate failure of the state’s health bureaucracy seem to have precipitated the final act of dissolution, the safety net in which we take such pride having become just one more symptom in the disease it is supposed to help treat. Irony too perhaps in the title, which references the character’s dreadlocks, hacked off and entwined with the rope, but also suggests that he is no longer subject to ‘dread’. At its heart the story posits a plea for compassion and understanding, using the plight of one individual to turn the spotlight on how we, as a society, respond to the distress of those who need our help the most.
Big Brother, Little Sister by Sam Fleming
The battle of the sexes played out in the ultimate reality TV show. Janice is overlooked in her work and life. Applying to the game show is an act of rebellion, and yet no sooner has she arrived than she is asked to do things that are demeaning, watched even as she pees. But even though her ‘scalding tears were silent because it hurt too much to scream’, Janice is willing to carry on, accepts the chance to hit back at those she has been primed to hate, and never mind that they are just as innocent of wrongdoing as she is, just pawns in a bigger game (show). Rome’s emperors sought to control the populace through the old formula of bread and circuses, and this story of media manipulation and mind games offers us a hi-tech circus, portraying a society in which dumbing down and the provision of false targets for the public ire enables those in power to continue as they have always done.
Hounded by Christina Koh
Another story that didn’t quite work for me. Near as I can figure, the never named protagonist feels ‘hounded’ because, thanks to the wonders of technology, the world is constantly beating a path to her Inbox and keeping her from the work that needs doing. At the same time she doesn’t appear to be interacting with people in the real world: sex is replaced by the cyber equivalent and she has a stalker, but only online. There are echoes here of Simak’s City, the way in which the global village has left each and every one of us feeling isolated even as it lets us connect with whoever we wish. And yet I couldn’t really identify with the character, or see why she didn’t simply turn the computer off and go take a walk. Perhaps internet addiction was the point, or something else that simply went over my head. It happens.