Interzone #249 (Nov/Dec 2013) – A Review

interzone #249It’s hard to describe the relief of seeing the first copy of Interzone waiting on the doormat of the new flat. It sounds silly, but I was somewhat worried that the change of address wouldn’t have taken effect, and my copy would have ended up back in Reading — or worse, consumed by the monster that Royal Mail is becoming.

But no, such fears are apparently unfounded, and here it is. Received, enjoyed and regurgitated in review form for your enjoyment.

It is easy to forget that Interzone, as well as being the UK’s foremost science-fiction magazine, is also a venue for top class fantasy. And this issue is a timely reminder of that — coming immediately on the heels of this year’s British Fantasy Awards. Of the six stories, I would say that fully three of them could best be described as fantasy rather than true SF.

Which is no bad thing at all. As you’ll see below, the variation of genres does nothing to dampen either potency or enjoyment.

  • “Unknown Cities of America” by Tim Lees opens this issue, and it’s an odd fantasy-esque tale of the lost-places between the gaps in our world. It reminded me of the Tim Burton film Big Fish in a way, as a kind of longing for more unknowns on the map. It’s wistful style, played out through a man’s search for a disappeared mystery woman, is light and engaging, but leaves a slight “what-if” resonation after the page is turned.
  • It’s not really an issue of Interzone without a Jason Sanford story, is it? So on that note: “Paprika”. A post-humanist tale of near-endless lives running out, and of different kinds of immortality. It’s quite long for a short story, but the non-human central character is entirely sympathetic, and it doesn’t over-explain the setting, leaving enough mystery lingering between the lines to get the imagination firing on all neurones.
  • Similarly, a Lavie Tidhar story seems an obligatory element of Interzone nowadays. “Filaments” is a story of a future where the barriers between religions are porous, and the robot priest element — once I’d gotten past the Futurama associations — provided a fascinating perspective on one of the core aspects of religion; the provision of a sense of purpose. Tidhar’s writing crackles as ever with his uniquely hypnotic cadence and mastery of language, and richly deserves its place here.
  • Claire Humphrey’s “Haunts” was an excellent story. Possibly my favourite of the issue. A fantasy centred around a duelling-as-sport culture and a failing school for duellists, the concepts of lingering memories and the eventual relief of oblivion — coupled with the metaphors for rebirth — are wrapped in an exciting and fantasical yarn.
  • “The Kindest Man in Stormland” by John Shirley is, if we can say such a thing, the centrepiece of #249. With climate change having created a permanent storm raging in South Carolina, a private investigator goes searching for a killer in the ruins of Charleston. The plot, of course, isn’t quite as predictable, and soars into the contemplation of the “curing” of criminality and its ramifications, with the suddenness of a break in a storm.
  • “Trans-Siberia: An Account of a Journey” by Sarah Brooks is my other contender for favourite story of the issue. An orphan undertakes a journey on a slightly-alternate Trans-Siberian Express, through a Siberia with more dangers than simply exposure and isolation. The journey proves an eye-opening illumination of beauty and subjectivity, and is beautifully written. A sad, moving, lingering tale to close off the issue’s fiction

In addition, naturally, there are the full slate of book, film and DVD reviews, as well as an interview with contributor John Shirley. I’m not sure if the inclusion of the interview in the same issue as his story was co-ordinated (probably), but it the former provides a fascinating philosophical counterpoint to the latter.

One thing that Interzone lacks when sat next to its sister publication Black Static is the columns. It boasts vibrant non-fiction, but I do sometimes find myself longing for the addition of a heavy-hitting figure to shine a bit of a light onto the genre(s), in the manner of Stephen Volk’s excellent “Coffinmaker’s Blues” — though David Langford’s indispensible round up of genre news in “Ainsible Link” is not to be sniffed at.

I need to be absolutely clear, however, that this is simply my daydreaming. If you aren’t already an Interzone reader (Really? After all my reviews?) then you need to pick up a copy. It rarely disappoints, and always inspires, and its appearance on the doormat is ever a cause for excitement.

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