Reviews of two Nightjar Press chapbooks that originally appeared in Black Static #14:-
Tom Fletcher: The Safe Children
Michael Marshall Smith: What Happens When You Wake Up In The Middle of the Night
Two paperback chapbooks from Nightjar Press (nightjarpress.wordpress.com), the brainchild of Black Static contributor Nicholas Royle.
Fletcher’s story is set in a future, dystopian Britain. In a time of poverty and high unemployment, James is lucky to get a job as night watchman at a fully automated factory, his only task to call someone else if anything goes wrong. James doesn’t even know what the factory produces, though by the end of the story he discovers the truth, and it’s a revelation that presents both James and the reader with a queasy moral dilemma. This is excellent in the way it paints the backdrop, each word carefully chosen and with so many of the details only suggested or left to be inferred. Central to the plot are the compromises that a life of grim, bleak poverty entails, while at the heart of the story is an intriguing question, whether certain vices are repugnant in any and all circumstances, or can they be tolerated when nobody gets hurt. Are moral values absolute or simply a matter of pragmatism? Fletcher pitches the question in an especially provocative way, one that will polarise readers.
The MMS tale begins when Maddy wakes up to find that her night light has been turned off, only she can’t find it when she gets out of bed and the room appears to be closed in, with no light from outside, and Mummy and Daddy cannot help. This is a tale of creeping claustrophobia seen through the eyes of a child, the world closing in and the sense of unease mounting, until you wonder if the characters are actually dead and what has really happened in their world. It’s a pitch perfect telling, with the tone shifting subtly and the character’s fraught state of mind coming over well.
Both chapbooks are excellent. The only reservation I have is with the price of £3 plus P&P for what, in effect, are respectively 12 and 8 page stories. Compare that to the magazine you hold in your hand; roughly the same price but at least twenty times the content. Against that, these are signed, limited editions (200/300 copies respectively), while most chapbooks go for at least £5 and very few of them are by writers of this calibre. Buy now, or hold off in the hope that more cost effective collections will come along containing these stories? Another question to polarise readers. Your chequebook, your choice.