Blood and Grit - Twenty One Years On
In Black Static #30 I review Blood and Grit 21 by Simon Clark, an electronic edition of his very first book, originally published over twenty one years ago and now going for £80 and upwards in places like eBay and Amazon Marketplace.
The original Blood & Grit was also one of the very first books for which I wrote a review, appearing in a long lost magazine answering to the name of Dream.
I figured that if Simon Clark can recycle work from his catalogue (but with new material) then who am I to get picky about doing likewise, and so here for your amusement is that early review, first published in Dream magazine back in 1990:-
CLARK, SIMON - BLOOD & GRIT (BBR Books, ISBN 1 87258803, 103pp, paperback, £3.99)
Those familiar with a magazine called Back Brain Recluse, like Dream a member of the New SF Alliance, will know that editor Chris Reed's production values are second to none. That commitment to quality is certainly evident with this foray into the larger world of paperback publishing.
Simon Clark is a young writer who looks to be going places. His work has already appeared in Fear, Dark Dreams and Back Brain Recluse itself, as well as in numerous other magazines. Stories by him have featured in DAW's prestigious anthology The Year's Best Horror Stories. This is his first collection and it comes with a recommendation from Ian Watson.
There are six stories in this slim volume. "Skinner Lane" is about child abuse and a young boy whose worst nightmare turns out to be not so bad after all. In the alternate reality of "Out From Under" the dead are vacuum packed instead of being buried or cremated, though relatives are understandably reluctant to collect them from the mortuary. "Over Run" is that rare thing, a zombie story with an intelligent rationale. To say more would give the plot away. In "Bite Back" Joe Slatter, the archetypal hard case with a heart of gold, is pursued all over the north of England by a giant shadow that likes to step on things. "Revelling in Brick", my personal favourite, has an unhappy man granted a look at the strange existences that other people lead. "Sex, Savagery and Blood, Blood, Blood" rounds out the collection on a slyly humorous note, albeit comedy as it might have been written by the Marquis De Sade.
Clark has been compared to Clive Barker, which is unfair as he isn't that good yet. Like Barker though, and many other new writers in the genre, he seems to be redefining what we understand by horror. At the root of his work is a serious dissatisfaction with the everyday. The horror when it erupts is not necessarily a bad thing. It can represent a liberation from the thrall of the mundane. The monster of "Skinner Lane" is kindly compared to Michael, the story's sadistic child tormentor. Joe Slatter is redeemed by his encounter with horror. Through the weird events that permeate "Revelling in Brick" Mark Stainforth learns acceptance of a kind.
Clark writes in short, sharp paragraphs that infuse his plots with considerable momentum. The impression is of boundless energy held in check and, admittedly, at times threatening to run away with itself. He has a gift for characterisation and an ear for dialogue, bringing people to life with a few well chosen words. He produces haunting and surreal images with the ease of a magician lifting rabbits from a hat. And if the ultimate horror in his stories doesn't always live up to our fearful expectations, then perhaps we should be grateful.
Blood & Grit has a foreword by Andy Darlington and six black and white illustrations by Dallas Goffin, an artist who is every bit as good as the more famous Dave Carson. Chris Reed is to be thanked for making this volume available to us.
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