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Interzone, August 2001

Interzone, August 2001
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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Can you judge a magazine by its cover? Well, in the case of Interzone you can as long as you pay attention to the listed authors and not the artwork, which has always struck me as consistently unattractive. (It can't be a cultural thing, either, witness the much more aesthetically striking covers of fellow British publication The 3rd Alternative.) Even my kid went "Yuck," when she saw the August issue (though admittedly she's of an age where that has become a favourite expression about many things). However, I suppose you could make the case that an ugly illustration is apt for Richard Calder's cover story, "Espiritu Santo."

This is the sixth and concluding episode of the Lord Soho series, all originally published by Interzone and soon to be collected in book form, which deal with succeeding generations of the Richard Pike dynasty in a far-future England immersed in class conflict and under siege by forces of dark magic. It's all very atmospherically surreal, characteristic of the Calderian worldview, though considerably toned down from what you might expect if you're familiar with the author primarily through the sexually bizarre and virulently violent Dead Girls trilogy and Cythera. (On this side of the Great Pond in the Colonies, Calder hasn't had a publisher since these works were reprinted in 1998, a situation Four Walls Eight Windows will rectify later this year with editions of The Twist and Frenzetta.)

Despite what is probably some trenchant satire about class distinctions and religious symbolism about sacrifice, this story didn't work for me, largely because the opening melodramatic dialogue struck me as verging on the silly. Also, the underpinning conceit didn't ring true. The story opens with the protagonist contemplating dropping his son from the top of his castle in an act of murder-suicide despair to escape a hateful wife and an endless war. Then, in an apparently real "fall from grace," he cuts a deal to sacrifice himself, and the rest of humanity, with the caveat that this very same woman be spared. All right, so people act from stranger motivations, and maybe I'm missing some deeper significance, but passages such as this seem to exceed the reach of Calder's narrative grasp:

"I did love you, you know," said Joan. "You were kind to me. Kinder than anyone had ever been before. It was something I found hard to understand. It was something -" A sob contorted her chest and she bowed her head. She looked as when I first met her, the latest 15-year-old recruit of Madame Lotte's brother in Greek Street... I would make sure that the child who wore the crimson dress and six-inch heels, and whose face was larded with make-up, did not die."
An accompanying interview conducted by Charles Rudkin provides a pretty fair overview of Calder's work and how he's looking to evolve. In contrast to the usual fawning, "I really liked your last book and where do you get your ideas" pap typical of some interviews, Rudkin has the intellectual gumption to state his dislike for certain aspects of an author's work that he otherwise clearly admires. Calder's responses to criticisms about his "cloying prose" makes for some interesting reading about an interestingly different writer.

Also falling a bit short in the "Expecting Something More from a Favourite Author" category is Thomas Disch's "Martian Madness." This very short (two page) story is making some point or another about the mindless consumers that practice mindless consumerism. But I think it fails the test of, "If this story was submitted by an unknown instead of a Famous Name Writer, would it have gotten published?"

But such stories are worth checking out just because of who wrote them. Stephen Dedman may be getting to that level. Although I'm not overly familiar with his work, Dedman's contribution here, "Ptaargui," seems to follow the "surprise twist" format of what short fiction I have read of this Australian writer. It is a sort of anthropological missing person mystery that uses classic Golden Age riffs -- in this case, how we better be careful how we conduct ourselves before known telepaths -- in ways that surprise you before you realize what hoary rabbit is being pulled out of the old hat.

Ashok Banker's work, according to his tag line, is just beginning to appear in the West. His "www.cyber-whore.com" takes the concept of Internet porn to a disturbing Gibsonian level in a tale about how technology entraps a working girl trying to get out of the business. Last but not least is Zoran Zivkovic's, "The Whisper." Zivkovic is a Serb whose translated stories are sort of extended Zen koans, this one about the question of revelation and whether intellectualism gets in the way of understanding it when it stares us in the face. At least, that's what I think it is about.

Of final note is Gary Westfahl's essay, "Going Where Lot's of People Have Gone Before, or, The Novels Science Fiction Readers Don't See." If this isn't the final word on the Star Trek and other media tie-in book phenomenon, it's one of the more intelligent.

Copyright © 2001 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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