Filler content with a magazine

I’m very busy at the moment, and likely to stay so until the end of the month at least, hence a surfeit of filler content and trash talking blog posts.

(And it also explains why I’m posting this at a ridiculous hour on a Saturday evening when all right thinking blokes are out on the prowl for wine, women and song.)

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #29:-

MAGAZINE SPOTLIGHT: SHADOWS & TALL TREES #3

This time around for our magazine spotlight we take a look at the third issue of SHADOWS & TALL TREES, a publication that has marked out pretty much the same territory as Black Static, with emphasis on what editor Michael Kelly describes as ‘quiet, literate horror fiction’. Published by Undertow Books, it’s a journal of 132pp, including covers, and for a single issue in its home territory of Canada costs $12 ($14/US, $17/RoW), but check the website at undertowbooks.com for various subscription offers.

The evocative, understated cover image comes courtesy of artist Eric Lacombe, while the cover design is the work of John Oakey, who most will be familiar with from his work for Nightjar Press. There are no interior illustrations, and non-fiction is thin on the ground, with Kelly providing an editorial and a comprehensive review of the Stephen Jones anthology A Book of Horrors, while Tom Goldstein pitches in with some film reviews that could best be described as minimalist. There are also Contributors notes.

Running an eye down the Table of Contents, our readers should feel at home, as five of the eight writers have previously appeared in Black Static. Obviously, our demographic is their demographic.

Firing the opening shot is Nina Allan with ‘The Elephant Girl’, a disturbing tale that examines our attitude to outsiders. Pregnant teacher Brigid cannot help being repelled by pupil Jeanie, with her ‘pudgy moon face and mousy hair’, even while realising how grossly unfair and unprofessional this is, but in doing so she invites tragedy. Allan captures perfectly the dynamics of the central relationship, the idea that in the unappealing but musically gifted Jeanie, Brigid sees both her own undoing and the realisation of all that she could have been. At the heart of the story is the fear of corruption, that Brigid’s unborn child will be tainted by association, but the truth is far worse and Brigid has only herself to blame for what happens. Set in the years before and after the French Revolution, ‘L’Anneau de Verre’ by Don Tumasonis tells the story of a noble lady turned nun, underlining the fact that our fates can often turn on the smallest detail. It’s an absorbing tale that conveys the feel of the times with real authority, each step in the unfolding story carefully set out and leading elegantly into the next, with the supernatural element extremely low key but also the enabling device for what follows.

The protagonist of ‘The Quickening’ by Andrew Hook gets obsessed with a man with a limp, or something like that. There are lots of signs and portents, hints of something going on in the background, and perhaps a subtext on the theme of conformity, but it didn’t grab my attention from the off and ultimately I found it all a tad tedious, the point made too obliquely to be worth much consideration. Next up, the dependable Ray Cluley delivers an evocative tale of homosexuality and hauntings with ‘Night Fishing’. Fisherman Terrence goes out on his boat at night to recover the bodies of people who have thrown themselves from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, only the corpses who climb aboard his vessel are lost souls, and what he is really seeking is some form of closure regarding the death of his lover Bobby. Cluley does so much with this story, giving us a compelling portrait of love and obsession, with a subtext about the toll of bigotry and prejudice, and the supernatural elements incorporated seamlessly into the text, satisfyingly ambiguous and playing counterpoint to Terrence’s inability to let go of what he has lost.

‘Kill All Monsters’ by Gary McMahon is a simpler story, but every bit as poignant and cutting deep with its very relentlessness. A woman and her child travel in the company of a man who sees monsters and must act against them, no matter the consequences. Repressed violence is woven into the text, with the wet work off page if it happens at all, and the suggestion that the woman doesn’t act against her partner owing to fear for herself and the child, but at the same time McMahon asks who the monsters really are. There’s a touch of Roald Dahl’s black comedy about ‘The Sick Mannes Salve’ by George Berguño as a film scriptwriter inherits his uncle’s estate and plans to settle down to pursue his dream of writing horror stories, only there is a catch in this witty and beautifully executed piece, one rich in irony, so that Jeremy finds himself the victim in a tale much like those he wishes to write.

Stephen Bacon’s ‘None So Blind’ is a clever piece in which two victims of a brutal criminal commiserate with each other, only one of them is seeking redemption and closure, Bacon playing his cards with a quiet deliberation to reveal the truth behind the surface narrative. Lastly we have ‘Field Notes From the End of the World’ by Kirsty Logan, written in the form of journal entries that record the encroaching madness that destroys the scientists at a polar base, with hints that something even more terrible has happened to the rest of the world. It’s a convincing picture of insanity, and does what it does well, but all the same I can’t quite get past a feeling that it’s something I’ve read several of times before, lacking the oomph factor to make it truly memorable.

S&TT is a smartly produced, no trims magazine with plenty of rewarding content. Chances are, if you like Black Static, then you’ll enjoy this.

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