For anyone wondering, no I haven’t been reading since issue #1. I came in with issue #222 in May/June 2009. And I can still remember tearing off the plastic wrap in my University halls room, and diving in. Tim Pratt’s “Unexpected Outcomes” was the first story I read, and it blew me away (and you can listen to it for free at Escape Pod now).
But this is a landmark issue, and a real achievement in a climate where we are constantly being told that print publishing is on its way out, to have persisted publishing such a high quality product. I always look forward to holding it my hands — and, yes, to the smell — every two months.
Whilst I can’t speak to the first issue, the story quality has been consistently good since I subscribed. It is the first stop for top-notch SF and fantasy. The fact it’s British is just a matter of pride.
- This issue’s opening story is “The Damaged” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (which has to be one of the greatest names ever, right up there with Bouillabaisse Carrotstick). The central character a woman working for a company that makes artificial people. Specifically, she makes the intestines. The story explores the titular damaged, defective models. Themes of obsolescence and mortality, as well as how aware all of our fragile nature, all wrapped up in a sweet story of how on some level we’re all damaged.
- David Tallerman’s “Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place” is predicated on an idea of backing-up the world, in the same manner as we paranoid writers back-up…everything. The revelation of living in just such a back-up is the catalyst for a man to leave a cyclical failing/failed relationship for the unknown which awaits exploration. A delicately pitched story, musing at our fragile understanding of the world we live in.
- I must say, I really liked “The Labyrinth of Thorns” by C. Allegra Hawksmoor. I’m a bit of a sucker for the whole bio-technology thing, ever since I watched Johnny Mnemonic, so this story hit the spot. Like the opening story, there are ideas of obsolescence and mortality here, but also a fight against a mysterious enemy and ambiguity laden in every memory.
- “Beneath the Willow Branches, Beyond the Reach of Time” by Caroline M. Yoachim was an odd one. A narrative somewhat in reverse, trailing backwards memory as a desperate man tries to follow the woman he loves back through time to save her. It manages to be both confusing and clear, as his consciousness strains to remain whole, and the ending is satisfyingly beautiful.
- I’m undecided about Greg Kurzawa’s “Predvestniki”. The story itself was good, a distant couple on a trip to Russia. It captures well the sense of dislocation in a foreign city, and just how easy it is to get lost. And at the end, the strange events which unfold are all the more spooky for being incomprehensible. Like the characters, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was an element to the meaning which eluded me.
- “Lilacs and Daffodils” by Rebecca Campbell was the most difficult one of the bunch. I read it as a stream of consciousness from a sentient search engine, trawling through lifetimes of memories — but I am far from certain in my reading. The prose is beautiful, as are the links between the memories explored.
- Finally, “Wake Up, Phil” by Georgina Bruce manages to blend paranoid McCarthyism with corporations rather than nations — though that point is a touch blurry — and a sense of cognitive dissonance as the main character drifts between two worlds, both of which might be dreams. It’s interesting to put a character in such a powerless position, in that she is unable to move for fear of corrupting either, both or all.
There seems to be a bit of a theme to this issue — intentional or not — of obsolescence, fragility and mortality. The stories are a broad spectrum of styles and subjects, but they work together excellently as a whole.
As well as the fiction, there are the usual reviews of books (including my own review of Mira Grant’s “Parasite”), film and DVD/Blu-Ray. There’s also a fascinating interview with Libby McGugan, an author whom I hadn’t before encountered.
And, last but not least, this is David Langford’s 200th Ansiable Link, the genre world news which opens each issue. This is always a treat, and I’ve been saying for a while Interzone should feature more non-fiction, to balance its first-class short fiction.