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Interzone, Spring 2004

Interzone, Spring 2004
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

This issue of Interzone marks David Pringle's last as editor and publisher; not, as he notes in his departing remarks, because of any "weariness with the authors and fiction we publish, but rather with the whole business side of running a magazine." Indeed, of late the magazine was unable to maintain a monthly publishing schedule, and this "Spring" issue was originally slotted for January/February.

There have also been some grumbles that perceived an uneven quality of late, which my own admittedly sporadic reading of tends to affirm. Which isn't meant to detract from a pretty good run of 22 years as an important outlet for British short SF. And, as a letter by Eric Lord in this very issue notes, "We read Interzone for different reasons. You can't please all the people all the time, but the range and variety of IZ's contents provide something of interest to each of us in every issue. That's why we keep reading it, and why it's successful."

And it will no doubt continue to be successful, as Andy Cox of TTA Press has accepted the baton (or is it ray gun?) to carry on. One thing immediately for certain about how the change in the guard will affect the magazine: no more ugly covers. Interzone has the dubious distinction for consistently pukey cover artwork (the inside typography isn't much better). The Spring issue, unfortunately, continues this tradition. Yellow typeface set in red over a bluish illustration of two racially diverse ETA-suited young lads staring out at some kind of spaceport as might be imagined by folks who did the FX for Flash Gordon movies in the 30s, dressed up with a contemporary reference to "terrorists" attacking a methane well. And, which, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with any of the magazine contents.

No doubt Cox will put a welcome end to this reign of graphic error. Still, you can't judge a book by its covers, and Issue 193 is a pretty good parting gesture. Interestingly, in his final editorial, Pringle emphasizes that despite the upcoming changes, Interzone will remain "primarily a science fiction magazine... and will not attempt to slant it more in the direction of horror, fantasy or 'slipsteam'" characteristic of the The 3rd Alternative which Cox also edits and publishes.

What's particularly curious about this statement is that the stories in Issue 193 lean very definitely in that slant; none would be entirely out of place in The 3rd Alternative. While Pringle wants to assure readers that new ownership will continue commitment to "pure" SF, whatever that exactly is, his last issue sees the horses out of the corral before he tries to shut the gate.

The most straightforward SFnal fiction of this issue is "Everlasting," the lead story by Alastair Reynolds, though it's not the gonzo space opera for which he is noted. It is, however, in the mode of the hoary SF tradition in which the narration centers on a character expounding a theory of the universe somewhat at odds with conventional understanding, but grounded in some scientific theory, to a disbelieving other. One of the more dubious contributions of quantum physics is that it has given SF writers license to postulate alternate realities as serious speculation rather than fantastical contrivance. The problem is that the contrivance is usually a more interesting plot device -- I'd guess Phil Dick didn't give a rat's ass if some physicist thought multiple dimensions underlie reality, because the point was that it's all in your head, anyway.

In contemplating the probability of multiple universes, Ian Caldicot deduces that in at least one universe his self must be immortal. He has made the considerable logical leap of faith that he is currently in the universe where he is in fact incapable of dying, based on the not thoroughly thought out idea that accidental twists of fate by which he has avoided disaster are not accidents, but diverging points from alternate realities in which he has died. To test the hypothesis that he is living in a reality in which these accidents/divergent points continue indefinitely, thus resulting in immortality, and to convince Moria Curbishley to whom he is explaining all this, Ian plays Russian Roulette, confident that the gun will misfire or that the bullet will somehow or another pass through one ear and out the other without doing damage. Ian does seemingly prove his theory, but not the way he expected, to Moria's horror. While Reynolds provides a nicely evocative metaphor to depict Moria's fate, and while I'd say this is probably one of the better tales of this type, this sort of thing really isn't my cup of tea. I'd much rather see the alternate reality envisioned, instead of merely discussed. Since the issue is raised of whether Cox will keep his fiction pigeonholes separate in editing different magazines, compare a couple of stories in TTA Issue 37, "Iridescence" by Jay Caselberg and "Rhythms and Complications" by Gavin Grant. Both posit alternate realities and involve certain leaps of faith (quite literally in Caselberg's case). Both place their characters in alternate universes at odds with ours, and both vividly describe their imagined settings, but evoke more to ponder about our perceptions of "what's really real" beyond that of a neat trick ending. Indeed, for this reason, of all the stories in this issue of Interzone, Reynolds would be the one that might not make the cut for TTA. I'm not knocking the story, necessarily, as I am pointing out that it is probably more in keeping with Pringle's definition of a traditional science fictional story.

Liz Taylor's "Loosestrife" better straddles the two approaches, both science fictional and weird. Aud is a casualty of an England plagued by environmental disaster; intellectually retarded thanks to some bad things in the drinking water, on the governments dole as "Deserving Poor." Aud wants a baby, a not unnatural urge. But she can't have one; nor can many women, thanks to the aforementioned ecological disaster. So, Aud decides to nick one. But the baby isn't quite your normal kind of kid.

A very arresting story, in several senses of the word. And, I think, a better story because instead of science fiction that just presents an interesting idea for reader amusement, it ponders what intrinsically defines the human condition, however much impaired by chance circumstance and thoughtless actions.

"Diva's Bones" by John Meaney is a nice comingling of crime noir and the fantastic. The narrator is a homicide detective investigating a series of murders linked only by the great artistic abilities of each of the victims. The science fictional element, and it is a bit of a stretch to call it that, is that underlying technology is somehow or other powered by the bones of the deceased so that we all become, quite literally, ghosts in the machine. And some ghosts have more influence than others over those on the other side of the divide.

The role of the dead also underpins "The Order of Things Must be Preserved" by Darrell Schweitzer, a very creepy tale of a dystopia in which the living are responsible for receiving and stacking corpses in public spaces for no discernible reason, neither for respect or preservation, or, unlike in the Meaney tale, any practical purpose. The dead are just there, like unpleasant memories (which is perhaps the point). This parable in which an emperor is again revealed to be without clothes is evocative, yet, ultimately, I felt as if beneath the surface trappings there really wasn't much there. Perhaps that, too, is the point. The tagline informs that this is the third in a sequence of stories. Maybe it would have helped to have read the others as well. But, just based on this story, I think that even if there isn't much beneath the surface, it's certainly an interesting surface to skim. What I am sure about, though, is there's nothing remotely science fictional about it.

Finally, Dominic Green's "Three Lions on the Armband," which is also a sequel to an earlier Interzone story I haven't read (I told you my reading of the magazine has been sporadic). The tagline assures that this story can be understood without reading the previous tale, and, while that's seemingly true, it takes some work to figure out exactly what is going on. But that work is what makes it rewarding. Again, we're in some post-apocalyptic England of environmental disaster. Highways are littered with abandoned cars that have become convenient abodes for the dispossessed, many of whom work as software support tele-technicians... "See that aerial over there. That's not a satellite TV dish. It's a radio modem. Perhaps half the software of the big corporations is written by paupers in shanty town huts these days." So, no matter how things change, some things stay the same.

Into this Mad Max mix are competing fractures of religious philosophies, all vying for a piece of the action in preying upon the desperate conditions of the masses (again, the more things change...), including a Catholic priest taking considerable dogmatic liberties and a farmer who has built a spaceship of some unusual engineering to lift his followers to life on a better planet. The lions on the armband alluded to in the title reference the military police arm of Great Britain and Ireland, which intends to enforce its decree that there is no God, with unintended consequences (to say once again, the more things change...).

While there are science fictional underpinnings in speculations about technologies gone wrong, it is dressed up in a decidedly weird way that Asimov wouldn't recognize. And, perhaps, wouldn't want to see in a magazine devoted to science fiction that isn't fantasy, horror or slipstream. But there, despite the disclaimer, it is.

If, with the possible exception of Reynolds, all these stories would not seem out of place in the TTA Table of Contents, what can be made of Pringle's assertion that Interzone must remain a strictly science fictional forum, or that even such distinctions matter anymore?

I think it is important for Andy Cox to make some sort of distinction, because otherwise what would be the point of two different magazines? It'll be interesting to see how that pans out. In the meantime, here's congratulations to Pringle on his past success and I hope he approves of whatever direction his appointed heir takes.

At the very least, I hope he likes the new cover art.

Copyright © 2004 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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