Another review from the back catalogue to keep my hand in while I’m off doing other things, this time from Black Static #9, and if anyone feels inspired to buy then it looks like Pigasus Press can accommodate you.
Here it is then, just as it orginally appeared back in 2009, minus any of those pesky editorial changes that I am just too damn lazy to look up:-
Premonitions: Causes for Alarm (Pigasus Press paperback, 152pp, £5.95) is edited by Tony Lee, who reviews DVDs for both Black Static and our sister magazine Interzone. It doesn’t restrict its content to any one genre, but I think it’s fair to say that much of what’s on offer has a horrific aspect to it.
Matt Bright’s ‘Big Picture’ starts things off, a story set in a near future in which film students can only earn their tuition fees by working on big budget spectaculars. The protagonist meets a woman who pricks his conscience, making him think about the economic and social implications for the local community when such operations intrude into their reality, and more importantly what happens when they go bust, as occurs often, with all the evidence swept under the carpet, the story cleverly expanding into a critique of corporate greed and indifference to the Third World, and of the compromises little people must make to get by. ‘Terminator Zero & The Dream Demons’ by Andrew Darlington is also set in the world of the film industry, though it doesn’t have any issues as such. A film maker who thinks with his dick is persuaded to smuggle a valuable artefact back from the Far East, only then to find himself pursued by criminals. It’s a well written piece, with some lovely phrases and striking imagery, and both characters and setting have a gritty verisimilitude to them. My only complaint is that the ending came rather from out of left field, giving rise to a ‘what the heck!’ moment.
‘Company or Cannibals’ by Waldo Gemio is a bittersweet tale of survival in a polarised world of the future, strong on incidental detail and with some appealing bad guys, if that’s not a contradiction. I wasn’t quite so keen on ‘’Accelerate, Unmovable Object’ Said the Unstoppable Force’ by Peter Hagelslag. It concerns an incident of plagiarism in the scientific community, one boffin taking credit for the breakthrough of another, and if absorbing for its duration with a convincing picture of how scientists do their thing, it was also all a bit ho hum, a story that had more in the telling than its destination, and slightly marred by some poor editing. In David Howard’s ‘The Boy Who Saw’ we get a child who can literally see emotions and follow the events that led to him committing a terrible crime, segueing into his self-doubt about the rightness of his actions. It’s a clever conceit for a story and Howard develops it well, touching on the nature of evil and avoiding the obvious to deliver something much more off the beaten path.
‘Insured For… Murder’ by Patrick Hudson was one of the highlights of the collection, a wry and very clever look at the whole reality TV phenomenon, with detectives who are constantly under scrutiny by the cameras and concerned about their ratings, and one PI getting an important breakthrough in his career when somebody frames him for murder. This was a lot of fun, with some pointed satire as a bonus, Hudson not putting a foot wrong in the way in which he works out the implications of the premise, added to which reality TV is a boil that is long overdue for lancing. I wasn’t so pleased with ‘Mould & Mildew’ by William Jackson, which is the story of an unhappy marriage and a bit too clever for its own good, with no real substance back of the brittle, clever prose. Sue Lange’s ‘Jump’ is more of the same, giving us a society beset by suicides and one woman talking a man out of jumping off a high building, only to then deliver an ending that is completely out of sync with what has gone before, though this could have been the point of the exercise. For my money it didn’t really go anywhere, though I’ll admit to being drawn in while it lasted.
Matthew Pendleton’s ‘The Cat-Dead Party’ is a curious event at which only the owner of the deceased cat is not allowed to mourn. The idea intrigues initially and there is a surreal feel to what is going down which sustains interest some of the way, but ultimately the story seems to disappear into its own cleverness, with no real virtue beyond a certain oddness. ‘Leonard Rom’ by Steven Pirie is more substantial, the story of a colony ship’s computer that has reinterpreted its mission to place one human on each discovered planet. This neat idea, with its echoes of O’Bannon and Carpenter’s Dark Star and HAL from 2001, is further enlivened by some witty dialogue and a couple of laugh out loud jokes. Jim Steel’s ‘Jaw Jaw’ is a clever story that put me in mind of an Outer Limits episode in embryo. It tells of a man using advances in the development of an artificial language to dispose of his wife’s lover, the story told with a convincing feel to the science and an engaging sense of amorality to the character of the narrator, so that we almost come to like him, regardless of what the guy is doing.
‘Darkworlds’ by Julie Travis was my favourite story. It brings to mind both Barker’s Cenobites and the King/Straub collaborations in a tale of creatures from other realms entering our own and defeating the plan of a bureaucrat to take their dimensions as lebensraum. It’s clever, with good characterisation and a gratifying pair of monsters in the Torquis and Yellow Jack. Travis knows how to pitch a telling phrase at the reader and she doesn’t shirk from describing the more horrific aspects of the story, while back of it all is the sense that there is a lot more mileage to be got from this scenario and these characters. I hope Travis follows up.
Mention in closing should be made of the genre poetry that is a part of this anthology’s make-up and distinguishes it from its fellows. We get poetry that engages from J. C. Hartley, John Hayes, J. P. V. Stewart and Steve Sneyd, but my personal favourite was ‘An Abandoned Alphabet’ by Cardinal Cox, a series of witty verses on the theme of funeral practices, one for each letter of the alphabet, or twenty of them anyway. I’ll have an O Cardinal.