Interzone #257, March-April 2015

interzone257

Alastair Reynolds. A Murmuration.

Reynolds’ short stories are rarer than hen’s teeth these days, so I looked forward to reading this story once I spotted his name on the cover (which has an illustration of a spacesuited figure with a seagull tied to his lap….)

I had hoped for a mini space opera, something managing to squeeze galactic and epoch spanning adventure, or Baroque grand guignol gothic horror, as his novels provide (or at least which the first half dozen or so novels of his which I read did provice: I gave up on his novels due to the frustration at them invariably failing to end with what us old-fashioned types call An End, and leaving the reader on tenterhooks as the protagonists find bigger vistas awaiting, or, failing that, The Next Volume).

But this story is earth-bound, limited to one character and a whole bunch of birds, and a fair bit of science. However the science isn’t really the key thing with the story. The science is the massive processing power and data storage than enables processes data captured from swarming bird populations. At first the story appears as if that’s the way it’s headed, a scientist coming up with some interesting/challenging findings.

However, one part of the story looks at the frustrations of journal article submission/refereeing, from both sides of the equation (or rather both sides and one side at once).

But the story is actually about the inside of the scientist’s mind, as it becomes increasingly obvious that that isn’t quite as it should be. He finds a way of doing more than simply observing, and the murmuration of the birds of the birds echoes what is going on inside his head.

Never mind spacemen in deep space (with our without a seagull tethered to your nethers), the scientist’s lot is clearly a challenging one.

Fadzlishah Johanabas. Songbird.

An author new to me, and a story that bodes well for seeming from him.

It’s set in a near-future Malaysia, acid-rain in the cities, some hi-tech owned by the haves, and not by the have-nots. The focus of the story is a young woman, who we soon find is the songbird of the title, held captive in a lab, which chemicals being pumped into her, which cause her sing, and which enable her captors to create powerful drugs based on the emotions she is feeling.

The story progresses through episodes in her captivity, as different emotions are drawn from her, and from other scenes in what we realise must have been her life before/after capture, and the story builds to a climax for both story arcs, in a story that marks out Johanabas as someone who can handle both plot, science and character.

Rich Larson. Brainwhales are Stoners, Too.

Bea is a stoner, and dealer, and she has the hots for rich kid Theo, one of her clients, and is keen to get her hands on him. She hopes this desire is reciprocated, but Theo is rather more keen to get his hands on the keys to the complex in which Bea’s mother works.

Turns out that in this complex a whale is in a form of dry-dock, it’s immense brain space being used for human gain. Theo is keen to capture this on vid and go viral.

The story progresses, told in stoner argot, perhaps getting a little in the way of the serious element of the story (the story title suggests an altogether lighter kind of story), as Bea manages to communicate with the whale, and gets a glimpse of life through it’s perspective.

Tendai Huchu. The Worshipful Company of Milliners.

A look at the nature of the writers’ muse – in the shape of strange, feline creatures making hats for writers in an unseen factory in Harare, from whence they are despatched daily to make several trips across the globe to furnish their unknowing customers with headgear to help with their writing.

Kitsi is a new milliner, she knows nothing else but her life in the sweatshop, and we thus know little about her, or about the setting. We do get glimpses into the minds of writers, and into Kitsi as she struggled to make the grade.

Aliya Whiteley. Blossoms Falling Down.

A four-pager which feels a bit longer, generally a good sign.

Set on board a generation starship, with each deck dedicated to a country from the Earth left behind, all travellers looking forward to the future and the change to start again (we’re not told exactly how bad things were back on Earth). The story has two perspectives – short opening and closing perspectives from one of the navigators, from the Nordic deck. And the majority from a young woman who has made the move from the Mexican deck, masquerading as a geisha, pouring tea and delivering haiku to visitors.

It appears that the haikus she remembers, and the one she makes up give him pause for thought. There are only a few, and being haiku they are fairly obtuse, and the reader has to guess exactly what are the thoughts they put into his mind.

One quibble: if he’s from the Nordic deck, why is he called Neil, rather than having a Nordic name?

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