The latest issue of Interzone (#229) offers, as usual, an assortment of tasty speculative fiction morsels. Inside its glossy color pages you’ll find stories about a scientist experimenting with cloning in a steampunk alternate history; a mysterious, culturally-accepted way of forgetting bad memories; a caretaker of an artificial intelligence who cares perhaps a little too much; a robot resembling a young girl that struggles to adapt while living amongst humans; and a military team that operates undercover as an orchestra to quell rebellion. While all stories offer something worthwhile, the 2 standout stories are “Mannikin” by Paul Evanby and “Candy Moments” by Antony Mann, each one succeeding in transcending its plot and offering some deeper meaning that adds to its enjoyment.
The issue also includes its regular features of book and film reviews, news bits, and an interview. In this issue, Jeff VanderMeer offers a revealing look into his writing. These are worthwhile bonus items, to be sure, but it’s the fiction that’s the perpetual draw of Interzone — reviews of which follow the jump…
Paul Evanby combines alternate history, cloning and a small dash of steampunk to wonderful effect in “Mannikin”. It takes place on the Dutch island of Saint Eustatius against the backdrop of the formation of the United States, or more specifically, against the British desire to win the American Revolution. Enter Kilian Caduceusz, a scientist hired by a Dutch trading company (who makes a tidy profit selling arms to the Americans) to create an army of clone soldiers called “manikins”. Evanby offers some excellent world building here, augmented by interesting theories on the origins of life via germination. But just as the story finds its footing and heads toward its final conflict, it gets momentarily derailed amidst the appearance of “wifikins” – female clones based on a different philosophy of life. The subsequent goings-on is what deflates the otherwise very cool premise, that is thankfully redeemed by some ensuing discussion of ethics and slavery.
In “Candy Moments” by Antony Mann, Joe Becker is an alcoholic who drinks to forget about the death of his wife. But there’s a better way to forget the pain of bad memories: The Hub Station, a mysterious building where people leave without the memories that haunt them – and without any memory of the procedure itself. Some people oppose the Hub Station, like Molly, a lawyer who Joe meets and whose sister’s addiction to Hub Station has turned her into an emotionless “slate”. The parallels between alcoholism and memory erasure add depth to an already-wonderful buildup of tension as Joe considers the Hub as a replacement for his drinking. The result is a tightly-constructed, highly entertaining story.
Toby Litt’s “The Melancholy” is delivered as a status report from Chandi Kane, an engineer on the maintenance team of a software entity called 13-13. These applications are beamed off-planet to perform some task, then are beamed back to Earth and housed in a tank where their experiences and data can be studied. Chandi develops a liking for 13-13, not altogether unreasonable in that we have seen anthropomorphism of robots/AI before. But what is odd is how the ability to copy software is hastily dismissed as an option for retaining 13-13’s vanishing identity as the upkeep of her tank affects it adversely.
Author Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s experiences as an expatriate are leveraged in her story “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life”. An experimental human-looking robot named Alternate Girl feels a disconnect between her new matronly role amongst humans and her place in Metaltown, a seemingly forgotten area ruled by the Mechanic where robots are exiled until their lifespan ends. Alternate Girl’s connection to Metaltown is rooted in the feelings she has for her father – feelings which much be reconciled if she is to survive. This story works, though mostly it’s on an emotional level as the world building seems a bit too vague, or at least drawn too late in the story.
It took a while to get a handle on “Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Matter” by Jim Hawkins. It concerns an elite military team posing as an orchestra whose cultural exchange mission to faraway colonies serve as cover for their true mission: to keep those colonies from rebelling against and leaving the Commonwealth. Told from the perspective of two officers, Mike and Cherry, the picture painted is intricately drawn (though vaguely at first) and infused with meta-fictional commentary, for example on politics, health care and critics. That commentary was less enjoyable than the military thrust of the story, which included cool things like subliminal training, the control the commanders have over the soldiers, and all sorts of imaginative weapons.