“Among the Living” by Karen D. Fishler
“After the Party” (part 3 of 3) by Richard Calder
“Ten with a Flag” by Joseph Paul Haines
“The American Dead” by Jay Lake
“Wane” by Elizabeth Bear
I’m not going to comment on how pretty Interzone is.
I’m not going to comment on how pretty Interzone is.
I’m not going to….
OK, yes, Interzone is very, very pretty. There, I’ve said it, now on with the review.
If you aren’t aware—as I wasn’t before this issue of Interzone—Todd Schorr is a painter/illustrator whose work has the feel of an acid trip moderated by Norman Rockwell, R. Crumb, and a moderately insane imp from one of the higher circles of hell. Thirty-two of Mr. Schorr’s works served as the muse behind Paul Di Filippo’s series of flash stories collectively entitled “The Furthest Schorr: 32 Fugues Based on the Paintings of Todd Schorr.” While it would have been nice to have the paintings printed in the magazine alongside the stories they inspired, it wasn’t necessary. Di Filippo translates the supreme bizarreness of Schorr’s paintings into stories that don’t require knowledge of the original work for enjoyment. However, if you do find yourself driven to witness the wellspring of madness from which these stories came, Interzone does provide a URL at the bottom of page 56 for an online gallery that contains the inspirational works.
As with any collection of 32 stories, some of these shorts are better than others. My personal favorites are “The Harem Dancer,” an exploration of an artist’s attempt to add aesthetic appeal to the war against the infidels; “Domestic Turmoil in Pumpkinville,” a nice blend of gritty urban legend and rural folklore; and “Tar Pit Kitty,” a tale of the war between the planet of cat haters and the planet of cat lovers. Even those I liked the least still managed to be weird, amusing, and—most importantly—short. Give me those three things, and I’m a happy reader/reviewer. So, a big gold star of approval goes to Mr. Di Filippo’s “The Furthest Schorr.”
Our next story, Karen D. Fishler’s engaging and thoughtful piece entitled “Among the Living,” is as existential a story I’ve read from someone who isn’t a dead Frenchman. Dake is dying, painfully, of old age. There is nothing to be done but die in his wife’s arms with his dog at his feet, until a man from the government shows up with an offer. If he leaves his wife and dog and re-enlists in the military, they will transfer him into a new, young, vigorous, enhanced, and not-dying body. Dead or a soldier: his family is going to lose him either way, so why not?
Fishler’s prose serves the story well without calling attention to itself. I have a slight issue with the plot in that it’s never sufficiently explained why Dake and his wife have to separate after the procedure. This left some doubt at the beginning as to whether the story is commenting on the frailty of relationships or decrying the emotional cruelty of men and their wars. It becomes clear at the end that the former was the case, giving me the odd sensation of being happy that the story was merely sad. It helps that the author softens the existentialism, which makes the story a much softer and gentler and, frankly, much more enjoyable sad than the sad of Frenchmen of yore. And, anything that can make a more enjoyable existentialism is a good thing.
Given to expecting mothers, the 99% accurate CDP test returns a ranking to ten and a binary flag. The ranking determines the child’s potential value to society. The flag indicates whether or not the parents should be given the option to abort the pregnancy due to potential problems. As you might expect by the title, the dilemma for the parents in “Ten with a Flag” by Joseph Paul Haines is what to do if you discover there are likely to be problems with a child who could be the next Da Vinci, Newton, Leibniz, or Pasteur when living in a Huxley-esque regime.
“Ten with a Flag” was written with a sparseness that well befits the dystopian nature of the story. Attention is given to the characters and their dilemma rather than the incidental details of their surroundings, and I never found myself wishing it were otherwise. The portrait of the parents-to-be felt real and satisfying to me, though as a chronic bachelor I admit a happy lack of experience in matters pertaining to impending parenthood. The ending doesn’t hit quite as hard as I would like it to, but it still worked well. All in all, it’s an excellent story, and one that adds the name of Joseph Paul Haines to the rapidly growing list of authors I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.
Issue 203 goes from prenatal dystopia to post-apocalyptic coitus with Jay Lake’s “The American Dead.” I’ve never really thought of the pictures found in standard porno mags as a testament to the wealth and power of American civilization, but Mr. Lake makes the good point that in an age starved of nutrition and antibiotics, even the least attractive spread in the eyes of today will seem a photo of Venus freshly risen from the ocean’s foam. I don’t know about you, but that realization hits me harder than any image of Mel Gibson eating from a can of dog food ever will. However, if even this porn apocalypse isn’t enough to phase you, add to it the fact that those who pass for rich and powerful in this ruined civilization are rounding up girls in the believe that sex with a virgin will cure STDs (a belief reported to exist today in certain areas with high incidences of AIDS infection). Yes, the well written prose of “The American Dead” does a marvelous job of giving readers the feeling that, if/when modern civilization starts to fall, nuking humanity into extinction would be the most humane option for all involved. This isn’t to say this is a bad story. These are important points to raise, and Jay Lake does a excellent job showing why speculative fiction is the most effective way to raise them. Just don’t expect to feel very cheerful afterwards.
Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett returns to the pages of Interzone in the issue’s final story: “Wane” by Elizabeth Bear. Inspector Garrett inhabits an alternate history of colonial America where the British and Aztec empires have allied to fight back the Spanish, there is a Duke of New Amsterdam, wampyr (vampires by an older name) are invited to dinner parties, and the laws of sympathetic magic replace chemistry in the detective’s toolkit. Someone has murdered the wife of the Mayor of New Amsterdam, and it’s up to Abigail Irene to find who done it. She can only hope that the clues don’t lead to the prime suspect, her one-time lover who also happens to be the Crown Prince of England. Well paced and charmingly written, “Wane” is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. The fact that this is the second Inspector Garrett story I’ve read (the first being “Wax” in Interzone 201), I hope that I’ll be able to read many more of her adventures in the future.