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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Black Wings III

17th Oct, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Continuing with this month's Lovecraft theme, we turn our attention to another anthology series edited by the prolific S. T. Joshi. Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror debuted in 2010 from PS Publishing and the series is still going strong with Black Wings VII  appearing this year. Titan Books have issued the first six volumes in paperback format under the title Black Wings of Cthulhu, and there are e-versions available from both publishers, with the PS volumes currently the cheapest. I reviewed Black Wings II in Black Static #33.

Released by PS in 2014, Black Wings III opens with "Houdini Fish" by Jonathan Thomas, a sequel of sorts to Lovecraft's story "From Beyond", with the protagonist discovering a piece of Crawford Tillinghast's machine, while a detective focuses on him as a suspect regarding a series of disappearances. It's an intriguing piece, packed full of ideas and incidental invention, and a low key unease generated throughout, all culminating in a Schroedinger's cat style ending. In "Dimply Dolly Doofy" Donald R. Burleson gives us a chilling and bloody account of a child's doll turned into a harbinger of the Old Ones. The matter of fact telling helps to bring credence to the over the top proceedings. Richard Gavin has a young couple in love fall victim to the things seen when they look through "The Hag Stone". At heart this is a cursed object story, but Gavin elevates it with the idea of seeing too much and the genuine feel he confers on his characters' love and tragedy/grief.

In "Underneath an Arkham Moon" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson & W. H. Pugmire we have a poetically phrased account of sexual obsession with a Siamese twin, a story that could so easily have been tacky but the quality of the writing raises it above the potential for prurience of the material, and with numinous themes adeptly touched on. Darrell Schweitzer's story I discussed when reviewing his collection Awaiting Strange Gods in Black Static #55, when I had this to say - 'A bookshop owner is fascinated by the tales of a famous writer who befriends him, finally coming to realise that his friend really can travel through dimensions courtesy of what he refers to as 'lines of touch' or "Spiderwebs in the Dark", but there are also spiders, or a curious form of vermin that infects the life of both. It is a fascinating story, one rich in ideas and playing deftly with clichés of the genre, such as having the protagonist relate his story from the confines of a madhouse, here done with such verve that there is a certain freshness to them.'

The protagonist of Caitlin R. Kiernan's story is a science reporter who becomes obsessed with the lightning struck "One Tree Hill (The World as Catalysm)". It's a story that builds and builds, accreting layers of meaning while at the same time never really making anything clear, so that we are as suspicious and filled with thoughts of impending doom as the narrator. In "The Man with the Horn" by Jason V. Brock a woman becomes fascinated with her neighbour Mr Trinity, who plays his horn late at night. The story intrigues, with a wealth of incidental detail and back story, while the conclusion seems to be that the woman's lack of any real life is what makes her such easy prey. In Mollie L. Burleson's story a man books into the "Hotel del Lago" where he has a horrific vision of a past summoning of some monstrous creature. It's well written, but overall this was nothing special, just a simple going through the motions with plenty of stuff we've all seen before, well done but nothing notable or that feels especially original. Contrarily from Donald Tyson we have the small epic "Waller" in which those with cancer are transported to another dimension as part of a plan by alien deities. There is lots of adventure and invention here, and I loved the way in which cancer is made part of the story, with some deft touches of detail along the way. A contender for best story in the anthology.

In "The Megalith Plague" by Don Webb the members of a small community become obsessed with building megaliths as a way to worship God. This basically should be a very silly story, but Webb packs it with ripe ideas and larger than life characters, particularly his artist nemesis, so that it comes out as hugely entertaining, even as we laugh at the working out of the main concept. An ambitious lawyer takes a wrong turn and ends up in Kingsport at night, an experience that leaves him scarred for life in "Down Black Staircases" by Joseph S. Pulver, Snr. I find Pulver's prose style hit or miss, but here it is most definitely the former, with the almost staccato delivery bringing this horrible situation to vivid life on the page. Peter Cannon's "China Holiday" has tourists uncovering an attempt by the Deep Ones to reassert their power. It's a cunningly wrought piece of work, with a wealth of information about China's attraction to underscore the sinister implications of the story. I liked it a lot.

In Lois Gresh's story two friends visit the otherworldly beach that is "Necrotic Cove", but one of them has her own agenda. It's a disturbing story, not only for its vision of a place that feels liminal, but also for the depiction of the dynamics in the relationship between lifelong friends Cassandra and Tatiana, which of them is using the other and exactly how. In the weird, elliptical feeling "The Turn of the Tide" by Mark Howard Jones the tangled relationship between a woman and two men on holiday at an isolated seaside cottage seems to be mirrored by changes in their world. The story was intriguing, but seemed a little too muddled for me to really get a handle on. It promised so much, but didn't really deliver, giving us just hints of something grander and more disturbing, and I could have done with something a little bit more concrete about the relationships.

Sam Gafford's "Weltschmerz" sees humdrum suburbanite Doug lured to the dark side by the exotic Maya, but his interpretation of Lovecraftian philosophy is somewhat bleaker than hers, not to mention bloodier. This is a clever story, luring the reader in with its hints of decadence and then pulling the rug out from under our feet with a violent and unexpected end twist, one that feels perfectly rational from the perspective of the character. In "Thistle's Find" by Simon Strantzas the shady Owen is revolted by Doctor Thistle's acquisition of a female ghoul. This was a defiantly downbeat story, and appropriately so, coming across rather like "Pickman's Model" had Richard Laymon seized on the concept, with some nice touches of the outré along the way. Finally we have the longest story in the anthology, Brian Stableford's "Further Beyond" which takes the material of Lovecraft's "From Beyond" and develops it further, with three interested parties trying to acquire Tillinghast's machine and finding they have far more on their hands than they bargained for. It's a thoroughly absorbing story with some larger than life characters and more than a hint of something mad on the loose. I loved it and it was the perfect end to the anthology, bookending Black Wings III with "From Beyond" inspired stories.




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