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Midnight Street #8 (winter 2006/7)
editor: Trevor Denyer
Immediate Direction £3.50

review by Jim Steel

This issue's featured writer is in fact two people. L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims have been co-writing and co-editing supernatural and horror fiction for 35 years now, and their interview with Tony Mileman is a fascinating account of their peripatetic career. Although they say that they now write with one voice, the two stories that are included here seem to be by different writers. North And South starts out like a traditional haunted house story and changes to something different as a couple draw up to a new property with the intention of finding a secluded environment for their handicapped daughter and foster children. This is a relationship that has disintegrated and darkened, and only their love for their daughter keeps them together. Sliding Down The Slippery Pole also harps backwards, this time to the fin de siécle decadence of Beardsley's fiction (oh yes, he also wrote fiction, my dears). Much absinthe is consumed, along with other liquids. Now, I have friends who are artists and who swear that pornographic magazines are great research material as you get to see people's heads from angles that you would rarely run across normally. It sounds plausible. A.C Evans seems to have merely utilised the torsos for the artwork for Sliding Down The Slippery Pole, but the illustrations do match the erotic content of this story that was originally published in Falling Into Heaven. Andrew Hedgecock also reviews their first novel, Shelter, in one of the two book reviews here.

The rest of the fiction falls in somewhere along the line between slight and significant. Nick Jackson's Paper Wraps The Stone is one of those twisted schoolboy stories that only the English seem to do, and is good with significantly adding much new to the genre. Then there are two stories, each of which features a woman who has been rejected in an office romance and who then goes home and eats chocolate ice-cream. Both manage to pull a story out in different directions. In Stuart Young's Masquerade, one of the highlights of the issue, the woman awakes the next day and finds that her face is missing. She seems, however, to have been paid for it, so she decides to go and see if she can retrieve it. Fortunately, in our century of prosthetic make-up and CGI, someone without a face doesn't prove to be as shocking as it would have been in previous times. It's not that sort of a horror story. In fact, I can't recall anything that reminds me of what happens when she does find her face. Highly original, and very well crafted. In David Gullen's Second Instar, the woman goes to the kitchen and finds two aliens who try to comfort her. This story, too, heads off in an unusual direction.

Nicola Caines has an interesting magic realist story of life during wartime in The Dead Road, as a youth attempts to find his family during a third world stream of atrocities, and the viewpoint character just about stays on the right side of working successfully. Waterproof by Nels Stanley is also a first person narrative. A woman argues with her partner and leaves a party only to become lost in the countryside. There, she finds an old man burning memories of his wife. There is a discussion of whether it would be better to forget the good things as well as the bad rather than dwell on them for all eternity. Intriguing.

Possibly the best (and certainly the weirdest) story in this issue is 13, On The Ghost Train by Peter Tennant, a prequel 'of sorts' to his Eye Of The Beholder. We start off on a ghost train and through the short journey we work our way through the carriages, getting brief biographies of the characters. Just after it occurs to the reader that this is a homage to Geoff Ryman's 253, we meet a passenger who is a writer with plans of turning the ghost train experience into a homage to 253. It is one of the few touches of light in a litany of despair. That is, in the body of the story itself. After the story there is a series of appendices, with set exercises for the reader much in the manner of a college textbook, and they are downright hilarious. Tennant is certainly not beyond taking the piss out of himself.

The second reprint in this issue comes from Talebones. Clothes Make The Man by Ken Brady is a witty account of a lawyer and his aggressive AI suit. There is also a short, straightforward piece of horror from Evelyn King, and three very short stories, two from Jane Fell and one, Star Wars In 230 Words, by Byron Starr. Rounding off this issue, we have Michael Lohr telling us how Tongue in Scotland might have got its name (and, god, I hope these folk tales are not just made up for his column), the return of Allen Ashley's column from The Third Alternative ('Planet Dodo' - who says extinction has to be forever), an interview with scream queen Lilith Stabs who doesn't really have all that much to say, and three very fine poems from Trevor Denyer, Joyce Walker, and Kristine Ong Muslim.

In summation, there are some annoying bits to this issue but the quality stuff far outweighs it.
Midnight Street 8

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