OK, I’ll state the obvious right off the bat – I write reviews for Interzone, and therefore could possibly be accused of a certain conflict of interests by reviewing the magazine. My excuse is that I have absolutely nothing to do with the fiction section (apart from as a reader), and hence cannot see any problem with me discussing the stories in that context.
And in that context, I’m happily able to say that this has been my favourite Interzone of recent times, thanks to a selection of stories that pushed all my buttons. I’m still fairly new to the short-fiction magazine world, but I am quite ready to accept the idea that I may not like every piece of work in each issue of any title – indeed, it must surely be a sign of a healthy scene. Homogenous content would be a bad thing, for readers and writers alike. But it is a pleasure to read an issue where you really enjoy all the stories, rather than finding a few of them skilfully done but not entirely to your taste.
Jamie Barras’ ‘The Beekeeper’ comes across at first as being a little ‘old school’ with its humans-lost-among-the-stars basis, but the clean writing and steady flow of ideas keeps it above the water more than adequately – the setting could be easily expanded on with further stories. The ending has an unexpected bittersweet twist which rounds it off neatly. It seems a little twee when held up against the rest of the work in this issue, but that is more a vindication of the other work than an outright criticism of this piece.Tim Akers’ ‘Distro’ is a fast and gritty cyberpunk riff on the notion of distributed consciousnesses. These are nasty characters doing nasty things, set in a noir-ish future whose lines and texture are a distinct nod to Richard Morgan. The dialogue is a trifle hackneyed, but the double dealings and brutality are carried off in an off-the-cuff manner that rings the right note. The denouement is predictable, but no less visceral for that. A satisfying story, if a little jumpy in pace.
Will McIntosh’s ‘The New Chinese Wives’ examines a future China that has been hamstrung by the one-child rules of the past, and is left with a massive shortage of real women – instead, young men marry virtual girls, who must by law be treated as real. The father of one such man holds no truck with this state of affairs, and nor does his socially-networked grandson. This story is very much concerned with social change and technology’s part in it, and with the generation gaps that seem to grow wider by the month. Something about the actual writing itself didn’t quite do it for me, but the actual narrative was compelling enough to buy me off. I think this sort of ‘not-quite-mundane’ sf will become a lot more prevalent in the next few years.
Robert Davies’ ‘The Ship’ is a type of tale I never expected to see in Interzone, but was very pleasantly surprised by. Two short pages cover the countless millenia of the history of mankind in that rarest of things – a homily that doesn’t beat you round the head with the moralising. Think ‘First and Last Men’ on fast-forward with its tongue in its cheek, and you’re in the right area. Snack-sized fun for futurists.
‘The Nature of the Beast’ by Jae Brim is another dark little sketch, tackling three heavy themes head on – cloning, gender and nature vs. nurture. For a story this short to do so so neatly is an accomplishment – it also manages to be almost entirely action-free without losing any momentum – a sort of psychological science fiction, and a grim vision of the lengths corporate dynasties might go to in order to secure their futures.
I’ll admit that Chris Beckett’s ‘Karel’s Prayer’ was the one I was really itching to read, and so I left it till last, just like the Yorkshire puddings with my Sunday roast. Ah, sweet deferment of gratification – it was well worth the wait. The clever layering and deep themes are a hallmark of Beckett at his best – mixed in with the clash of science and religion are questions of identity, of knowing who and what one is. Dovetailing with current events in the news, there is torture and sneaky governments enacting backstage shenanigans in the name of national security. The very ambiguity of right and wrong is the pivot for the whole thing – comparative morality portrayed with all the warts and scars. It would be a shame to spoil this one for a reader, so you’ll just have to take my word for it – this is a brilliant story. At the risk of veering into hyperbole, Beckett may run the risk of becoming (thematically, at least) Britain’s Philip K. Dick – I say ‘risk’ only because that’s one hell of a benchmark to set for anyone. I hope he lives up to it – minus the descent into religious paranoia and insanity, of course.
A strong set of stories, with a decent spread of tone and style. No fantasy work this issue, which I didn’t particularly miss myself – but I imagine it will have disappointed some readers. Maybe the balance will be restored next time. Only fifty days or so to wait and see…