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Interzone, February 2000

Interzone, February 2000
Interzone
Interzone, Britain's leading science-fiction and fantasy magazine, founded in 1982, has now reached over 150 issues. Short-listed for the Hugo Award many years running, and a Hugo winner in 1995, it has a high reputation around the world.

Interzone has published short stories by many of the big names of the field, from Brian Aldiss and J.G. Ballard to Ian Watson and Gene Wolfe, but its particular strength has been in the nurturing of newer writers.

Interzone Website
SF Site Review: Interzone, December 1999
SF Site Review: Interzone, November 1999

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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Something about Interzone magazine has always struck me as exotic, in part because, as is the case with most exotic things, it's not easy to obtain where I live and, to get a hold of it at all, it's expensive. I've never seen an issue on the racks and as far as I know there's no U.S. retail distribution, although I've heard there may be plans to correct that. You can get an overseas subscription, but at $60 a year for a considerably less-than glossy monthly 66 page issue, it's a little pricey. (You can also order back issues from Locus at $5 a copy, plus $1.50 shipping and handling.)

It's also foreign. Well, British, which isn't that foreign to us North American Anglos. I mean it's not like the rest of Europe where they don't speak English, and which Britain doesn't really want to be a part of anyway, but, hey, close enough. And the leading British writers -- Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Gwyneth Jones, Richard Calder, Ian Wilson, to name a few -- regularly publish in Interzone. So what if the typeface is clunky and the covers are ugly? (The February issue, for example, has these godawful orangey-yellowish hued titles over a bluish depiction of what looks like a cross between a U-Boat and a bulldozer, which isn't in any way that I can see related to the magazine's content).

So you'll understand why I was excited to land the February issue of Interzone to review. And why I may be more disappointed than I should be. There's an interesting article by Bruce Sterling about how technology (meaning, of course, the Internet) is shaping the future, a funny movie review by Nick Lowe, and some cleverly observed book reviews. But the stories struck me as considerably less than cutting-edge. Mildly interesting, at best. In fact, the only fiction I really got excited about was a review of The Twist by the aforementioned Calder, who for some inexplicable reason currently lacks an American publisher (did I hear someone say, amazon.co.uk?).

The two best stories here share the topic of death. Zoran Zivkovic's "The Window" ponders what choice you might make if, having died, you could either come back in any form -- animal or plant -- or stay dead. Problem is, while you know what to expect from being alive, you aren't given any clues about what it might be like to be dead. Which seems to pretty much describe the human predicament. Zivkovic writes in the first person, making you think you might know what the character decides, but it is sufficiently ambiguous to make you unsure where his after-death experience ultimately leads. Which, I suppose, is the point. Not incidentally, Zivkovic is a Serb still living in Belgrade who undoubtedly has had a lot of first-hand experience with death and its concomitant perplexities.

In "Dog Years," also told in the first person, Liz Williams does a nice riff on the longstanding theme of "making a deal with an entity representing Death, and living to regret the consequences." The deal here is made by a young girl who, in return for recovery from a grave illness, agrees to let Death periodically see the world through her eyes. Of course, what Death most wants to see are acts of mayhem and destruction, which works wonders for the protagonist's adult career as a war correspondent. The solution to getting Death out of her consciousness is a bit drastic, but ultimately seems to be worthwhile. Though I initially cringed at the resolution coming about through some semi-romantic encounter with a mysterious guy, I understand the metaphor Williams is driving at.

"At Bud Light Old Faithful," M. Shayne Bell presents a pessimistic picture of how the absurdities of pervasive commercialism in our culture steamrolls the resistant, no matter how stalwart their convictions. While the deadening effects of commercialism is a favourite SF theme -- from Frederik Pohl's and C.M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash -- Bell is dealing in SF only marginally. Budweiser hasn't become the corporate sponsor of the Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone Park (not yet, anyway) and ultraviolet ray-induced blindness from a depleted ozone layer hasn't happened (not yet, anyway). It's a good story, but it's really neither fantasy nor SF. I don't mean this as a criticism, just an observation that certain folks who bought a magazine for its cover of guys in space suits with those futuristic U-boats in an otherworldly setting might wonder if they got their money's worth.

The featured story is "Colours of the Soul" by Sean McMullen. (One of the things the American reader has to get used to is the insertion of "u" in words like "color" where we Yanks don't think it's really needed. For that matter, it's one of the things an American writer has to get used to in seeing his copy changed to put those "u's" in by a Canadian editor at the SF Site.) A spreading virus provides people with a telepathic ability, a related symptom of which is the perception of ultraviolet light. The infected "ultras," as they're called, often resort to suicide as a way of escaping the unwanted intrusion of other people's thoughts. The political authorities have taken a cure before releasing it to the general public, but then they discover another enhanced ability of the "ultras" which, since they can't partake of it, represents a threat to the power structure. Suitable mayhem ensues.

This story didn't click with me in part because of the main character's impassivity (though this may have been wholly intentional on McMullen's part to make a point about an ultra's state-of-mind). This guy is totally dispassionate, whether about getting the infection or his wife's infidelity and subsequent suicide. Even a deep dark personal secret he reveals at the end doesn't seem overly emotionally affecting. For my taste, Pamela Sargent has a better take on this theme in a recent Amazing (see "Common Mind" in issue 600).

When I don't really get into a story, as in the case of McMullen's, I'm often unsure if the problem lies with my own limitations as a reader or those of the author. I'm a little bit more certain where the fault lies in "The Denebian Cycle" by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown, and I don't think it's me. Brooke and Brown have attempted a sort of feminist take on an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure. The fact that they're guys might explain why it doesn't work. This survival tale of a stranded team of planetary ecologists does set you up to think you've figured the ending out, then throws you a couple of curves, only to take you to where you thought it was going in the first place. But it just takes too long to get to an ironical ending that just isn't all that original. I also found it incredibly annoying for the authors to constantly refer to the native inhabitants of the Denebian planet as "aliens," when in fact the real aliens are the humans. Perhaps this is meant as an ironical comment on the racism typical of the Edgar Rice Burroughs genre, though I really don't think this story is capable of being that clever.

All of which goes to show that the problem with the exotic is that once obtained, it's not nearly as exciting as you thought when it was beyond your grasp.

Copyright © 2000 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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