Monday, 18 April 2016

Review of ST 32

Not a great one for blowing my own trumpet (or indeed horn) but this generous review by Jose Cruz is too good to let pass unnoticed. Major fanfare, please, for a discerning reader!

Since “the beginning of this century,” editor David Longhorn has been compiling the magazine Supernatural Tales. In that time the series has amassed stories from a cornucopia of authors who were or have become household names within the fields of dark and strange fiction, among them Lynda E. Rucker, Simon Strantzas, Nina Allan, Steve Rasnic Tem, Rosalie Parker, Joel Lane, S. P. Miskowski, Gary McMahon, and Mark Valentine. It is an impressive assemblage of talent working in Longhorn’s preferred mode of the whispery tale of chilling dread, ensuring that the rich lineage of subtlety and restraint in horror remains as vibrant and vital as ever. 
In this, the thirty-second issue, Longhorn has published six stories that also work in this mode and, though some prove more successful than others, the overall mood is one of mystery and quietude. Chloe N. Clark’s “Even the Veins of Leaves” opens the issue, dealing with the well-worn framework of police investigating disappearances in a spooky old wood, but the terse, literal statements favored by our protagonist fail to add much depth to this classical mold, leaving some of the action staid and the central mystique too general to generate any sense of wonder or foreboding. Clark does prove that she has a good hand at plot though: she slyly works in a reveal in the climactic scene that will take some readers by surprise.

Charles Wilkinson explores some interesting terrain with “The Ground of the Circuit,” another story that resorts to a tried-and-true setup that has a bordering-on-middle-age couple move into a decrepit farmhouse In the Middle of Nowhere with the hopes of restoring the land and the shaky foundations of their own union. The otherworldly threat comes in the form of an old squatter/handyman who lurks on the grounds and appears to have a morbid relationship with the landscape itself. The husband’s narrative tone is amusingly upbeat and proper, his emotional distance defined by the reiterated phrase of “the woman who was his wife.” This leaves said wife's eventual “involvement” with the old squatter feeling somewhat expected, but Wilkinson manages an off-kilter feel throughout. 
Jeremy Schliewe’s “A Little Lost Thing” strikes just the right unsettling notes as it tells of a man gradually becoming obsessed with a woman that may or may not be from his past. It’s the same start to many a classical ghost story, but Schliewe twists the screw by turning his focus to the fickle nature of memory. In one particularly scintillating passage, the narrator ponders: 
“Where do they go, the people who once consumed our thoughts? Those who we longed to be nearer to but, because we are forever at the mercy of fate and circumstance, were denied the osmotic ecstasy of coming together? I picture them sometimes, naked, translucent, piled atop one another in a half-full dungeon, its walls cold with sweat. The features of its inhabitants are softened by the years. They make no complaints. The forgotten have no voice.” 
The rest of the story is haunted by this excerpt, as is our tortured narrator when he finally discovers what it is to feel the sting of his unbeknownst sin. 
Michael Chislett presents a wonderfully baroque fable in “Masque: The Herald of the Pest.” The author shows a real vigor for the Gothic sensibility, bearing echoes of Poe in his use of masquerade, plague, and Carnivale. It is a story that rewards in the richness of its allusions and the easy flow of its ideas, convincingly building a world where guardian angels oversee beastly debauchery, a story that is oddly comforting in its own way, like a cherished bottle of dusty port. 
“The Ghost on the Hill” finds author Kathy Stevens striving for a somber but hopeful tone in its recounting of a man meeting a spirit in the park one evening and the ways in which their stories are revealed to each other. As the shortest tale in this issue, “Ghost” feels as if it doesn’t quite make the most of its abbreviated length, with a conclusion that lacks the emotional resonance that a few additional passages could have helped to strengthen 
Cinema fans who enjoyed SPIDER BABY or any of its Rob Zombie brethren (and the brethren of those brethren) will find recognizable faces occupying the rooms of S. M. Cashmore’s “Waiting for Breakfast.” A comic horror tale of an older sort that finds the inhuman family at its center frightening and/or slaughtering those who come calling on their ratty old manse or poking about their business, Cashmore’s story is charming if overly-familiar, the characters eccentric without the touch of humanism that would make them compelling beyond their creepiness. Outside of their preying on victims, there isn’t much to them, but if you seek something that calls back to the Old Dark Houses of the 60s, then this one fits the bill. 
Though this was my first introduction to the series, Supernatural Tales #32 shows enough promise and power in the majority of its prose to generate interest in seeking out future releases. Those who pine for horror that whispers rather than screams and creeps rather than pounces will have their murky appetites whetted by Longhorn's magazine.

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