Interzone #254 (Sep/Oct 2014) – A Review

interzone 254

Does TTA Press head honcho Andy Cox read my blog, I wonder? In the case of the reviews of Interzone and Black Static, I’d have to say yes; more than once he has shared them on Facebook and Twitter. So it was pretty clear that he’d read them — at least enough to make sure that I wasn’t slandering his name.

But now I wonder if he might not have been listening a little more carefully; this is because issue #254 contains, for the first time, a pair of columns.

This is a feature which Black Static has boasted for a long while, and which regular readers (Hello to both of you! -Ed) will know that I have long said Interzone needed. And whilst Jonathan McCalmont isn’t a name immediately familiar to me, Nina Allen is exactly the sort of person this job demands.

  • And, by an immense coincidence, the fiction opens with Nina Allan’s novelette “Marielena”. A chillingly topical-feeling story, of immigration and ostracism. A teacher flees an unnamed war-torn country to eke out an existence as an asylum seeker in an unfriendly Britain. Though it is harrowing in a number of ways, the science-fiction element doesn’t come until the end, like a punch to the gut, laced with tragedy and the glimmer of a random act of kindness. Beautiful stuff.
  • In Jay O’Connell’s “A Minute and a Half” a man reconciles with an old flame and the daughter he never knew he had, and goes on the run with them from the cult she has escaped. The human drama here is very well played out, painting a picture of an addict never really getting over his addiction. The science-fictional idea of personal reprogramming is a little under-explored, but the heart embodied through the little girl and the sacrifices made for her make this story work.
  • “Bone Deep” by S.L. Nickerson fascinated me. Really fascinated me. A woman whose body turns to bone has life-saving operations paid for by corporate sponsors, and in payment she must have their logos tattooed onto her, to be humiliatingly exhibited. It’s a chilling look at a possible capitalised healthcare, but also at the small rebellions against it. The relationship at the heart of the story is beautifully rendered, with a clear and sympathetic main character. And I did love the ending.
  • T.R. Napper’s “Dark on a Darkling Earth” is light on the background detail, launching the reader straight into a broken world of wars, shifting alliances and lost memories. There’s some complex ideas in here, and a brave decision by T.R. Napper not to expand more. But actually, that is what makes it work. This is a story of war, wine and poetry, a story of loss and the memory or forgetting of that loss. Quietly haunting.
  • “The Faces Between Us” by Julie C. Day was, to be frank, bloody weird. Honestly, I found it pretty hard to follow. It was alluringly and beautifully written, with characters who felt real enough, but the plot centred on a young couple snorting trapped souls like drugs, and being possessed by them, was something I couldn’t get my head around. It’s probably a poor reflection of me, but whilst I didn’t dislike it, I found I couldn’t really get into it, though it does end on a reverberating, mournfully hopeful, note.
  • “Songs like Freight Trains” by Sam J. Miller rounds off the fiction, and I will happily admit that at first it felt like it was going straight over my head. Fortunately, it is a brilliantly and cunningly written little story, which makes a lot out of not much action. Centred around a woman who can “time travel” through her memories at the prompt of particularly significant strains of music, it deserves strong praise for managing to cram so much story into such a short piece, and for using its blend of science and fiction to further its very human heart. And it has one of the best closing lines I can recall, up there with “The Great Gatsby” for artistic beauty.

So with the fiction covered, let’s have a look at our shiny new columns.

Jonathan McCalmont’s piece looks at the escapist nature of science-fiction, using the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy, and Marcel Theroux’s “Strange Bodies”; I have seen the former, but not read the latter, and whilst I don’t agree with Jonathan on the merits of GotG, he argues his point well. And now I want to read “Strange Bodies”.

Nina Allen’s column, meanwhile, looks at the position of women in SFF. It’s a well-walked path, to be sure, but Nina is someone with a real art for getting a point across, and picks out two unknown (to me) women involved in the genre; the surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning; and the writer C.L. Moore. Moore’s life story is particularly tragic, oppressed by her husband into stopping her writing and withdrawing from the genre world. It’s a column worth reading, and I heartily suggest you do.

So another issue closes, and I am struck by how much this magazine seems to be in a constant state of change. It speaks well of a science-fiction magazine to be on the cutting edge like this, and although all the stories haven’t chimed with me, it is still pushing boundaries and still one of the best magazines in the business.

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