Reviewed by Liza Granville

Issue 196 is superbly presented - nothing unusual there: we expect it of Interzone. Great artwork: nothing unusual about that either. I particularly liked Richard Marchand's illustration (page 24) for the way it captured the essence of Neal Blaikie's story, and the masterly work of Josh Finney.

Six stories, several of which merited a second read.

Winning Mars, by Jason Stoddard, is an extremely polished, horribly believable tale of greed and cynicism. Great idea--the revival of reality shows, with a twist. The story opens fast and keeps up a good pace in spite of being intercut with flashbacks. The characters are well drawn and distinct, the relationships and various emotional issues are well handled, inviting an empathy that gives additional strength to the story. Great ending.

Neal Blaikie's Ducks In Winter is his first published story and, with so much potential, we can only hope there will be many more. Overall, it's an eerie and sometimes difficult story with flashes of brilliance, a work that can be read on many different levels and which raises again a multitude of questions about the nature of reality. Even now, after several re-readings, I'm not sure I completely understand all of it. Still, I stand by my argument that you don't have to comprehend everything about a painting, a poem, or a story to appreciate and enjoy it. I did. In places, the imagery is astounding. I'm not going to pick out passages - that would do the story an injustice, it needs reading in its entirety - but the final two paragraphs (for example) are masterly.

The Emperor of Gondwanaland, by Paul Di Filippo, is a very entertaining new take on the gateways to parallel (but invariably better) dimensions theme that has held such powerful sway over the human mind from time immemorial, coupled with on-line dating. He's a talented and careful writer; this work was painstakingly plotted and intricately detailed. In my opinion there were a few poor--and distracting--choices made when it came to names: Mutt, for a start... and Golusty IV, Fishday, Satyrsday... Swonk? I could go on.(By the way, glad to see women are still playing caring roles in alternative worlds, and that men are still the ones handing out power. Better not go down that road either.) The end was great. From hack to ice cream millionaire would have been good enough, but no, there's more...

David Ira Cleary's The Face of America is deeply disturbing. Big Brother watching you has got nothing on this. I've got a thing about eyes--something to do with my brother being an eye surgeon and a certain Salvador Dali photograph– so I ain't saying much. Beautifully written. A lot of clever stuff here -about interpreting phenomena in terms of final purpose rather than looking to possible cause - but really it's about a nasty old lady thinking she's found the perfect excuse for a killing spree. Perhaps you won't agree.

In spite of being the James White Award winner, Deirdre Ruane's Lost Things Saved in Boxes did nothing for me. In fact, as far as I was concerned this was only just a story and fell well below the quality of other work in this issue. In places, it fell flat, and overall felt like...well, if such a thing could be, a necklace of vignettes. There was little variation in individual voices and it seemed odd that the caretaker was the strongest character in the piece. I'll qualify this harsh judgement by adding that there was lots of clever imagery, lots of things that I liked in themselves, and an intriguing central idea. The ending was a bit cheesy. No harm in that. I suppose.

Last, but very much not least: Totems, by Will McIntosh, is a love story. This is a cracker, a wonderful retelling of the Osiris legend. Like Isis, Jerea combs the world for the parts of her divided lover, only in this version success depends upon casting the essence of him contained in those parts back into the sea from which all earth life originated. Chick-fantasy or not, it's a deeply satisfying read. Strongly drawn characters, convincing dialogue, inventive alien art forms, superb background details... masterly.

There are extremely thorough reviews in this issue. Sometimes, though, I wonder where review ends and précis begins. I don't--picky me - want a plot outline, just an indication of whether the book's worth reading. Don't miss the intelligent and illuminating interview with China Miéville.

And, last word(s): Mike O'Driscoll's comments on the definition of 'fantasy'--and on the question of genre itself - are well worth reading.

Interzone, edited by Andy Cox and published bi-monthly by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, UK. A4, 68pp, £3.50/$6US or £21/$36US for 6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).

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