Interzone #226, February 2010

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“Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas” by Jason Sanford
”Hibakusha” by Tyler Keevil
“In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” by Mercurio D. Rivera
“Human Error” by Jay Lake
”Again and Again and Again” by Rachel Swirsky
”Aquestria” by Stephen Gaskell

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Kemmerer

Issue #226 of Interzone is filled with great stories ranging from gothic to SF. While each of the stories has something to recommend it and all are worth reading, my top picks are “Hibakusha” and “Human Error.” Both are gritty and understated, but surprisingly appealing.

Strange and inexplicable happenings are a hallmark of gothic fiction all the way back to the Castle of Otranto, and “Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas” by Jason Sanford contains its share of such happenings. A young girl in a sea-faring village lives with the burden of a strange fate: the names of villagers, mostly sailors, destined to die in the sea are inexplicably inscribed on her body.  The names burn her skin and her clothing when one of these people dies.  As a result of this anomaly, some of the villagers hate and fear her while others, including many seamen, revere her as a talisman that guarantees their safety. Complication arrives in the person of an unconscious sailor, a former occupant of the village, who turns out to be her male counterpart who, like her, bears on his body the names of those who will die in the sea.  In addition, he is in possession of daguerreotypes of her and him for which she is aware she had never posed. The original premise and good writing recommend the story for those who enjoy this genre. An author’s note acknowledges that this was a reworking of a story originally published in a small press zine edited by Pete S. Allen.

The gem of the issue was “Hibakusha” by Tyler Keevil. This gritty, near-future story deals credibly with cleanup after a nuclear terrorist attack on London. The protagonist narrates his joining a clean-up crew and traveling yet again into the heart of the blast area where the danger is increased by attacks on crews by both terrorists and disaffected survivors angry about the government’s forcible evacuation. Although the story lightly touches on the science of the attack and its aftermath, the heart of the story is character. The portrait of the protagonist, an emaciated, radiation-sickened man, shows the single-minded determination of profound grief. This is done delicately and with great emotional artistry. The protagonist’s matter-of-fact acceptance of his illness and his emotionally flattened narration overlay the ruin of the city and its incomparable British Museum with his memories of the glory of Britain’s treasures as a backdrop for the person he loves and has lost. This unique perspective helps the reader to comprehend the depth of that loss. The closure he gains in the midst of great personal danger helps him to accept his loss and move on in a way that surprises and uplifts, a rare treasure.

Set on Triton, “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” by Mercurio D. Rivera is an SF story about a love triangle. The protagonist with two alien companions in tow pursues his kidnapped, drugged wife to rescue her from a conniving coworker. The charm of the story overcomes some fairly flat human characters. The mystery of love’s origins and endings are universal for humans and aliens alike, something that transcends mere biochemistry.

“Human Error” is a dark SF story of death, grief, and greed. Jay Lake spins a fast paced tale of mining the asteroid belt and the toll that danger and loneliness take on the miners. The female protagonist narrates, often referring to her preference for the solitude of mining the asteroid with hand tools over spending her time with the remaining miners. The death of one miner, madness of another, and the discovery of a rare treasure complicate the plot and make this story riveting.

The SF short “Again and Again and Again” by Rachel Swirsky is social commentary on the generation gap certain to elicit a smile.

”Aquestria” by Stephen Gaskell has superficial similarities to both C. S. Lewis’s “Till  We Have Faces” and the recent movie Avatar. Like Lewis, Gaskell plays lightly with comparative mythology—in this case, with Gaia, the sick king, the dying god, what have you.  Like Cameron’s, Gaskell’s protagonist is profoundly wounded and is healed by identifying with the enemy “other” and with the planet itself. Nonetheless, Gaskell’s SF story is original and different from either of these. It is a sympathetic story of a woman bereft who is looking for a way to stave off becoming as uncaring as those around her. She finds the answer to her emotional wound in a helpless enemy survivor. It’s well written, an enjoyable read.