Interzone, #195, November 2004

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"Enta Geweorc" by Nicholas Waller

"Problem Project" by Hugh A.D. Spencer

"Redemption, Drawing Near" by Michael J. Jasper

"When you Visit the Magoebaskloof Hotel, Be Certain Not to Miss the Samango Monkeys" by Elizabeth Bear

"Cry of the Soul" by David Memmott

ImageThis second issue under its new editor is beautifully produced, easy on the eyes, and full of Good Stuff.  Silly to predict the new direction of a magazine by a single issue, especially so soon after the switch at the helm, but it seems to me that Interzone is going to be just fine, judging from the quality I see here.

The leadoff story is Nicholas Waller's powerful "Enta Geweorc."  Peter Collard is returning home after years of devastating warfare across the solar system.  He knows he's coming back home not to safety but to devastation, under threat of more.  The title (which I looked up on my handy-dandy online lexicon) hints at grimness to come, and Waller delivers.

We have seen this theme before.  It was popular during  the New Wave of the sixties: what would happen if we built machines smarter than we are to do our warfare for us. We've seen the theme, but not this story, interlaced with references to past glories in ancient literature. Waller makes us care about Collard, who made a lethal mistake for understandable reasons, about Cheddar, the home he left behind—forever—and about Kirsty, the survivor Collard finds living in the rubble of his hometown.  Waller makes us feel what has been lost, and how, yes, the world can get worse.  The tension lies not just in that threat, but in Collard's real identity. Kirsty's questions strike deeper toward what Collard won't reveal. The climax is a crescendo predicted all along, but still causes a frisson of chill.  And wonder.

"Problem Project," by Hugh A.D. Spencer, is a whipsaw change in tone. We start out with two seemingly unrelated storylines: a progress report from some people somewhere in space who are undergoing a lot of problems and need help; and the transcription of a therapy session in which Hal, the patient, is describing his bad dreams.  Hal goes home to his wife Megan, who had encouraged him to see the therapist to cure his migraines and find out what underlying psychological problem is causing the bad dreams.

We switch back and forth between the progress reports, which worsen to the point of threatening the End of the Known Universe ("which could much limit our options for career advancement") and Hal, whose nightmares are also steadily worsening.  We know the two are going to intersect, but who'd think the ongoing riff about ever-present telemarketers would provide the key?  A tight grin of a story, not quite a laugh, but lingering.

Next up is Michael J. Jasper's "Redemption,"  which opens with a priest, Father Joshua, being contacted by a colonel to enter an otherwise strictly cordoned off site where an alien ship has crashed.  The aliens, it has transpired after a tense interval of attempted communication, seem to be asking for a spiritual leader with whom to talk.

Readers familiar with Jasper's superb collection Gunning for the Buddha will realize that this is the first story in Jasper's series of otherwise stand-alone tales about Earth being visited by the Wannoshay, aliens from a dying world who fled here in desperation.  Father Joshua tries, desperately, to comprehend these aliens, who are not even remotely humans in rubber masks; Jasper does an excellent job of depicting believable aliens.

I don't think the Roman Catholic Church, experienced after hundreds of years of what in effect were alien encounters, would have left him to struggle alone.  I am sure he would have had a confessor, and a support system, but that's a very small quibble: the focus stays on Joshua, laboring despite real fears (and real risk) to do the right thing—if only he can figure out what the right thing is.

Three strong stories in a row, and the fourth rolls in like the big wave.  This is Elizabeth Bear's "When You Visit the Magoebaskloof Hotel Be certain Not to Miss the Samango Monkeys."  The title refers to bits of data punctuating the story with information about this rare breed of monkey.  The story itself is told first person by a colony ship's xenobiologist, who must find a way to make the biochemistry of the planet they crashed on work for humans, or the entire colony, stranded now, will die.  She faces an unpleasant task: digging up and dissecting the body of one of the hitherto-peaceful alien life forms, in order to try to figure out its DNA.  As she paces to the site where the alien child is buried, she reflects on how these kind-seeming aliens sliced up as thoroughly as any practiced serial killer a woman from the colony ship who had accidentally uncovered an alien burial site.  Then returned to normal as if nothing had happened.  Careful, furtive, yet respectful, the xenobiologist uncovers the baby's body—and then looks up.  Into rows of alien eyes. 

Meanwhile, the slivers of data about the monkeys have become memories, and the end is a coda that ties both threads tightly at last, not on the surface of the story, but far beneath, where meaning transpires.

The final story, "Cry of the Soul," is by David Memmott.  Again, the theme is a familiar one—the end of a culture diminished to Third World curiosity, along with its environment—recaptured in exploitive form by the amoral drive of big business.  But though we've seen the theme, the story, about Benito Cortezar, a descendant of one of the last Lacandon Maya.  He has designed, at enormous expense, a resort made out of transported bits of the vanishing Mayan jungle.  At this citadel in the Pacific Northwest, called the Sacred Monkey Lounge, he is about to unveil an immersion world called La Ruta Maya Dreamtime. 

Bennie prowls the premier, which is full of the expected Beautiful People, including the ultra powerful CEO and his gorgeous, sexually voracious wife.  Bennie slips in and out of memory as it becomes clear that maybe he's not done a good thing in this effort to preserve a bit of his heritage, but a bad thing.  Yet the money was not his, it was the CEO's. and that means control of the project is not his.

What Bennie does, why, and how, brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, replete with powerful emotion and image.

Five good stories, David Langford's "Ansible" in print, an absorbing article on anime and manga, some very good book reviews, and a wonderful interview with Ken McCleod complete this issue.