Reviewed by Edward St. Boniface
HARSH OASES by Paul Di Filippo
Thomas Equinas is a 'splice', or bioengineered mutant slave in a future world of advanced genetic engineering imaginatively depicted as having mobile phone plantations, circuit-bushes and the like; all tended by a eugenic serf class whose potential for intelligence and participation in human society is ruthlessly suppressed. After the kindness of a visiting human scientist Thomas frees himself through determined self-education and ultimately becomes the protector of a new hybrid mutant able to ultimately shapeshift into any biomorphic form it wishes at will--if it can survive long enough to learn its power. Thomas names the revolutionary hybrid 'Swee'pea' and is sworn to protect it. Both of them are hunted by a bred assassin called the Manticore, itself just as much a victim as its intended victims. Paul Di Filippo gives us a fearful and exotic future of genetic near-chaos and uncertain havens for the outcasts as Swee'pea and Thomas struggle to remain alive and free. Swee'pea's personal journey to self-discovery through loss of loved ones, testing his powers with increasing success, the pain of failure and final ordeal when he confronts and defeats the Manticore is convincing and moving. I found myself wishing it was longer; there is so much more potential in the story it feels abbreviated and the only 'down note' is the clunky and stilted expositional dialogue; occasionally pompous and unrealistic. Otherwise it's a fine read and a novel waiting to get out of a medium length tale.
SHEILA by Lauren McLaughlin
Big trouble in the big+ cybercosm! Lauren McLaughlin explores quantum wilderlands of the eerie electronic spatiality inhabited by artificial disembodied intelligences ('Vemes' for Virtual Memes--a brilliant idea) working freelance (and grousing about it) for the human world. Edwards, a travel AI, is drifting towards consciousness of a greater AI phenomenon called Sheila (remorselessly hunted by human trackers also dangerous to the AIs) starting to dominate his netherworld as he struggles to balance his obnoxious friend Valentin, also a travel router Vemetic, with the possible machinations of the remote entity he feels may be watching him for potential recruitment. Edwards never realises he is being spied on by Valentin or that electronic evolution is due to sweep him up in Sheila's grand design. The cyberverse described is fascinating and occasionally visionary--McLaughlin knows how to make the story immediate, funny and engaging (some of the client advice is hilarious), despite the fact it stars abstract non-physical characters and a nonvisual reality almost impossible to portray with adequate language. It is only let down by the fact that not much happens and the characters are too human-seeming; using language (or nanoimpulses) an AI without real human ambulatory experiences would hardly employ with each other despite their mimic-behavioural subroutines. Perhaps Sheila is a third omnidimensional version of The Cube?
AFTER THE PARTY (PART 1) by Richard Calder
In this 'Nymphomaniad' we find ourselves lost in a kind of Ray Bradbury freeform surrealist story with a lot of fetishistic, consciously 'gothic' literary posturing that frankly reminds me of a lot of people dressed up as vampires in London Goth pubs trying, very awkwardly, to sound mysterious. I've been one. Mostly they end up doing the Marilyn Manson affectation of an enigmatic silence. I wish Richard Calder had decided to do the same. This story is a mess. Cat' is a 'Pornae' or low class prostitute in some kind of indeterminate alternate SALVATION FILMS version of Steampunk London who has been bred to sex slavery in a genetic sense and has penetrated an aristocratic whore's market disguised as a soiree in order to do something never quite clearly explained. Steal? Seduce? Scare off the punters? There are passages about Babylonian priestess-prostitutes, some incomprehensible gutter slang and something about inflating breasts that after awhile is embarrassing to keep reading. This is 'confessions of a Satanic Slut' trying to be Neil Gaiman. And there's more to come, slut-goddess help us!
BOY 12 by Jessica Reisman
Virtue Kana is the rogue runaway sister of a powerful and deadly nobleman who torments her by sending clones of her dead lover to her--as the story begins the twelfth appears, unaware of his own identity. Virtue is a fisher of deadly sea creatures called Brakfish on another world, hiding from her murderous sibling. Virtue has been engineered to be an assassin which instincts she resists continually and the hapless clone, not realising the cruel irony of his purpose, must also find his way through a labyrinth of terrifying inner conflict. He gradually realises he has been rigged to provoke Virtue to a killing of him (as she killed his original, her cherished lover), which would drive her back to her brother in psychological breakdown and let him reclaim her as an assassin. Boy 12 is a good, if rather predictable story. Virtue is both strong and vulnerable, but her relationship with the undeveloped clone character is too wary and since she is so strong and in control there is not sufficient equipoise between them to give the story real urgency. Although somewhat predictable, this is the work of a talented author.
WAX by Elizabeth Bear
The beautiful blonde Irish Garrett is an investigative sorceress in another alternative world, this time in a New Amsterdam (present day New York) ruled by colonial England. Why this name should have stayed is bizarre; considering the city was founded by the Dutch and the name changed when England originally took possession in the 17th century. If that sounds pedantic, I mention it because this story suffers throughout the rest of its narrative from the same kind of overpopulation of red-herrings and multiple 'MacGuffin' overload. The key to the mystery, involving candles, just doesn't work even in relationship to the magic milieu of the story, which fatally stalls its credibility. Although Garrett's character and dilemmas are well-drawn and the mystery has some genuinely haunting moments, there is just not enough there. Her colleagues like the potentially dangerous Don Sebastien and wannabe lovers are straight caricatures, the villains turn out to be the obvious ones, an oversimplified and unsatisfyingly bland CGI monster is the culprit and the whole mystery could have been condensed into a paragraph. It's a videogame ending to a possibly engrossing story and this author can do better.
THE MAGAZINE: A ROUNDUP OF THE REST
Interzone #201 gives a great general roundup of the science fiction world including a topical obituary page (I was moved to read of Don Adams, the immortal Agent 86 of Get Smart and of Robert Wise, one of the most interesting science fiction directors). The obligatory movie and television reviews are uniformly good, the book reviews of quality and I was left only wanting a few comic book reviews or profiles like something on Transmetropolitan or the last few 2000ADs. How about it, Gracious Editors!
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/$7US or £21/$42US for 6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).
Website: - www.ttapress.com
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