Black Tide (book, Del Stone Jr, 2007)

From Death Ray 2. I always feel a bit bad reviewing stuff from smaller presses and not praising it to the hilt. The likes of Telos do a grand job providing us all with interesting fiction outside of the big-publisher, big-market defined norms, and without them, a lot of newer writers might go undiscovered. But although this one was pretty good, Black Tide does have a big narrative illogicality in it that I don’t think you’d find in a book by a more experienced writer, and it went against it in the final score.

As an aside; I actually don’t like zombies much. I enjoy a really good zombie flick, but the sub-genre attracts a lot of sub-standard talent to it, and the whole walking dead thing grates horribly on my need for well-defined story worlds – zombies defy logic entirely.They just would not work (magical ones make ‘story sense’, scientifically justified ones don’t). Although I can ignore that in a very well-crafted story, and 28 Days Later explains it away very neatly, for example, it always means a zombie story only gets a couple of ‘nonsense passes’ rather than three of four (ny ‘nonsense pass’ I’m talking about ignoring things like noise in space, stuff we as audiences rarely complain about, it’s a detail) before it hits the fail mark with me. I try not to let it influence my reviews, but it’s worth pointing out that all reviewers do is give their opinion. Some love some things, some love other things.I think zombies are silly. It probably influences me.

As a side note, on many occasions (not on this one, I hasten to add), readers equate one reviewer’s voice with a magazine’s official line. Worse, they then ascribe that opinion to all the magazine’s contributors, something to be borne in mind when operating in the media.

Del Stone Jnr

Telos/111 pages/£7.99 HB

Lovelorn Professor is subjected to George Romero-style seaside shenanigans.

Another take on zombies, Black Tide adds an aquatic touch to the usual tropes of brain-sucking fiction.

Florida college professor Fred Miller is a marine biologist who decides to spend a few days on a tiny island investigating the deadly ‘Red Tide’ plankton. He’s infatuated with his research assistant Heather, and has invited her along for less than honourable reasons. But she has brought her boyfriend Scott to make sure Fred doesn’t try to teach her human biology as well. What already looks to be an embarrassing time for the randy professor goes beyond bad when a mysterious black liquid bubbles out of the sea and turns everyone in the vicinity into zombies with a touch of the vampire – light hitting their infected tissues makes the zombies burn like fireworks, and this causes them to seek refuge underwater.

Stone’s a writer still learning the ropes. On the plus side there’s atmosphere here, and the story pulls you along at pace to its slightly contrived, almost-a-twist ending. On the bad, the character interaction does not hold true – Fred and Scotty’s confrontation blows up too soon, and for such a spineless beggar prone to hearkening to his worse side, Fred appears to be remarkably self-aware. So much so that it’s as if the author is telling us what he thinks of Fred, rather than what Fred thinks of Fred… Throughout, there’s too much of this ‘tell’, but one chronic weakness of the first person style. In fact, I’ve always had an issue with this perspective, specially when a man who’s about to die narrates his own fate; I mean, who is he telling, the seagulls?

The book also has a surfeit of adjectives and adverbs. A ruthless cull of these could only strengthen the writing, but they are left free to scamper about, purpling up the place with unimpeded modification.

There are precious few paid avenues for writers learning their craft nowadays. That could perhaps be put down to the high expectations of the reading public – it is not as if SF is hard to come by any more – but the high price of small-press books like this doesn’t help. What this means for the genre is debateable, but I’d hazard a guess it’s no more serious than that many authors will have to take their baby steps out of sight in future.

As a fan of SF shorts, I’d say seek this out and encourage Stone, but it doesn’t have quite enough merit for me to recommend it as a consumer.

Sea of Death

The ‘Red Tide’ referenced in this story is a massive algal bloom that occurs almost annually off Florida’s coast. The organism that causes the tide is called Karenia Brevis, and it is the tens of millions of these dinoflagellates found in a litre of seawater during a Red Tide that gives the water its colour. Because Karenia Brevis produces a potent neurotoxin, the Red Tide takes a terrible toll on marine animals in the Gulf of Mexico, and can render tens of square kilometres of sea devoid of life.


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