Interzone #225, December 2009

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“Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows” by Jason Sanford
“By Starlight” by Rebecca J. Payne
“The Killing Streets” by Colin Harvey
“Funny Pages” by Lavie Tidhar
“Bone Island” by Shannon Page & Jay Lake

Reviewed by Carla Billinghurst

The selection of stories in this issue of Interzone covers pretty much all the genres from urban-horror to gentle fantasy.

“Bone Island”  by Shannon Page and Jay Lake is the stand-out for this issue, the story itself being the (fairly) straightforward tale of Cary Palka, every witch’s favourite familiar, and how his devotion to an ancient duty embodied in his grandfather’s stone axe heals the split between ‘quiet’ and ‘noisy’ magic and banishes two divided witches in favour of a psychically whole descendant.  What takes it to the top of the list is the writing: it’s poetic, it rings and resonates with myth like a grinning smith belting it out on a magic anvil, and it gives a sense of the ancientness underlying our every footstep while at the same time making magical beliefs somehow graspable as real, not some strange misguided view of history.  The bones of the title are real bones but also the bones in limestone, the bone that rock comprises in the body of the Earth, and the bone of contention that a divided belief system fights over.  On a spooky, fog-shrouded island nothing is what it seems and yet every islander knows the intimate details of his neighbours’ lives.  Things are left unsaid even when the surf runs with blood but the good guys win in the end – of course, that depends on your definition of ‘good’.

“Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows” from Jason Sanford is a haunting story that stayed with me long after the first reading.  It’s urban SF with a neat twist on the alien-abduction theme and builds on the “what do you have that we might want?” trope of First Contact.  Deeper than that, it’s an exploration of Art – how the process of creating Art is a taking apart and a putting together and that life, as an art-form, is necessarily change but some change we choose to reject because it truly is wrong.  So there’s a bit of speculation in there, too, about the nature of evil.  The story is about an urban fireman whose wife has been abducted by Rippers, strange black creases in the air that lurk in the shadows, steal humans and, judging from the screaming, do unspeakable things to them.  His daughter eventually chooses to follow her mother into the shadows but her father resists and is left with a sense of hope that mother and daughter can change the aliens.  The central character is a fine blend of public service and private pain that we are used to from movies like Die Hard; doing good because he does but if you scratch the surface there are some firm moral principles in there.  It’s about loss, as well, and how we cope, alone and together, with losing loved ones.  Its central theme is humanity’s ever-present fear of what might creep in from the dark and more particularly what might creep in from the dark to do Bad Things to our teenaged daughters.  Stay in the light!

Lavie Tidhar‘s “Funny Pages” poses the question: could even super-heroes sort out the Arab-Israeli conflict?  The answer is a disheartening, if not unexpected, ‘No!’ but on the way to this conclusion the situation sorts out a few of the super-heroes! Tidhar jumps easily between comic-book adventures and political commentary; overall it’s a light look at why people don’t get on, be they super-heroes, ethnic groups or just the usual weak humans who can’t resist playing out their own stereotypes.

“By Starlight” by Rebecca J. Payne is an excursion into a future world divided into grounders and the people who float above them on ships powered by starlight.  The world is beautifully drawn with a mostly mediaeval flavour to it. Our heroines try to earn a living from trade while grounders try to catch the ships and the sailors struggle with inter-fleet disputes and religious and territorial issues.  The main characters are two young women, one a slave and one from the wealthy classes, who have fled the traditional ship-board lives expected of them in a stolen ship.  Payne’s piratical lesbians survive and eventually appear to be thriving in their world.  Of all the characters, the ship is somehow the most evocative as it limps along, injured, with an uneven pulse.  The relationship between the main characters is convincing and the whole adventure has a satisfactory conclusion.  It’s a gentle story that doesn’t grab you by the entrails and shake you, but that’s not always a bad thing.

And talking of being grabbed by the entrails, here is Colin Harvey‘s offering, “The Killing Streets,” where gigantic,  hungry Snarks explode from under the tarmac to pounce on terrified pedestrians in a near-future dystopian London.  We experience a Snarks-eye view of chomping up humans and then meet Thom for his take on walking through London streets.  The regular rhythm of footsteps attracts the beasts so he sings and dances, a few nods to Dune here, with the schools using Thumpers to draw the creatures away at 3:30 pm when the kids have to catch the bus.  Then there is Blacktongue, another escapee from the government laboratories that brought you Snarks, and, it turns out, a disease that somehow connects Snark and potential victim so that they can sense each other.  Although the world created is convincing, there were some things in this story that were never explained; it felt as though it was an introduction to a longer, more complex story and Thom’s touching belief that throwing himself to the Snarks would mean his evil wife Marian would keep her promise to look after Thom’s girlfriend and her children didn’t really ring true.  Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining “what-if?”