Well, I got there in the end; which means I can now, for I think the first time ever, cast a fully informed vote in the annual Interzone poll. And this is how I vote:
Stories — positive vote
- “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (IZ220)
- “Miles to Isengard” by Leah Bobet (IZ220)
- “Black Swan” by Bruce Sterling (IZ221)
- “Microcosmos” by Nina Allan (IZ222)
- “Unexpected Outcomes” by Tim Pratt (IZ222)
- “Glister” by Dominic Green (IZ223)
- “No Longer You” by Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky (IZ224)
- “Funny Pages” by Lavie Tidhar (IZ225)
Stories — negative vote
- “Monetized” by Jason Stoddard (IZ220)
- “Spy vs Spy” by Neil Williamson (IZ220)
- “Memory Dust” by Gareth L Powell (IZ220)
- “Saving Diego” by Matthew Kressel (IZ221)
- “Ys” by Aliette de Bodard (IZ222)
- “Butterfly Bomb” by Dominic Green (IZ223)
- “Silence and Roses” by Suzanne Palmer (IZ223)
- “Bone Island” by Shannon Page and Jay Lake (IZ225)
Artwork — positive vote
- Cover, #220 — Adam Tredowski
- Cover, #224 — Adam Tredowski
- Cover, #225 — Adam Tredowski
- “Funny Pages” — Warwick Fraser-Coombe
- “Johnny and Emmie-Lou Get Married” — Warwick Fraser-Coombe
- “Lady of the White-Spired City” — Martin Bland
- “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest…” — Geoffrey Grisso
Artwork — negative vote
- “Sublimation Angels” — Paul Drummond
- “The Godfall’s Chemsong” — Martin Bland
- “Butterfly Bomb” — Daniel Bristow-Bailey
- “A Clown Escapes from Circus Town” — Warwick Fraser-Coombe
- “Fishermen” — Geoffrey Grisso
- “Black Swan” — Paul Drummond
- “Monetized” — Paul Drummond
- “Memory Dust” — Daniel Bristow-Bailey
And that, as they say, is that.
So it seems I end my gallop through Interzone as I started it, with a disappointment. “Bone Island” is the overlong, over-digressive tale of a hapless young male protagonist caught between two witchy women. There’s a deal of would-be portentious talk about types of magic, creation myths, and suchlike (“Just as the eggs flow from a woman on a river of blood, so do the futures flow from the world on a river of blood”); its attempt to portray a tight-knit island community rather pales in comparison to Ali Shaw‘s (and at times feels rather ersatz); and it is, most criminally, rather dull. A shame.
I think Lavie Tidhar had a pretty good year for short fiction; there was “The Dying World” at Clarkesworld, “Spider’s Moon” at Futurismic, and of course “The Shangri-La Affair” at Strange Horizons. All extremely stylish, poised stories, deft with their chosen tropes. This is Tidhar’s best 2009 story, though, for my money.
The polish is still there, but “Funny Pages” feels like it has more going on underneath. It’s a superhero tale, set in Israel — a little like something Jonathan Lethem might have written — and does everything you would expect and hope a modern prose superhero tale set in Israel would do. It’s grounded in the day-to-day mundane, with superheroes facing romantic entanglements and unpaid bills; its superpowers are inventive (“Orchestra is music, Orchestra is a weave of notes: Tank can never see her face, her figure, only hear her, like thousands of pirate radio stations clashing with each other”); it is knowing in its invocation of cliche (the supervillain: “The Doctor, hawk-nosed, white hair combed back, a thick German accent he’d never quite lost […] ‘I will show them! I will show the world!'”); it is often funny; it is political; and it makes good use of comic-script-style back and forth:
The Prime Minister: “You’re a superhero! It’s your job to deal with this stuff!
Solomon2: “Job? I work in hi-tech, with all due respect. Fighting crime doesn’t pay the mortgage. Plus, well …”
PM: “Well what?”
Solomon2: “This is beyond the realm of, well, strictly speaking, crime, now.”
PM: “What are you talking about?”
Solomon2: “It’s become … political.”
PM: “You’re damn right it’s political!”
Solomon2: “Ah, but there lies, as they say, the rub. We’re strictly non-political. Traditional crime only. I don’t think it’s right for us to interfere.”
PM: “But Dr. Meshugeh is!”
Solomon2 shrugs: “Supervillains have different standards.”
I know Colin (he reviews for Strange Horizons), but this is the first of his fiction I’ve read. It piles novum upon change upon invention, seen through a couple of days in the life of an unemployed man in near-future Bristol. One: Snarks, big subterranean bioweapon beasts, infest the country, drawn to the surface by rhythmic vibrations, such as those produced by walking. Two: jobs are scarce, and/or qualifications have been devalued; even the most menial require good degrees, if not doctorates. Three: there’s a deadly, weaponised disease called Blacktongue, that’s almost always fatal and spreads by touch, on the loose. Four: the surveillance state is worse; the narrator’s wife works at the Department of Work and Pensions, referred to as “the Stasi” by some characters; mobile phones are (it is assumed) routinely used to track citizens’ whereabouts. And so on. This is all so vigorously grim that it can’t really be taken entirely seriously, and I’m not wholly sure it coheres; but it’s fun, and bodes well for the proposed Winter Song reading group.
A cool drink of a story, measured and soothing; a story about freedom that itself feels free. Our protagonists are two sky sailors in a world divided into Flyers and Grounders. We learn how they met, and how they ended up where they are now. We see them trade with a merchant, and get out of a sticky situation. Their world, with its living, healing sky-ships, and “Amerika” and “Aysa” and “Europa”, could be a future and, under the skin, sf, or it could be alternate and fantastical. Payne’s story is detailed, and nicely specific, but the nature of her world doesn’t matter, not to her characters (one of whom, the narrator, is I think also casually unspecified; I didn’t notice any specific cues, and they have been read as both male and female) or to us. What matters is flying free.
One night, as we skimmed low over a wide lake, hauling up fresh water, we caught a silvery bird in our bucket. It had slippery skin instead of feathers and small wings that flapped in water as if in the air.
We threw it back over the side and watched it fly away, into the deep.
“After all, why rippers kidnapped people was the only question worth asking in today’s world.” This is how Jason Sanford’s tales work, it seems: strip the world down so that the sfnal intervention demands an answer. Like “When Thorns are the Tips of Trees”, “Here We Are …” is set in a near-future crippled by disaster. The rippers are aliens that live in darkness (“light can’t remove every shdaow”) and prey on humans, either killing them, or taking them to a terrible fate Elsewhere. Its characters are, as ever, well-sketched but cast in familiar roles, even as they are defined by Sanford’s world: the firefighter (narrator) who must go out at night, the wife who has been killed or taken by the rippers, the teenage daughter alienated (ha) as a result. In “Thorns” these elements balanced each other quite nicely; here, I think, the trick is less successful. Understanding can cast its own shadow.
A nugget of New all swaddled in Old, that’s what this story is [pdf link]. Much of the pleasure in “Sublimation Angels” — as in Sanford’s two previous Interzone tales [more pdfs] — comes from the gentle unwinding of a satisfyingly odd setting, in thise case constructed in explicit homage to Leiber’s “A Pail of Air” (1951). Like that story, the narration is straightforward, more transparent even than Leiber (it lacks his folksiness); and, as in that story, the characters live, with very basic technology, on a wandering planet whose atmosphere has frozen. Unlike in that story, a repressive hierarchical society has arisen, based around access to oxygen.
Omare and I were born in the highest level of the cave in as much heat and good air as our expedition could give. While low kids raised their children in the lower cave’s cold, Omare and I never knew this deprivation when we were young. We only knew that our mother and father loved us, and if we climbed down the cave’s spiral tunnels we wore clumsy pails of frozen oxymix around our neck. The insulated pails contained a tiny tick-tock heater, and you cranked them every few minutes to smoke out the extra air needed to live.
What follows is about learning the world, rebelling against it, and becoming master of your own destiny. Heartwarmingly conventional stuff, if perhaps a bit stretched beyond its ideal length. But wait! There’s an ironic twist (arguably revealed very early on). It’s not just Sanford who has (like Karl Schroeder with his Virga) engineered his setting to allow its retro feel, protecting his colonists from the raw tech-dream that is the twenty-first century space opera future: one of the agents in his story has done the same thing.
So much for freedom.
My problem with this story — in which travellers visit a distant city, at the heart of which is a mysterious artefact called The Figure of Frozen Time, which is reputed to have the power to change history; and which wants to be an elegy for time, memory, and loss, told in a formal English voice; and which looks a bit like fantasy, but is really sf — is that I keep thinking, this would be much better if Ian R MacLeod had written it. Unfair of me, I know.
I enjoyed this, but then, I have a soft spot for sf stories told entirely from an alien point of view, like Tiptree’s “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” or Benjamin Rosenbaum’s “Embracing-the-New”, which I suspect makes me look more kindly on “The Godfall’s Chemsong” than it really deserves. None of these stories can ever really do what they promise, obviously, but there’s a sweet spot between total incomprehensibility and humans-with-fins (or whatever) that I can’t resist.
This story errs on the side of the human, the transparent. Its aliens are undersea creatures whose world is defined by scent, and much of whose food comes as godfall, the bodies of other organisms falling from the surface. The protagonist, Muskblue, not the most successful female in her pod, encounters an unusual godfall while on her own: it is “thin, straight, only three times as long as Muskblue, with two narrow limbs at each end”. It’s a crime not to share godfall; she is banished; she finds a way to survive; she works out what this new sort of godfall means. Hard not to compare this to Helen Keeble’s “A Lullaby“, or the opening section of In Great Waters, and find it wanting; but as I say, I did enjoy it.
An office, at three in the morning, somewhere in the UK (probably the City); an IT guy, testing some updates to the the company email system, half-asleep; spam messages spilling out into other systems, scrolling across the coffee machine display, corrupting security camera captions, unnoticed; and then spreading, somehow, out into the world; a dark doglike thing breaking into the office, absorbing or changing the man that gets in his way, hunting down the source. It has the sense of a nightmare: a brief, enigmatic, effective slice of techno-horror. Not bad for a first outing.