Interzone #207 manages to sustain the high standard of fiction content that #206 set, despite having a very different collection of work between the covers. Let’s see …
The Purring of Cats by Dave Hoing: Don’t let the title put you off! This is a clever and disturbingly emotional piece of work that addresses a number of issues with big taboo factors, and it deals with them in a sensitive and realistic manner. A psychiatric counsellor falls for a pretty young woman in his care who has been convicted of having sexual relations with an alien. The backdrop is what makes the story work; the near-future Earth in question has been inducted into a confederacy of alien races, and subsequently into a distant war with a rogue species. Implicit in the scenery is a disturbingly cruel totalitarian society based on surveillance and intolerance. The characterisation is very convincing, especially given the mentions of child abuse in the narrative. A good proof-of-concept that sf doesn’t necessarily need advanced technology and space battles in the foreground to really move a reader.
Spheres by Suzanne Palmer: Dirty dealings in a space slum; a tight-knit community of space-dwelling underclass is plagued by an uncanny sequence of unfortunate accidental deaths and habitat explosions. Veteran resident Irvil smells a rat, and after escaping the fate planned for him he hides out, waiting to turn the tables on the malefactors when the opportunity presents itself. The plot may not be that original, perhaps, but the setting is well realised, with the mutual tethering of the habitat spheres providing a strong metaphor for the connections of community being stretched and severed by outsider influences. The added bonus is the use of an argot language for the first person narrative – this sort of gimmick can kill an otherwise good story, but the careful handling actually raises this one above the pack. If this is a debut story, as I have seen claimed elsewhere, Ms. Palmer has set herself quite a standard to live up to.
Frankie on Zanzibar by David Mace: Here’s a reworking of a classic trope, the ‘enhanced child’ – that cold and calculating uberkinder that seems perpetually to haunt the genre. Fransiska is smart enough to know what she is. In fact she’s way smarter: smart enough to keep her self-awareness toned down around her adoptive parents and the people who monitor her progress, while still coming across as hideously precocious. Thanks to her foresight, and a growing awareness of the doomed world outside and what her place in it could become in the wrong hands, an abduction attempt is turned on its head completely. Despite being a bit hampered by some clunky language and awkward perspective shifts, this story has a strong plot – especially considering how hard it is to write this sort of tale convincingly.
Clocks by Daniel Kaysen: A strangely ambiguous two-page psychodrama, themed on sexual envy and clocks, both biological and temporal, and hinting at very dark possibilities. From a personal perspective, this seemed not only excessively open-ended but also somewhat out of place in Interzone, and having not encountered many stories of its type, I hesitate to comment on whether it succeeds or not, as I am not sure what were the criteria being aimed for. File under ‘not my thing’.
Stonework by Wendy Waring: Another classic trope, the obsessed loner/academic investigator, in this case an archaeologist – or perhaps it’s an inversion of the ‘sleeper awakes’ theme. These always tend to end in a similar fashion, and this is no exception. While it is fine for stories to move in familiar curves, it is imperative that the journey to the conclusion really hammers the sensawunda buttons to produce a climactic sense of arrival. Here, there’s no real sense of crescendo or build, which renders the ending a bit too obvious – insufficiently revelatory to really snatch the breath away. However, Ms. Waring’s writing is sturdy and spare, and she has an eye for detail – maybe this just isn’t a theme that suits her style.
All in all, a strong set of stories, bound together with an introspective and psychological tone. I personally feel that a change of order might have made a difference to my perceptions of the individual pieces, but that is merely nitpicking. The new magazine format seems more comfortable to read – the stitched spine is a lot more forgiving – and the matte pages also boost the crispness of the text, at least to the tired eyes of this particular library assistant. Also a good selection of artwork, notably lacking in cheese – in other words, a magazine you’re not even slightly ashamed of being seen reading in public. Excellent.
Oh, and some dude with a silly name did a review of the latest Dune novel and an interview with the authors; that was also curiously eye-catching for some reason. 😉