Reviewed by Sarah Jackson

October saw the release of what should have been the 43rd issue of The Third Alternative. For readers of that title, it has been a long wait to get their hands on the new incarnation, now known as Black Static, and the question people are sure to want answered is 'has it been worth the anticipation?'

The reasons for Black Static's birth stem mainly from the blurring of the lines between The Third Alternative and Interzone, another magazine from the TTA Press stable of publications. Black Static therefore, has been produced with a very definitive voice.

While most readers will buy the magazine looking for high quality dark fiction, the non fiction contained in the pages of this publication should not be overlooked. With articles from Stephen Volk, Mike O'Driscoll, Christopher Fowler, Tony Lee and John Paul Catton and Case Notes (book reviews) from Whispers' own Peter Tennant which incorporates an interview with Michael Marshall Smith and a vampire special, the first issue of Black Static provides an excellent selection of interesting and informative reading.

There are six short stories in the issue. The first, Bury The Carnival by Simon Avery, is a fresh take on Pinocchio, with the role of Geppetto being taken on by Charousek - a man recently released from prison by despotic puritans. Originally imprisoned for his use of old magic, Charousek has returned to the village in time for the End of Darkness, a momentous occasion being witnessed for the first time by many of the town's younger inhabitants. One of these is the reporter sent to investigate Charousek's story. What she uncovers is terrifying and life changing. Moving and atmospheric, the gripping style of Avery's writing delivers an excellently dark little tale that is only let down by the unlikely happy ending which just doesn't sit comfortably with the rest of the tale.

And dark tales heavy on atmosphere seem to be just what Black Static is all about, if the rest of this issue is anything to go by. My Stone Desire by Joel Lane exemplifies this aptly. It is moody, murky and almost violent at times, and yet Lane also includes a gentler side to the narrative. A story about love, lust and loss, Lane's excellent use of metaphor and imagery combined with a well developed protagonist, should have been enough to create an exceptional story, and yet it just isn't memorable. Despite being an enjoyable enough read, it just doesn't leave a lasting impression.

Another story in this issue which has that 'nearly there' feeling is Acton Undream by Daniel Bennett. The concept behind it is a good one - two scientists come up with the idea that an object could come into being in the world having been 'dreamt up', quite literally. This leads to the idea of “undreaming” objects out of existence, and, of course, the inevitable eventually happens as the experiments become more intense. The problem with this story is that it still feels as though it is at the 'ideas' stage; it has the potential for so much more, but as it stands, it lacks substance. It's like a lettuce and mayo sandwich, Bennett just forgot the meat. As with My Stone Desire, the writing is excellent, and the story is a pretty good read. It's just disappointing it doesn't deliver on its potential.

It's not all bad news though. Jamie Barras' Pale Saints and Dark Madonnas is a fantastic read. The moody setting of a stranger returning to familiar territory in the middle of a torrential rain storm in Rio opens the story, and from there the reader is taken on a journey of old magic, vengeful saints, mercenaries, and betrayal. Barras' style is fresh and original, definitely one of the winners of this issue.

The prize for most grotesque story must surely go to M.K. Hobson's Votary. Many horror writers seem to have a fascination with the very fat. Sometimes it is an attempt to prey on the fears of those who look in the mirror every day and pinch their love handles, wondering if they're getting bigger; sometimes it's the gratuitous horror portrayed by the grotesque image of the massively overweight individual. In Votary, an extremely obese mountain of a man keeps his wife and daughter as slaves to feed him and look after him. The child worships him, wants to be just like him, and even believes that her name is, in fact, Votary, having forgotten her real name at an early age because it is never used. Infuriating, disturbing, nauseating - Hobson manages to provoke all of these reactions with a well developed narrative and highly believable characters.

The final story of the collection is another winner. Lady of the Crows by Tim Casson is the story of a failed actor working in a prestigious theatre in Prague. When a travelling company performing The Lady of The Crows comes to town, he has more than one reason to avoid the show. Painful memories are dredged up as he reminisces about his lead role in the same play while studying at the Academy alongside the company's leading lady - his ex-fiancée. A story within a story, we follow Voryzek's painful encounter with his past, while learning the fascinating tale of Alena Zemenova - The Lady of the Crows. This is a powerful tale about life imitating art, and how even the most jaded and self obsessed individuals are capable of true compassion and real love. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

So - with 68 pages of good, sometimes great fiction, fascinating articles, and some intense artwork, albeit entirely in black and white - has it been worth the wait? I'd say so. Black Static is a credit to TTA Press; I wish them all the best of luck, and look forward to watching this new magazine develop.

Black Static, edited by Andy Cox and published bi-monthly by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, UK. A4, 68pp, £3.99 or £21/6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).

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