Monday, 30 July 2018

Recommendation: Black Shuck Shadows Double Bill

I recently had the pleasure of reading two volumes from the Black Shuck Shadows line: The Death Of Boys by Gary Fry and Broken On The Inside by Phil Sloman. Each book in this series features 3-6 stories from a single author, all based loosely around a theme.

The Death Of Boys was a fun collection of stories. I've read a lot of Fry's fiction by now, and I think it's fair to say that much of it consciously & deliberately 'announces' its thematic concerns—I don't mean this as a criticism, it's his style. But the stories here felt a lot more like Fry was just playing with horror tropes, having fun, writing his equivalent of a horror B-movie. (Again, not a criticism.) Which isn't to say that thematic concerns don't crop up—it's probably no surprise from the title that these tales focus on boyhood, parenthood, growing up, adulthood, and death. 'Zappers' is the story of a young boy apparently hit by lightning yet seeming to suffer no ill-effects (initially). 'Cat-B' concerns that most boyish/masculine obsession, cars, and seems to be Fry's version of Stephen King's 'bad car' stories Christine and From A Buick 8. As good as these two preceding stories were, it's the final tale, 'The House Of The Rising Son', that really impressed me. Again, it plays with some relatively standard horror tropes to begin with, but builds to something that's both nightmarish and thematically apt—indeed it seems to both sum up and interrogate the themes Fry has been exploring for the entire collection. Exhilarating stuff.

Phil Sloman's Broken On The Inside is a collection of stories based around the theme of mental health, or lack thereof, giving us five tales of people damaged, at odds with reality, hunted, haunted or just struggling to cope. Unfortunately, I can't say too much about one of the stories here, 'Virtually Famous'—not because it's not good (it's the joint-best here, IMO) but because it was first published in Imposter Syndrome so I'm biased. I've no reason to be biased about the rest of the stories though, and I can say that they are also bloody good. Sloman switches effortlessly between surreal black comedy—see especially 'Discomfort Food'—and more ambiguous, serious work. Both 'Virtually Famous' and my other favourite here, the title story, mix the psychological with a sort of near-future techno-horror, to produce narratives where the distinction between what is real and imagined blurs and fractures. 'Broken On The Inside' is a the story that has a touch of Cronenberg about it, a touch of Black Mirror about it, of Roald Dahl's adult stories and old-school sci-fi. It's well worth a read.

The Death Of Boys (UK | US)
Broken On The Inside (UK | US)

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