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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Black Wings IV

19th Oct, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Black Wings IV was released in hardback by PS Publishing in 2015, with a paperback edition from Titan Books the following year, while digital editions are available from both publishers (but the PS edition is the cheapest).

After an introduction by editor S. T. Joshi in which he lauds the malleability of Lovecraft's fiction and ideas, we get into things proper with "Artifact" by Fred Chappell, in which the discovery of said artifact and the history of a respected and wealthy family lead a lawyer and his professor friend to a terrible realisation about the nature of reality. It's an engrossing tale, one that builds slowly and then, having laid the foundations, pitches the reader into pure chaos. W. H. Pugmire's "Half Lost in Shadow" is a development from Lovecraft's story "The Terrible Old Man", with the current resident of his house encountering a woman who was the beloved of one of the sailors whose souls were imprisoned in bottles. It's a beautifully written piece, a prose poem of sorts, and offers an entirely different perspective on a character who before was seen only as a reason for fear.

Haunted by the implications of dark matter on which he did a news item, television reporter Trent Fenner goes on holiday with his family only to encounter a strange old man who is constantly filling in a hole by the beach and fall victim to "The Rasping Absence". Richard Gavin's story builds assuredly, with Trent's anxiety heightened and no relief in science, which would normally stand as a bulwark against the supernatural, while the figure of the cyclist come hole filler is disturbing in its very ordinariness. In "Black Ships Seen South of Heaven" by Caitlin R. Kiernan the Old Ones dominate the Earth and human beings struggle to maintain a foothold in a world where they are now of no more consequence than insects, and in a human enclave wall guard Susannah colludes with the Black Pharoah to bring about a final collapse. Aspects of this story reminded me very much of the Great Redoubt in Hodgson's The Night Land, but Kiernan's insidious invention is much richer and varied, giving us imagery that lingers in the mind, while a sense of inevitable doom overlays it all.

Jason V. Brock's "The Dark Sea Within" has a dodgy art dealer in Prague looking to make a killing fall foul of a supernatural entity. I'm not entirely sure I caught the rationale behind what took place, but the descriptions of Prague and the life of an art dealer were intriguing and held my attention to the story's unexpected end. In "Sealed by the Moon" by Gary Fry a counsellor, at the behest of a client he has fallen in love with, seeks to discover the truth behind a local legend, only to find himself well and truly buggered. It's a story that captures the interest even though the scenario feels a tad contrived, then goes on to offer a bloodthirsty twist at the end of the tale with some of the imagery connected to the protagonist's vision of the numinous.

From Cody Goodfellow we have "Broken Sleep" in which juvenile offender Tre finds himself a victim of experimentation by those who wish to control the dream dimension. Inventive and compelling, this was a wild trip of a story, with some remarkable imagery and an intriguing metaphysical backdrop to it all. Darrell Schweitzer's "A Prism of Darkness" is an account of the last hours of Doctor John Dee and the culmination of his search for the truth. It's a moody and atmospheric work, one that captures perfectly the fervour of philosophical endeavour while hinting at its ultimate futility.

Ann K. Schwader's story I discussed when reviewing her collection Dark Equinox and Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror in Black Static #54 when I had this to say - '"Night of the Piper" sees Cassie volunteer her time at a charity using native designs in its branding, ostensibly to do good work, but in reality to find out what happened to a woman who went missing after being recruited by PWP. Of course something Lovecraftian is on hand, Cassie barely escaping with her life as a gateway between worlds is opened, the story engrossing albeit little bits of the detail didn't entirely convince me. Schwader wins out in her end game though, with some suitably menacing elements and images, and the idea of a charity being used as a front for the outré resonates strongly.' For Ira in Jonathan Thomas' story "We Are Made of Stars" the pursuit of a graffiti artist leads to an encounter with the numinous and the realisation of the truth behind the story's title. It's a lively and engaging piece, with a hero who enlists the reader's sympathy and some nice ideas on city politics.

Melanie Tem's "Trophy" is the most challenging story in the anthology, at least in one sense of the word, with amputee Nolan watching extreme porn as preparation for giving birth to an alien baby. The story offers us a compelling and also repellent insight into the psyche of a truly damaged individual, with an element of ambiguity as to what is really happening with Nolan, and along the way we get some disturbing imagery of violence and death. I suspect this story would have had HPL clutching his pearls if he'd read it. In "Contact" by John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey the members of a commercial mining expedition to Pluto find that they've been beaten there by alien insects whose next target is Earth itself. Almost like Alien on steroids this is a long story with an intriguing backdrop and some memorable characters, all of whom are beautifully drawn, and a taste of the truly alien in the creatures they encounter.

Lois H. Gresh's story is another that I reviewed in Black Static #54 when it appeared in her collection Cult of the Dead and Other Weird and Lovecraftian Tales and I had this to say - 'Title story "Cult of the Dead" is set in the catacombs beneath Lima where a woman descended from Inca royalty encounters a creature from the Fourth Realm that holds the key to restoring Inca rule in Peru. The supernatural aspects are fascinating and have a novelty to them that is missing from most material in this vein, while playing counterpoint to the outré elements is an awareness of human suffering and human greed, things that negatively impact on each other. And while it may not be entirely agreeable to non-Incans, there is a rightness to the story's end that makes the reader want to cheer.' "Dark Redeemer" by Will Murray is all about high concept and blue sky thinking, with remote viewers discovering the true nature of a Lovecraftian entity and the universe itself. With shifting viewpoint and some wild ideas, as well as vivid imagery, this story was a pure delight.

Simon Strantzas' "In the Event of Death" has a writer of weird fiction attempting to discover the identity of his father after his mother's death, but his mad aunt is more hindrance than help. This was a story that held my interest, but didn't really deliver, fading out instead of reaching any real conclusion, and some of the details of the plot didn't quite add up as far as I could tell. Street person Brice gets converted to a new religion in "Revival" by Stephen Woodworth, the story quite basic, but with a subtext about how those in dire straits will reach out to any possible source of relief, even Cthulhu.

Donald Tyson presents us with an archaeologist as hero, though he's a far cry from Indiana Jones, attempting to prevent cultists breaching "The Wall of Asshur-sin" and allowing alien entities through. There's a lot here to enjoy, as with the three dimensional characters, the evolving plot, and the visions of colossal architecture and alien beasts. I had a good time with it. Last but not least we have "Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount", a series of linked poems celebrating the macabre and numinous by the appropriately named Charles Lovecraft that display some eloquent wordcraft and imagery, the fitting end to a fine collection of stories.




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