Lurky McLurklurk (ionlylurkhere) wrote,
Lurky McLurklurk
ionlylurkhere

Interzone #214

So, one of my New Year's Resolutions is to keep up with IZ. (Keeping up is the flipside of my acknowledgement that I'm never going to catch up -- the last one I read all of was back in the Pringle era.)


"Far Horizon" by Jason Stoddard: the lead novella, taking up half of the total fiction space. For the most part, this is a very interesting critique of the over-optimistic techno-utopian tendency in hard SF. It's nothing new -- humans will still be humans, technology might make us different but it isn't going to make us magically better, unintended consequences and utterly unexpected things will happen, linear progress is a myth -- but it's well explored through a (mostly) likeable character who has swallowed the techno-utopian dream whole and wants to skip past the boring bit where we have to get out from under the oppressive corporatist government that has restricted all his visionary inventions and realise our true potential. All of this is good, there's some nice speculation in there and a good refusal to explain everything that happens at the end (indeed, the tendency to do that is explicitly critiqued within the story), but there's a very queasy subplot involving a genetically engineered "angel" who the protagonist imagines he has "rescued" from prostitution and gradually causes to be uplifted from somewhere around pet-level to somewhere around human-level. We get occasional sections from the angel's POV, and there's a horrible implication that she was actually perfectly happy with people having sex with her and maybe she was better off how she started and ... yeah. Couldn't help feeling it was all rather icky. It's all tied into the protagonist's emotional problems, and even serves to wrap things up, but it never really felt necessary to the main thrust of the story.

"Pseudo Tokyo" by Jennifer Linnaea: this is a fantasy with a few SFnal trappings, about a guy from a nearish future where teleportation has replaced other forms of travel who inadvertently ends up in the Japan of a fantasy-inflected parallel universe rather than his own one. It's got some nice evocations of The Outsider Dealing With Incomprehensible Weirdness, but I couldn't shake the feeling I'd read very similar stuff several times before: the whole crossover between the alienness of Japanese culture for Westerners and Actual Alienness is possibly a theme that's been done to death by now.

"The Trace of Him" by Christopher Priest: I'm exposing myself as a philistine, I'm sure, but Priest's prose has always seemed massively overwritten to me, and this story didn't change my mind in the slightest. It's a very short story and at its core is a nice sense of grief and loss and a single rather striking image but the whole thing would have been much more effective for me if reading the prose hadn't felt like wading through treacle.

"The Faces of My Friends" by Jennifer Harwood-Smith: this is this year's James White Award winner and it's a lot better than those often are. (Declaration of Interest Bitterness: I entered it once and got absolutely nowhere.) It's about people dealing with an oppressive regime -- in this case (rather implausibly, but it's the One Big Gimmick that you have to accept and everything else flows from it, and it works as a parable) art has been outlawed and anyone who has previously any sort of artist has to wear uniform cloaks and masks, never make any sound and is generally a second-class citizen up to and including their organs being harvested at will -- and ends with the narrator's choice to make a final act of rebellion. The sense of desperation is very well done, and the only small problem is that the choice of art (including writing) as what's-been-oppressed gives the story a tiny glimmer of the nasty preciousness of writing-about-writing.

"The Scent of Their Arrival" by Mercurio D. Rivera: interesting mish-mash of subgenres here, and probably my favourite story of the issue. The main story is a nice Inverted Communication Difficulties thing, where we're following aliens who communicate by smell having trouble deciphering the message from a human spaceship in orbit because they don't understand that you can use sound to communicate (the alien planet is so geologically active as to make this utterly impractical, apparently -- I can't say I'm convinced but I'm prepared to accept it for the sake of argument). The aliens are likeable, in the weird-on-the-outside-human-on-the-inside way that's never bothered me, and there are a few fun touches to their culture, like their science/religion split somehow falling exactly along their gender divide (men are "supernaturalists", women are "naturalists"; if it was a longer story I'd want to know a lot more about why and if there are any exceptions, but it was a nice bit of background). Within this, we get to read the log entries as the aliens attempt to decipher them, which tell the story of how the ship came to be launched -- a desperate race to escape Earth after the opening of a portal to alternate universes allowed Actual Vampires to overrun the planet, which is not described particularly explicitly but does set up a very grim SF/horror crossover atmosphere. The ending is very downbeat given the information the reader has, but still manages to communicate a lovely sense of optimism from the aliens as they prepare to invite the ship down.


ETA: High quality non-fiction too. The Banks interview has me even more squeeful for Matter than I already was and the reviews are as entertainingly idiosyncratic as always (though, really, calling Heroes a mixture of Unbreakable and the X-Men films seems to rather ignore its debts to Watchmen in particular and the comics medium in general). Nick Lowe's declaration-of-interest intro about how he knows Neil Gaiman (both Bewoulf and Stardust were under review) was an entertaining tale in its own right, but I did think it interesting that the big addition to Beowulf's plot got a huge pass, given that it seems to be his biggest pet peeve under normal circumstances.
Tags: interzone, short sf
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