Interzone offers, as usual, a variety of fiction in issue #226. Inside you’ll find a woman whose skin predicts the name of dead sailors, a post-nuclear London, a tale of revenge on Triton, asteroid miners who discover something unexpected, a brief glimpse into the future of parenthood, and the fate of warring space colonists. Despite this variety — which odds would dictate encountering something unpalatable – every story in this issue was quite enjoyable, though naturally to varying degrees. There were two standout stories in this issue: Mercurio D. Rivera’s “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” and Rachel Swirsky’s “Again and Again and Again”.
Following are my reviewlettes of the stories contained in this issue…which also contains several other non-fiction articles, reviews, artwork and other features to fill its glossy color pages.
There’s a strange force at work in the seaside town of Windspur, the setting for Jason Sanford’s story “Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas”. It manifests itself in Amber Tolester whose skin crawls with the names of sailors doomed to be killed at sea. The hotter they burn, the more imminent the danger. This has made Amber something of a supernatural freakshow and an outcast to many of the townsfolk, which explains why Amber does not like her ability. When a stranger named David Sahr arrives in town, he brings yet another strange vision: a daguerreotype showing alternate visions of Amber’s (and his) future. A fantastical premise, to be sure, and thus my ambivalence towards fantasy kicked in. There are too many questions about the cloudy nature of Amber’s abilities, like why is she surprised that she can change fate when she’s already seen it can happen? If she leads such a tortured life, why doesn’t she just move away from Windspur? For that matter, why don’t the sailors whose names adorn her skin? Fantasy elements like this are supposed to be taken on faith, of course. As it is, the primary driving point of this story is how Amber (finally) learns to use her abilities to change the fate of the sailors and deal with the increasing threat Sahr poses to her and the townspeople.
Tyler Keevil paints a bleak post-nuclear London in “Hibakusha”, a first-person narrative of a volunteer who is searching for more than a few salvageable art pieces in a museum close to ground zero. The narrator’s voice successfully conveys his weariness, and with good reason: he’s volunteered to enter the hot zone more often than safety dictates and already suffers from radiation poisoning. The author does a superb job at portraying this depressing environment and presents an intriguing mystery to boot. Yet the ending, while suitably poignant, lacked the punch that matched the wonderful build-up.
Mercurio D. Rivera’s “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” is a captivating story of revenge on the Neptunian moon of Triton. Alien technology has opened up space colonization for humans, the enigmatic white-skinned Wergens asking mainly for human companionship in return. This sets a wondrous stage on which to play out Rivera’s story, the plot of which pulls you along as each new facet of the story unfolds to its appropriately bittersweet conclusion.
A trio of remote asteroid miners discover a valuable artifact in Jay Lake’s “Human Error”. While this would normally be good news, it isn’t for two reasons: the company to which they are indentured makes it unlikely they could cash in by following the rules, and the death of their fourth teammate has driven one of them towards insanity and possibly misdirected revenge. This is a dramatic premise that Lake peppers with excellent descriptions of weightless mechanics, though the resolution seems a bit of an anti-climax.
Rachel Swirsky lets loose a cavalcade of ideas in her super-short story “Again and Again and Again”. It depicts several generations of a family and the everyday tech that kids use to rebel against their parents. A single conceit taken to a quick, entertaining extreme.
Stephen Gaskell’s “Aquestria” serves up a very enticing back story. The population of a generation starship has divided into two factions: The Loyalists, who would like to stick to their ancestors’ original plan of colonization, and the Senastrians, who rebel against this ancient thinking and offer freedom to those who would join their cause. Escalating tension caused a premature end to their journey when they decided to settle on the planet called Aquestria, which seems to have a history of its own. Tensions remain, however, with each faction relegated to different parts of the only livable continent. In this setting, two members of Senastrian Special Investigations stumble upon a mute witness who may or may not be on their side. Alas, what could have raised the stakes of the nifty premise by focusing on the warring factions amidst the decaying planet (and subsequently enhanced the unexpected ending) is instead taken in a less-interesting direction when one of the characters attaches herself to the witness with unjustified cause.