Interzone, Number 158, August 2000

Liberty Zone, Keith Brooke.

Keith Brooke, not content with having SF novels published at an early age, and writing good short SF, is also behind the hugely impressive InfinityPlus fiction site. ‘Liberty Spin’ is set on a deep space habitat, which has been spinning out of control, uninhabited, for many years, following political upheaval. Teams are attempting to return the habitat to its fully functioning state, whilst political pressure and activists are arguing for it to remain in its current state. The story could benefit from being longer, as it comes across as being slightly episodic and many of those episodes are sketched in briefly. Part of the story is taken forward through tv news reports from Yahoo!News. Worth reading, without being really top quality.

The Rebranding of Billy Bailey, Cory Doctorow

This entertaining, off-the-wall short by this up-and-coming Canadian writer, postulates youngsters (or the eponymous youngster) setting fashion trends rather than being ‘victims’ of such trends. Lightweight stuff, and this may not be to everyone’s taste.

Dreamlode, John Meaney.

A fantasy tale, in which young Harij challenges the futures mapped out for him. Far future stuff – you can tell this because the dialog uses << and >> rather than the usual “”. An interview with the author follows, which gives an interesting perspective.

The Welfare Man Retires, Chris Beckett

The author returns to one of his previous characters, Cyril Burkitt, a cynical, world weary social worker (hmm, any resemblance to the author, Chris Beckett, an ex-social worker – surely not). As someone working in the UK social work field myself, perhaps I am a little too close to the story, but I found it fairly obvious stuff, the kind of political discussion you would find in any social work team in the UK. The story labours along to the ending, which has the protagonist riding into the sunset on a woolly mammoth – the metaphor is about as subtle as being hit on the head with a hammer! Perhaps the subject is too close to home to the author to be as good as his non-social work stories (his story ‘Valour’, collected in Hartwells Years Best SF 5 was one of the best in that collection to my mind).

The Planet of the Stercorasaurs, Barrington J. Bayley

A saving grace for Chris Beckett is that the next story in the issue is *really* bad, which is somewhat surprising as the author is a well-established UK writer. SF is rife with stories concerning humanity’s resourcefulness when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. Bayley takes the opposite view, with humanity rapidly descending to the depths, and the final paragraphs are so unpleasant as to be almost unreadable (and I’m fairly broadminded). Or maybe the story is satirical or allegorical and I haven’t realised!

Mean Time in Greenwich, Elizabeth Counihan

Writing dialogue which is spoken in a broad dialect can be a difficult thing to do. Elizabeth Counihan tries and fails, which doesn’t help her story about a female juvenile offender who gets an opportunity to work on the right side of the law. The royal family appears, with a few in-jokes thrown in throughout the story. Fairly unsubtle stuff.

Other bits

One of the strengths of Interzone is that in addition to the fiction there is plenty to read in terms of interviews, reviews and other features. A Brian Stableford interview adds further value to this issue, helping the otherwise relatively weak fiction content – none of the stories are more than Quite Good. But all this for the price of a pint of beer and a bag of crisps (London prices) – can’t be bad!

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