As much as I like reading short fiction, I currently do not subscribe to any short fiction magazines. I’ve scooped up a bunch of old Asimov’s, F&SF and Analog issues that I’ve run across in used bookstores, but that’s about the whole of my experiences with magazine fiction. Thus the reaction to my first Interzone magazine (#209) was one of wide-eyed surprise. Full size! Full Color! Cool artwork!
OK, John. Settle down. Slowly flip through the pages…
Besides the short fiction (reviewed below), the features of the 25th Anniversary issue include interviews with Hal Duncan and Kim Stanley Robinson, book and movie reviews, David Langford’s Ansible Link column and memories of Interzone by well-known authors. All good features, to be sure, but here the focus is on the fiction.
So how were the stories? The issue is fantasy heavy (usually a hit-or-miss genre for me) and tended toward the literary end of the spectrum. Overall, the stories are good but a couple of them left a lukewarm impression. The strongest one here is “The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter” by Alastair Reynolds, one of my favorite authors (adjust for obvious bias) who provides the most SFnal story of all entries. But is this a representative sampling of fiction that is published by Interzone? Future issues will tell.
Leading off the fiction section is Hal Duncan’s novella “The Whenever at the City’s Heart“, set in the world of his Book of All Hours duology, Vellum and Ink, neither of which I have read. The story is as structured as I know the books to be: here, 13 windows into the slow destruction of the city, each one ending in the ominous chime of DOOM. And, from what I have seen of the books, the writing is similar as well. The prose is pure poetry, allusive alliterations, singing, swaying on the page waiting to be absorbed and absolved into the parchment of your psyche — you get the idea. In other words, this is Literary with a capital “L” but the emphasis is on the language, not the plot or characters.
“Winter” by Jamie Barras gives readers an alternate history that diverged from our own when viral technology was unleashed during World War II. A faction of super-humans known as the “Wintermen” are credited with creating a memory-transferring virus that also increases longevity. After disappearing among the stars for over forty years, they come back to Earth for reasons unknown. Dr. Manfred Christian is sent to find out why. The story alternates between 1953 and 1998 and slowly unravels the interesting history that might have been more useful at the beginning. When the complete story is finally laid out, we’re left with something whose unforthcoming beginnings betray its overall likeability.
In M. John Harrison’s “The Good Detective“, the narrating detective finds people who have gone missing. He doesn’t find the “normal ones” but instead the ones who “go missing in their own lives”. In other words, the man he is tasked with finding in this particular story is not physically missing, just lost in his own humdrum life. The writing here, too, sits firmly on the literary side of the scale, but its poetic phrasing couldn’t save the wisps of plot that kept this story from working for me.
For the novella “Big Cat“, Gwyneth Jones returns to the setting of her Bold as Love novels, which I have not read (Gosh, I really need to read more!) but is described as a music-influenced, near-future story dealing with issues of gender, politics and environmental concerns. What seems to be clear is that social unrest and environmental payback have resulted in a kind of pre-apocalyptic vibe that permeates this story. It blends elements of fantasy and horror as the characters – stewing in their own personal histories – track down the missing carcass of a wolf, the prey of an impossibly big cat. There’s a sense in this story that it builds on the personal histories portrayed in the books. Had I read them, I might have enjoyed more than just the interesting surface story and easygoing writing style.
Alastair Reynolds always seems to find the right kind of story to satisfy my SFnal tastes. In “The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter“, which seems at first to be set in some low-tech past century, we follow innocent, young Kathrin on a moneymaking trip to help support her struggling family. She intends to sell a couple of hogs’ heads to an old woman suspected of being a witch. But the story behind Widow Grayling’s past is as misunderstood as the history of Earth itself. It’s really set about 300 years into the future after a global “Great Winter”, and the facts of years gone by have devolved to myths and legends: the Sherriff who used to fly; the road of iron that reached all the way to London; the scary-sounding jangling men… Kathrin learns the truth about Earth’s past and simultaneously takes on a heavy burden. This highly satisfying story strongly hints about the more immediate future of Kathrin (giving a letch his due) and the maturity with which she takes on the responsibility. Great stuff. The potential for future stories set in this world leaves me wanting more.
The author protagonist of “Tears for Godzilla” by Daniel Kaysen has an inventive imagination indeed. While meeting his longtime crush after a ten year respite, he devises any number of outcomes, including a Zombie B-movie scenario. But his escapist fantasies are merely walls he builds around himself out of fear of failure. Kaysen does a good job at representing those fears with his own inventiveness and clear prose, but the story needed to be a bit more grounded in reality.
The issue also mention the freely-downloadable novella “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Edward Morris.
See also: JP’s review.