Short Fiction Review #25: Interzone #226

Short Fiction Review #25: Interzone #226

213The January/February Interzone features a very cool, magna-like cover by Warwick Fraser-Coombe; he’ll be doing the cover art for all six issues in 2010, which are intended to be put together to form a larger image. Collect them all and assemble the collage to see exactly what’s up with this. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with the contents of the magazine, which, by the way, has  returned to a color interior; it’s a very attractive package, as you’d expect from the folks at TTA Press.

The retro-look does reflect the fiction, however, in the sense that, for the most, part the fiction could have been ripped right out of a 1950s/1960s pulp magazine. A swashbuckling fantasy, space adventure, post-nuclear holocaust dystopia. It’s  déjà vu all over again.

It’s for this reason that I have to report  that while these stories are all entertaining, I didn’t feel much connection to any one of them. It’s the kind of stuff that I’d have thought was really cool when I was 12. But in my current state of dotage (which is a hell of a lot better than the state of dead), not so much.

On that subject, Rachel Swirsky details what used to be called “the generation gap” in illustrating there’s nothing new under the sun in “Again and Again and Again.” It starts out with a guy born in 1900 who rebels against his religious upbringing whose son, in turn, rebels against his middle-class background, whose progeny does the same and so forth until a future where technology allows kids to be different by cutting off pieces of their bodies and injecting themselves with diseases. It’s a humorous vignette, even if it doesn’t take long to figure out where it’s going.

Anyone up for a story about space miners?  “Human Error” by Jay Lake introduces a couple of variations in this hoary trope, though it’s nothing really radical. In the 60s, a homosexual relationship among an isolated mining crew might have been a candidate for Dangerous Visions; that it’s no big deal today is a testament to how far we’ve come.

Mercurio D. Rivera reworks the “love potion gone awry” plotting previously used most notably by Shakespeare and John Collier’s “The Chaser.”  The narrator has set off to another planet to find his wife, who he believes has fallen in love and gone off with his former best friend because she’s been drugged into loving him. In addition to a nice twist on the notion of who has been drugging whom, and why, the source of the drug’s chemistry is an alien race — the Wergens – that is infatuated with humans (hence the ability to induce artificial amore). The Wergens of  “In the Harsh Glow of Incandescent Beauty” play a counterpoint for the misplaced affections of humans. Seeing as how they appear in at least one previous Rivera story, “Longing for Langalana,” I’m intrigued enough that I hope there’ll be future installments about the Wergens.

Stephen Gaskell’s “Aquestria” is a planet that has become a home by circumstances for interstellar travelers who after a centuries-long journey have had to ditch there. The planet is in ecological crisis and a longstanding religious feud divides the settlers (no matter how far we go in the future, nothing changes). The narrator takes a chance that an “enemy” prisoner may portend a means to reconcile these problems. If not today, maybe tomorrow? Anyone want to take bets on that?

The lead story, “Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas” by Jason Sanford, is an outright fantasy. Amber Tolester’s skin is imprinted with the names of sailors fated to die at sea. When death is imminent, the person’s name burns on her skin. Amber learns both how she came to have this cursed ability as well as how to thwart it, thanks to the appearance of a mysterious pirate whose seeming ruthlessness is a disguise for a kind of charity. My second favorite story of the issue. Some nice, if you’ll pardon the pun, imagery.

The top story here, for me, though, is “Hibakusha” by Tyler Keevil. The title refers to the radiation sick survivors of the atomic bombings of Japan (hi “suffer” + baku “explosion” + sha “person” In Japanese). This time, though, England has suffered some kind of nuclear holocaust (a theme that ubiquitous in the days of the nuclear arms race during my Cold War childhood; interesting that such anxieties might be resurfacing in the current era of makeshift terrorism). The narrator is sick, and has nothing to lose by volunteering for salvage work in ground zero. His ulterior motive, however, is to visit the remains of where he knows his lover had been last. The discovery leads to a renewed sense that even in the direst circumstances, the thin line between life and death is worth maintaining, even if we’re not always sure why.

Not exactly the most inspiring message, given current world events. Then again, considering world events, perhaps the most realistic one there is.

Magazines to be considered for review should be sent to David Soyka, 3820 Red Hill Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22903-7917. Electronic/PDF publications may be sent to

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