A slightly belated reading journal entry, as I finished the magazine over a week ago… what can I say, I’ve been busy?
Interzone #220 – TTA Press
“Monetized” by Jason Stoddard
Stoddard is definitely settling into a breezy web-hip post-cyberpunk delivery style that is very much his own – less nerdy than Doctorow, but more Stateside than Stross. Here as in a number of his more recent tales, the subject matter, sociology and buzz-word tech feels quite deliberately close to the favoured discussion topics of the blogosphere geekerati, with the end result that for said demographic there are few writers with as good a sense of the Zeitgeist.
Stoddard’s stories can be sharp and a little satirical, but at their core they tend toward an sf-nal boy’s-own-adventure template set in a California that seems all too possible; Phil Dick and Bill Gibson meeting in 2021 down a dark alley near the Embarcadero to compare P2P tracker URLs and share a crafty joint.
The only problem I had with “Monetized” was the lead character, who was as mawkishly petulant and spoiled as I presume he was intended to be – the privileged kid who rebels against said privilege without entirely leaving it behind. The voice is appropriate, but here I found Stoddard had pushed up the “teen slasher movie character trait” fader a touch too high for my taste; the kid is the Principled Rebel Geek, but he’s playing the role a little too hard.
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
Initially I though this was going to be a non-starter; the opening format had me convinced that I was in for one of those New Weird pieces built up from fragmented vignettes and mood pieces. Turns out that Foster lulled me into a false sense of familiarity, as the initial surface layer drops away like the stage dressing to reveal the full plot striding out onto the stage.
Regular thoughts will know my feelings about spoilers in reviews, but this is one of the cases where I think it’s best to let you find out the twists for yourself. But suffice to say that the broadening of the theme from science fantasy psycho-drama to full sf dystopia is a satisfying shock, and just when you think she’s going to wrap things up with a relatively redemptive ending, Foster sneaks in a suckerpunch in the end that’ll leave you wide-eyed and a bit breathless.
The prose seems a little flat in places, but the conception and plotting are top notch, and it’s a much more sf-nal story than it initially appears. Recommended.
“After Everything Woke Up” by Rudy Rucker
This is another technicolour trip into the world of Rucker’s imagination; it’s also an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Hylozoic. Being moderately familiar with Rucker’s style and the preceding book Postsingular, I can see where he’s going with this piece, but it didn’t feel very satisfying as a stand-alone, possibly because there’s very little opportunity for serious conflict or plot development.
It also shows Rucker at his most cutesy; at novel length these bits are balanced nicely against the hipster gnarl and a sensawunda that few can match, and they fit well into the cartoonish vividness of his ouvre (as well as alongside Rucker’s own paintings, used here as illustration), but seen in isolation, “After Everything Woke Up” feels a little saccharine-sweet, and isn’t the sort of scene that I’d use as an introductory to Rucker’s books. I’m very much looking forward to the full novel, though – as regular readers will be aware, I’m a fully paid-up Rucker fan-boy.
“Spy vs. Spy” by Neil Williamson
Williamson fits a neat little reality-next-door sousveillance-escalation conceit into the flash fiction format to make a wry and funny little tale of paranoia that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s fun and fast, and shows just how much you can do with just a thousand words or so.
“Miles To Isengard” by Leah Bobet
This is a very interesting character piece wrapped around a dystopic near-future in the Southern States. The narrative has an almost hyper-real quality, possibly to enhance the sleep-deprived POV of the characters who are driving a stolen nuclear weapon to its (and their own) doom.
Its a story about rebellion and following the voice in your heart, the latter given emphasis by the actualising of the opposing voice in the form of the bomb itself, who the main character half-believes is talking to him, telling them that their efforts are futile. The bitter-sweet ending does little to suggest the bomb is lying, but their defiance in the face of inevitable capture and punishment is all the more poignant for that. A cautionary tale, albeit one that feels thematically a few decades late – which is not to say nuclear weapons are a solved problem, but their time in the fictional spotlight feels to have receded with the mid-eighties. Nonetheless, written with subtlety beneath the grit and country grammar, and much more moving than I expected thanks to a strong eye for detail.
“Memory Dust” by Gareth L Powell
Powell steps out into space again for this tale of an explorer haunted by memories of a mysterious dust-whipped planet and the living specimen he brought back from it. Returning the critter to the planet lands the hero in some deep weirdness, and he soon discovers the secret of the planet’s abandonment – not to mention why the critter was seemingly the last of its race. Given the title of the story, the experienced sf reader will be able to guess what’s happened fairly early on; the real meat of the tale is in the growing horror of the explorer finding out the truth more slowly than does the reader.
As a character piece, “Memory Dust” has the spare but strong emotional characterisation that I tends to think of as one of Gareth’s fortÃ©s. However, I prefer his swift plotting when it’s used in more near-future scenarios; while the journey to the planet doesn’t need to be dwelled upon, it still felt a trifle jarring to be taken there in the space of a few brief paragraphs. That said, I think this is as much a reflection of my own immersion in the near-future subgenre in recent times, and I’d be interested to hear what others thought; it’s been a rare thing of late for me to read a story featuring interstellar travel, and I think it’s that rarity that gave me such a jolt of cog-diss. Maybe I need to cleanse my palate with some space opera…
So, another interesting issue from Interzone, which appears to be leaning more solidly toward the sf end of the spectrum of late – possibly because Black Static is taking the dark fantasy stuff now, but equally possibly because that’s just the way the selection dice have rolled of late. That said, Interzone‘s always something to look forward to.
And to reiterate what myself and many others have said already – that’s one of the best sf mag covers I’ve ever seen, period.