Interzone #208 January/February 2007

Jason Stoddard. Softly Shining in the Forbidden Dark.

A far future drama with a strange cast. Kim is an ancient human, making a return trip to the planet Manoa as a virtual self, after the immense suffering caused by the Ascendant, and Dark Life, on her previous trip to the planet. She is joined by the younger Aztlan Junno, a dark-skinned/golden eyed creature suffering the pain of loss of his love, who lossed challenged his belief in I-Pointer, that something which carries beyond the mortal frame. The are far from Earth, both separated from the deep quantum communication of the Grid, and on the planet below them is Purest Melody, a fractal creature which knows only self and the loss of self through shearing, and for whom the sound of the Concert is the only form of communication.

And the fourth party is the Ascendant, whose Dark Life begins making inroads in the many self-defense layers surrounding Kim and Junno and who attempts to embrace both them and Purest Melody. The tension builds as the Ascendant’s attempts to talk/war with the others.

This is Stoddard’s third appearance in Interzone, following his Wining Mars/Saving Mars stories (#196 and #200 respectively), and its a good stab at a complex, far future scenario.

G.D. Leeming. Empty Clouds.

A first published short story of two halves. The first part features a combat and chase sequence in which Inspector Chen, in the desert outside Bejing, seeks out some young people who have succumbed to a religious mania. Whilst chasing one who has fled further into the dry waste, Chen comes across an older man, who is dedicating himself to bringing rain to the arid area. There is a danger therein, as the clouds into which his rain-triggering missile is targetted are clouds which are infested with rogue nano-tech which has been acting beyond its programming to deter acts of aggression on the surface. A conversation between the two is the latter part of the story.

It’s an interesting setup, but four pages is hardly enough to do it justice. Hugely unfair to make this comparison I know, but Ian McDonald’s ‘River of Gods’ novel and his stories in that milieu show what a very experienced writer can do with a sort of similar setting.

To start with Leeming tries a touch too hard, especially in an adjective-peppered opening couple of paragraphs (a ‘chrysalid sky’, ‘scarred concrete buildings’, and a wind ‘pregnant with fines’ mark the opening few sentences).

The story could have done with either greater length, or focussing more on either part of the story, or more on the cloud itself.

Jay Lake. Where the Water Meets The Sky.

A short piece set in the mid-21st Century, when a father and son find some native American mythology pertinent to the present ecological predicament. A sort of update of Lou Reed’s The Great American Whale.

Paul Meloy. Islington Crocodiles.

Meloy featured a number of times, to great acclaim, in The 3rd Alternative, Interzone’s sister magazine. The sister hasn’t been seen for a while, and repeated assurances about her reappearance are now about as convincing as Norman Bates’ assurances that his mother will be down shortly ;-).

There’s a strong sense of deja-vu about this story, having read his ‘Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow’ in TTA 42. This story, as that one, has two halves. In this one a very dodgy group of geezers is portrayed, particularly Ray Cade (think ‘Ray Winstone’), a true psycho/sociopath, and his group of minions.

We follow Steve’s relationship with him, as he tries to distance himself from the increasingly bizarre behaviour, with Steve’s position more risky as he’s set up with Ray’s sister.

There’s some Arthurian legend mumbo-jumbo (as opposed to an sfnal conceit), and things begin to go pear-shaped on a trip to Brighton (home to the previous editorialship of IZ). Out of nowhere the landlords of Ray’s flat turn up (having been mentioned in passing just once) and turn into slobbering cthulhian horrors.

Steve’s girlfriend is suddenly menaced by a knife-wielding assassin, with a bit of comic/movie gruesomeness – a neighbour is knifed through the head in a way that can only happen in those settings. And as Steve tries to flee London, with the autoscopes sprouting into the sky, the story is explained to him by Plummer, with one Jon Index from the previous story turning up.

As before the first part of the story is very much to my liking, the characterisations, dialogue and settings all ringing very true. The second part of the story, is, as before, less successful, again seeming to have more of a visual dramatic feel to it. It just feels a little ‘Torchwood’ to me – that is to say, a fast-paced tv drama that masquerades as SF but is really lacking in true sfness.

The story concludes with a glimpse to the bigger picture, which will keep me on the lookout for the next installment, but having had two introductory stories, I’ll be looking for a big step forward with the plot next time.

Alexander Marsh Freed. The Star Necromancers.

A second, Far future SF story – the visiting Star Necromancers give the Gloriarch an opportunity to have her glory shine across the galaxy. But there are those amongst her subjects who object to this solar glorification.

Other stuff

  • Nick Lowe’s ‘Mutant Popcorn’ reviews ‘The Prestige’, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘The Host’
  • Iain Emsley reviews Neil Gaiman’s ‘Fragile Things’ and Susanna Clarke’s ‘The Ladies of Grace Adieu’, and the two authors give their thoughts on short story writing
  • Peter Loftus reviews GW Dahlquist’s ‘The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters’
  • Kevin Stone reviews Charlie Huston’s ‘Already Dead’
  • Andy Hedgecock reviews ‘The British Fantasy Society : a Celebration’ edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan
  • Rudy Rucker reviews ‘Mathematicians in Love’
  • Paul F. Cockburn reviews ‘Salon Fantastique : Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy’ edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
  • Tony Lee reviews Alastair Reynolds’ ‘Galactic North’
  • Juliet McKenna reviews Hannu Rajaniemi’s ‘Words of Birth and Death’
  • John Howard reviews HG Wells’ ‘Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia’
  • Peter Tennant reviews Neil Asher’s ‘Polity Agent’ and ‘The Culled’

Conclusion

Stoddard and Meloy provide the two substantial stories in the issue, the former very much trad SF, the latter very much more contemporary.

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