Interzone #230, Sept./Oct. 2010

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“Love and War” by Tim Lees
“Age of Miracles, Age of Wonder” by Aliette de Bodard
“The Insurance Agent” by Lavie Tidhar
“Camelot” by Patrick Samphire
“The Upstairs Window”  by Nina Allan

Reviewed by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The issue starts off with a rather weak story titled “Love and War” by Tim Lees.  The tale of a woman serving a government run by “The Party” as they fight off an invasion of insect-like aliens labeled “Earth X,” the dialogue and plotting are solid, but the story suffers from a major flaw.  Lees fails to inhabit his protagonist such that she sounds and thinks like a woman rather than a man.  If you changed her gender and name, she could be a man, and it took a page or two before I stopped having to remind myself the narrator was a woman.

Aliette de Bodard’s “Age of Miracles, Age of Wonder” is far stronger.  The tale of a sun god who has become human and the former worshipers who are now torturing him as they prepare to kill him, the story is one of revenge, sadness, loss, and misunderstanding.  While the people resent the gods for all the sons and daughters they’ve been forced to sacrifice to them over the years, the gods resent the loss of their worshipers, whom they consider hopelessly misguided.

Bodard switches skillfully between four different point of view characters, with each offering a unique perspective on the story’s events.  The dialogue and characterization are strong, and, the result is a story which asks deeper questions about faith, suffering, oppression, and resentment, and how people respond to it in different ways.

“The Insurance Agent” by Iraeli writer Lavie Tidhar is the story of a private bodyguard (“insurance agent”) hired to protect Kim, a foul-mouthed, cocky alien goddess revered by many.  It turns out that instead of serving as her bodyguard, he’s been hired for an altogether different purpose.

While the dialogue and characterization are well done, the story suffers from the fact that the goddess evidences no redeeming qualities.  Why the main character would accept the mission is questionable, and why he didn’t quit the moment he discovered the deception is even more so.   He tries to cover over this with the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings, but even the protagonist doesn’t believe in it.  In the end, the story left me wondering what the point was.

“Camelot” by Patrick Samphire proved two things to me: first, that the author has a unique perspective on the world, and second, that he has a love affair with the f-word.  Perhaps this is more acceptable among Brits than Americans, but I did find it distracting, particularly because his tale of a man looking for his brother’s corpse, which he believes he will find at a site he’s dubbed “Camelot,” is surreal and difficult to follow.  Some of this is purposeful, as it seems obvious the writer has left many things open to the reader’s interpretation. The main character, Sam, does have an intriguing series of encounters with a  mysterious woman who becomes his lover and seems to know quite a bit more about him than he knows about her.  Other parts of it I felt were more related to the writer’s style.  I also had a hard time figuring out whether the story was supposed to be fantasy, science fiction, or perhaps horror.  It doesn’t fit neatly into one category, but that’s not always bad.  

For readers who enjoy the mystery of shows like Lost and The Event, or even FlashForward, this story will likely be intriguing.  For those who prefer more straight forward story telling, you might prefer to read the other stories and skip this one.

Nina Allen’s “The Upstairs Window”is the second strong story in this issue.  The tale of a journalist whose life intertwines with his ex-lover and an artist, this one also leaves a lot open to  reader interpretation.  When the artist friend, Nico, gets into trouble, he prepares to flee under a false identity, asking for the protagonist’s assistance.  The protagonist debates getting involved but recalls their friendship over several years and gives him money to help him get on the train and start a new life.  He leaves behind memories and a letter for his ex-love, which the journalist then must deliver.

The dialogue is good.  The characters are somewhat interesting, but I never really got a sense of what the story was about, even after two readings, and I could discern no apparent speculative element to mark it as science fiction or fantasy.  The most I culled from it was that the protagonist was bored with his life, and, indeed, at the end of the story he does sell his house and things and moves away for a fresh start.

Not my cup of tea mostly, although I highly recommend the Bodard story.