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Black Static


Black Static #61 - Bonus Material

20th Nov, 2017

Author: Peter Tennant

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In the current issue of the magazine (#61) I review two short story collections, Reggie Oliver's The Sea of Blood and The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, a collection by Shane Jiraiya Cummings, both of which contained stories I chose not to discuss as I'd already reviewed them previously.

For the sake of completeness, I've decided to post my reviews of those stories as they originally appeared.

First, the Oliver stories:-

From my Black Static #19 review of The Best Horror of the Year Volume 2 edited by Ellen Datlow:-

'Mrs Midnight' by Reggie Oliver is a traditionally slanted piece in the Jamesian vein, with a celebrity who gets involved in the campaign to save a dilapidated theatre learning rather more than is good for him about a vaudevillian of yesteryear. The story is beautifully paced, the character's obsession taking root and signified by numerous tiny touches of detail before the inevitable denouement.

From my Black Static #25 review of The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies edited by D. F. Lewis:-

Reggie Oliver's story 'Flowers of the Sea' plays on the original meaning of the word 'anthology' (a garland or bouquet of flowers), and like the Lane offers us a heartfelt picture of life ending in dementia and death, that of the narrator's wife. An artist, she creates an anthology of pressed flowers and collages that reveal the itinerary of a journey into the depths of hell, the story one of the most disturbing in the book, with its unnerving imagery and account of the slow, inevitable loss of self brought on by the illness.

From my Black Static #30 review of Shadow Plays:-

Lead story 'Beside the Shrill Sea' concerns a theatrical troupe doing summer season at a coastal theatre, and the infatuation one member of the cast develops for a local publican, their relationship steeped in cruelty and fated to end in tragedy, with suggestions that something far more sinister is taking place.

The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini' tells of a papal inquisitor and his attempt to exterminate a strange cult and how that goes terribly awry, the story infused with visionary and dreamlike imagery, and hints of a some dreadful metaphysics of nihilism.

From my Black Static #35 review of Dark World: Ghost Stories edited by Timothy Parker Russell:-

Things get off to a flying start with the evocatively named 'Come Into My Parlour' by Reggie Oliver, told from the viewpoint of a child coerced by the sinister Aunt Harriet into acting against his parents. With touches of Saki and, especially, Roald Dahl in the telling, this is an unsettling piece that hints at more than is revealed and in the figure of Aunt Harriet, whose brooding presence dominates the drama even when she is off stage, it has a memorably monstrous protagonist.

From my Black Static #47 review of Terror Tales of Wales edited by Paul Finch:-

There's an Aickmanesque feel to Reggie Oliver's tale of two women cyclists putting up at the unusual inn known as 'The Druid's Rest'. Our feelings of unease steadily mount in this wonderfully understated piece, as events escalate until it is impossible to deny that something very strange is going on, though we can't exactly put a finger on what, with a chilling denouement.

Five further stories - 'The Blue Room', 'Bloody Bill', 'The Skins', 'The Time of Blood', and 'The Constant Rake' - appeared in Oliver's second collection, The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler, which I originally reviewed on the old TTA Press website, and a link to the text of that review which is now posted on my personal blog can be found below.

And now the Cummings.

From my Black Static #15 review of Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror: The Year's Best Short Stories Volume 3 edited by Angela Challis:-

In 'The Cutting Room' by Shane Jiraiya Cummings a bullying pathologist gets a taste of his own medicine when a beautiful woman ends up on his table, the story not really going anywhere much, but well written and with the suggestion of something far more outré taking place outside the confines of its narrative.

My review of 'Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves' from Black Static #20:-

While the Gerlach is minimalist and somewhat muted, Shane Jiraiya Cummings' PHOENIX AND THE DARKNESS OF WOLVES (Damnation Books eBook, $4.50, 82pp) takes place on a wide screen and in glorious Technicolor.

By way of a back story, monsters have overrun large parts of the world and are now heading for Australia. To prevent their victory the local practitioners of the occult plan to raise a fire elemental in a ceremony that will involve the sacrifice of their loved ones. Damon doesn't believe that the rite will work, and so places a spell of protection round his wife and children and himself, before going off to see if he can talk the others round. The ceremony goes wrong, killing all the monsters, but at the same time turning Australia and nearly all its people into charred husks. Damon's family have been transformed into wolves that come out to hunt him as the sun goes down, and to release their souls he must catch the phoenix that contains his own. Cummings doesn't lay it all out but instead maintains an air of mystery and anticipation as Damon is chased across the blighted landscape by his personal demons, slowly providing the pieces from which we assemble the jigsaw of a world gone wrong.

Even though I haven't read it yet, this brings to mind The Road, so invasive has McCarthy's work become in our cultural consciousness, but to my mind crossed with TV series Charmed rather than Robert E. Howard, as the book's blurb writer Stephen M. Irwin claims. On the one hand we have a gritty tale of the post-apocalypse, in which human beings struggle to survive in a blasted landscape, a world empty of any hope other than for some form of personal redemption, but on the other there is a backdrop of magic and occultism which gives the whole story a different slant. Damon's dilemma is well realised, wandering through this terrible wasteland on a desperate mission, torn up by guilt and a sense of personal culpability, and in flashback trying to be the voice of reason when the situation has gone beyond the point where this matters. The position of the mages introduces an interesting moral dilemma, one which I wish Cummings had explored more: if the sacrifice of loved ones for the common good can ever be acceptable. The possibility that Damon might have mucked it up for everybody by protecting his near and dear is an intriguing one, but not touched on here.

Still let's focus on the story Cummings has produced and not the one I think he should have written, and as far as that goes what we get is a fast paced and vividly written story, one that holds the attention all the way, with twists and turns of fortune, last minute saves, a strong sense of place, convincing monsters and believable characters, all wrapped up in a solid plot. Chances are you'll have a good time with this book.



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