As with my Interzone review last week, I’m afraid I have missed an issue of Black Static in my reviewing quest. Unforgivable, I know. But I’m back to it this month, and ready to give my thoughts on the stories and non-fiction within.
One thing I will say first, though, is just how striking the artwork is. Black Static usually does showcase some of the very best each and every week, but to my mind issue #34 is particularly bold. From the electrically chilling cover artwork (by Ben Baldwin), to the images for each if the stories. Joachim Luetke’s deeply chilling KKK-esque image for Sean Logan’s story “The Tower of Babel” is particularly deserving of mention, especially from a name I don’t think I’ve encountered before — and worth checking out.
But anyway, you all came here for the reviews of the stories, didn’t you? So let’s get on with the show!
I haven’t done this before, but I’ve been meaning to for a long while. I’ve been reading Interzone (as well as its sister magazine Black Static) for almost four years now. When I decided I wanted to start taking my writing seriously, I started looking around for where I could find the best contemporary writing, particularly short form genre fiction. And every signpost I found pointed straight to this duo.
And the rest, as they say, is history. I am confident that there is no SF/Fantasy magazine comparable in the UK, and I have found only very few that equal it the world over. It consistently publishes the very best in a wide range of cutting-edge SF, and boasts the best names amongst its contributors.
I’m aiming for my review to be a regular feature on my blog, and I’ll be focusing just on the stories — reviewing the reviews just feels a bit to meta and self-referential to me, and threatens giving me a headache. When I come to review Black Static I may give some brief thoughts on the columns, but for me the stars of the show always have been the stories.
So on to this issue’s stories:
“Moon Drome” by John Wallace: the most obvious thing I can say about this story is that it is fun. Featuring spaceship racing around the moons of a gas giant (like the pod-racing of Star Wars, but less, well, stupid), it chucks in an ambigously malevolent alien entity, and themes of slavery and memory. The changes in perspective are clearly signposted, but there was a little bit of timeline-hopping which confused me a touch. Happily, it didn’t get in the way of the story, and by the end everything was crystal clear. A very enjoyable story, well written and with some neat ideas.
“The Flower of Shazui” by Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu): this is, actually, the first piece of Chinese SF which I’ve read. And it’s very good. Translated by the excellent Ken Liu, the prose is poetic and beautiful, and the characters and world that the story weaves are brilliantly realised. The plot — abused woman in love with abusive man — is nothing new, but I wasn’t anticipating the twist at the end, and thought it rounded off the story in a very fitting way which I probably wouldn’t have considered.
“The Philosophy of Ships” by Caroline M. Yoachim: sadly, this story did not do it for me. A post-humanist romp involving themes of identity and humanity, all mixed in with a bit of skiing, there wasn’t anything technically wrong with it. But the trouble was that I didn’t empathise with any of the characters, and some of the multiple-consciousness stuff — along with the non-linear narrative — lost me about midway through. It dragged, and disappointingly I just didn’t feel a connection to characters or story.
“Lady Dragon and the Netsuke Carver” by Priya Sharma: I read a previous story by Sharma in the last issue of Interzone, “Needlepoint”, and thought it was excellent. This new story lives up to, and indeed, surpasses that estimation. An alternate-history story, set in a world under Japanese and Samurai dominance (an alternate outcome to WWII, perhaps? Sharma doesn’t say), it has all the key themes of love and duty that you would expect, tied up with some very exciting characters and a world which comes alive on the page. Sharma clearly has a gift for both bold imagination and expressing it artfully through prose, and I would definitely highlight her as one to look out for.
“Mirrorblink” by Jason Sanford: in a way I feel sorry for any writer who ends up sharing a contents page with Jason Sanford. The man is one of my favourite SF, and actually short fiction in general, writers active today, and this little novellete is a perfect example of why. A distant-future/almost-fantasy story about sentient information and a pre-industrial Earth cut off from the galaxy at large, and overseen/menaced by god-like Observers. Yes, I too thought of Fringe when I read that, and there are similarities, but god-like beings beyond human comprehension are a staple of SF, and observer is a pretty apt description of what these creatures do. The story itself is beautifully written, and the protagonist a wonderfully constructed character. The ideas and themes in the story are exactly what good SF should be grappling with, and evoke more questions than they answer. As well they should.
Overall, this is a brilliant example of what Interzone does best. Great stories, big ideas, challenging concepts. The fact that it is beautifully displayed, with some breathtaking artwork — particularly Ben Baldwin’s cover art, and Warwick Fraser-Coombe’s illustration for “Mirrorblink” — is just an added bonus.