For those of you who don’t already know, ‘Interzone’ is the UK’s leading short fiction magazine for Science Fiction and fantasy. Although it is officially counted as a semi-professional magazine for the purposes of things like the Hugo Awards, it’s a high quality offering, publishing around five stories every two months, accompanied by several regular review columns and full colour artwork. Issue 241, which covered July and August of 2012, is slightly unusual because one of the published stories is a competition winner. The James White Award exists to identify talent amongst unpublished genre writers. The winner gets a cash prize, a trophy and publication of the winning story in ‘Interzone’. The winner of the 2011 award was Colum Paget and his story is published in this issue. It’s worth noting in passing that Mr. Paget was generous enough to give his cash prize back to the Award administrators in order to make the 2012 prize pot that much larger and so encourage more writers to enter the competition. I take my hat off to him.
The longest story comes first. It is the novelette ‘Steamgothic’ by Australian author Sean McMullen. In it, Louise Penderan, a modern day aristocrat with a love for steampunk fashion, discovers a crashed, steam-powered precursor of the Wright Flyer hidden in a barn on her family’s estate. She asks Leon Chandler, a stylish goth engineer, to restore the plane. As he does so, he realises that had it publicly made a successful maiden flight, it would have been Louise’s inventive ancestor who became immortalised in world history in place of the Wright Brothers. However, the aircraft is dangerously underpowered. Leon has to cope with avoiding Louise’s fiancé, who thinks the two are having an affair, at the same time as trying to make sure that the restored plane doesn’t kill its next pilot, whoever that turns out to be. McMullen’s characters are well-developed and the steampunk background rings true. There’s a good mix of characterisation and technical detail, making for an interesting and absorbing story. I really enjoyed this one.
Franco-Vietnamese author Aliette de Bodard’s story is a far future hard SF story called ‘Ship’s Brother’. As the story starts, the Vietnamese narrator goes into labour with the second of her two children. However, whereas her firstborn was a normal human boy, her second is a ‘Mind’, a part-human, part-machine hybrid which is implanted into and becomes the brain of a spaceship immediately after birth. Such ‘mind-ships’ are able to access hyperspace and so can jump across vast distances almost instantaneously, whereas conventional spaceships remain constrained by the speed of light. The story is about the son’s hatred for his sister, partly because of the pain and suffering she has caused their mother before, during and after the pregnancy and partly because he comes to view her and all other ‘Minds’ as an inhuman abomination. This is an interesting idea which is brought to life by de Bodard with warmth and humanity. Listening to the mother’s narrative as she tries not to lose her son to his anger and fear is truly heartbreaking.
‘One Day In Time City’ by David Ira Cleary, tells the story of a fantastical city where your physiological age increases as you travel from the poorer areas downtown to the more affluent zones uptown. The poorer, younger people downtown tend to travel around by bike or moped, while the richer, older people uptown drive cars that seem more like tanks. Joey is a bike courier from downtown who is on a mission for the Bike Defense League. He needs to steal a scale model, proving that one of the car companies is about to launch a new vehicle with retractable spikes hidden in its bumpers, enabling the driver to deal with two-wheeled traffic more aggressively than ever. As Joey escapes after the theft, he has to seek help from an uptown girl, as her car has accidentally crushed his bike. Will she help him or will she hand him over to the authorities? The idea behind this story is an interesting one and Cleary writes great prose. However, I ultimately found the story disappointing because there are too many coincidences dotted throughout it and the plot does not get resolved one way or the other.
Gareth L. Powell’s ‘Railroad Angel’ is very short for ‘Interzone’ at only two pages long. It is set in February 1968. Forty-one year-old Neal is in Mexico, wandering along the railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere, high on drink or drugs following a friend’s wedding reception. When sparks drift down from the sky, Neal has an epiphany, learns a fundamental truth about the nature of reality and is given a choice of futures. This is an excellent short story, taking a single bold idea, developing it well and then stopping.
The final story is the James White Award-winning ‘Invocation Of The Lurker’ by C.J. Paget. Tara used to be a rich and privileged citizen of ‘The Kingdom’. However, she has been sacked from her job for stealing a gene synthesiser and giving it to the wrong person. Having lost her public reputation, she has gone down to the poverty-stricken ‘zones’ to see if the locals have any way to get her back to the Kingdom. A female Shaman listens to her story, then offers to call down a ‘Lurker’ who may be able to help. However, the price will be high. Is Tara prepared to pay it? This is an excellent story and a worthy competition winner. Paget provides a lot of local colour, a cast of believable characters and an intriguing plot. However, he also treats the reader as an adult, not spoon-feeding them but also not leaving them lost in the midst of his alien world. I found it notable that when I re-read the story for the second time, I found things that I hadn’t noticed first time round, always a good sign. I look forward to reading more of Colum Paget’s work in future.
In addition to the stories, each issue of ‘Interzone’ includes several regular columns. ‘Ansible Link’ by David Langford is an always entertaining collection of SF trivia, often focusing on how others outside the genre perceive it. Langford also includes obituaries of genre figures, both major and minor. Jim Steel edits ‘Book Zone’, which in this issue includes nine useful book reviews plus an interview with British fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna, whose novel ‘Darkening Skies’ is one of the titles reviewed. ‘Mutant Popcorn’ is Nick Lowe’s consistently thoughtful and well-argued review of recent cinema releases, which in this issue includes critiques of eight films, from Hollywood blockbusters such as ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Men in Black 3’ to recent English indie hit ‘Storage 24’. Finally, Tony Lee’s column ‘Laser Fodder’ reviews sixteen recent DVD releases. Lee’s reviews are always worth reading, not just for his views but for his choice of subject matter. If you ever find yourself wondering what SF movie to buy or rent next, ‘Laser Fodder’ would be a good place to start looking for a recommendation.
It’s about a year since I last read an issue of ‘Interzone’. Having thoroughly enjoyed issue 241, I’m now regretting that lapse. If, like me, you like reading new Science Fiction and fantasy short stories then you should seriously consider subscribing.
(bi-monthly 66 page magazine: UK publisher/editor address: Andy Cox, TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB6 2LB. Price: £ 3.95 (UK) $ 7.00(US). ISSN: 0264-3596)
check out website: www.ttapress.com