Interzone #210, June 2007

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"The Final Voyage of La Riaza" by Jayme Lynn Blaschke
"Heartstrung" by Rachel Swirsky
"Tearing Down Tuesday" by Steven Francis Murphy
"Dr. Abernathy’s Dream Theater" by David Ira Cleary
"Preachers" by Tim Lees
"Toke" by Tim Aker
The June 2007 issue of Interzone leans toward fanciful retro high-tech, grimy futures, and the surreal.  (Interestingly enough, three of the six stories mention airships, which may or may not be relevant, though personally I’ve often hoped they would make a comeback as a form of transportation.)
The first story, Jayme Lynn Blaschke‘s "The Final Voyage of La Riaza," is about First Mate Diego Brazo of the titular airship—one that looks and feels less like the Goodyear blimp (though it does use helium-filled cells to achieve flight) than a flying version of the merchant ships of the age of sail, navigating a cluster of planets sharing a common atmosphere.  At first the story seems likely to go in familiar enough directions—the severe officer who learns the hard way that he has to be more humane toward his subordinates, the first mate who has to grow into the role of ship’s captain.  Blaschke, however, takes the course of letting his protagonist shape events, rather than be shaped by them.  Additionally, while the final voyage includes the usual run of maritime calamities (storms, pirates, shipwreck, mutineers, etc.), the interplanetary airship and its related technologies provide an element of novelty.  Still, while there are some interesting bits of world-building, greater detail might have been called for at a couple of points (in a sense this universe might be just a bit too lived-in, particularly where the system’s configuration is concerned), and the story’s fragmented structure makes it a somewhat choppy read, though it is never a trying one.

Rachel Swirsky‘s dream-like "Heartstrung" is the story of a woman we know only as the "seamstress," literally sewing her daughter Pamela’s heart onto her sleeve—a rite of passage all girls go through that, perhaps like any mother, she can’t help but feel has come too early.  The act, the seamstress’s reflections on it, and the story’s final turn make for a surprisingly poignant drama about what growing up means for children and their parents. 

In Steven Francis Murphy‘s "Tearing Down Tuesday," young Kyle Hackshaw strives to keep a beloved but worn-out robot (Tuesday) from being sold for parts—something he can only do if he raises the money to buy the robot himself.  As Murphy’s juxtaposition of idyllic images of country life with the relics of a rusting, greasy modernity and the shiny new toys of a post-Singularity future suggests, it could easily have been a futuristic spin on the old formula of the child who struggles to rescues a beloved animal.  However, it takes a much darker turn early on.  There are those who will likely be offended by the story’s intolerant, hypocritical small towners and pedophiliac ministers, but to linger on the baggage of America’s culture wars would be to do this story a disservice.  Forceful, sometimes shocking, "Tearing Down Tuesday" is the most strongly plotted piece in the issue.

David Ira Cleary‘s "Dr. Abernathy’s Dream Theater" is narrated by Professor Jarmoir Stavan, a kuff-addicted naturalist in the quasi-Victorian city of Wensceslao.  At a dinner party he becomes acquainted with a young woman named Remzi and her companion Raphae, two self-styled "Sciencers," part of a group taking a steampunk approach to the problem of studying dreams in a scientific way.  While the emergence of a love triangle between them intertwines with Stavan’s discovery of the group, Jaromir’s function is, for the most part, to describe the goings-on at the "Dream Theater," and the story is successful mainly as a presentation of an entertaining idea, though Jaromir’s arch, erudite voice comes through quite clearly.  

Tim Lees‘s "Preachers" is the story of a boy named Matt and his father, a frustrated mechanic, making their way through the world in the wake of a post-collapse world where Matt’s father’s profession has become less rather than more relevant for all of the run-down machines littering the landscape.  The father remains rooted in a technological past the son cannot remember as the world reverts toward superstition, epitomized by the preachers who drive into "the farms," "dressed like pirates, but swagger[ing] round like gangsters" as they bring their message, a celebration of the brutality of creation and God’s hunger for sacrifice.  The last third of the piece, a collection of disparate scenes in which Matt himself doesn’t seem perfectly clear on what’s been happening, feels comparatively rushed, but the story still succeeds in offering a glimpse from the margins of a full-blown civilization transition.

In the issue’s last story, Tim Aker‘s "Toke," the narrator and protagonist is Tenner, one of a pack of street kids who prey on a "scarecrow," as the plant people living in the city of Veridon are known.  Unlike their usual illicit activity, the "mule work . . . for the gangs running fern out of the Torchlight, or smuggling out of the Reine-side quays," what they are after is a toke, smoking the grass from the scarecrows’ bodies, an act that is, predictably enough, not consequence free.  To its credit, however, it is much more nuanced than a simple anti-drug parable.