Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

I've always found the TTA stable a little intimidating as a writer, something attained only when you grow up and not a market for the beginner, rank amateur or literary X-Factor audition-deluded. Well, perhaps I'm right to be afraid because the quality of work found between the covers of the magazine formerly known as The Third Alternative is of a very high standard both in ideas and in sheer literary craftsmanship.

Having said that, this isn't style over substance and neither is it unapproachable. The tales and articles in Black Static #2 are inventive, engaging and in some cases downright got-to-see-what-happens-next compelling.

Firstly, the name. I like it. It has a resonance with the style, the stories and feel of the publication, is dark yet vibrant. The artwork reflects the feel, everything shadow-toned and half-seen, things that may be malign, but perhaps not.

So much for the flesh, hair and make-up, time to look at Black Static's vital organs. Muscle and bone are formed from a set of weighty book reviews (courtesy of a certain Mr Tennant) and intriguing articles, on the real creators of the films for which others receive all the plaudits, the pros and cons of the corporate and the independent, a look at the place of, well, place in the horror movie and the rumour that Jesus spent most of His life in Japan.

The blood coursing through Black Static's veins is fiction, opening with In The Hole by Lisa Tuttle and Steven Utley. This is a considered tale of homecoming set against the backdrop of an unnamed war that seems to have spilled over its borders and brought ruin on the protagonist's homeland. Trouble is, nothing is as we remember it. Beautifully paced and achingly sad, this is a finely drawn portrait of the realities of an emotional relationship stretched to its limits.

F. Brett Cox brings us The Serpent and the Hatchet Gang, a fable set in a fishing town in an unspecified past. It is a clever interplay between the dragons of human behaviour and a flesh and blood creature of myth--or not so mythical as it turns out - and asks which is the most deadly. Clever, yes, and a well-crafted piece etched with some wonderfully visceral descriptive passages, but, sadly, it felt a little clunky and didn't grip my attention.

The delicate art of closing that realty deal creates the knife edge on which Scott Nicholson's Must See to Appreciate balances its narrative tension. Add to this the fact that the property in question is haunted and you can see the estate agent's problems are a little more complex than simply persuading a taciturn client to part with his money. An atmospheric, though surprisingly straight, ghost story, with a neat twist. Unknown by Steve Rasnic Tem moves into the realm of identity, in other words what makes us who we are and is it possible to be, well, no one? Well paced psychological drama this, featuring an infuriating yet intriguing character who literally gives nothing away.

Her creativity bound by her elders, Faustine seeks release for her spirit in Melanie Fazi's In the Shape of a Dragon (translated by Brian Stableford). Her father is a reclusive, dominating figure, and her teachers, crushers of individualism, but there is freedom, in the shape of a dragon. Mysterious, well-observed, well-written but, sadly, not engaging for me personally. Ash Mouth by Lynda E. Rucker, is another story set around childhood darkness, telling of the troubled relationships between a woman, her hostile mother and eccentric grandmother all overshadowed by a terrifying childhood incident and the shadowy creature of the title.

Andrew Humphrey protects the Black Static flanks with Holding Pattern, an unnerving fable about an unexplained unstitching of reality. The narrative slips by at a smart pace and constructs puzzle after puzzle to confound the reader, as well as its dazed and confused protagonist. This one is my own favourite.

So, didn't hurt too much and left a satisfying glow. Good writing, ideas and more ideas and the sense that you are in good hands once inside the covers. That was it I think, the overall comfort that there would be no turkeys in this Christmas Cracker, that you could trust the authors to take you on their journeys and not take a wrong turn, even if the trip did end at an unsettling destination. Black Static is a lesson in literary craftsmanship and how to go with an idea, no matter how difficult or disturbing.

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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