Interzone #216 June 2008

The much-trumpeted ‘mundane-SF’ issue edited by Geoff Ryman. I say much-trumpeted on the basis I spend little time on the SF discussions forums and SF websites that if I reckon that if even I pick up even a minimal amount of trumpeting, this must equate to a large amount of trumpeting. As its two months since this issue hit the doormat, what debate there was on ‘mundane-SF’ will have long quieted. I personally object to the term, in its context of describing SF that constrains itself to science/technology etc that we think is possible, and eschews that which we believe to be impossible (such as FTL drives and time travel), due to the negative connotation of the word ‘mundane’. There’s a heck of a lot of SF that deals with time travel and so forth that is mundane to the extreme – in the sense of it being everyday and routine.

So what does Ryman serve up?

Lavie Tidhar. How to Make Paper Airplanes.

Well you could start with a nicely written story, and forget about the SF.

It’s only a two-pager, and insofar as it is possible in such a short amount of wordage, Tidhar does provide a mundane equivalent to an Ursula K Le Guin xeno-sociological story, with European scientists amongst the indigenous population of the small remote island of Vanuata, and explores the differences in culture, belief, language, technology, and how it is possible despite these differences, to find a connection to another (in this case a same-sex relationship), whils the threat of them to keep apart remains.

The main protagonist ponders briefly what would happen if this small island culture stumbled upon a technology that could put them into space ahead of the first world industrial societies, highlighting the issues over technology and its impact on society.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Endra – From Memory.

OK, in order to avoid the verboten sfnal tropes and achieve mundanity, why not a fantasy story from a writer who doesn’t do much by way of SF, but does do historical fiction? Technically it could be argued that it is SF, as it is based in the relatively near future Earth, one affected by global warming and other issues, and in which some remnants of the old industrial and technological society, now long gone, have value. But only a minor rewriting could essentially turn the story into either a historical nautical story in which a female ship’s captain catches the heart of a harbour master, who harbours hopes of mastering her for many decades, or a bog-standard fantasy story set in a largely Earth-type world and society.

Billie Aul. The Hour is Getting Late.

Similar in content to James Patrick Kelly’s ‘Surprise Party’ from Asimovs June 2008, in comparison to which it suffers. Aul describes at length (too much length!) a romantic approach that a woman in the VR entertainment industry has to decide whether to entertain. Where her story suffers is in giving way too much detail on the mechanics of her protagonists filming, editing, and narrating her VR entertainment, and getting just too deep into her head and her thought processes during the narrative, whereas Kelly gave enough of the technical side of things to give a flavour, and concentrated on the relationship in question.

R.R. Angell. Remote Control.

The US-Mexican border has remote control gun turrets, which US citizens can spend time on, shooting at those trying to make their way into the States. One of the military who monitor the turrets and those vicariously using them for target practice, is concerned that there is one person, location unknown, identity unknown, who is controlling turrets when they shouldn’t.

It addresses a number of contemporary issues, but there isn’t that much in it that goes very far beyond where we are now.

Elisabeth Vonarburg. The Invisibles.

A more alien story than normal, on account of it being from a French writer, translated from the French, and having just that slightly different perception from someone from a different culture, different history, different society. The equivalent of a French art film – some scenes, some individuals who find their circumstances changed, themselves alienated. It’s sfnal elements are that two individuals, cast adrift by broken relationships (one by age and death, the other through incompatability) find themselves in a world strangely but subtly different from the one with which they are familiar (which is one set in a domed city in the near future, in which humanity is forced to live due to environmental threats).

The fact that the two are alienated from their previous community is evidently due to a strange character, but the extent to which they are truly in another place, or simply psychologically so, is not revealed, and rather misses in terms of being SF linked to science/technologies that we think is possible.

Whilst it may fail in terms of mundane SF, it is a good read.

Anil Memon. Into the Night.

An elderly father, now widowed, leaves his home in Mumbai to live his daughter in another land, far away in miles, a million miles away in terms of culture, and alien to him. He reflects on this transition to this new society, in contrast to a previous transition as a young man. It’s a well told story. The sfnal element – a run-in with a young man over a bit of hi-tech equipmnet.

Geoff Ryman. Talk is Cheap.

Ryman concludes the issue with a story of his own, a short piece which paints a picture (an impressionistic one rather than a photo-realistic one) of a future for humanity in which different roles can be played – in the case of the protagonist, he sees himself as a Dog, someone intrinsically faithful and requiring affirmation from others. In carrying out his roles, he tries to establish a relationship with another partner, his previous having left.

Other stuff

  • David Langford’s ‘Ansible Link’
  • Reader’s Poll Results
  • Jetse De Vries interviews Greg Egan
  • Paul Kincaid reviews Adam Roberts ‘Swiftly’
  • Kevin Stone reviews Chris Roberson’s ‘The Dragon’s Nine Sons’
  • Paul Raven reviews George Mann’s ‘New Science Fiction Volume 2’
  • Steve Jeffery reviews Michael Swanwick’s ‘The Dragons of Babel’
  • Jim Stell reviews Ekaterina Sedia’s ‘Paper Cities: an anthology of urban fantasy’
  • Peter Loftus reviews Eric Brown’s ‘Kethani’
  • Paul F. Cockburn reviews Harry Harrison’s ‘Make Room! Make Room!’
  • Maureen Kincaid Speller reviews Jamil Nasir’s ‘The Houses of Time’
  • David Mathew interviews Alastair Reynolds and reviews ‘House of Sons’
  • Nick Lowe’s ‘Mutant Popcorn’ column reviews ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’, ‘Jumper’, ‘Dr Seuss’s HOrton Hears a Who!’, ‘The Orphanage’
  • Tony lee reviews DVDs : ‘Daybreak’, ‘Alien Sage’, ‘Memory’, ‘Storm’, ‘Dragon Wars’, ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’, ‘Masters of Science Fiction’, ‘Jericho’, ‘Wild Palms’


Yarbro’s fantasy is the richest of the stories, Vonarburg’s is a psychologicall interesting piece, and Memon’s is evocative of an elderly man far out of his own environment. Ryman’s story comes closest to traditional SF than the ‘mundane-SF’ brief in terms of it being further removed from our current contemporary situation, and for me was the most satisfying as a genre SF story, showing how if you do go that bit further in terms of scientific possibility then you do get a story which is markedly different from stories which don’t and which are essential non-genre mainstream, or, in Yarbro’s case, fantasy/historical.

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