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Interzone, February 2001

Interzone, February 2001
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

Something about the British still fascinates us here in the States, even some two hundred twenty five years after declaring independence from the monarchy. In science fiction circles, the genesis of the New Wave literary strain typically is traced to England and writers such as Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard. Even major American authors such as Samuel Delany and Thomas Disch are said to have been influenced by their stays on the other side of the Great Pond. More recently, the so-called "Britpack authors" are credited with re-invigorating the hard SF form. A primary source to get a flavour of the state of British SF is, of course, Interzone magazine, and the February 2001 issue provides a pretty good sampling of some key figures of the British scene.

Having said that, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean -- I mean, what exactly is the "British scene"? Other than that they share curious spelling habits as putting an unnecessary "u" in "colour"? Indeed, this issue's range of divergent styles makes lumping authors together merely because of national origin seem a bit silly.

If Richard Calder is not as immediately recognized in the colonies as Stephen Baxter (or Paul J. McAuley, often mentioned in the same breath with Baxter, who writes an interesting book review column here), both of whom are featured in this issue, it is because he lacks, incredibly, an American publisher. The cause of this may be because the novels that have appeared here, the Dead trilogy and Cytheria, are not exactly beach reading. Calder's work is highly atmospheric, as his lead contribution, "The Nephilim," illustrates. It's also often graphically violent (though not so much in this tale), and sexually weird (as a character's copulation with a sphinx certainly qualifies). This bleak fable is a polemic about the conflict between rationality and spirituality in confronting the forces of darkness, represented as magical creatures emerging from the Netherworld to disrupt a deteriorating 56th-century English aristocracy. That both sides are, in their own ways, corrupt, and contributing factors to the dilemma, renders a rather dank outlook for even well-meant intentions.

Considerably more well-known here, Baxter couldn't be more stylistically different. In addition to his short story, "Lost Continent," you can get an idea of the breadth of Baxter's work in his interview with Nick Gevers, which elicits some insightful commentary concerning the range of the Baxterium oeuvre. Baxter's brand of SF is the hard variety, though he himself disdains the term as "amorphous," in which even "far out" concepts must be rooted, however slightly, in some sort of legitimate scientific principle, the sometimes pedantic explication of which forms the core of the narrative. "Lost Continent" is a pretty good example of that, being a conversation between two old university chums in yet another variation of the "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I'm crazy" theme. What makes this perhaps a bit more intriguing is Baxter's accompanying interview remark that his concluding Manifold trilogy novel will deal with a "paranoid explanation" of the universe -- so perhaps this short tale may be the genesis of that upcoming work. Baxter's take on Philip K. Dick, however, involves such details as:

"For example, suppose you had a land colonized by a group who pronounce the vowel in 'bad' -- what the phoneticians call RP Vowel 4 -- with the mouth more closed so it sounds like 'bed.' A few decades later, a new bunch of colonists arrive, but by now they have reverted to the open pronunciation. Well, the older settlers seek a certain solidarity against the new arrivals, and they retain their closed pronunciation -- in fact, they close it further. But that makes for confusion with RP3, as in 'bed.' So that must move over, sounding more like 'bid.' RP2, which in turn becomes still more closed, sounding like 'bead,' RP1. This is what the linguists call push-chain."
Now, if you follow this, it does provoke some thought about the concluding plot twist, which otherwise wouldn't be overly striking because of all the other stories of this ilk you've probably read before. However, I have to agree with the other character in this story who interrupts this academic discourse in frustration to protest, "Enough linguistics!"

Someone who could care less about scientific plausibility, except perhaps in the most incidental way, is Ruaridh Pringle in his first published story, "Surfers." We're in Rudy Rucker on drugs territory here, and although the fantastical imagery Pringle employs sometimes threatens to get overdone a bit (I found myself skimming some points of narrative), it's a funny piece.

Not so funny, with an image that's disturbingly dead-on, is "The Eaters" by Alexander Glass, in which a restaurant serves its fare upon an anonymous naked person. I don't know if Glass is familiar with the anecdote about Frank Sinatra slurping a bacon and eggs breakfast off a prostitute's stomach, but he transforms this sexually charged notion into a highly effective transcendental allegory.

Stephen Dedman's "Ravens" is more in line with the Baxter school, though he doesn't spend a lot of time attempting to build plausibility. And while maybe it's not unlikely that police would some day be dispatched to prevent possible suicides based on computer generated probability statistics, it's really not the focus of the story. It's the choices we make, and the compromises that go with them, in working for what's best in society, that are typically neither purely altruistic nor entirely comfortable to live with. Interestingly, Dedman, who is from former British penal colony Australia (which has its own clique of SF writers) sets the story in Los Angeles. I wonder if he's saying anything in particular about the American brand of social conformity?

Something that, to my mind at least, exemplifies a British attitude wasn't in the fiction, but in the reviews. Nick Lowe's always amusing "Mutant Popcorn" movie column savages both Red Planet and The Grinch with a biting wit that popular American critics often lack. And the way Chris Gilmore damns with faint praise in his "Perils and Lampoons" book column shows how the proverbial British stiff upper lip can snarl in a polite fashion.

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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