I’m continually amazed at the consistently high production quality of Interzone with its big, glossy color pages and fine artwork. It begs to be picked up, flipped through and consumed. Why aren’t all magazines like this? You’re saying: Sure, but what about, y’know, the fiction? Lest you go thinking it’s all glitz and no substance, know that the too-few issues of Interzone I’ve read have proven it to be a venue for high-quality fiction overall. The issues are also nicely rounded out with an assortment of useful review columns and features. (This particular issue features an informative interview with legend Gene Wolfe.)
Speaking of said fiction, issue #228 offers a nice variety of speculations, including stories about a literally-divided country, an unlikely team of exiles in space, an art thief with an amazing talent and a drowned world. However, it’s Jason Sanford’s “Plague Birds” that’s the standout story, serving up world building meaty enough to sink your teeth into.
Reviews of the fiction follow the jump…
Read the title of Mario Milosevic’s story “The Untied States of America” closely, and you’ll see the premise. It occurs nearly seven decades after the individual states in the U.S. have been physically separated from another, each one becoming an independent state floating in the ocean. The narrative is told from the point of view of Susie, an elderly woman in Washington state who acts as a border watcher, scanning the seas from a high cliff (once separated, each land mass rose up) looking for other states. When Susie sees a man in a boat headed her way, she pines even more for her son who left years before on a similar journey. This is a strange post-apocalyptic setting but once you get past the hard-to-believe premise, the personal story of Susie is touching, if a bit unresolved.
“Iron Monk” by Melissa Yuan-Innes follows a group of exiles-turned-astronauts on a mission to contact aliens at the outskirts of the galaxy. When the crew – particularly a young boy – begins experiencing symptoms of radiation sickness, hard decisions must be made about the future. While this story has all the proper elements to enjoy it (setting, characters, and conflict) it seems that none of them were fully fleshed out to maximize their inclusion, thus resulting in a story that’s good but not living up to its potential.
Devid D. Levine’s “A Passion for Art” concerns a mystery at a Chicago art museum where a security consultant is called in to investigate the disappearance of priceless works of art. The protagonist is trying to amend for past failures and this case could be the one that sets his life back on the right track. As murder mysteries go, there’s never any question as to the culprit; the allure instead revolves around the means of the theft, which is what makes this story fantastical. Combined with the personal situation of the likable narrator and the story’s resolution, “A Passion for Art” is a wonderfully constructed, pleasant read that could easily double as a lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
Jason Sanford’s “Plague Birds” unapologetically dives right into a well-conceived setting that takes place several millennia after the advent of genetic engineering. Playing God has resulted in humanity’s descendants being human/animal hybrids struggling to control their animal side. Cristina de Anne is a young girl/wolf whose village is watched over by a benevolent AI named Blue. Blue, like all village AIs, has a long term plan to return humanity to its pure human form. Yet the villagers also live in fear of the Plague Birds, humans who hold loose control over the malevolent AIs within their own bloodstreams — AIs which act as judge and jury to the human/animals who threaten the uneasy balance of the existing social order. This setup provides some interesting dramatic tension, particularly when the Plague Bird known as Derena asks for Cristina’s assistance in meeting with a rival band of Hunters. The author uses these well-conceived elements to outstanding effect, serving up a world building mystery that challenges readers while simultaneously engaging them with the tension-filled plot. Like his “Sublimation Angels,” “Plague Birds” is a great example of how Sanford expertly blends world building and storytelling. In fact, he makes it look easy. Well done.
“Over Water” by Jon Ingold concerns Hawnish islanders who have had enough succumbing to tribute demands by the nearby Polyph islanders. In this drowned-world scenario (embellished with the narrator’s coming-of-age story), hope for a peaceful future may lie in hidden The Library of Future Knowledge. Of course, the reader knows this to be a place that reveals recorded history, which seems to have been completely forgotten in this future. It seems like there is much more to be learned about this setting, the exclusion of which somewhat hampers full engagement with the story, but as a standalone glimpse, it serves its purpose.