If there could ever be an anomaly among the varied selection of stories in any given science fiction magazine where every story is above average, then issue #231 of Interzone is it. Each and every story in this issue is full of wondrous ideas that are tightly wrapped up in stories that are thought-provoking and/or contemplative. And every one of them is quite good – better than randomness would dictate.
Chalk that up to fine editing and great fiction. In this “Jason Sanford” issue, the author offers no less than 3 excellent stories that sit comfortably aside other worthy offerings from Matthew Cook and Aliette de Bodard. Although all of the stories in this issue were excellent, it was Sanford’s “Peacemaker, Peacemaker, Little Bo Peep” that stands out even more, offering a shocking premise of protected vs. protector that was immensely enjoyable.
The issue of Interzone includes its regular staple of book and film reviews, news bits, plus an illuminating interview with Jason Sanford himself. These non-fiction articles are bonus gravy for the meaty fiction in this issue, reviews of which follow the jump…
Matthew Cook’s “The Shoe Factory” is a whirlwind stream-of-consciousness narrative. The narrator’s experiences alternate mainly between his past experiences with his lover, another young resident in a dilapidated China, and his current predicament: assessing the damage to his ship as it hurtles towards certain doom. To its credit, the switches in setting are fluid yet easy to detect, giving a sense of the story’s beautiful craftmanship. It feels slow to start, but characterizations are swift and effective, quickly eliciting sympathy in the reader as the truth of the past and the current danger grow ever closer.
“The Shipmaker” is set in the space age of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya continuity where China discovered America. I haven’t read the other stories, but if they’re like this one, they are appealingly steeped in culture. Here, a designer (Dac Kien) of a living ship is under pressure to complete her work before a foreigner Mexica woman gives birth to the human/machine hybrid that will act as the ship’s mind. It’s an interesting concept and one that offers a thoughtful parallel Dac’s life; specifically regarding her choices of a “less than noble” profession and regarding a same-gender relationship which means not propagating her lineage, a cultural shame for she which compensates by “birthing” these living ships.
Jason Sanford’s “Peacemaker, Peacemaker, Little Bo Peep” leverages a sheep/wolves/sheepdog metaphor to explore what happens when a mysterious dream drives everyday, law-abiding citizens (the metaphorical sheep) to ironically murder people who normally use violence; in this case that means both criminals (the metaphorical wolves) and the police (sheepdogs). Beginning with the tense opening scene of a mass execution, this violence scenario is used to good effect, leading to situations that are appropriately shocking. There’s also tension in the relationship between narrator Ellen, a deputy of the small town police department, and Victor, the serial killer with whom she forms an uneasy alliance. There’s a small amount of hand-waving as to the cause of the sudden outbreak, but that’s not the point of the story: it’s an exploration of violence and the relationship between citizen, criminal and protector. Great stuff all around and a job well done.
Sanford’s second entry, “Memoria,” is another story that is built around an interesting, mind-warping premise. Travel between parallel Earths is dangerous because our version of Earth is surrounded by a barrier populated by the ghosts of dead people. These ghosts inhabit the minds of the crews that attempt to cross the barrier, wreaking havoc with their identities as old memories are eliminated and new ones are created in their place. To protect the crew, prisoners are enlisted to act as shields in exchange for their freedom, sacrificing their identities by offering themselves willingly to the ghosts. But the crew of this story encounters something rare: a supremely evil ghost that threatens the entire ship and the lives of everyone aboard. It takes some time to decipher this heavy premise, and that makes the opening paragraphs a struggle to get through. But once established, the story is much more enjoyable (despite one distracting element: the narrator’s latest ghost is that of comedian Andy Kaufman) morphing from imaginative science fiction adventure to a tense sf horror story. (I also note: regarding the ghosts possession aspect, I was reminded of the horror components of Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.)
The futuristic setting of Sanford’s “Millisent Ka Plays in Realtime” is a musical fiefdom where the currency is time. Services are paid for through servitude to the Lord whose wife, a geneticist named Lady Amanza Collins, developed a chromosome that tracks that debt. Shortly after Millisent Ka’s birth, Lady Amanza bets the Lord that Millisent is destined for great things, and readers soon learn why. This is another one of those “what if?” scenarios that puts an interesting spin on economics (I’m reminded of the meritocracy of Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) to explore some interesting scenarios. The thrust of the story is Millisent’s gift, which nicely builds up to a dramatic scenario, and only slightly falters when Millisent’s final plan seems to fizzle after the Lord surprisingly does something out of character.