“The other Graces”, Alice Sola Kim Grace is a high school senior who’s on her way to an Ivy League school. Which Ivy? “Who gives a shit which one?” She needs to get in because her home life is dysfunctional, with a stay-at-home older brother in his mid-20′s and her mentally ill father living in a nearby shelter. Grace is confident she’ll get in to an Ivy because other Graces in parallel dimensions opened a portal to her mind to give her the answers to the SAT. The possibility that Grace may suffer from a similar condition to her father is there just below the surface of, but absolutely never mentioned in, the text, making the story all the more compelling. This is a story that really deserves thoughtful reading.
Archive for the magazines Category
The Untied States of America, Mario Milosevic Just a couple generations ago, the states of the U.S.A. broke apart and began wandering aimlessly around the world’s oceans. I can see what’s supposed to be going on here: The premise is just supposed to set the scene for an examination of the psychological effects of isolation in an uncontrollable world. And those aspects of the story are strong. But the long explanation of the rivers running dry, and the climate changing, and all the other purely physical effects of breaking up the states just distracted from the strong parts, without making the idea of a 70,000 square-mile landmass floating on the ocean fast enough to risk collision with other similar islands any more plausible.
“Why that crazy old lady goes up the mountain”, Michael Libling Its hard to sum this story up in just a few words. There’s a lot going on: A high school romance, the grave of God, family illnesses, an amoral hick sheriff, suicide, smart-alecky narration, gun battles … Even if the dramatic elements get lost amidst the entertainment, somehow the mishmash all works, coming together to make a good read.
“The history of poly-V”, John Ingold A smart story about a new drug that does … something … to the memory. Our narrator is one of the scientists who invented the drug; like many scientists, though, he’s given up something on the social side to make his invention take off. Now the new drug lets him go back and revisit the decisisons he made. Ingold takes an inherently surreal premise, and presents it as realistically as possible.
“The long retreat”, Robert Reed A surreal story (like a lot of Reed’s work) about the last days of a bedraggled imperial court, fleeing military defeat. The name of the country is mysterious, and even its high command doesn’t know its borders. Everything, including the characters’ identities, is open to question. An excellent story, probably my favorite yet from Reed.
“Into the depths of illuminated seas”, Jason Sanford In his recent stories in Interzone Sanford seems to have been on a slow drift from pure science fiction toward fantasy, with more and more inexplicable elements in each story. Here, he’s come fully into the fantasy fold with a story about a young woman named Amber Tolester, from a small fishing village, whose skin magically shows the written names of villagers fated to die at sea. Her nemesis is David Sahr, a man who left the village long ago, but whose name suddenly appears on her skin. Amber’s conflict with Sahr eventually proves that fate isn’t something that just has to be accepted, but not without a lot of pain and trouble along the way.
“Here we are, falling through shadows”, Jason Sanford Shadow-dwelling “rippers” have somehow come into our world from some other dimension or plane of reality, and firefighters like our hero are among the few who must still get their jobs done, even after dark. On top of a job that’s suddenly gone from frequently dangerous to regularly deadly, he must deal with a teen daughter who’s suicidally fascinated with the rippers. Like Sanford’s “Sublimation angels” in the previous IZ, this story steps just shy of the line of explaining what’s going on, and I think the technique is much more successful in this new story, possibly because the rippers themselves are fundamentally unexplainable. A fine read.
“Dragon’s teeth”, Alex Irvine This is Lieberian high fantasy, with a strong but amoral protagonist and a bit of ironic wit. The King’s Guardsman Paulus is sent on a mission to slay a dragon for the queen. He does his duty, but he is also looking out for himself along the way. The story is littered with references to Paulus’ earlier adventures, giving the story a somewhat incomplete feel when read on its own. Despite that, it holds together well, and the story is one of the highlights of this issue.
“Bad matter”, Alexandra Duncan A university linguist, Dr. Saraih Hertz, investigates a mystery left behind by her late father, a famed anthropologist. He’s left behind another heir among the merchant spaceship crewes. The story is interesting and well-developed, but it felt like there’s too much going on here, lots of ideas thrown in the air but not developed, or at least not explained. Much is made of the protagonist wearing the hijab, and being uncomfortable with less modest dress in the crewes, but there’s no explanation of how a Dr. Hertz came to live in such a modest culture. Footnotes emphasize Saraih’s academic outlook, but don’t add much to the story. The crewes speak a highly modified language, but there’s not even a passing evaluation from the linguist protagonist on the connection of this dialect to English or other languages, and there wasn’t really enough length to the story for me to get the hang of it. A fine story, but a little bit busy.
“Farewell Atlantis”, Terry Bisson This story starts out with a disconcerting, disconnected statement, “I remember exactly when it all started, this incredible adventure. It was during The Look of Love, when she wakes up after the operation…”, and two people meeting in a movie theater. It’s a good mesh with the mental state of those two people, who turn out to be watching weeks of continuous movies as reorientation after thousands of years of suspended animation. The story goes on in a somewhat disassociated tone, eventually revealing the what and why of the characters’ past, or at least their conjectures about it. Quite good, even if it requires a bit of mental drift to get the hang of.
“Hell of a fix”, Matthew Hughes I could imagine this infernal comedy (as its been called on the F&SF forum) coming from the pen of one of the genre’s wittier 1940′s greats, maybe Kornbluth or Boucher, and the “deal with the devil” set-up has been a staple of the genre since at least that time. The idea that labor relations in Hell might echo those on earth also seems to make this a story out of time. One thing that distinguishes Hughes’ story from a piece from the 40′s is that it’s about twice as long as it likely would have been back then. But none of that makes the story unenjoyable. Hughes has great wit, and the story is fun all the way through.
“Illusions of Tranquility”, Brendan DuBois Eva is a worker on a struggling moon colony, one that needs to do whatever it can to obtain extra cash from Earth. Eva’s role is to fleece wealthy tourists by selling them “unique” bits of moon history; if that fails, she must sell her body. The colony is also trying to maintain the illusion of prosperity to give its donors confidence, so tourists and colonists are strictly segregated into regions with vastly different economic rules. The story didn’t work well for me. First, DuBois fails to convey the brutality (or hard-edged reality) behind the deception of the tourist zone. Worse, the shock line that ends the story, meant to carry earnest weight, comes off as light-hearted, or even comedic. Takes on a significant theme, but doesn’t support it well.
“The Blight family singers”, Kit Reed A portrait of a washed-up folk-singing act, living on the drama of their backstory. But with no sympathetic character, I didn’t find much entertainment in it.
“The economy of vacuum”, Sarah Thomas Astronaut Virginia Rickles is stranded on the moon when the American government crumbles down below. An excellent melancholy story develops as she survives thirty years alone, and then is discovered by a new spacefaring nation that doesn’t have the capability for compassion needed to rescue here. Another highlight story for the issue.
“Iris”, Nancy Springer Another melancholy story, a brief exploration of new discoveries at the end of life.
“Inside time”, Tim Sullivan Herel Jablov not only designed a time machine, he joined the first mission aboard it. When the mission goes wrong, he finds himself, with only one companion, stuck on a automated “station” somehow outside (or inside?) of time. Quite good, even though I saw the trick ending coming from a few pages away.
“The man who did something about it“, Harvey Jacobs Colin Kabe is an auto mechanic, but one who normally works on cars valued in the 6 figures and above. When he’s asked to work on an out-of-this-world vehicle, he finally gets his chance to do something about it. It’s not a story that would benefit from having its secrets given away, so I’ll only say its worth the read.
“I needs must part, the policeman said”, Richard Bowes The story starts out a bit disjointed, but it does reward holding on until you get into it. If this is fiction, its an incredibly nuanced exploration of the situation of an older man dealing with a serious illness. If this is autobiographical, its a much more revealing look at an author than we normally get in genre writing. I’m not sure I could read an entire magazine of such intense stories, but to have one like this come along once in a while is breathtaking.
Marya and the pirate, Geoffrey A. Landis Space pirate Domingo Bonaventura attempts to hijack a water shipment on its way across the solar system, but runs into unexpected problems. As usual from NASA scientist Landis, the technology is all kept pretty close to the present day and seems very plausible. He doesn’t quite break out the greek letters to explain it, but he goes pretty deep into the technical details. And yet, he also works in a pretty exciting plot revolving around a major systems failure on a Earth-orbitting space station. The one glaring flaw its the wildly unbelievable relationship that develops between the pirate and the sole crewmember of the captured vessel. The story is a throwback practically to the 1940′s with its tech-heavy plot, which is great, but I don’t think the equally retrograde assumption that any female character is automatically available to our hero needs to be added to complete the nostalgic tone.
“Sublimation angels”, Jason Sanford A small human colony scrapes out a meager existence on a one of the most inhospitable planets imaginable. Eur is so cold its atmosphere has frozen into a global ice sheet, in which the colonists have burrowed their cave home. In the lower depths of the cave, the air is sour and lacking oxygen, while in the upper regions the air is sweet. At the top of their society are the brutal “moms”, and at the bottom are the “low kids”, near starvation and short on breathable air. At the top of the heap is Big Mom, an AI transformed to human form to run the colony.
Sanford has recently labelled an ongoing “movement” in SF writing with the name SciFi Strange. This story may be (deliberately?) an exemplar of the style. First for its unflinching description of the painful realities of life with limited resources under the control of arbitrary and gruesome authority, a theme easily found in the New Weird that Sanford cites as a major influence on SciFi Strange.
Also in an ending that leaves some of the major questions opened in the story unanswered (What motivates the AI overlords and the Aurals, for example). That kind of unrevelatory ending is one of the marks of SciFi Strange that Sanford doesn’t mention himself, but it does strike me as characteristic of many of the writers he names in the SciFi Strange family. To me its something where the author is walking a fine line between leading the reader to come up with answers for themselves, and leaving the reader confused and feeling short-changed. Here, Sanford just manages to keep me engaged with a few ideas of what he’s getting at, but not a complete grasp of it.
Although I found myself infuriated (well, mildly infuriated, anyway, if that’s possible) at points by the pessimism of the view of the future of human society presented here, I can’t deny it’s true to human nature, and you can’t beat a story that triggers real emotion like that.