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Interzone 261

Nov-Dec 2015

Interzone 261 cover

Five Conversations with my Daughter (Who Travels in Time)1 by Malcolm Devlin. The title pretty much sums this up. The narrator’s daughter travels back in time – on only five occasions – to talk to him when her body in his time is asleep.
We Might be Sims2 by Rich Larson. One of a group of three convicts forced to make a trial run to Europa thinks they may be in a simulation.
Heartsick3 by Greg Kurzawa. Martin has his heart, dying for seventeen years since the drowning of his daughter, removed.
Florida Miracles by Julie C Day. Inside, Esta hears the voice of Mrs Henry. The day comes when Mrs Henry wants out.
Scienceville4 by Gary Gibson. In his basement Joel Kincaird has constructed a map of Scienceville, the town he’d invented as a teenage boy but after an exhibition in which he’d displayed some of his drawings he gets emails from people who claim to have lived there.
Laika by Ken Altabe. The (USian) narrator’s great uncle Dimitri – a real Russian – is dying and asks him to look after his dog Laika whom he claims to be that Laika, the first living creature in space.

1 summersaults (somersaults)
2 snuck (sneaked; I know it was written in USian but still.)
3 miniscule (minuscule), plus written in USian so we had he felt obligated rather than he felt obliged.
4 Despite Gibson being Glaswegian this is written (at least in part) in USian so we have recess for interval, couple hours for couple of hours, ‘getting on what, four years?’ for ‘getting on for what, four years?’ (He lives in Taipei now though (and his protagonist lives in New York.) Ikea (surely it’s IKEA?)

BSFA Awards Lists

The BSFA has just announced the short list for this year’s awards (ie for works published in 2015.)

See this link for the full lists.

As far as the fiction is concerned the final nominees are

Best Novel:-

*Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight, Solaris

*Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden, Corvus

Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings, Gollancz

*Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon, Gollancz

Justina Robson: Glorious Angels, Gollancz

Best Short Story:-

Aliette de Bodard: Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, Clarkesworld 100

Paul Cornell: Witches of Lychford, Tor.com

*Jeff Noon: No Rez, Interzone 260

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti, Tor.com

Gareth L. Powell: Ride the Blue Horse, Matter

Of those, I have read the ones asterisked. That’s three out of the five novels and one of the five shorts. I look forward to receiving the usual booklet containing the short stories.

Irregularity. Edited by Jared Shurin.

Jurassic London, 2014, 303 p. Reviewed for Interzone 256, Jan-Feb 2015.

 Irregularity cover

Irregularity is an anthology of short stories inspired by the history of Science from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries (the back cover invokes the Age of Reason) and intended to coincide with an exhibition, Ships, Clocks and Stars, The Quest for Longitude, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

To emphasise the “olde” feel the book is printed in a reconstruction of a seventeenth century typeface – though we are spared that italic-f-shape once used for the letter “s”. It has an unusual dedication, “To failure,” plus five internal illustrations adapted from paintings in the Museum’s collection.

The Prologue, Irregularity by Nick Harkaway, which sets the tone, has a woman bequeathed a library in which she finds a book which bears a cover described as similar (to all intents and purposes identical) to the one we are reading, not only relating her life story up to that point but also seeming to tell her future.
In the Afterword, Richard Dunn and Sophie Waring broadly define Science as the search for nature’s laws in order to codify them and ask what happens when things don’t fit. (Answering that last question is actually the most important scientific endeavour.) Irregularity’s contents are about just such attempts to understand the world.

As a coda, positioned after the afterword and which could easily be missed by a less than careful reader, an “email” to the editor comments on the impossibility of a book that loops back on itself.
The authors have interpreted their remit widely, the stories ranging from Science Fiction through Fantasy to Horror. Some could fall under the rubric of steampunk or alternative history. The literary antecedents being what they are it is perhaps not surprising that the majority lean towards the form of journal or diary extracts and epistolary accounts.

And so we have the inevitable pastiche of Samuel Pepys, M Suddain’s The Darkness, set in a steampunk 17th century with radio, telemessages and air defence antenna arrays, where the French are experimenting with Darke Materials, Restoration London has Tunnelcars and Skycars and a Black Fire of nothingness has begun to eat the city.

Of course, encountering well-known names is one of the pleasures of an anthology like this and there are plenty more to conjure with. Two for the price of one in Adam Roberts’s The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle, a piece of Robertsian playfulness in which Boyle has had access to modern physics (even discoursing with Brian May, whom Boyle says Newton resembles) and wishes to preserve the more human cosmogony which Newton’s work will displace. Chock full of allusion – including an extended riff on the “operatic” section of Bohemian Rhapsody – this story might just possibly be too knowing for its own good. Charles Darwin appears in Claire North’s The Voyage of the Basset where we follow him on his second sea voyage, utilising his knowledge of the lycaenidae to ensure nothing can mar the glory of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Ada Lovelace helps produce steam-driven animatronic dinosaurs in Simon Guerrier’s An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought, while Fairchild’s Folly by Tiffani Angus muses on the possible classification of love within a taxonomy via the epistolary relationship between Carl Linnaeus and Thomas Fairchild, who crossed a sweet william with a carnation to produce a sterile plant dubbed Fairchild’s mule. In Kim Curran’s A Woman out of Time unnamed creatures relate how they prevented Émilie du Chatelet from disseminating modern Physics too early. A Game Proposition by Rose Biggin has four women get together once every month to play a game which decides the fate of ships, incidentally giving William Dampier the knowledge to compile his atlas of the trade winds.

The most chilling tale is perhaps Roger Luckhurst’s Circulation, wherein a book-keeper is sent out from London to the island of San Domingue to investigate irregularities in the returns from the plantations there and comes upon the secrets of circulation as discovered by “the wizard Sangatte”.

Elsewhere; in Linnaean era Stockholm a young girl has dreams of the future, inspired by spiders; a maker of maritime clocks, in competition with Harrison for the Longitude prize, uses a variety of gruesome fluids to fine tune his escapement; a taxonomist travels to Southern Africa to seek out unusual beasts and finds the egg of a creature variously called gumma, gauma, gomerah, ghimmra, sjeemera; a found manuscript story with not one, but two introductions, suggests a reason for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral after London’s Great Fire on a realigned axis; an artist and his apprentice, commissioned to depict an anatomy lesson, witness the subject’s heart beating after death.

The stories work well in their own terms, but in totality are rather relentlessly “olde worlde”.

The following comments did not appear in the review:-
In my edition one of the stories was not in the order given on the Contents page.
Span count 1, sunk 1, as you no doubt you anticipated (one “you” is enough,) off of (x 2,) rolled a dice (a die,) court-marshalled (court-martialled,), the committee force me to seethe (forced,) at prices that seems almost scandalous (seemed,) her voice is a echo (an echo,) baster gang (?) a missing “it” (x 2,) two references to “three years” since the Great Fire of London (in diary entries dated 1667,) now used now (one “now” is enough,) can secret a substance (secrete,) they toppled the lids of those wooden prisons and relased their cargo (released,) I might find pick my way back through the canes back to the house (no find?) in sight of one of another (one “of” is enough,) walleyed with lust (wall-eyed,) inside of (inside,) to humour and old man (an old man.)

Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2015, 600 p.

 Poseidon’s Wake cover

Poseidon’s Wake is the third book in Reynolds’s Poseidon’s Children series, my reviews of the first two of which, Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze, can be found by following the links. By the time of this novel the enhanced elephants to which Goma Akinya has devoted her life on Crucible, the planet of the sun 61-Virginis round which humans first encountered the enigmatic machines known as Watchkeepers and where is sited the still mysterious construction the Mandala, left by the M-builders, are losing their intelligence to genetic drift. Things are stirred up however when a message is received from the direction of the star Gliese-163 hitherto thought not to have been visited by humans. The message contains only two words, “Send Ndege.” Ndege is Goma’s mother and was the instrument by which Crucible’s greatest disaster, the sudden loss of the habitat Zanzibar girdling the planet with a ring of its remains, occurred when Ndege managed to activate the Mandala. Despite Crucible’s relative poverty an interstellar ship is prepared but Ndege is thought too old to withstand the rigours of such a journey and Goma goes in her place.

Meanwhile on Mars, Kanu Akinya, like Ndege a child of one the Chiku Akinyas from On the Steel Breeze, suffers extremely severe damage in a terrorist incident. The machines of the Evolvarium – to which he had been an ambassador – manage to revive him though, but while doing so insert into his consciousness one of their own, an intelligence named Swift. Under Swift’s influence he deviously procures a lift to Europa on a ship belonging to his ex-wife Nissa Mbaye. From there he retrieves his own interstellar ship and sets off for Gliese-163.

The narrative follows Goma and Kanu and their various companions in alternate chapters till very near the end of the book. Goma experiences troubles en route to Gliese, Kanu less so but things only really motor up when we get to that system which contains a huge waterworld, Poseidon, with strange wheel-like objects protruding from its ocean up into space. Poseidon moreover is guarded by lots of moons, getting too near which provokes them to “examine” intruders and induce in them a phenomenon (felt as “the Terror”) as a result of its revelation of knowledge of the end of the universe. These guardians do not allow the Watchkeepers anywhere near Poseidon but only creatures of a certain degree of consciousness. The signal which brought them all to the system had had nothing to do with Poseidon though. It was sent by Eunice Akinya, progenitor of the Akinya clan, not now the artilect we met in previous books but restored to human form by the Watchkeepers. Also in orbit in the system is part of Zanzibar the habitat it was thought Ndege had caused to be destroyed. This (large) remnant of Zanzibar is run by Dakota, an enhanced elephant now at the level of human intelligence or beyond, who fell out with Eunice and banished her – along with six elephants loyal to her – to Orison, another planet in the system.

This set-up takes some while to put in place but even once we get to Poseidon the pay-off there isn’t as great as a three book sequence perhaps requires. Reynolds has though left ample scope for further exploration of his scenario.

Further note: compare the cover of this book to the previous two in the sequence.

Blue Remembered Earth cover
 Poseidon’s Wake cover

 On the Steel Breeze cover

That is seriously odd. When I first saw Poseidon’s Wake’s cover I thought Reynolds had published a novel not in the sequence. I know that the paperback covers are now in broadly similar form but for owners of all three in hardback it will make their shelves look askew.

Pedant’s corner:- The inside cover blurb has the message to Crucible which kicks things off reading as “Send Nedgi.”
Despite the speed of light being an absolute barrier the habitat Zanzibar was transported seventy light years with the people (and elephants) on board feeling only a few days at most had passed “in their frame of reference.” Surely even at only a fraction under the speed of light they would experience the interval as being much longer than this? I must confess, though, the intricacies of time dilation effects are beyond me.
Otherwise:- with offset with disquiet (was offset,) ‘I feel obligated to point out’ (I feel obliged to point out,) they might yet make it our alive (out,) the new generation of engines were faster (the new generation was faster,) before any of them were allowed (was allowed,) the link between his name and artist’s (and the artist’s,) epicentre (centre,) rolled over into his belly (onto,) ‘what his surname?’ (what’s his surname?) inside the orbit of the moons (orbits,) ‘Have you told spoken to her about it?’ (no “told” needed,) ‘with disarming speed – and an equally disarming lack of concern for their own safety – the figure appeared to descend the crag in a series of perilous backward hops’ (the figure; therefore “its” own safety,) ‘we might have wait’ (to wait) Nhemedjo (Nhamedjo,) ‘as to not matter’ (as not to matter,) rigor (rigour,) appraised (apprised,) ‘that we still recovering (we are still recovering,) had brought some valuable time (bought,) forsee (foresee,) a skull-faced person clasping their hands to the bony bulb of their head (her/his hands, her/his head,) ‘into it deepest secrets (its,) ‘when we returned from Poseidon (return,) it might signal a change of heart on Dakota’s behalf (on Dakota’s part,) ‘I’d be glad if weren’t going deeper now’ (if we weren’t,) rancor (rancour,) waiting the deliverance (awaiting the deliverance,) a century and half (a century and a half.)

David Hartwell

One of the most respected editers of the SF field, David G Hartwell has died suddenly after a fall.

He was nominated for a Hugo Award no less than 41 times for his editing work, winning on three occasions.

I met him once (at one of the Glasgow Worldcons) and he seemed a thoroughly nice man but never having sold to the US I never had contact with him in his capacity as an editor.

That number of Hugo nominations tells of the esteem in which he was held by those in the SF world. His is a sad loss.

David Geddes Hartwell: 10/7/1941 – 20/1/2016. So it goes.

Shadow on the Stars by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 98 p.

Shadow on the Stars cover
 Shadow on the Stars cover

This novel originally appeared as Stepsons of Terra in 1958 (see cover left – though that looks like a 1970s printing.) It was republished as Shadow on the Stars in 2000 (cover on right.)

It is typical early Silverberg, a potboiler with little in the way of characterisation. Baird Ewing has been sent from the former Earth colony world of Corwin, under threat from the Klodni, who have stormed into the Milky Way from the Andromeda Galaxy, to seek help from the mother world against the invaders. When he arrives he finds Earth is no longer a vibrant planet. It has no military and is itself about to be subjugated by humans from another ex-colony round Sirius. Very soon he is accused of spying on the Sirians and made captive but is strangely rescued when about to be mind-probed. There follows a tale of time travel and paradox wherein lies the solution to all his problems.

For Silverberg completists only.

Pedant’s corner:- “I’m a stabilized orbit” (I’m in a stabilized orbit,) sprung (sprang is used later!!) “showed seemingly, genuine confusion” (no comma, or an extra one before seemingly,) Mellis’ (Mellis’s,) “the past three of four days” (three or four,) a missing full stop, “felt the transition from now minus three microseconds (as I understood it, it would have been now plus three microseconds,) insure (ensure.) A “time interval later” count of 8.
At one point Baird goes back in time and looks at his watch; which now shows a time earlier than when he left. A mechanical or electrically driven watch could not possibly do this. The only way it could happen would be if the watch were set (and updated) remotely, say by microwave. There was no mention of the watch working via such an external signal.

Interzone 259 Jul-Aug 2015

Interzone 259 cover

Silencer – Head Like a Hole Remix1 by E Catherine Tobbler is about a group who are doomed to commit high-school massacres over and over.
The Deep of Winter2 by Chris Butler. Aluna has invented a system of communication involving “spores” which her government will not allow. She lets it loose into a parallel world.
Rush Down, Roar Gently3 by Sara Saab. A woman travels through a Beirut deluged by 102 days of rain to seek out her former friend with whom she lost contact many years before.
After His Kind4 by Richard W Strachan. The only survivor of a crash onto another planet finds his severed arm generating a new version of himself and his own regrowing.
Edited by Rich Larson is told in a slang idiom5 and relates the tale of what happens to the relationship between our (unnamed) male narrator’s rich boy-friend after the latter’s Editing, “Chemo plug for anti-anxiety. Some body language modulation. Bigger memory retention, better special reasoning.” Plus the shitty things. “I don’t feel bad remembering.”
James White Award Winner:- Midnight Funk Association6 by Mack Leonard. A signal has been ruining the beats of Detroit techno – a sound the colour of a black light.

1 “Glasser slides opposite of me” (opposite me) to not go (not to go.)
2 “It was a noble thing we did, us Guardians.” (the “we” is the verb’s subject, so it should be followed by “we Guardians.”)
3 the League of Nations (in 2007?) snuck (sneaked,) cul-de-sacs (culs-de-sac,) scramble onto low wall (a low wall,) off premises (off the premises.)
4 and not a name or a face (two negatives so: and not a name nor a face.)
5 me and him are used in the nominative case rather than the accusative
6 Written in USian; “queuing up a piece of music” (“cueing up” makes more sense,) “hocked it into the pool” (hawked.)

Ancient Light by John Banville

Viking, 2012, 253 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Ancient Light cover

Ten years after the suicide of his daughter Cass, Alex Cleave is looking back over his life and especially at his first love – and first sexual partner – the twenty years senior to him mother of his childhood friend, Billy. Apart from one mention towards the book’s end the woman concerned, since Alex failed to discover (or else to remember) her name, is only ever described in the narrative as Mrs Gray. This tends to give the relationship, which is otherwise described in the most intimate terms, a certain distance, though it was intensively felt by the young Alex, and in the older’s remembrance. The worldliness of ageing, the weariness, is, however, reflected in the sentence, “what is a life but a gradual shipwreck?” but nevertheless, for Cleave, “Other people’s motives, their desiderata and anathemas, are a mystery to me. My own are too.”

As always Banville’s writing is exquisite and the unusual affair would certainly have been enough to sustain a novel on its own but things take an odd turn when Cleave, a retired stage actor, is offered the lead part in a film portraying the life of Axel Vander, whom readers of Banville’s earlier book Shroud will know was the man with whom Cass spent the last weeks before her suicide. This authorial knowingness is emphasised by the casual dropping of names of now all but forgotten writers or film stars – most of whom I had to look up (Walter Pater? Betty Hutton?) – in which context the thought, “If I were to believe that a certain confluence of events was a special and unique phenomenon outside the ordinary flow of happenstance I would have to accept – as I do not – that there is a transcendent process at work above, or behind, or within, commonplace reality,” a metafictional statement which lays bare the artificiality of what we are reading. Yet it all feels visceral, real. Banville’s interest in things scientific (early works of his focused on Copernicus, Kepler and Newton) is demonstrated by a chance encounter with a stranger in a hotel bar which leads to Cleave being told, “light…. takes time… to reach your eyes, and so it is that everywhere we look, everywhere, we are looking into the past,” an endeavour in which our narrator is all too involved.

Yet the past is not all it seems. Mrs Gray’s motives for the affair, Cleave’s recollections of it – memories are, after all, constructions as much as anything – are seen in a new light when towards the novel’s end Cleave once more meets her daughter.

A puff on the book’s front cover says, “Did it even need to be as tremendous as this?” Well, no. It didn’t need to be. But it is.

Pedant’s corner:- ‘at first I could not make head or tail of it’ (head nor tail,) wiling away the empty hours (whiling,) glary? “I had never been thus close up” (this,) “every aurate woman” (an aurate is a salt of auric acid!! I presume Banville meant golden or “having an aura”.) “Why does anyone do anything.” (is missing a “?” at the sentence end,) “Cass’s presence in Liguria [- paragraph break -] Cass’s presence in Liguria was the first link…” (I merely note this cæsura,) “had no hat, or umbrella” (nor umbrella,) “I had to leap up, like a leaping salmon” (do we need that “leaping”?)

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

Gollancz SF Masterworks, 2007, 289 p. Originally published in 1980. Borrowed from a threatened library.

Mockingbird cover

Mockingbird is set in the 25th century in a dystopia wherein humans are kept docile by drugs, living with someone is a crime, Individuality and Privacy (definitely capitalised) valued above all else, no-one can read and no children are being born.

Robert Spofforth is an android of the highest specification; a Make Nine, powered by a controlled fusion battery, the only one of his kind to be created so as not to be able to kill itself as other Make Nines had done. And it (he?) wants to die. Its (his) viewpoint is rendered in the third person whereas those of Paul Bentley, a human who having taught himself how to read comes to Spofforth requesting a job as a reading tutor only to be refused, and Mary Lou Borne, whom Bentley has in turn taught to read, are in the form of first person journals. The ramifications of the interactions between these three are worked out over the course of the book as Spofforth sends Bentley to prison and takes Mary Lou to live with him (of necessity platonically.) Spofforth is, of course, almost more human than the humans in the book, certainly compared to the illiterate masses (who, though, appear only sketchily, apart from Bentley’s fellow prisoners and the religious sect he encounters after his escape.)

Mockingbird is part tragedy, part love story, part travelogue of this strange new world, a meditation on what it means to be human and how easily that could be thrown away, or drifted from. Its message of the importance to humanity of the capacity to read is perhaps even more timely now than when it was written.

Pedant’s corner:- The text was the USian one. Plus:- “oblivious of their presence” (oblivious to…) “standing there to the House of Reptiles” (in the House,) “pictures on one walk of the room (on one wall,) “felt of them with her fingers” (felt them.) “‘What become of her?’” (became, though it was in dialogue and could have been meant to be ungrammatical,) “but I do not think about the pain” (this was in a look back so “did not think”,) “except that It was wrapped” (it,) “‘I’d take ever damn one of them’” (every,) in Jesus’ name (Jesus’s,) “‘I had waked her’” (maybe not just an Alabama thing, then. But still; woken.)

Bowie

The one name suffices. In modern times you could not be referring to anyone else.

There was (sadly that tense is now appropriate) only one Bowie: David.

For many the iconic moment of their lives was Bowie placing a carefree, languid, unthinking arm round Mick Ronson’s neck on that Top of the Pops appearance while promoting Starman and thereby validating sexualities beyond that of the straight and cis.

Bowie’s first brush with the charts came with Space Oddity in 1969, regarded at the time as a bit of a novelty record, though it wasn’t his last song to tangle with SF imagery.

He hit his stride with the Hunky Dory album in 1971 – on which nearly every track is a belter – though no hits were to come from that source till Life on Mars? was released as a single in 1973. This was of course after the breakthrough, the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972 and that hit with Starman. I would argue that Hunky Dory is the greater achievement. From Ziggy onwards Bowie seemed to be commercialising his talent. The string of hits that followed on from the Ziggy album, through his Aladdin Sane persona, up to Diamond Dogs perhaps bore that out.

He lost me with Young Americans, though. I’ve never been into that sort of music. There were stonkers still to come of course, when he’d changed his style a few more times, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes, Let’s Dance, China Girl, but it is the early stuff I’ll remember him for.

This is The Bewlay Brothers, from Hunky Dory of course.

David Bowie: The Bewlay Brothers

“Man is an obstacle, sad as the clown. (Oh, by jingo.)
So hold on to nothing and he won’t let you down.”

David Bowie: After All (from The Man Who Sold the World)

“I borrowed your time and I’m sorry I called.”

David, we’re not sorry you called.

David Robert Jones (“David Bowie”) 8/1/1947 – 10/1/2016. So it goes.

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