Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Interzone

Britain's leading science fiction and fantasy magazine, founded in 1982, celebrates its silver anniversary. Shortlisted for the Hugo award (science fiction's equivalent of the Oscar) many years running, winning it in 1995. Interzone appears bimonthly and contains short stories plus reviews, interviews and news.

2007 is a year worth celebrating for Interzone with issue #209 marking 25 years of great stories. M. John Harrison, who featured in Interzone's very first issue is back with 'The Good Detective.' Other returnees this issue are Alistair Reynolds and Gwyneth Jones. The other half is made up of Rising British stars like Hal Duncun, Daniel Kaysen and Jamie Barras. The editors say: 'We're trying to make Interzone the fresh breeze it once was, the wind of change SF used to be.'
Such a kaleidoscope of images entails Hal Duncan's The Wherever at the City's Heart - I've never read a story quite like it. On one hand it is so vast in scope as to be unassailable; my already fevered imagination could hardly keep up with the sensory perceptions evoked by this stunning author. On the other this almost burdens it down. But not quite. Because of its sheer originality and fecundity of invention you'll probably have dreams (or nightmares) about it for weeks. And that makes it worthy of inclusion. Taking off my professional language shoes for a moment, I'll say that it’s kind of like a David Lynch film; you might be asking yourself: What the Hell? But in the same breath mouthing the word Brilliant! I realise I'm giving away almost no plot except to say there's a Sandminer, a Dreamwhore, and a watchtower that is like gathering point and axis of existence itself.

A ponderous story, Winter by Jamie Barris is somewhat alternate history. In 1953, technologies were acquired that enabled a certain group 'The Wintermen' to expand memories with a virus. After releasing it to an unwary population they flee to the stars, only to return a half a century later to see the consequences of this viral strain: a futuristic society much like the one we envisaged for 2000 in the sixties but didn't quite pan out. The reader is flip-flopped between these two eras as our main character (Dr Christian) is brought in to garner information from the returning 'Wintermen'. Although very Interzone-ish, I personally feel a little frustrated with the common approach to these stories. If you like a tale where starting in the middle is the norm (kind of like walking into a movie halfway through and trying to follow the plot), by all means latch onto Winter. The structure is chipped away layer upon layer - in this case ponderously - to a climax with a rather predictable twist.
Although set in a modern day city, The Good Detective by M John Harrison is lent a speculative edge with the musings of our scribe. Allocated the task of finding missing persons, the detective gives us the dark language of London as he goes about this. Like many stories throughout Interzone's history, it's the poetic vocabulary that ultimately wins out. In a snippet regarding a person's personal effects and belongings left behind, such as a laptop, the author gives us:

It's all much as you'd expect - that naive, eviscerating attempt they always make to express their inner life as a record of the outer...

Good Stuff.

In our world, the environment is preforming a gradual backlash against Homo Sapiens. In Big Cat by Gwyneth Jones this has already occurred and we the reader join a few people from diverse backgrounds in a rural setting as they cope with an unsettling situation involving a deceased wolf. Alas, the same formula ensues as the previous tales. Unwittingly pushing myself, I had trouble finishing this one. Not wanting to sound harsh, I must here: Big Cat is unbearably bland for a science fiction story. Although it almost - but not quite - saves itself with well-rounded characters.

In another foray into post-apocalyptic London, Alistair Reynolds gives us The Sledge-Maker's Daughter. It's a welcome piece, a breath of fresh air without the murkiness of its predecessors. Young Kathrin (the sledge-maker's daughter), embarks upon a small journey though a world that has only a fragmentary notion of what it was. Told through metaphor and reverential whispers (Alistair describes a helicopter as a windmill made of tin) Kathrin seeks out the guru-witch Widow Grayling who teaches her of an unseen war and technologies bequeathed. Kathrin learns that sometimes Gods can fall from the sky, and bring hope to mortals before dying themselves.

Lastly, Daniel Kaysing delivers a knockout with Tears For Godzilla. If a movie like Memento could be condensed into a quick-witted and savvy story that was also funny, Tears for Godzilla would be it. Here, a coffee shop queue becomes the stage of a horror novelist’s bizarre imaginings whilst catching up with an old flame from school. If anything, this story re-affirms my belief that all novelists are crazy. And this is a good thing. Ah, the imagination ... can't live with it; can't live without it. My favourite story in the collection.

Perhaps not as entertaining to me personally as some previous issues, this anniversary edition is still a worthy purchase. One thing about Interzone that continually astonishes me is the haunting quality of the illustrations ... leafing through Interzone can bring almost as much pleasure as reading the stories. 

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