Interzone #242, September-October 2012

A meatier thump on the doormat, and a few moments confusion. The brown envelope and the sender’s label meant that it could only be one thing – the latest Interzone. But it was a much smaller envelope than the usual A4 one, and what lay within was much thicker than Interzone has ever been. What drama for a Saturday morning!

If I’d spent any time on the TTA Press website I would of course have known that a redesign was in place and what lay within was this new version, smaller in two dimensions and larger in two others (smaller in height and width, but larger in thickness and content).

It looks exactly as it used to in terms of presentation, and holding it gives you (or at least, it gave me) the sensation of reading it with much, much longer arms (ie it looked much further away than normal).

So, with smaller pages, but half as many pages as usual, the content is the same inside, but there are six stories. And for the moment, before I read them, I will not here that the authors are Debbie Urbanksi, Ken Liu, Priya Sharma, C.W. Johnson, Karl Bunker and Lavie Tidhar.

More anon. It’s the final episode of the re-run Heartland tonight, and episode 1 of Heartland s2 tomorrow, so that’s a couple of hours that I could have spent reading. And so far today a cycle ride, a beer festival and a visit to a garden centre have got in the way of any reading. Only 7.5yrs to retirement – just wait until March 2020 and Best SF will really start kicking short SF reviewing ass…

Debbie Urbanski. Wonder

An effective story that looks at change through the eyes of young boy. Uprooted from the family home when his mother takes him and his brother away, leaving their father behind. Trying to settle in a new community, trying to make sense of his mother and her telephone calls, and her employment. Trying to make sense of the alien ‘blues’ who have arrived on Earth. Urbanski writes well and gets across emotion and the feel of the confusion, but with little narrative or explanation, also leaving the reader in that same uneasy sense of not quite understanding, not quite grasping, trying to make sense.

Ken Liu. The Message.

A second story this year from Liu which is more straight SF than his usual stories and which similarly doesn’t quite reach the heights that his other stories reach. Earlier this year was his The People of Pele in Asimoves which I felt covered already previously well-covered sf regolith, and ditto this.

The set up in this story is quick and simple : a xeno-archeologist has had to hurry to pick up his daughter, who he has never met, having been born after his wife, her mother, left him. The wife/mother is now dead and he has to take on the parental role. He has her with him as they descend to a planet, whose xeno-architectural treasure trove is about to be obliterated by the multiple comet strikes the terraformers have aimed at the planet.

There are two questions to be answered : can the two build a relationship, and can they decipher the message evidently set out in the ancient ruin he has been exploring. There is a table of data presented in the story (not having read Analog for a year or two, it’s quite a while since I read a story with this kind of presentation – I’m guessing there is enough data in the table to provide readers of a scientific bent to guess the message), and the story doesn’t quite work for me as it relies on the couple not having with them some very basic science kit (that exists today) that you would expect anyone exploring an alien planet would have access to, and which would have made the ending quite different.

Unlike many of his other stories that’s pretty much all there is to the story, whereas he often delivers much more complicated, detailed stories. If you want a very straightforward piece of SF adventure, fine enough.

Priya Sharma. Needlepoint.

Courtly intrigue in medieval Albion, with a touch of alternate history. One of the ladies in waiting, a seamstress, falls afoul of the Queen, who needles her, and her own revenge is pointed.

C.W. Johnson. Beyond the Light Cone.

Excellent hard SF from Johnson, that has a strong narrator and interpersonal interplay and characterisation and psychology on top of the science and technology.

“O my Boyo, my love, my son” the story starts, intriguingly. The story is being told by a mother, to her son (don’t read on much ahead if you don’t want to have your future enjoyment of the story spoiled – if you like short SF then get ahold of this issue).

The setting is an interesting one, humans playing a role in transmitting data across the galaxy, working on spaceships that due to the nature of the task cut off their crew, forever, from the rest of humanity. I’m guessing Johnson would have ideally inserted a graphic at the point where the reason for this is explained, but doesn’t do this, making the narrator explain to the reader how to draw out the diagram instead!

The story unfolds with previous choices having been made and their consequences, and the mother-son relationship which underpins the story evolves, even though the two are so far distant. There’s depth to the story and it flows smoothly, leaving you with a glimpse of a setting and characters that you would have liked to have learnt more about.

Karl Bunker. The Remembered.

A love story, two scientists find their love and loss mirrors ancient legend – with a slight twist in the tail (or tentacle…)

Lavie Tidhar. Strigoi.

Set in Tidhar’s ‘Central Station’ milieu, stories from which have appeared in various locations, most relevant to this story being ‘The Indignity of Rain‘ two issues ago in Interzone #240.

I liked that previous story, and this equally so, a story that you spend a bit more time reading than other stories, as there’s more depth and texture to this story than many others. Central Station is a transport hub between Tel Aviv/Jaffa and Carmel has landed there, her first time on Earth. She has to hide her true nature to get through the security checks – she is a Shambleau, a Strigo, a data-vampire.

The story doesn’t move very far, but we get some back story from Carmel, explaining how she arrived at Central Station, and I’m waiting for the next story in the sequence. (And there’s a neat little reference to Larry Niven’s ‘Ringworld’ but don’t blink or you’ll miss it).

Conclusion

A mighty fine issue, and I do like the new, smaller format.

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