"Strings” by David Mace
"Soft Apocalypse" by Will McIntosh
"Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch" by Rudy Rucker
"Saving Mars" by Jason Stoddard
"Third Day Lights" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
"Imagine” by Edward Morris
I was intrigued when offered the review of Interzone’s October 2005 issue because I had neither read nor reviewed the magazine before, and because the issue turned out to be #200. It was quite an “introduction.” As one would expect with a milestone issue, Interzone seems to have pulled out all the stops. The glossy, high quality magazine is loaded with color. The layout is attractive. But the issue is more than just a pretty face; Interzone is filled with brain-candy as well. While some of the stories did not fit my personal tastes, all seemed innovative and written with flair. Most were very challenging to read—written with layers of meaning and forsaking common formats. I was very pleased to “meet” Interzone under these circumstances, and I’m certain that this is the beginning of a long relationship.
“Strings” offers intensity unrivaled by any of the stories in this issue. Author David Mace took a futuristic military sneak mission and turned it into dark and distinct poetry with picture perfect tone. Gripping language amplifies the danger the stealth-commando characters face. The setting is slowly unveiled as a future Earth devastated by petroleum reserve depletion, environmental disaster, and constant warfare. At first the message seems political, but at the end, a plot twist involving the military unit’s lone robotic soldier shifts the focus to a question about the nature of humanity. The shift works well, because in the bleak setting, a hint of humanity stands out like color in a black and white photo.
Will McIntosh explores a landscape even more desolate in “Soft Apocalypse”—the dating scene a few decades hence. Before you chuckle, listen to the first sentence. “I passed a lithe cormorant of a woman trying on gas masks at a street kiosk.” That was followed shortly by, “I spied a sexy pair of legs in the crowd, strutting my way. I got a jolt when her face came into view. She’d been infected with that flesh-eating virus someone unleashed in Philly a few years back.” The author continues to describe an empty future where people use virtual reality speed dating to search for a mate who will comfort them in a world filled with terrorism, global warming, resource depletion, and overpopulation. I was touched with pity as the protagonist watched his ex-girlfriend Deirdre’s bio-vid. And I was especially impressed with the character growth shown in the protagonist as he struggled from focusing on the imperfections of his potential partners toward finding a real person with which to spend his uncertain future.
"Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch" by Rudy Rucker is pure whimsy. The narration is impressive, consistently voiced by the obnoxious and selfish protagonist, Glenda. Glenda is kidnapped by an alien called Harna who uses Glenda’s obsession with Bosch to create a “time-flaw to perspective-map the whole spacetime brane down into a sack.” Of course, the stubborn Glenda isn’t as compliant as Harna might have hoped. The plot itself seems random, as all over the map as the proverbial “bad trip.” And yet, the story remains strangely addictive. I can’t say I gleaned anything deep from this tale, indeed it seemed the most meaningless story in the issue, but I respect the skill visible in the narration, and I appreciate the vivid and disjointed imagery.
Jason Stoddard’s “Saving Mars” starts with a telling scene of media manipulation that would make modern politicians and corporate executives quiver with jealousy and desire. The tale continues in the same vein, following several characters through a slightly improbable plot wherein a corrupt future U.S. government, a vast corporate conglomerate, and some intrepid settlers on Mars are set upon a collision course. Some of the character growth in the story seemed effective, and I greatly enjoyed the technological extrapolations in the setting. Life-logs replace weblogs, addicted media swarms influence public opinion, and genius biologists hack the telomeres that limit human lifespan. Heady stuff, and Stoddard manages to pack in a lot of political machination with a dash of the human condition. I couldn’t help but compare the fake media in much of the story with the supposedly fair-and-balanced junk our current media feeds us…
I don’t think I have ever read a story that was as disturbing and hypnotic as “Third Day Lights” by Alaya Dawn Johnson. The story starts, “The mist was thick as clotted cream, shot through with light from the luminous maggots in the sand.” Yucky maggots, but pretty luminous light is good, right? I found the rest of the story contained the same kinds of strangely compelling images. Foul horror mixed with pungent desire, iridescent beauty next to cold murder. I was entranced (and repelled) by this story all the way to the point where Israphel reveals his ultimate purpose. I felt that his goal seemed incompatible with the strange compassion that he seems to radiate, and thus it broke my reverie somewhat. The other bizarre characters did not function by any “normal” human emotional standard, but that was fitting considering their alien nature. But when the once-human Israphel was revealed to be on such a one-dimensional quest, something did not feel right. Even with that flaw, I found this story succeeded for me because of the amazing imagery, the original ideas, and the incredibly graceful use of language.
Edward Morris’s “Imagine” masquerades as a magazine article by Lester Bangs, a journalist who has written the story “Thinking the Unthinkable about Ronald Reagan.” Morris does such a good job of this, that I, the unwary reader, thought I had stumbled out of the fiction and into an interesting article. It wasn’t until “Lester” began spouting alternate history in the fifth column that I realized I was still reading fiction. The journalist’s voice suits the author to a tee. This alternate history political rant article is an interesting extrapolation, and I enjoyed it because I enjoy politics and music (around which the story is focused), and I like magazine-style writing. But some readers may struggle with the innovative presentation. It is challenging to read, since the reader must analyze the narrator to determine whether he is trustworthy, erase the “facts” of our own history, and replace them with the bits of alternate history to truly get into the tale.
In my opinion, this issue of Interzone was most impressive because of the ways it stretched my boundaries as a reader. The quality of the writing was excellent, with language and imagery that assist in the suspension of disbelief. But the aspect of the reading experience that will stay with me is the challenging nature of the stories. Most of the tales required attention and effort on my part to understand and enjoy the various layers. Some stories were presented in formats that were surprising and new to me. Yes, the issue was physically lovely, with thick, glossy pages covered in evocative artwork and color. And the text was pleasingly presented, but the parts I will remember the most are those which unfolded in my mind as I read the skillfully crafted stories in this issue.