It’s easy to forget that the numerous “Year’s Best” anthologies don’t paint the whole picture in terms of what’s getting published. The stories have to come from somewhere, right? One of those places in Interzone magazine, now up to issue #224 and under the Editorial leadership of Andy Cox and Andy Hedgecock.
This is the first issue of Interzone I’ve read [smacks self on head] and I’m surprised by how strong an issue this is — surprised because an average anthology is not usually this good. Why? The quality of fiction is subjective, of course, and some stories are thus less entertaining — this is the nature of the anthology, or any collection of stories. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Such variety is useful in expanding reading boundaries. What’s remarkable is that this particular collection of stories tickles my brain in all the right ways.
Following are my reviewlettes of the stories contained in this issue…which also contains several other articles and features to round it out.
“Sublimation Angels” by Jason Sanford is at once a tribute to Fritz Leiber’s awesome story “A Pail of Air” (see my review) and a marvelous world-building story in its own right. It takes place on the planet Eur whose oxygen atmosphere (like in Leiber’s story) is frozen on the ground as the planet travels away from its sun. The planet was a gift (maybe) from the enigmatic light-beings known as the Aurals, who float around the planet while a contingent of humans have lived underground for centuries. The humans must continually mine the surface of frozen air if they are to survive. The novella’s narrative follows Chicka, who struggles with some basic life questions that are forbidden to be asked in the strict society controlled by those few in power (the “moms”). What follows is a captivating story about freedom, rebellion, and seeking the truth. It’s wonderfully told and elicits the right reactions from the reader as the narrative barrels forth to its satisfying ending. Well done.
“No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow & Rachel Swirsky is a fantasy story about an ex-dancer named Simon, recently dumped by his girlfriend, who meets a mysterious woman named Aviva. There’s something entrancing about this story’s prose. The way it’s written draws you inside the narrator’s mind, experiencing life from his point of view. But then the story makes a questionable jump into the fantastic. In what is only loosely described, Aviva appears to be a member of the Tomid, a group of (perhaps immortal) Jews who seek to preserve their culture. The way they do this is by (somehow) absorbing others, merging consciousnesses. Er, OK. Here’s where my aversion for this type of do-what-you-want-without-explanation fantasy kicked in. And it was just something Simon took in stride, no questions, just agreement. The end result? While the writing and the characters were a definite attraction, that fantastical plot jump served to turn me away.
“Shucked” is Adrian Joyce’s first published story, and it’s a good one. Kevin, a computer programmer, is burning the midnight oil trying to solve a software bug. Fueled by frequent trips to the super-advanced, Internet-connected coffee machine, Kevin barely notices the frequent spam messages he sees everywhere (including the coffee machine). Those same messages are somehow connected to the dark shadow that emerges in the quiet company tower — a supernatural event that affects both Kevin and the overnight security guard (and, oddly, the coffee machine). While the story leaves questions unanswered (Just what is the manifestation?) it does make for a nice, eerie blend of science fiction and horror.
Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Godfall’s Chemsong” portrays the strange culture of deep sea creatures who are sensitive to chemical emission and form “pod” families. Muskblue is the weakest sister of her pod, frequently denied food and status. When she receives a gift from the heaven’s (known as godfall; in this case a dead human diver), she must decide: bring the bounty to her pod Mother for all to enjoy or keep it for herself and risk death? There’s some intriguing world building here, nicely accomplished through relatively few words. The plot has some meaty themes (survival, betrayal, independence) which make the resolution seems underdeveloped by comparison. However, Muskblue’s plight makes her sympathetic and the portrayal of this strange culture lends it significant weight.
Chris Butler’s “The Festival of Tethselem” involves a pair of thieves who con their way into a village, home of a mysterious statue know and the Figure of Frozen Time. Legend has it that to steal the statue will change thousands of years of history, but these career criminals chalk that up to superstition. As if that wasn’t a good enough hook to keep the reader interested, Butler’s swift-moving prose expertly conveys the weight of the mystery and the surprising truth behind the well-drawn characters. This was enjoyable from start to a finish that left a loose end or two.