Interzone #227, Mar/Apr 2010

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“The History Of Poly-V” by Jon Ingold
“Dance Of The Kawkawroons” by Mercurio D. Rivera
“Chimbwi” by Jim Hawkins
“Flying In The Face Of God” by Nina Allan
“Johnny’s New Job” by Chris Beckett
“The Glare And The Glow” by Steve Rasnic Tem

Reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk

Normally, when reviewing a magazine, one looks at the history of the magazine; Interzone started in about 1982, and was the UK’s premier semi-prozine for a long while. Although it appears in a larger size than our usual digest prozines (Analog, F&SF, Asimov’s), I might suggest that, based on contents, it’s definitely been a prozine for a long, long time. Seldom do I see a magazine where five out of the six stories in it are contenders; the sixth story suffers only by comparison.

“The History Of Poly-V” by Jon Ingold is written like a personal memoir from a scientist lab-testing a formula for not only FDA (or its British counterpart, the Food Standards Agency) approval  but, eventually, sales by whatever drug company is sponsoring the tests. “Poly-V” stands for poly-vivo mnemenia and, as its name might suggest, is a memory aid. But what a memory aid—the lab’s people are testing it upon themselves prior to clinical tests (always a dumb idea, in my opinion), and they’ve discovered that by holding a trigger object, they can recall specific times and places as if they were actually there. One of the researchers brings in a teaspoon and can tell them everyone who’s ever used that spoon; another finds his lost house/car keys.

Will, the protagonist, revisits scenes from his past over and over, compulsively and obsessively. He revisits his first year in University, he revisits past times with his mother, he revisits breakups with old girlfriends. But as the trials go on, the researchers discover a darker side to the formula. You’ll twig to it yourself when you read it. Nicely written.

“Dance Of The Kawkawroons” by Mercurio D. Rivera is a sly little dig of an SF story. The Kawkawroons are an avian species of semi-sentients who live on a world that’s become mostly water; the waters cover the roots of the towers of an ancient indigenous people, long gone; the “Kawks” nest in the towers. The unnamed protagonist and his friend, Annie, have come from Earth to steal some eggs.

The eggs are the source of a drug called “Inspiration” that is so powerful that Annie, who tended bar and had a non-technical background (she even had trouble with high-school Spanish) was able to invent a working translator after taking one thimble-sized dose. How Inspiration stimulates the cerebral cortex to allow a non-technical person to invent technical stuff is not important, and is never explained—what’s important is that once again, Earth humans have found an indigenous species that has (or makes) something they want to exploit…

Story of our history, n’est-ce pas? Well, read this little gem and you will find that things may not go as smoothly as in the past. Yes, we will import thousands of Kawks so that they will lay eggs for us—yes, we will take Inspiration and invent all kinds of stuff. But cui bono? Who’s going to profit more from this exploitation?

{Reviewer’s note: You will notice that I herein use the word “species” when referring to the Kawks in Rivera’s story, not the Star Trek word “race”—and it’s good that the author here did not call them an “alien race” either, or I would have had to knock a point off my positivism. The word “race” refers to visible divisions in human beings. If you can’t interbreed with us, you can’t be a race, folks. }

“Chimbwi” by Jim Hawkins takes for granted that environmental disaster is just around the corner—the Antarctic ice shelf is going to melt, and much of the world, including England and Europe, will find their lowlands under water. Which is going to bring about the collapse of European civilization and lead to war, plague, famine and lots of refugees.

But what if, during that period, some African scientist(s) invented some revolutionary new types of scientific apparatus (really efficient solar converters [“solar fusion”], anti-gravity and better laser weapons appear to be part of it) that they use to benefit their own countries rather than sharing with the rest of the world (for “rest of the world,” read “rest of the European world”)? What if Zambia, Tanzania and other African nations are the top shelf of civilization while elsewhere, non-Africans fight each other for the high ground?

Jason Johns is a professor of physics who has come to Africa as a refugee; at first he can find only “slave” work in the mines of Tanzania with German refugees, but is taken to Zambia because of his physics knowledge. Although the Zambians have mastered a good portion of solar fusion, their work is incomplete, and Jason will have to fill in a few blanks down around the “quantum foam” level. Forced by the Zambians to wear a bracelet that suppresses part of his brain functions on arrival, he will have to prove himself to be accepted into the Bemba tribe.

How he does this forms the bulk of the story, and the tale of his personal growth is a good one. Recommended, if only for (but really not only for) the nice twist on the Englishman having to prove himself to the Africans. And you learn a lot of interesting proverbs, too!

“Flying In The Face Of God” by Nina Allan takes an old trope, that of modifying people to suit different environments, and adds a slightly different take on it. Rachel wants to be a flyer (an astronaut), but to do that she will have to take the Kushnev treatment which will, among other things, render her permanently sterile, change her eyes, thicken her skin and lighten her bones. She will no longer be fit for Earth, but must spend the rest of her extended life in space.

Anna is a filmmaker who has chosen, because she loves Rachel, to document Rachel’s transformation; Anna’s life is one of loss and leaving, and Rachel’s departure for space will echo Anna’s life. As a young girl, Anna lost her parents in one of the first Aurora ships, which had been sabotaged by unknown persons and blew up on the launching pad. Anna’s grandmother had always told her her parents died in a car crash. And Melanie, her grandmother, was also leaving, mentally, as a result of Alzheimer’s.

The story title is a reference to a claim made by some groups that the astronauts were defying God’s will by trying to leave the planet.

Now Rachel is leaving, Melanie is leaving, and Anna soon will be alone. All she will have to sustain her will be the search for a friend of her mother’s whom she had never known about, and a copy of Rachel’s favorite movie, Voyage to the Sun, about the discovery of the New World under Columbus (one assumes, as I was unable to find such a movie), rather than a space journey.

Lyrically written, with great feeling for all the protagonists.

“Johnny’s New Job” by Chris Beckett is the weakest of all the stories in this issue—it seems weaker than it is, although it is by no means a bad story, simply by comparison to all the others. It’s a tale of a futuristic Britain where the welfare state has reached so far forward that it’s gone backward—where government provides Welfare workers with a very high standard of living, but if something goes wrong with their charges, woe betide them!

“We’ve got to protect the children,” they claim, and if something happens to a child who’s in Welfare (even those who are being taken care of by parents), then the government encourages the people to take action. Mob action.

Johnny’s a millworker, who works at the looms, but after attending one mob action he discovers that every action, even the ones encouraged by the government, has a reaction of some kind. The story’s a bit heavy-handed, with a tone about halfway between irony and black humor.

“The Glare And The Glow” by Steve Rasnic Tem is a very short story about a man who needs light. The man and his long-suffering wife live in an old house with uncertain wiring, and they go through a lot of light bulbs. This man, who is never named, spends much of his time speaking in quotations—and much of his time replacing light bulbs.

Finally, he buys a box of generic bulbs with a difference; rather than the usual pallid glow emitted by your usual cheap electric light, these bulbs put out a white glare that bares all. And the confrontation with his wife in this new light shows our protagonist that maybe some things are better left shadowed and unseen. A nice little story.