The latest issue of Interzone (#225) offers a wide variety of stories catering to many tastes. You’ll get stories about superheroes, other dimensions, sky pirates, underground monsters, and witches. This variety naturally leaves open the possibility that not every story will be to a particular reader’s preferences. So it was with me. The longest story in the issue (“Bone Island” by Shannon Page & Jay Lake) was ultimately the kind of fantasy that is simply not my cup of tea. Other stories ranged from mediocrity to excellence – the latter provided by the one standout story in this issue: Colin Harvey’s “The Killing Streets”. This helped balance things a bit, resulting in a decent issue overall.
Following are my reviewlettes of the stories contained in this issue…which also contains several other non-fiction articles and features to round it out.
In Jason Sanford’s “Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows,” a new threat has befallen mankind. Other-dimensional beings known as “rippers” are stealing people from our world. The protagonist of this story, a firefighter whose wife was taken by a ripper, deals with this new threat, while also attempting to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter – who oddly has been secretly communicating with her a ripper for weeks. The rippers are an intriguing enemy(they appear as two-dimensional shadows that fear light) and as we learn a little more about them, we want to believe that they are not as harmful as they appear. This is perhaps because the story wisely focuses on the familial relationships of the characters. Anything else would beg too many questions and demand too many explanations, thus spoiling the effect of an otherwise marvelously engaging story.
Rebecca J. Payne’s “By Starlight” follows two female sky sailors as they try to avoid both their brethren and sky pirates. Immediately noticeable is Payne’s instantly digestible writing style, but several aspects of the story, while intriguing, seem undercooked. For example, the world building is quite interesting, but lacking in detail. (How is it, for example, are these ships able to be powered by nighttime starlight only, and not from sunlight which is the closest star?) The women’s relationship is drawn well, but their specific relationship with there former clan is murky. The immediate threats to them are clear enough, but they seem to be meandering through the skies without any purpose of destination. I’m left needing (and wanting) to know more.
I must admit being initially disappointed by Colin Harvey’s “The Killing Streets” as I immediately pegged this as a werewolf story based on the opening. I was wrong. The creatures in the story, the Snarks, are vicious, bio-engineered underground meat-eaters that were inadvertently released by protestors ten years before. Human death tolls get increasingly worse; the Snarks have the upper hand as they are amazingly fast, strong enough to burrow up through pavement, and were created to breed quickly. Now, people try to go about their daily lives without being killed, taking such measures as avoiding previous attack sites and walking with uneven rhythms (reminding one of the Fremen on Arakkis, I might add). One such bloke is Thom, a dissatisfied man who lives with a woman he doesn’t love (who may or may not work for the Big Brother that the government has become) and loves a woman he cannot afford. What’s interesting about this story is how my initial disappointment vanished completely when the intriguing Dystopian setting, which serves as background for Thom’s personal life (including a dependent aunt), gives way to a gripping confrontation. Good stuff.
“Funny Pages” by Lavie Tidhar is a modern-day take on superheroes and villains in the Middle East. Tidhar’s staccato prose delivery gives us portraits of good guys and bad guys amidst a diabolical plot to use an iron hand to force world leaders towards peace. Any corny superhero tropes one would expect are intruded upon by reality as the disillusioned characters deal with everyday issues of purpose, economics (crime pays more than heroism – an obvious realization made blatantly obvious here) and emotions (a relationship between a hero and villain? Gasp!). A good story overall, but lacking some character depth which would have lent import to the story.
“Bone Island” by Shannon Page & Jay Lake was a bit of an exercise. It’s basically about sister witches competing for power on an ancient island. Try as I might, I can’t really expand on that because nothing much actually happens. There’s another character, Cary Palka, who has inherited a family duty that must be carried out with a bloody axe – and while this does add an interesting element to the story (and is like a lighthouse toward an expected ending), it’s not enough to overcome prose that is so occupied with spinning mystique that it forgets to balance characters and plot.