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The 3rd Alternative #40
      Interzone #196

The 3rd Alternative #40
Interzone #196
Interzone
Interzone, Britain's leading science-fiction and fantasy magazine, founded in 1982, has now reached almost 200 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

The 3rd Alternative
The 3rd Alternative is published quarterly. This high-quality production contains cutting-edge speculative fiction, features and interviews. The 3rd Alternative has won several awards, including the prestigious British Fantasy Awards for "Best Magazine" and "Best Short Story" (Martin Simpson's "Dancing About Architecture," from TTA #11).

The 3rd Alternative Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

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With the Winter 2004/05 issue, The 3rd Alternative celebrates ten years of publication. It is an auspicious anniversary, because the magazine has survived longer than might have been expected for a periodical publishing stories that don't always fit into neat genre categories, stories that struggle to mix the fantastic and mundane in new and profound ways. Because it is one of only a few places where such stories can really be at home, The 3rd Alternative is a truly necessary magazine.

Its potential for greatness makes The 3rd Alternative subject to great expectations. It is a beautifully designed magazine, and though in the past the design has sometimes detracted from the text, the tenth anniversary issue is both beautiful to look at and easy to read, a fact that raises expectations even higher: here is a magazine put together with taste and style. The stories are a mixed lot, though, with a tendency to devolve toward sentimentality and obvious conclusions, a tendency that might seem less egregious if the magazine were simply one of many in a market flooded with creatively designed outlets for genre-defying fiction.

There's a nice variety to the stories, despite their faults, and the anniversary issue does contain one near-masterpiece, Vandana Singh's magnificent "Thirst." The others, though, are all at least partially disappointing. "We Must an Anguish Pay" by Steve Mohn tries to cover sentimentality with grittiness and just ends up being a soppy version of material better handled by M. John Harrison in "The Great God Pan" and The Course of the Heart. Paul Meloy's "Black Static," despite some awkward and coagulated prose, starts out with a marvelously zestful imaginative world, only to destroy it in the end with today's crass replacement of the "it was all a dream" cliché: "It was all the result of childhood abuse!"

David J. Schwartz's "Breaking Glass" is a good, solid story, one with a fascinating premise -- a man compelled to throw rocks through windows develops a cult following -- but the apocalyptic ending seems slightly forced, the sort of thing that suggests more desperation on the author's part than the characters. If the rest of the story weren't so compelling, the slight disappointment of the conclusion would be less annoying, but in a story that, until its final scene, hasn't had one ill-considered sentence, the disappointment is painful.

I thought from the first paragraph of Darren Speegle's "Sugar Cream Pie" that the story would be a parody of William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor. Alas, it seems to be intended to be serious. Melanie Fazi's "The Cajun Knot", translated from the French by Brian Stableford, is a sad, gross horror story, and effective, but, like so many such stories, its characters and incidents seem to possess no reason to exist except to be gross and sad. In "Running on Two Legs," Eugie Foster does as well as I can imagine anyone doing with the subject matter -- a woman battling cancer who is able to speak to animals -- but I could never get beyond wondering, among other things, how it was animals of different species understood what the narrator said to them, and so I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief in the central premise of the tale, which made the Hallmark-card-style ending seem cloyingly anthropomorphic and Pollyanna-ish.

And then there's Vandana Singh's "Thirst," a story that attracts all the inadequate adjectives reviewers pull out when rendered nearly speechless: beautiful, evocative, mysterious, brilliant, stunning, etc. Yes, indeed, it is all of that, a magical mixing of folk tale and domestic realism, of dream and myth, of personal tragedy and universal transcendance. The pace of the story is slow, each long paragraph filled with details that rise toward symbolism and then settle into place as echoes of each other, so that, by its conclusion, "Thirst" is a rich fabric, a story of such depth and compression that it feels like it could have been a novel. Instead of smirking with cleverness or clamoring for unearned emotion, the final paragraph of "Thirst" opens the story wider, letting the reader's imagination gain sustenance from all of the details accumulated over the tale's progression.

TTA Press, which publishes The 3rd Alternative, recently acquired Interzone, and the two magazines share Andy Cox as an editor (with, for Interzone, Jetse de Vries, Peter Tennant, and David Mathew as additional editors). The January/February 2005 issue is the first I've read, and so I can only speak as a newcomer to the magazine.

The fiction in the January/February Interzone is more consistent than in the Winter issue of The 3rd Alternative, with no real failures and no exciting masterpieces. The cover story is "Winning Mars" by Jason Stoddard, a fun SF adventure story, though the dual chronologies of the narrative seem to be more of a gimmick than a necessity.

"Ducks in Winter" by Neal Blaikie and "The Face of America" by David Ira Cleary are both strange, image-heavy stories that seem to be trying to meld surreal moments and hints of philosophy with some of the props of science fiction. "Lost Things Saved in Boxes" by Deirdre Ruane and "Totems" by Will McIntosh are well-written contemporary fantasies. Paul Di Filippo's "The Emperor of Gondwanaland" is an amusing, but facile, homage to Jorge Luis Borges, with an ending that suggests a glib Twilight Zone episode more than the complex, suggestive endings of Borges's better stories.

The art and design of Interzone is as good as that in The 3rd Alternative, and demonstrates ways of illustrating stories creatively and intelligently. Josh Finney's designs for "Winning Mars" are particularly clever, an example of how illustration can enhance and build from a story rather than simply portray a scene from it.

The non-fiction in both magazines is also diverse and interesting, though only a few of the interviews seemed comprehensive enough. Mike Driscoll's column in Interzone, about fantasy's relationship to "literary" fiction and the diversity of approaches offered by U.K. fantasists, is a particular highlight, a thoughtful and provocative column rather than a puff-piece.

The The 3rd Alternative and Interzone are the two magazines most likely to be able to have a deep and lasting effect on what it is we call SF, because they are the two magazines that showcase the broadest array of fiction, and they do it with style. Whether they will be able to live up to their potential, though, depends on the quality of fiction they can attract and develop, which is why mediocre stories in either magazine are frustrating. Nonetheless, stories of the quality of Vandana Singh's are out there, and, with luck, both magazines will be able to reduce the amount of minor stories they publish and increase the amount of thoughtful, layered fiction.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal, Failbetter.com, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.


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