Interzone, #207, December 2006

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“The Purring of Cats” by Dave Hoing
“Spheres” by Suzanne Palmer
“Frankie on Zanzibar” by David Mace
“Clocks” by Daniel Kaysen
“Stonework” by Wendy Waring

Dave Hoing’s “The Purring of Cats,” the opening story of issue 207 of Interzone, didn’t work for me. It didn’t work for me a lot. It’s a beautifully written story, at times even poetic. It’s aggressively depressing, which, while unpleasant, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s also far too long, which is. The story sets up Dr. Jans, a councilor appointed by an oppressive government, as Nikki Toerson’s only hope of salvation. Nikki has been found guilty of having sex with an alien, so she will spend the next decade in prison unless the doctor can find some mitigating factor. The story then spends a lot of time dwelling on Dr. Jans’s empty marriage and his angst over his growing feelings for Nikki. Things don’t really get bleak, though, until he finds the mitigating factor. Again, the problem for me was just that it went on way too long, but if it sounds like your cup of tea (or if your doctor has warned that any increase in your happiness level may cause a catastrophic cranial rupture) then by all means, dive on in.

“Spheres” is a comfortable story, which comes as a great relief after the previous one. Author Suzanne Palmer doesn’t do anything really wild or unexpected. The setting is a bit unusual, a barrio of tethered pods—the spheres of “Spheres”—hanging off of the bottom of a space station, but the story is the familiar tale of a small community of individualists struggling against the corruption of encroaching civilization. The main character, Irvil, is your standard gruff-yet-likable old coot right down to the clipped dialect of his first person narration. The only complaint I have is that it takes several paragraphs to get used to that dialect, which makes me do a bit more work than I usually like to do to get into a story. That said, after those paragraphs, the dialect becomes transparent, and you’re left with a very enjoyable read.

Her professional parents, the company that made her, and the agents who want to steal or even kill her know that Fransi is a very smart young girl. She was, after all, designed that way, and the tests all show that she is progressing ahead of schedule. Little do they know, however, just how ahead of schedule she is. David Mace’s “Frankie on Zanzibar” is, at heart, a well done but typical child ultra-genius story. Granted, the story spends a bit too much time dwelling on environmental and socioeconomic concerns that have no real impact on the plot, but, as I have a soft spot for child ultra-genius tales, I’m willing to overlook that and give “Frankie on Zanzibar” my nod of approval.

The only reason I can find that the next story, “Clocks” by Daniel Kaysen, is in a speculative fiction magazine is that it involves a Star Wars poster. As I’ve said before, that doesn’t really bother me, but this story is so blatantly mainstream that it seems a little odd. In a nutshell, the story is about a single woman’s inner struggle and frustration as she keeps going home with a guy who never seems to remember her in the morning. If there had been some weird time loop or alien mind reset thing going on then I could understand why the story is in Interzone, but, nope, he just blacks out after too much vodka.

Enh, whatever. The important question is whether “Clocks” is any good. For me, all the appeal is in the style and the shortness. The story has a progressively disjointed, almost delusional, flow that is interesting and very fitting. It also helps keep the story short, which is necessary because it’s a very depressing piece. Do short and disjointed equal good? Well, it is at least interesting, and at two pages in length, interesting is really all a story needs to be.

Short, enigmatic, and about xenoarcheology: Wendy Waring’s “Stonework” seems tailor-made to make yours truly a happy reader. There’s not much story here—researcher studies mysterious alien ruins while mulling over his life until Something Weird Happens—but at only three pages, there doesn’t need to be. It’s a wonderful window on an arcane universe, showing just enough to whet the imagination. That said, those who want explanations in their stories will be disappointed, but if you don’t mind the unknown, then the final story of issue 207 may just be for you.