Interzone #253 (Jul/Aug) – A Review

interzone #253LonCon3 (the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention) finished at the start of this week. I mention this partly out of massive jealousy of anyone and everyone who was able to attend, but also because it seems to have gotten a good amount of coverage in the mainstream press.

There is also a regular part of David Lanford’s Ansible Link column entitled “How others see us”. Here, David cherry picks recent press articles about the SF genre and world.

Now, it might be a coincidence (It is a coincidence – Ed) but that section doesn’t appear in this issue. Perhaps — just perhaps — science-fiction as a genre is starting to receive more of the mainstream acceptance that it deserves.

If it is, then we can only hope that this will extend to such organs of excellence as the short story magazines providing the lifeblood of fresh and exciting SF. Which neatly leads my into my review of the latest issue of Interzone.

  • “My Father and the Martian Moon Maids” by James Van Pelt is the opening story this issue, and it was one which hit me squarely in the emotions. Perhaps I’m more susceptible than most, having family experience of dementia, but story of a father losing his sense of self moved me a lot. It was more than just a hot-button topic, though. This was a tight, well-written little story, shot through with meaningful metaphors, and the hopeful note it ends on is both uplifting and slightly tragic. A near-perfect story, and a near-perfect opening. Well done Mr Van Pelt.
  • Next we have Andrew Hook’s “Flytrap”. Andrew is a writer whose work I know from Black Static, but his bio tells me here that this is his debut in Interzone. It’s a thoughtful story, mixing pulp ideas with literary ideas, following a few characters whose lives aren’t quite what they may seem from the outside. The softly-softly, telling by shadows and implication technique which Andrew employs here gives a sense of the abstract, whilst injecting a sense of doubt and of darkness to the whole thing.
  • “The Golden Nose” by Neil Williamson is a bit more direct as far as storytelling goes. A man who makes his living as a connoisseur and expert on aroma sees his income sliding as technology makes him redundant. When he acquires the fabled titular talisman, his fortunes turn around, but with a reeking price. Well written, and a story which moves along with a nice twist of the otherwordly, but sadly not one of those which stood out in a particularly strong issue.
  • I’m not sure I knew about the James White Award before this, but apparently D.J. Cockburn’s “Beside the Damned River” was the 2014 winner. Part of the prize is publication in Interzone, and so here it is. And I can see why it won. A tale of the meeting of two worlds long since divulged, an old man living in a dried out area of Thailand helps repair the broken car of a woman — and her handler — illicitly chasing a downed asteroid. What I liked about it is the wider world which it hints at, the sense of transformation by way of events, particularly the parched sense of poverty of the damned dammed river. Engaging SF crying out for expansion by way of further stories.
  • Again cleaving to the abstract, “Chasmata” by E Cartherine Tobler is a Mars colonisation story heavy in homage to — but not really in mimickery of — Ray Bradbury. It’s a little hard to follow, but in an intentional sort of way which makes you doubt an obviously unreliable narrator. One half of a couple mourns by way of a love-letter over the loss of their daughter to Mars itself. It feels like a love letter to both the red planet and Bradbury, and has a lingering sense of both mystery and tragedy.
  • Finally, Caren Gussoff’s “The Bars of Orion” reminded me a lot of TV series Fringe. Two refugees — a father and daughter — of a destroyed universe hide out in one which is familiar and yet profoundly different. The father seeks counselling for PTSD, as he attempts to figure out what to do, surrounded by people who wear the faces of those he knew. It manages that rare feat of wholly wrapping up large scale “what if” concept SF with personal drama on an intimate level. The tragic element providing the catalyst for a real engagement with his new home, and the conclusion of the story slightly too soon leaves the reader feeling a little incomplete; always leave them wanting more, as they say.

That is, of course, not it. There is all of the usual reviews of books and film, which this issue includes my own review of themed anthology Robot Uprisings, edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams. Oh, and my interview with the latter. Both will be published sometime next month, when issue #254 is published, but for now I just want to gloat a little. This was the first interview I’ve done, and I couldn’t have asked for a more fascinating person as the subject.

Honestly, I’d say buy it just for the interview.  But I would, wouldn’t I?

As far as #253 goes as an issue, the fiction really impressed me. It was more to the abstract and thoughtful end of the spectrum. The concept-driven stories really worked well, and honestly give a good flavour of the cutting edge of today’s SF. Well done Interzone.

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