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Interzone #194

Interzone #194
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 Martin Lewis

The king is dead, long live the king. After twenty two years at the helm of what has become Britain's longest running SF magazine David Pringle has stepped aside. He passes the magazine over to Andy Cox, editor of the highly regarded The 3rd Alternative and Crime Wave.

So what's changed? The question of design is an obvious one to raise: The 3rd Alternative is noted for its design whereas the previous incarnation of Interzone most certainly wasn't. The new version is a definite improvement. The cover is provided by Edward Noon and it makes an immediate impact. It's certainly not a cover that you feel compelled to hide whilst in public. Noon also provides the highly varied interior illustrations throughout the magazine.

There are a few things to quibble about regarding the layout such as the size of fonts and the arrangement of the non-fiction but considering this is the first issue under new management everything coheres surprisingly well. I fully expect these niggles and any questions about whether style is occasionally placed above accessibility to be ironed out in coming issues. This process is aided no end by the fact that the magazine's online forum offers the ultimate in reader consultation.

On the non-fiction front the indispensable Nick Lowe and David Langford remain in place. Mike O' Driscoll's "Night's Plutonium Shore" commentary column is a welcome replacement to that provided by Gary Westfahl and PS Publishing supremo Pete Crowther writes a column on comics.

But fiction is the most important aspect of the magazine and it is on this that it should be mostly judged. The debut issue contains five stories, all by newish writers, none of whom are primarily associated with Interzone. There have been some complaints that it would have been nice to have seen some familiar faces or at least some British ones but I am happy to take my fiction from any quarter provided it is good. As it is I think the fiction as a whole has to be rated as middling.

Steve Mohn's "Song Of The Earth" is about colonisation, one of several such stories in this issue. In order to survive on the planet of Gallajen, the Call Tree, a gigantic technological edifice, endows the colonists with individual nanotechnological adaptations. These adaptations often seem worse than useless (for example, growing large disfiguring claws to aid tree climbing) and Tyle Ryko vows never to climb the Tree and hence stay clean. This is tantamount to sacrilege to her Uncle Gil, who believes she is opening herself up to disease, both physical and spiritual.

The trouble is none of the interesting ideas in the story cohere. There is a strong sense that too much has been left off stage. Exposition is a tricky thing but too little is as dangerous as too much and "Song Of The Earth" leaves too many questions for the reader. Everything about the colonisation process seems arbitrary and ill explained which detracts from the inevitable but compelling conclusion.

This is followed by Douglas Smith's "Enlightenment," by far the worst story in the issue. It is another story about colonisation though this time of a much more traditional nature: the brutal, fascist Earthlings invade a transcendentally peaceful alien race in order to appropriate their natural resources. Despite some nicely judged depictions of alien customs it is clunkily told, crammed with awkward acronyms and irritating Noble Savage stuff. Any merit to the story is washed away by the conclusion which hammers the reader over the head with painfully heavy handed Christian imagery.

After this Karen Fishler's brief "Someone Else" is a great improvement. Déa is a prostitute and recovering drug addict, plagued by hallucinations and memories. These centre on a man who told her he could not live without her. Inevitably she must confront him head on at which point she discovers she is not irreplaceable. It is very well written, Fishler's matter-of-factly unpleasant depiction of prostitution is particularly good, but it struggles to rise above being a vignette. Its short length and abrupt conclusion leave it a sketch that only scratches her protagonist's surface.

Next is the highly prolific Jay Lake's "Dreams Of The White City." The White City is a vast, vaguely religious bureaucracy where survival seems to depend on being rich and being lucky (presumably no satire of the BBC is intended). In typical Stalinist fashion, controlling the present means rewriting the past and the fact that the City is an Earth colony is now not even a memory. The past still exists however and the City's founder is trying to reassert himself and his original vision. He chooses Marga, a collaborator-citizen who keeps in the Civic Guard's good books by informing on her neighbours, as his vehicle for this. It's a good story but doesn't feel entirely self-contained; it is hard to believe Lake will not be returning to this world.

The magazine is brought to a close by Anthony Mann's "Air Cube." It is a slight satire on consumerism, enjoyable enough to anyone who has lost their temper at the amount of crap sold in the colour supplements of the Sunday papers.

David Pringle's worry in handing over the magazine was that it would move away from being a science fiction magazine. As David Soyka remarked in his review of the final Pringle issue this is rather odd considering the type of fiction he himself published. Interzone has been synonymous with a certain kind of low key British fantasy for many years now. In fact Andy Cox has put together the first pure science fiction issue I can remember in recent times. The more plausible worry was that with Cox controlling a monopoly of UK genre magazines there was a risk of homogeny. This does not look likely to happen: the new Interzone contains elements of both its old incarnation and TTA but it shows every sign of ploughing its own furrow. If the fiction is solid rather than spectacular and the redesign is only three quarters of the way to being a radical improvement this has laid the foundations for what will hopefully be another twenty two years.

Copyright © 2004 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis reviews for The Telegraph And Argus, The Alien Online and Matrix, the newsletter of the British Science Fiction Association. He lives in North London.

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