Interzone provides another strong issue this month, but I didn’t detect any particular themes, so I’ll just take the stories one by one:
First is “Johnny and Emmie-Lou Get Married”, by Kim Lakin-Smith. This is a decent atmospheric piece with 50’s-style hotrodder gangs duking it out in the streets. Billy, a “Fly”, and Emmie-Lou, a “Rocketeer”, have fallen in love and have to make it to the church without getting stopped by either of their gangs. Its not obvious why this story should be set in the future (with steam-powered cars) instead of just done as a historic piece, but the retro-future-retro atmosphere is fun just the same.
Tim Pratt’s “Unexpected Outcomes” is a story that asks, “what if the whole world was just a simulation being run in a giant computer?” The story starts out with a situation that has bugged me in this kind of story going back to Greg Egan’s Permutation City. The world is revealed as a simulation at the moment of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., with the explanation that life to that point has been a computer simulation undertaken as part of a “historical and sociological study”, which is “peopled by all the same individuals who lived in the real history, doing all the same things their original counterparts did.” This explanation fails for me, because the whole nature of a simulation is to extrapolate from some initial conditions to predict an unknown final state or conditions. If the final state is known when you start, what you’re doing is no longer a simulation; at most its just a calculation. Luckily Pratt’s story sidesteps this objection nicely with a somewhat unexpected plot twist.
“Lady of the White-Spired City”, by Sarah L. Edwards, is a fantasy story in science fiction clothing. That is, the tone and atmosphere are decidedly fantasy, though science fiction props decorate the stage. The story is about a powerful wizard (space traveler) from the great city (home planet) who visits a backwards village (on a remote planet). The long-lived (because of relativistic space travel) wizard, it turns out, has been here before, and is seeking traces of her earlier visit. The characters and story are well-developed, and fully engaging, so that the story succeeds as fantasy, which is good enough for me.
Nina Allan’s “Microcosmos” is about family secrets, as they are seen by (or hidden from) children. Once again, science fiction elements, in the form of a desert environment apparently caused by global warming, are atmospheric rather than central to the story. The story really revolves around a young girl confronted with an old family conflict between her parents and another man. The personalities are all well-drawn, making this an excellent story. But somehow I feel I might have missed an even better story because I never did work out what the actual secret was.
“Ys” by Aliette de Bodard is about the conjuration of ancient gods, and its consequences. The writing is engaging, and de Bodard takes advantage of her French background to develop a setting both exotic and believable.
Finally, “Mother of Champions”, by Sean McMullen, is a speculation on animal psychology and possible secrets in the history of cheetahs. Its an enjoyable read, though the tone had me at first expecting a much more substantial story than actually developed.