INTERZONE 215

Reviewed by Steve Redwood

Interzone 215 opens with the usual interesting collection of genre oddities in Ansible, followed by an excellent Andrew Hedgecock interview with Mike Carey, including reflections on the importance of place in novels, Carey's feeling (which I share) that civilization will not last much more than another hundred and fifty years, the special strengths of fantasy in tackling modern world issues, the importance of pitiless self-editing, and some fascinating insights into the skills needed for scripting comics such as Hellraiser and X-Men.

The fiction begins with The Endling by James Barras, an exciting story--perhaps--of a galactic war between two (or three?) alien species, with just a few humans, or bits (or even, in this case, bytes) of humans, or reconstituted humans, left after one of the alien races has 'murdered' our sun. The 'perhaps' is because in a complex story we have been left with so many gaps to fill in that the gaps are greater than the information we are given, except at the very end, which is too expository, and downright anti-climactic in terms of edges of seats being frayed by readers' bottoms. There is also too much invented terminology (unless that Tennant chappie has been remiss in his proof-reading) adding to readerly bemusement, as well as a lack of a central narrative focus as we skip from one group of characters doing things we don't understand to another group doing more things we don't understand. I'm sure a second reading would yield more, because I feel there is an excellent and wonderfully original story lurking within (for example, FTL spaceships made from seeds), but stories should hit home at once, irrespective of what further treasures may later come to light, because the reader usually only expects to read them once; and in that sense a reviewer (even an old fraud like myself) has, I think, a duty to give his or her first impressions.

I've never come across a less-than-excellent story by Patrick Samphire, and Dragonfly Summer proves to be no exception. It's what might be termed slipstream-in-reverse, and I cannot talk about the 'plot' except to say it concerns a windmill on an estuary where two couples twenty years earlier, when just out of their teens, would meet to pass their time together and make love. In fact, the plot by itself might seem just plain silly, but in this story it serves to express dramatically and painfully a tale of lost opportunities, or rather unrealised potential, symbolized by broken dragonfly bodies. My only tiny nit-pick is that the narrator is not quite consistent, an odd mixture of sensibility and brutishness.

Reading Greg Egan's Crystal Nights, at times I felt the same sense of wonder and excitement I used to feel decades ago when I first came across SF. I've never read any of Egan's books, all I knew was that he was a 'hard' SF writer, and I was mentally prepared to be bored, as I don't even understand really how a light bulb functions (I assume there's an alert homunculus inside with a candle)! And there were a lot of details in the story I simply knew nothing about, starting from the very beginning with FLOPS ratings, which apparently are quite the opposite of flops! But though the precise workings of the computational (and, later, subatomic physics) developments were a mystery, their effects were clear, and the creation (following a cruel natural selection process imposed by a creator not in himself cruel--an interesting touch) of AI in the Phites, and their progress, is every bit as intense and exciting--and real--as any detective story or thriller, or indeed as the history of the universe itself from the Big Bang to... well, I won't reveal that. Read the story; be thrilled. If fuzzy (yes, yes, it's a poor pun!) me got so much out of it, readers with a scientific background will get so much more: this is a master-class in how to avoid info-dump. And don't go expecting a hackneyed updating of the Frankenstein myth; this is a classic in its own right.

Quite a change of pace with Holding Pattern by Joy Marchand. This is a kind of feel-good story, even though all the passengers in a plane unable to land at LAX are doomed to die. Well, except one, who could escape, but who happens to be an alien, and in love with the stewardess, and who knows that they are caught in a time loop a la Groundhog Day in a pocket universe, and so he can theoretically be with the beloved stewardess for eternity. Backing up the main story are some character sketches of other passengers and their unsatisfactory relationships. It seem, however, that in every repetition of the holding pattern and subsequent crash, the stewardess is the only one who acts differently, and always to positive effect. When the alien offers her a way out, will she take it, though? A warm, satisfying, sad yet somehow positive story.

Although completely different in tone and purpose, Will McIntosh's Street Hero likewise finds some kind of solace in tragedy. A previous story in Interzone used the same setting, a near-future America where 'civilization' has begun to irremediably break down, a breakdown in part deliberately engineered by people ultimately seeking (perhaps) a better world. In this case, genetically-engineered giant bamboo is being spread in all the major cities, destroying communications, housing, and government in general. The story is narrated by a young man skilled in martial arts, a braggart, but with an innate idealism which seeks expression, first, in taking on the comic-book role of a kind of superhero (with unintentional and lethal consequences), then as a kind of 'warrior-sage', akin to Rousseau's noble savage. But events force him to become a real hero, something very different from what he has imagined... Despite the near-anarchy and violence, the first part of the story is fairly light-hearted in tone, but this later changes, and you may wish to put on gloves in the second part to avoid drawing blood when digging your nails into the palm of your hand.

I didn't enjoy Rudy Rucker's The Imitation Game in this Interzone as much as his (and Terry Bisson's) 2+2=5 in an earlier issue. It seems to keep very close to Alan Turing's real life and death, with the added ingredient of a secret meeting with a Greek lover (Turing was convicted of homosexuality at a time when it was illegal, and lost his security clearance, despite his vital work on Enigma during the War), and suggests that the body found in 1954 was not in fact Turing's. Perhaps for those more familiar with Turing's computational work, in particular his 'Imitation Game' itself, the story has meanings or resonances that I missed, and the fictional Turing's growing of an ear (and later a face) may be a logical extrapolation of his real work.

The magazine ends with book reviews (this time the 'year's best' selections by various Interzone reviewers), thoughtful and thought-provoking film reviews by the always excellent Nick Lowe, and wide-ranging DVD reviews by Tony Lee, who doesn't seem too impressed by many popular TV series (Farscape a 'pimped-up variation of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon'?? My god, a man impervious to Claudia Black??)

Though not the best Interzone ever, this issue is never less than interesting, and Crystal Nights in particular is one of the best stories ever to appear.

Interzone, edited by Andy Cox and team. Published bi-monthly by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, UK. A4, 68pp, £3.75/$7US or £21/$42US for 6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).

Website: - www.ttapress.com


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