Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dark Tales #11 Review

With no end in sight to the unfortunate hiatus at UK SF Review, my two recent reviews are rapidly going past their sell-by date. Rather than look for an alternate venue at this late stage, I've decided to post them here instead. I really prefer to have them posted elsewhere as they are more likely to be seen by larger numbers of casual readers which provides more exposure for both the publications and the authors. Still, for now, here we are:

Dark Tales #11
Reviewed by Gareth D Jones

Another large helping of dark and disturbing fiction arrives in the form of Dark Tales #11. The whole issue is entertaining and varied in contents, and looks and feels quite smart too.

The opening story this issue is A. Reader’s Half Life, which is the name of a drug that reduces the patient’s age by half. Sounds like miracle, but as is usually the case there are unforeseen and rather unsettling side effects. The story is well written, and does a good job of outlining the true horror of the situation, with a profoundly thoughtful ending. At least, I thought it was the end, only to find another few paragraphs over the page that I thought rather blunted the impact. So, choose for yourself which end you think best.

Niall McMahon recounts A Dream of Faces, the touching tale of a young boy’s encounter with a terribly scarred burns victim who touches his life for a while. His initial reactions, the subsequent development of their relationship and her ultimately profound effect on his life really are engagingly told. The feelings of both come across well and ensure that the story will stay with you.

Debt is a story of lycanthropy by Andrew J Oliver. It’s only short, so there’s no real development of the characters or motivations beyond a brief setting of the scene. It’s also written in the second person, which I always find a little odd, but that’s just a matter of taste. The confusion and disorientation are conveyed well, but no real explanation is given. The success of the story then depends on whether you like reasons for the strange goings-on, or whether you’re happier with the unexplained.

A man attempting to retrieve his lost wallet from an eccentric old woman is the setting for Davin Ireland’s Growing Season. There’s some good descriptive work of the decrepit house and the overgrown garden, with the old lady becoming more and more creepy. The tale develops well as bewilderment and frustration set in, slowly giving way to horror as the old lady’s true purpose becomes clear. I’m giving up gardening after reading this.

Seeing Red is a vampiric tale by Mel Wright, in which a young boy develops a taste for blood through a series of seemingly innocent incidents. The story becomes more and more disturbing, with a horrifying finale in an allotment that doubles my resolve to give up gardening!

An unsettling guest in a B&B provides the chills in Reception by Peter Hynes. He seems to be watching particularly gory horror films in the privacy of his room. When the proprietor finally learns the truth he quickly wishes he hadn’t. The creepy guest is developed well as the owner becomes more and more fixated on discovering the truth, but like Debt I was left slightly nonplussed at the conclusion.

In Prize Pelt Valentine Roberts describes a suitably creepy artist with a fur fetish. The man’s unusual tastes are revealed slowly and build up the expectation to round the story off nicely.

Tall Flowers by Mark Reece is similar in concept to Growing Season, but I wasn’t really sure whether to take it seriously or not. The main character, who becomes fixated with gardening, doesn’t act with any kind of logic, and neither does the librarian whom she meets. Admittedly she’s a bit eccentric, but the plot seemed to be rushing to its conclusion without much thought to how to get there.

The final story is also the strongest. David Robertson’s The Blackford Folly is set in a Scottish stately home in Victorian times, where two men investigate the disappearance of the Laird who lives there. There’s plenty of atmospheric description – the servants, the study, the folly itself, strange goings-on in the night. The Arthur Conan-Doyle style also adds to the flavour. A very enjoyable and engrossing tale to round out the issue.

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