Interzone #224, October 2009

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Sublimation Angels” by Jason Sanford

No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky

Shucked” by Adrian Joyce

The Godfall’s Chemsong” by Jeremiah Tolbert

The Festival of Tethsalem” by Chris Butler

Reviewed by Bob Blough

Interzone, with this issue, has become the longest running British SF magazine in history. The late (and sorely missed) New Worlds is no longer the leader in quantity; however in quality they are neck and neck. New Worlds was the vanguard of the “New Wave” in SF in the 60’s and as such tried to shake the very foundations of SF in its day. Interzone is not as earthshaking in that way but the material they publish is quite exciting in its own right, and this issue is no exception. There are five stories in this issue and three of them I would not be upset to see on awards ballots next year. (Another piece of information – stories published in Interzone are now available to be nominated for the Nebula award since they are available on-line.)

Issue 224 is a stellar issue and begins with a bang with Jason Sanford‘s novella “Sublimation Angels.” It is a tribute to Fritz Leiber and his seminal short story “A Pail of Air.” Sanford’s story offers us aliens that appear as patterns of light, enigmatic and unknowable. But, the aliens have offered humanity a chance to get to know them and a group of humans and AIs have come to their home planet to do so. The story takes place 600 years after this event and still humanity knows as little about the aliens as before. The planet is in an eccentric orbit around its star so the air freezes out of the atmosphere (thus the tribute to the Leiber story). The story revolves around two brothers, their friends, and workmates who eventually question everything about their culture. The society Sanford creates is SF of the purest quality. All questions are not answered, but the story itself is complete. I eagerly await the sequel to the greater story incumbent in the original idea.

The next story takes place wholly on Earth. It concerns a dancer who is broken hearted from a break up with his girlfriend. In the course of “No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky he meets with a tomid named Aviva. A tomid is explained to be an urban myth about a group of children who have been genetically tweaked to be “hive-minds.” This myth turns out to be true. The tomid suck the minds of people they choose to accept and take them into their body to mesh and work with the other minds they have taken in the past. Unfortunately, this story did not work for me; I couldn’t seem to get a handle on what it was trying to express. At first it seemed to be about keeping the Jewish culture alive and pure. But Aviva seems to want various people for various reasons. The tomid is an interesting idea but the story itself did not gel for me, though it might for you.

The next piece is a first sale by Adrian Joyce. It is titled “Shucked” and concerns a computer geek running a program of his own on a computer that unintentionally creates a different program of quite horrific aspects. This creation turns out to be of a very hungry sort for the humans it encounters. Beginning as pure SF, it evolves into something sufficiently scary that, to my way of thinking, it ends up as a dark fantasy of sorts. Quite an atmospheric tale it is, and I urge Mr. Joyce to keep writing.

The Godfall’s Chemsong” by Jeremah Tolbert is a joy from start to finish. I must admit that I really appreciate authors who take us into an alien race and make that race truly alien rather than taking humanity and just dressing it up in alien bodies. Muskblue is an alien living beneath the oceans of the planet Kharybdis. Her society has its own caste system and she is on the bottom-most rung. Her Mother rules her world with power. Muskblue discovers food that is a bit odd but mostly edible that has fallen from the heavens and, against all rules, does not share it with the family. We know from the first line of the story that it is the corpse of a fallen expedition member. One assumes it is a human body and so the “alien” is introduced to this culture, and the changes that occur because of our unwitting invasion becomes a world-changer for Muskblue and the future of her race. It is beautifully rendered and reminded me not only of Tiptree’s “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death” but also an almost forgotten story by Terry Carr called “The Dance of the Changer and the Three.”

The final story reminded me of another Tiptree story called “The Man Who Walked Home.” It’s a fascinating tale beautifully told about two thieves who try to steal a statue called the Figure of Frozen Time. Chris Butler, in “The Festival of Tethsalem” creates a story that feels of high fantasy but is completely SF. The statue, which is shown in Tethsalem only at five year intervals, is thought to change time if it is ever moved or stolen. The truth about this legend is revealed through a narrator who is personable and interesting. Saying too much will ruin it for you but it is a delightful piece to end this issue’s fiction.

Again, to summarize, the best stories in this issue hearken back to terrific stories from SF’s past – Leiber, Tiptree, and Carr – and give us new twists and new ways of seeing things that are rewarding in their own right but honor what has come before.