Spectrum SF 2

“You’re not still reading that magazine are you?”

“No, it’s the second issue.”

“But it looks just like the first one.”

“Except for the number 2 instead of the number 1.”

“And different author names?”

“Well, actually, a couple of the names are the same.”

“And is that the one with the editorial in the style of a dialogue.”

“Yes, and it’s the same this issue.”

“What about the stories this time then?”

“It’s got the second installment of a novel serialization, which I won’t bother with as I don’t read many novels, and the Keith Roberts ‘Drek Yarman’ isn’t really my cup of tea, from looking at the first couple of pages.”

“And the short stories?”

“There’s ‘The Gentlemen Go By’ which was written by Jack Deighton, who has written sporadically over the past ten years. It’s from the viewpoint of a young girl reaching her teens and all that entails, but with some mystery around her surroundings. Her father is her sole contact, other than a viewscreen, and he seems to be protecting her from something. Quite a good story.

Then there’s ‘Green Eyed Monster’ by Stephen Baxter and Eric Brown. This would be more at home in a horror magazine really. If you replaced the small (but pivotal) part an alien artefact/spaceship plays with a mysterious object/monkey’s paw etc., you have a mainstream horror story. The main character is a not particularly pleasant person who drops dead one night and finds himself in a series of re-incarnations. I don’t think you would guess Stephen Baxter co-wrote it. The story begins in a rural pub, and you can almost see one way the story could have come about – two authors exchanging ideas over a pint of Old Peculier or whatever.”

“And the other stories?”

“Keith Brooke re-appears with ‘.zipped’ (he co-wrote a story with Eric Brown in the first issue). This is a short take on mind-splices which doesn’t really break any new ground. Most notable for me is the accurate description of Amsterdam – presumably Keith hopped over there on the Harwich-Hoek van Holland ferry to get the background for this.

Then there’s ‘Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case’ by Stephen Palmer, which is a fairly straightforward, but well-written murder myster in a fantasy milieu, which is nice if you like that sort of thing.

“And Barrington J. Bayley appears yet again. He’s had two stories in Interzone in recent months. He’s been writing for forty years or so, but isn’t as well known as he might be. To be frank I hadn’t come across him much. This story, the editor informs us in the introduction to the story, is an allegorical fantasy. It always helps to be told this in advance – you know that you may well not get a story which quite stands up to being read in its own right. It’s an interesting story, in which a most unpleasant character wishes to achieve immortality, which appears to be possible through gaining access to, and ascending a monstrous tower in the sky. It had some resonances for me with Ted Chiang’s ‘Tower of Babylon’ (Omni, November 1990) in which the protagonist strives to ascend the tower (and in doing so attain a higher state).

There is a similar conclusion in this BJB story. It had a feel of a 1970s story about it in some respects, a Moorcockian New Worlds story perhaps.

And then finally Eric Brown’s ‘Destiny on Tartarus’ which is the first in chronological order of several tales, most of which have appeared in previous issues of Interzone. I haven’t read any of these, I have to admit, but I suppose that should benefit me reading the first chronological story. A young man, somewhat naive, arrives on Tartarus seeking answers to the death of his father, who had left him and his mother some years back. He follows his father’s trail, embarking upon a journey in which he is befriended by a native, whilst struggling in conversations with an AI of his father held on a cube. The young man falls in love with another denizen of the planet, and undergoes a potentially high-risk physical and spiritual trial in the shape of a riverboat race, at the end of which many issues are resolved.”

“So what do you think about the issue.”

“Well, the novel serial is much shorter than the first issue, so there are six short stories in all. The ‘Destiny on Tartarus’ novella kept my interest, although it was fairly easy to spot the plot twist in the middle of the story. The other short stories were good, but not more than that to be honest. For me the concern is that of the six stories there were three I personally would classify as fantasy, one horror, and the two ‘real’ SF (Deighton/Brooke) weren’t a patch on the previous issue, which had the excellent Reynolds ‘Great Wall of Mars’ and Charles Stross ‘Bear Trap’. So for me in that respect this issue wasn’t quite as enjoyable, but if you are putting together a magazine you presumably have to be fairly ‘broad church’ in order to attract the widest range of readers/subscribers.”

“And what else was there?”

“A few pages of summaries of other short SF magazines and websites.

I’m slightly concerned in that the ‘Next Issue/Coming Soon’ page refers to a couple more Eric Brown stories, one of which is in the ‘Fall of Tartarus’ series, and another Keith Robert story, a 10k word novella. Good news I suppose if you are a big fan of either of these authors, but it didn’t make me think ‘oh goodie, I can’t wait!'”

But I’m still looking forward to issue 3, so that’s good news for the publisher!”

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