Interzone is a British science fiction and fantasy magazine that’s been around since 1982. It’s expensive as SF magazines go for American readers, but Interzone’s great fiction and detailed movie, television and book reviews are worth the expense. After a period of relative penury has eased somewhat, I’ve subscribed again, and I’m greatly enjoying some very good fiction.
One of the strongest stories in the most recent issue (#239) is “Tangerine Nectarine Clementine Apocalypse” by Suzanne Palmer, a hard science fiction story that starts out sounding like a fantasy. It takes some time before the reader places the fruit stand at which most of the events of the story take place on a generation ship instead of a far distant planet. The ship is called Utopia, and no payment is exchanged for goods. The boy, Echa, believes in what his government teaches, but cynicism has captured many around him. He is apprenticed to Bota, who teaches him how to properly dispense the fruit that the ship provides – and there is something of an art to it. A very special art, when it comes to the rare pomelo. It’s an excellent story, and I will keep an eye out for more of Suzanne Palmer’s work.
Steve Rasnic Tem’s stories always seem to be infused with melancholy. “Twember,” which is no exception, envisions a world in which ghostly escarpments regularly pass over the land. Most of the time, they have no apparent destructive effect; but on occasion, they can topple trees or destroy walls – or worse, affect minds. They seem to indicate the end of the world, but in a slow and miserable way. How does the average person react to no more leaves on the trees, weather that’s the same almost every day, vaguely worsening health, no television reception, no one knowing what to do? Will is just one more man trying to adjust and survive, despite crippling losses. I can’t think about this story without feeling a deep sense of slow, sad horror.
Another powerful story in this issue is “Rail Riders” by Matthew Cook. In the far future, hobos ride the rails – which, in this time and place, means that they sneak onto interstellar ships and move from planet to planet, the eternally homeless, looking just for a meal and a warm place to sleep. It’s a dangerous way to live, as it has ever been; the dangers aren’t just the “bulls,” the enforcers who come looking for stowaways, but the possibility that the holds in which the hobos ride will suddenly be deprived of oxygen if the cargo doesn’t require it. Drugs and sex hold their sway, as always, and death is omnipresent. It’s a grim way to live, and a grimmer way to die. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Jon Wallace’s “Lips & Teeth” is set in the China of the Great Leap Forward, if I’m remembering my history correctly – or, perhaps, in the future of an Asian country going through a similar crackdown on “elites.” It involves a man who has so accepted his punishment that he has forgotten that life was ever any different. He has been so thoroughly brainwashed that he believes everything that the regime wants him to believe – at least on the surface. Deep down, perhaps he retains knowledge of who he is, and what he can do with his especially powerful voice. The story suggests that the worst sort of helplessness may not be as completely hopeless as at first appears.
Is the fact that a house is haunted a selling point or a warning to keep away? Jacob A. Boyd explores this question in “Bound in Place.” Perhaps, Boyd posits, in the far future, when ghosts can be chained to a dwelling place and made to serve the living human occupants, they will seem to be no more than technology, and can be used with thought to what the use means to them. There is a cruelty to what the humans do; they essentially make slaves of the ghosts, without knowing whether the ghosts have sentience, without understanding if they love. And what effect does this relationship have on the humans who make such use of the past, of the spirits?
Nigel Brown posits a new form of alien life in “One-Way Ticket.” Dying humans – those with diseases that offer no hope of a cure – travel to a distant planet where they bond with the aliens for the relief of their pain. It isn’t clear what’s in it for the aliens, but the experience appears to offer humans some form of eternal consciousness. Kyra, who is genuinely ill but a journalist to the end, has snuck recording devices into the cave where the respite lies, and what she sees is almost sufficient to make her change her mind about seeking her end. But instead it makes her question whether, in this one particular case, more knowledge is better than less.
The fiction in this issue is provocative enough standing alone, but the many pages of reviews that follow are astonishing in their breadth. Tony Lee starts with “Laser Fodder,” in which he reviews seven movies on disc that have at least a tangential relationship to the fantastic – not the fantastic in quality, mind you (there seems to be precious little of that), but fantastic in subject matter. Nick Lowe follows with “Mutant Popcorn,” in which he reviews eight different films that you might still find in the local multiplex. “Book Zone,” by various authors, brings reviews of nine books and an interview of Chris Beckett, the author of the novel Dark Eden, an ecological science fiction novel about a strange planet. One of the nine books under review is a work of criticism, From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages, edited by Michael Adams. There is something for every taste here.
Interzone has always been a remarkable magazine. I’m pleased to report that it remains so.