Interzone #212 Sep-Oct 2007

A last minute technical problem resulted in this issue having a completely b&w interior which, with a much less fussy layout of the stories, makes the issue look much more like Interzone of old. But what of the fiction I hear you say?

Douglas Elliott Cohen. Feelings of the Flesh.

Cohen is assistant editor of Realms of Fantasy, has been to a couple of writers workshops, and this is his first published story. Unfortunately, it rather shows it. It has a number of the faults often seen from novice writers – a germ of an idea that could/should have been finessed a bit more, striving a bit too hard here and there, and not quite having the confidence and experience that a more experienced writer would use to polish the story. But of course, best of luck to Douglas for getting such a long story published in Interzone. However, for my money, it’s a story that IZ should have sent back with some helpful advice, and a pointer to a couple of semi-prozine mags which would probably give the story a good home.

The central conceit sees an underclass of ‘Aberrates’, each of whom have enhanced abilities and vampiric qualities relating to one of the senses. The opening scene sees a group of said creatures, of the ‘Taster’ breed, who, having robbed a young woman of her sense of taste, use their newly improved taste to lay waste to a huge feast helpfully laid out for them. It feels a bit like a mashup of the troll scene from The Hobbit and the unpleasant giants from the BFG. There’s a glaring bit of writing that should have been red-pencilled by the editors : the use of the colloquial ‘divvied up’ to describe how the Aberrates share out the food. It would be out of place in dialogue, but in the narrative, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

There are some other awkward sentences, and there’s a lot of pell-mell action, descriptions of brutal acts (gore and brains being splattered about), shifts in perspective, and it just generally stands out as being written by an inexperienced author. Trust me – I read the opening column and then flicked to the short author details at the end, to confirm my initial guess. And as such, for my money (not that I paid for this copy, it being a generously donated review copy) it a story that is out of place in Interzone : whilst it’s good to see mags supporting new writers, but rather than publishing it, perhaps a few pointers on style and structure and other issues might have been a better option? Doubtless the IZ team are pressed for time, but in an ideal world the story could have gone back and forth a couple of times, been reduced in length, and been the better for it.

[well, duh! Having got to the bottom of this review, I was tootling about the web looking for something to clarify which of Aker’s stories were in his ‘Verizon’ series. And lo and behold I found a piece in which Interzone’s recent experience in requesting rewrites is discussed, and this is cited as one of the stories which was returned with a request for a rewrite, but for the story to be made longer. The story was duly resubmitted and the story accepted. Probably best for Cohen to persevere, get a bit fat fantasy book trilogy contract and film tie-in, and he can then do what he likes, how he likes, and tell the editors and reviewers to swivel! Not that he needs to bother : he’s got a story published in Interzone, so as far as he is concerned, he is perfectly entitled to simply meh this review!]

Gareth Lyn Powell. Ack-Ack Macaque.

A shorter story than Powell’s ‘The Last Reef’ in issue #206, which took my fancy, and which was the opening story on Best SF Presents. Here a manga comic book monkey makes the transition to TV and the web, but in doing so, the AI built into the website to make the titular monkey interactive, does rather too good a job. It transpires that the monkey is determined to act out in real life the adventures for which he is famous in comic book form : namely his aerial duel with Baron Von Richter Scale. So far so good, and the story could have been a sort of Rudy Ruckeresque gonzo one in which all manner of stuff happens. But what the story does, is to tie in this element as a means of throwing into relief the relationship between the creator of the monkey, and her boyfriend, whom she leaves for a media bod who turns the monkey into the media star he becomes.

The jilted boyfriend has a half-hearted suicide attempt, but his girlfriend comes back to him (but only when the media boyfriend leaves her). The two parts feel a slightly awkward match, and there’s an awful lot happening in four pages – I was surprised to have the story stop on me when it did.

Beth Bernobich. A Handful of Pearls.

Very much a story I would have expected to see in the sister magazine Black Static, or a horror mag. It’s set on another planet, and there are lots of unusual names (Yan, Kun Mar, Che, Bej Seihan), but otherwise has no sfnal elements, and is essential a story involving a scientific expedition to a remote island. Yan is the main protagonist, and we find out that he has a bit of history, and then we witness to him raping a semi-feral girl found on the island. He avoids capture by means of her escaping the camp before she can have the tongue (torn from her mouth some time in the past) restored to her and thus enabling her to tell of his crime.

Leaving aside the non-sfnal nature of the story, it doesn’t do much for me. Maybe I’m missing something? I don’t object to stories featuring child sexual abuse on a matter of principle, but I do feel the author has got to have a pretty damn good story to justify exploring this particularly horrible dark corner of human behaviour.

Will McIntosh. Dada Jihad.

Set in the ‘Soft Apocalypse’ setting of his story in issue #200. My brain has trouble remembering stuff from 10 minutes ago, let alone two years, so other than a near future urban milieu, I can’t comment on any direct links between the stories. It’s a particularly unpleasant near future, with eco-terrorists/freedom fighters doing their stuff, with little concern that a few will suffer in their attempt to improve things for the majority. A young woman in struggling to complete her PhD, as her means of getting a lift up and out of the dangerous life she is currently leading, whilst wondering just how far she will go to support the cause. She also has to decide how far she will go to curry favour with the lascivious academic who holds the key to her doctorate.

Tim Akers. The Algorithm.

Akers has appeared three times before in Interzone, and this is his fourth in his ‘Veridon’ sequence of stories. As with the previous story, unless it is pitched as a serialisation, with a catch up on previous installments at the beginning, it does of course have to be seen as a singleton. However, the only prob for me is that Akers makes such an intriguing background, of a society building a clockwork device from pieces salvaged from the river, sent downstream by a godhood, that you get to feel a little frustrated at not being au fait with the other stories in the sequence.

Other stuff:

  • David Langford’s Ansible Link
  • various short commendations on the 25th anniversary
  • cheezy advert for ‘Gorezone’, ‘the ultimate UK monthly horror magazine’ : heaven forbid that this should sit on the shelves next to IZ and give the general public that IZ is the equivalent of this title!
  • Nick Lowe has been busy at the cinema, reviewing : Goro Miyazaki’s ‘Tales from Earthsea’, ‘Evan Almighty’, ‘Shrek the Third’, ‘Fantastic Four : Rise of the Silver Surfer’, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, ‘Transformers’ (dude, you need to get out more)
  • Tony Lee reviews various DVDs ‘The Last Winter’, ‘Hercules’, ‘Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep’, ‘Kaw’, ‘Ergo Proxy’, ‘Frankenstein Bloody Nightmare’, ‘Space 1999’, ‘Star Trek Voyager’ (dude, you really need to get out more!)
  • John Clute reviews Richard Kadrey’s ‘Butcher Bird’, Peter Straub’s ‘Sides’
  • Kevin Stone reviews Charles Stross’ ‘the Atrocity Archive’ and ‘The Jennifer Morgue’ and there is a brief interview
  • Rick Kleffel reviews Peter F Hamilton’s ‘The Dreaming Void’
  • Jeff Prucher reviews ‘Brave New Worlds: the Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction’
  • Lara Buckerton reviews Dominika Dramus’ ‘Grave New World: the Decline of the West in the Fiction of JG Ballard’
  • Iain Emsley reviews Chris Roberson’s ‘Set the Seas on Fire’
  • Paul Kincaid reviews Jay Lake’s ‘Mainspring’
  • Paul Raven reviews Rudy Rucker’s Postsingular’
  • Paul Cockburn reviews Matthew Jarpe’s ‘Radio Freefall’
  • Peter Loftus reviews Adam Robert’s ‘Splinter’
  • Paul S. Jenkins reviews British podcasts

Conclusion.

Akers is the pick of the issue for me. Cohen and Bernobich are quite some way off tickling my fancy. It’s fascinating to watch Interzone building up its fiction portfolio, and guess who (if any?) of those authors beginning to appear regularly, will follow in the footstops of authors like Egan, Baxter, Reynolds, Stross in moving from appearing in this magazine to being Big Names. (Rather depressing for the current crop of writers is that the aforementioned Big Names had to put in many, many years before that status was achieved. The issue doesn’t suffer too much from being interally monochrome, and as ever a really nice cover, although my brain insists on seeing the person sporting a white afro tinged with green at the tips.

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