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Black Static


The British Fantasy Society Yearbook - Part the Second

27th Mar, 2010

Author: Peter Tennant

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Okay, I've managed to fit reading some more of The British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009 into my busy schedule and as I have nothing much else to write about just now let's crack on with a review. These comments may come too late to do any good as far as getting your paws on a copy of the book is concerned, as it was available to people joining the BFS for a limited time only, and that time may now be past, but if you're tempted there's no harm in asking them if it will be included in your welcome package, and if not it might still be worth joining as they do loads of other stuff as well.

So, stories eight through fourteen.

The Edge of a Thing

Kaaron Warren's Slights was one of the best novels I read last year, but she doesn't bring the same ingenuity to this tale of a developer who desecrates Fijian ancestral grounds. The writing is first rate, as you'd expect, with some vivid descriptions, and the characters of impatient, sceptical Paul and his slightly aloof wife are beautifully drawn. Warren also does an excellent job of filling in the supernatural backdrop, with superstitious locals refusing to work at the site and a strong suggestion of another world overlapping with our own, while the story's resolution is savage. And yet, assured as it was, at the end of the day this is just another story of native people cursing those who desecrate their sacred grounds, something that's almost a cliché in horror fiction. It was fun while it lasted, and Warren does this stuff much better than most, but all the same I don't feel the memory will stay with me for long.

The Chosen One

At thirty pages this is the longest story in the book, and it's also the first work I can recall seeing by Andrew Cartmel. The story starts well, with Futterman distraught because his cat has gone missing, and it carries on at a steady clip with hints that something far more profound is out of whack with his universe - the mystery of his sister's death, a nut job who declares him the Chosen One, a fellow cat owner who knows more about his situation than she should. It's intriguing stuff, well written and sucking the reader into this world, making us want to learn more. If I had to compare it with the work of another writer, one of the skewed realities people like Blaylock or Tim Powers produce would be a good starting point. And then the cat talks... Okay, maybe there's some deep buried childhood trauma associated with Mr Ed in my subconscious, but talking animals are always a hard sell for me. The effect here is rather like getting into Carpenter's They Live, taking a potty break and coming back to find that someone's switched it for Cats & Dogs. I didn't like, and things were going so well. You may be more tolerant than me however.

Life and Life Only

One of the shortest stories, and Steve Lockley going solo. The term is never used, but it's about a dryad, and a chance encounter with a mortal woman. There's a nice sense of the natural world, and some icky moments near the story's end, making it more horror than urban fantasy, but the story's sexual element all seemed a bit too slick and unconvincing, so I couldn't quite believe in it. Lockley needed to work on that a bit more - what we get is the equivalent of 'How about it?' followed by 'Okay!', and even I'm not that easy. My real problem with the story though was the proofreading. So far in this book typos had been averaging out at one per story, but 'Life and Life Only' was a train wreck. I wanted to throw things. Seriously.

Deleted Scenes

Just when you start to wonder if the book has gone into an irreversible tailspin, Conrad Williams enters stage left. Fowler is obsessed with actress Susan Micks, thinks she's the greatest female action star since Sigourney Weaver did her thing as Ripley, even though his friends disagree. And then, while watching her best movie on video for the umpteenth time, he catches a scene which he has no recollection of seeing before. It's the start of Fowler's life unravelling, with Williams cleverly merging film and reality as the story reaches its denouement. Written with all Williams' usual subtlety and descriptive ability, bringing a grungy world to compelling life, making it seem almost perversely beautiful, this is an excellent story, one which hints at our inability to distinguish between reality and fiction, so that eventually the two merge.

Snow Angels

Sarah Pinborough's tale of two children in The House, a hospice for the terminally ill, is one of the most moving in the Yearbook. The narrator and Amelie slip out to enjoy a rare moment alone together in a snow girt landscape, and they are gifted with a vision of angels, though it turns out to be a mixed blessing as the celestial visitors turn minatory. Pinborough doesn't set a foot wrong here, with the beauty of the natural world captured perfectly and in balance with the feelings of the two children, the desire for freedom before death takes even that from them. It's a poignant story, heart wrenching in the differing fates of the two leads, and with a backdrop that hints at much more going on off the page, a world in which many of the things we take for granted have been overturned.

Survivor Guilt

Marcus Kane is a typical Gary McMahon protagonist, haunted by his past, finding release from grief in alcohol, or at least distraction. Everything in his life becomes focused on finding the Bakerloo Angel, a Samaritan he believes comforted his wife as she lay dying after the 7/7 terror attacks on London, but of course nothing is quite what it seems. It's a gripping story, McMahon as good as ever at painting bleakness and despair in colours most of us can identify with. The resolution does somewhat undercut what has gone before, substituting a twist ending for genuine emotion, but at the same time perhaps that is the point, that what consumes us has an entirely different value to someone else. In some ways I found it derivative, McMahon's originality vested in the 7/7 connection rather than any plot development. Regardless, the story worked and rather well.

The Ancestors

In the first part of this review I identified Steve Volk's 'After the Ape' as the best story I've read so far this year and that still stands, but Adam L. G. Nevill's ghost story gives it a close run, and has me anxious to get to his new novel, Apartment 16. Yuki and her parents move to an old house, where her sick father hopes to find some peace, but the house is haunted and while Yuki spends time with Maho, a spirit or imaginary friend, the toys roam the passages of the ancient building with malice in mind. Of course there's more to it than that. Nevill uses a Japanese setting, and there is definitely a J-Horror feel to the story, with a slow burn build up of atmosphere, events that at first appear to be normal shown as out of kilter, and moments of marvellous creepiness, as with the discovery of mummified body parts concealed in the walls. Yuki is not so much an unreliable narrator as an innocent one, with the true horrors taking place just out of her line of vision and the reader understanding more than the character does. It ends on a truly chilling note.

As before, I have no idea when I will get back to this book, but there's a link below to a full review at Tales of the Black Abyss and another one to the British Fantasy Society.


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