Archives » Fantasy

More for Interzone

Another book for me to review for Interzone arrived today.

It is called Supercute Futures and was written by Martin Millar – born in Scotland but now living in London – and is said to be “a gloriously warped dystopian fantasy.”

The review ought to appear in Interzone 277.

I’ll need to get on to it straight away.

Interzone 276 Jul-Aug 2018

TTA Press

 Interzone 276 cover

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam takes the editorial slot and reflects on how growing up queer (her word) revealed that adults knew as little as children about navigating the world and instilled her with all sorts of phobias. In Future Interrupted Andy Hedgecock reveals how certain formative reading/viewing experiences still colour his tastes. Nina Allan’s Time Pieces reflects by way of her own experience and Marian Womack’s debut collection Lost Objects on how the short story is still the best pathway for a writer to come into his or her own.

The fiction kicks off with Grey Halls1 by Rachael Cupp where a future musician famous for, but himself dismissive of, his one big success, Grey Halls, travels back in time for inspiration.
Superbright2 by Ryan Row is set in a world where superpowers are common. This story totally failed to capture my interest.
In Tumblebum3 by Darby Harn, New York is flooded and everything is controlled by a huge corporation named TAG. Tumblebum is hired to find the missing photographer daughter of a racehorse owning family.
A species of harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex quaesitor; or P.q. starts building sculptures- or are they temples? – in P. Q.4 by James Warner.
In Tim Major’s Throw Caution5 pseudo-crab lifeforms have been found on Mars. Their bodies contain diamonds. (Well, not really. They’re silicon based.) The story follows two prospectors searching outwith the normal areas.
So Easy6 by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is a post-apocalypse story. Well enough done but a bit inconsequential.
Paul Crenshaw’s Eyes7 has a young boy find a pair of disembodied eyes floating in the stream which runs by his house. They can still blink and so answer his questions thereby telling a tale of life, the universe and so on.

In Reviews Iain Hunter recommends the Jane Yolen edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2018 (rather confusingly featuring stories from 2016;) I am rather less enthusiastic about Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes; Duncan Lunan says Rob Boffard’s Adrift relocates the aeroplane movie to a tour shuttle from a habitat overlooking the Horsehead Nebula, Lawrence Osborn claims Revenant Gun, the last in Yoon Ha Lee’s trilogy which began with Ninefox Gambit is essential reading for military SF space opera or worldbuilding buffs (I still won’t be going near it;) Duncan Lawrie accepts Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley for what it is, fast-paced light reading; Andy Hedgecock lauds at least one entertaining and provocative story from an under celebrated master in The Adventures of the Ingenious Alfanui by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio translated by Margaret Jull; Stephen Theaker8 likes Kameron Hurley’s fix-up Apocalypse Nix better than he did her God’s War trilogy and Andy Hedgecock returns to praise Juliet E McKenna’s The Green Man’s Heir.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Written in USian, “He was fortunate, then, to not have Osorio’s fan base” (not to have.) 2Written in USian; “experiments with which had given her son” (either experiments which had given her son, or, experiments with which she had given her son,) “He shined.” (He shone.) 3Written in USian. 4Written in USian, “atypical climactic conditions” (climatic.) 5“sand….sunk away” (sank,) shrunk (shrank.) 6Written in USian. 7Written in Usian. 8“her ramshackle team of misfits are pretty much always doomed to fail” (her team is always doomed to fail.)

Future Reading Delight

No less than three future items of reading came through my letter box between yesterday and today.

 The Book of Hidden Things cover
 Shoreline of Infinity 12 cover

 Interzone 276 cover

Firstly Shoreline of Infinity 12 arrived yesterday – I know I’ve not yet read issues 8-11 but I will get round to them – then both Interzone 276 (which contains my review of Close your Eyes by Paul Jessup) and the latest novel for review in Interzone, The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri. Mr Dimitri is another author new to me. An Italian writer of Fantasy, this is the first book he has written in English.

Widdershins by Oliver Onions

Penguin, 1939, 244 p.

Widdershins cover

This is a book of eight short stories – well, one is a novella – first published in 1911, by Yorkshireman Onions. He wrote well, each of the stories holds the attention and his characterization is good. All have at least a hint of the strange or unnatural. They stand up even a century after writing.

In the combined ghost and horror story The Beckoning Fair One a writer takes a flat in an otherwise empty house and finds he can no longer continue the novel he has been working on, nor the enthusiasm for much else. I was reminded a bit of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
Phantas is the story of the captain of a becalmed – and sinking – galleon out of the port of Rye, who dreams of a means of propulsion which would enable ships to avoid such a predicament. Out of the mists looms a grey, steam-driven modern destroyer.
Rooum is one of those unlettered men who has a natural flair for competency in his trade. He questions our unnamed narrator about molecules and osmosis as he feels he is occasionally subject to a kind of interpersonal merging.
The register in which Benlian is told is a familiar one to readers of Fantasy or Science Fiction, a realist depiction of a weird phenomenon. Benlian is a sculptor whose essence is increasingly opaque to photography, a man passing away, into his sculpture. The possibility that the narrator is mad rather spoils things though.
In Io a young woman who is convalescing tries to remember the dreams she had during her illness so as to enter their reality.
The Accident occurs when a man about to meet an old adversary in an attempt at reconciliation has a vision of how the encounter will – must – turn out.
The Cigarette Case is one of those shaggy dog stories of the “as told me by a friend” variety.
In Hic Jacet a successful author of detective fiction – a thinly veiled model, this – is asked to write the “Life” of an artist friend (who did not compromise his integrity for commercial success) and finds the gods of writing are against the project.

Pedant’s corner:- accidently (accidentally,) a missing end quotation mark. “But an effort of will he put them aside” (either ‘By an effort of will’, or, ‘But by an effort of will.’) “I seemed so natural” (context also supports ‘It seemed so natural.’) “whiskys and soda” (whiskies; but at least we weren’t subjected to ‘whisky and sodas’.) “ A group of scene-shifters were” (a group was,) plaintains (plantains,) pigmy (I prefer pygmy,) “penumbia of shadow” (penumbra,) “I confess that the position had effect of the thing startled me for a moment” (I can’t parse this phrase at all,) “his position involved a premium on which the rich amateur, he merely replied…” (seems to be missing a word after “amateur”, besogne (besoin,) “the abiquitous presence” (ubiquitous, I suspect.)

The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

Harvill Secker, 2018, 309 p, plus iv p Glossary of Chapter Titles and i p Bibliography.

 The Gloaming cover

Set on an unnamed Scottish island, The Gloaming is an extended riff on the selkie legend, with additional elements of the fantastic. Mainly concerned with the lives of Islay, Mara and Barra, the three children of an ex-boxer, Peter, and a former ballerina, Signe, incomers to the island who live in a large house – complete with shark jaw for a doorway – which they intend to convert slowly from dilapidation to a hotel, it also explores familial resentments and duties. Barring the first’s, its chapter titles contain one word – ballet terms for those about Signe, boxing ones for Peter, and Scots for the children. While in some cases these are apposite, in others the connection between the title and the chapter’s content seems more than a little forced, if it exists at all.

When inhabitants of the island are about to die they start to slow down. This is an indication they will turn to stone, a fantastical conceit of Logan’s whereby the bodies end up on a hill as statues, a process usually attended by the island’s inhabitants as a ceremonial act but sometimes undertaken alone. This whimsy is not really explored fully as the hub around which the story revolves is Mara, who suffers a facial disfigurement the night she tries (and fails) to rescue Barra from drowning. In later life she forms an attachment to Pearl, a later incomer to the island, whose house lies within a hill and who at first can be read as the embodiment of the selkie legend. On their first meeting Pearl tells Mara she is a mermaid, by which she means she performs as one in an aquatic travelling show. Their later sojourn away from the island as a double act (selkies always leave) is a brief interlude only though. The pull of family is too strong.

Logan does pull off some tricks with apparent narrative viewpoint but her asides on readerly expectation of a story’s destination prefigure too strongly her intentions.

The Gloaming is fine as far as it goes, certainly better, more cohesive, than the author’s previous novel The Gracekeepers.

Pedant’s corner:- “When he arrived he wouldn’t fail to miss her” (context demands, “he wouldn’t fail to see her”,) “the sort that comes in packs of four at discount shops and only shattered if you threw them hard on a tiled floor” (and only shatter if you throw them.) “Didn’t that use to be…” (used to be,) “‘whatever I have to do make her see’” (to do to make her see.) In the Glossary; besom is defined as “a broom, a woman of loose morals and a cheeky child.” (A broom, definitely but I’ve not heard it used in the context of a woman of loose morals, only of one cheeky or nosy) drouthy is given as thirsty for strong drink (it just means thirsty, not necessarily for strong drink,) mauchit (spelled this way the “ch” would be pronounced as in loch; it isn’t. The online dictionary of Scots language has mockit – one instance of maukit – though I have seen mocket.)

Interzone 275, May-Jun 2018

TTA Press

Interzone 275 cover

Steven J Dines’s Editorial describes the unlikely role of father figure which fiction took in his young life. Andy Hedgecoock takes over Jonathan McCalmont’s Future Interrupted column and hopes to continue his search for SF “that is of value and worthy of our time”. In Time Piecesa Nina Allan looks at the abiding relevance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In Book Zone Maureen Kincaid Speller found herself disappointed and frustrated by Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, Duncan Lunan reviews two anthologies edited by Mike Ashley Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures and Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet welcoming some of the choices made and questioning others and laterb looks very favourably on Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima, Duncan Lawiec says he won’t persevere with any sequels to Tristan Palmgren’s Quietus, Ian Hunter findsd The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer hindered by its first person narrative, Andy Hedgecock warmly welcomes Ursula Le Guin’s collection of non-fiction Dreams Must Explain Themselves, Stephen Theaker laments the enduring topicality of Middle-Eastern woes in his look at The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, Elaine Gallagher praises Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming while I myself find Chris Barnham’s Fifty-One diverting and Andrew Crumey’s The Great Chain of Unbeing totally accomplished. Finally Ian Sales says the stories in the Australian Sean McMullen’s collection Dreams of the Technarion do what SF ought to as it contains a wide range of ideas thoroughly worked out.

In the fiction, Erika L Satifka’s The Fate of the World Reduced to a Ten-Second Pissing Contest is set in a bar which has been abducted into a gap in reality – contents, patrons and all – by aliens with a taste for alcohol.
In Looking for Landau1 by Steven J Dines a man wanders the earth in search of Landau, who introduces people to the gateway to the next world.
The Mark2 by Abi Hynes can be read as a comment on how women are perceived in some quarters as not quite being human. A member of a seemingly uniform far future community (where reproduction has been a technological process now failing) flees up a mountain to escape the consequences of deformity. It soon becomes apparent she has given birth and the bundle she is carrying with her is the child.
The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct3 by Malcolm Devlin is a quasi-philosophical piece centred round a man who dies at the same time in every separate reality (though in different ways depending on each.)
The Christ Loop4 by Leo Vladimirsky is narrated by a Jesus who undergoes every kind of execution possible, and is debriefed after each one in order to discern which will finally be enough to satisfy God.
It is a bit odd that these last two stories both feature the multiple deaths of their main character.

Pedant’s corner:- adescendent (descendant.) bOne Day in the Life of Ian Denisovitch (Ian?) Star Trek – Next Generation (Star Trek – The Next Generation) cIain M Banks’ (Iain M Banks’s,) populus (populace.) d“will not except him as a son” (accept.) 1stood (standing,) focussed (focused.) “A pair of women’s panties sit on the crumpled roof” (a pair sits.) 2“They lay Uncle down” (laid.) 3Iron Bridge (Ironbridge,) “the manner of Prentis O’Rourke’s deaths were documented” (the manners …. were documented,) Mechano (Meccano,) busses (buses.) 4Written in USian, “if they just left all the other me” (all the other me’s,) a question mark at the end of a statement.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Penguin, 1995, 91 p.

The Yellow Wallpaper cover

This is a small collection containing five of Gilman’s short stories, published as part of Penguin’s 60s Classics series. All could be considered to some degree feminist tales even if the term was not in widespread use at the time they were written. Three have some supernatural/speculative bent.
The Yellow Wallpaper is Gilman’s famous tale of a woman in her sick bed haunted by the yellow wallpaper of her bedroom room in the house her physician husband has rented for three months. Possibly being gaslighted (gaslit?) by her husband and his assurances that she needs to rest and take medicine to become well again, over the weeks she comes to see strange patterns in the wallpaper and an old woman behind its bars, as if imprisoned. The shift in the last two pages is impressive.
In When I Was a Witch a woman ventures onto a New York roof on a sultry night and is mewed at by a scalded black cat, witnesses a horse being mistreated and wishes for all the inflictors of such iniquities to feel the pain themselves and all ill-used cats and dogs to be relieved of their pain. Her wishes come true.
Turned is the old tale of a young innocent servant girl taken advantage of by the man of the house, here transmogrified by the response of his wife to the situation.
In Making a Change a new mother driven to distraction by sleeplessness and her mother-in-law’s criticisms attempts suicide. Her mother-in-law saves her and plans the change of the title.
The most overtly feminist story, If I Were a Man, embodies the wish of its title as Mollie comes to inhabit the consciousness of her husband – enhancing both her realisations and his.

Pedant’s corner:- would go down cellar (down to the cellar.) “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seem to lurk” (seems,) “used to make my fairly frantic” (used to make me.) “The sobbed bitterly” (contexts demands, “She sobbed,” ) “the pangs of bitter jealously” (jealousy,) “joked his wife” (to his wife,)

Shoreline of Infinity 4: Summer 2016

The New Curiosity Shop

Shoreline of Infinity 4 cover

In this issue there are interviewsa with Ken Macleod and Tricia Sullivan by Gary Dalkinb. Duncan Lunan reviews Ken Macleod’s The Corporation Wars: Dissidence mainly by way of discussing other works; Iain Maloney mystifyingly likes Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit and praises publisher Unsung Signals for taking a punt on Dan Grace’s long short (or short long) piece of fiction, Winter, not to mention the work itself. Elsa Bouetc likes Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, Benjamin Thomasd eulogises Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky despite its tendency towards info-dumping, Ian Huntere is less generous to Ian Boffard’s Tracer. Ruth EJ Booth’s first column discusses the effect of winning a first award on a writer. Russell Jones’s introductionf to Multiverse (the poetry section) manages to tell us what the poems are about before we read them.
As to the fiction:-
Well Enough Alone1 by Holly Schofield depicts the cognitive decline of an elderly woman. Keen to get rid of her electronic minder by damaging it, she persuades the repair technician to download its programming into her smartcane while awaiting a replacement. The smartcane has programming of its own.
In Senseless2 by Gary Gibson a future National Unity totalitarian government perverts a medical breakthrough by using a device to remove senses from the prisoners it detains. A blind inmate who has developed compensation mechanisms and concocted an escape plan is suspicious of a new cellmate.
Andrew J Wilson’s The Stilt-Men of the Lunar Swamps3 is a typically exuberant piece of Wilsoniana, a Vernian/Wellsian pastiche in which our intrepid adventurers travel into a cavern in the Moon to meet the titular stilt-men and their even more alien controllers. There’s also a character named MacGuffin.
Model Organisms4 by Caroline Grebell relates the last yearnings of a dying life-form.
In Note to Self5 by Michael Stroh a wannabe Science Fiction writer busily piling up the rejection slips receives a package in the post: his first novel, sent to him by his future self.
Robert Neilson’s From the Closet is the somewhat predictable story of a man who tailors himself – literally – to the profile required by his internet dating partner.
The G4.A of geefourdotalpha6 by Clive Tern is a fighting robot which achieves consciousness when brought down in its final battle, surviving hundreds of years before being unearthed by a human anxious to preserve her hunting grounds.
Beachcomber by Mark Toner is a continuation of the graphic/comic strip series introduced in Shoreline of Infinity 3. This episode manages to combine 1950s UFOlogy with the Broons!
Gay Hunter by James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) is an extract from that author’s novel of the same title, the latest to be considered under Monica Burns’s7 SF Caledonia umbrella.

Pedant’s corner:- aIn the introduction “Ken Macleod and Tricia Sullivan have both have contributed” (remove a “have”.) b“as an writer of the left” (a writer,) “advances are being made bio-engineering” (made in bio-engineering,) “this conservative tenancy” (tendency.) c“the benefits and drawback” (drawbacks make more sense.) dhonorable (honourable, please.) e”the very imposing, nay, ruthless figure, who” (has its second comma misplaced; it ought to be after “ruthless”.) fDodds’ (Dodds’s.) gIn an appeal for subscribers; super nova (supernova.) 1Written in USian, “an sensible-looking brush” (a sensible-looking.) 2”The guard led pushed Bill into a chair” (led, or pushed? Or led/pushed?) plus a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech. 3”is audience were in for” (his audience was in for,) there was an unwarranted change in font size part way through, “hoisted by our own petard” (hoist by our own petard.) “There was ghastly, flatulent bang” (a ghastly flatulent bang.) 4”I have laid immersed” (lain immersed,) kilometers (kilometres,) “spermatozoa multiplies in my ovaries” (spermatozoa is plural; so, multiply. Plus spermatozoa are male sex cells, they would multiply in testes, not ovaries.) 5Written in USian. 6Written in USian, “ – hat’s how the file translated” (that’s.) “At the start of its final battle started G4.A controlled the sector” (As its final battle started G4.a; or, At the start of its final battle G4.A,) “advantage point” (it’s vantage point, no “ad”.) 7”The list of his best loved authors ….include (includes,) “the unique SF canon … go virtually ignored” (goes.)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamish Hamilton, 2017, 233 p. Another of the novels on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist.

 Exit West cover

In an unnamed Middle-Eastern city on the threshold of becoming embroiled in an insurrection, Saeed and Nadia meet while attending evening class. Despite wearing a black robe that covers her from toe to neck she tells him, “I don’t pray,” and on their first coffee together answers his question about the reason for her attire by saying, “So men don’t fuck with me.” As their relationship develops mysterious black doors are meanwhile beginning to appear at various locations on Earth, allowing people to move from place to place without traversing the ground, air, or sea between.

The relationship between Seed and Nadia becomes closer but when given the opportunity Saeed says he doesn’t want to have sex till they are married. Nadia’s response is pithy. To have Nadia as the less repressed of the two (she was independent enough to live in her own flat and had taken a previous lover,) to be the unreligious one of the pair, is a neat touch by Hamid. History has its own way with them, though, as the insurgents take over the city and life becomes repressive and dangerous. On Saeed’s mother’s death Nadia moves into his family’s apartment. They keep a fake marriage certificate in case of inquiries.

The militants are only ever in the background – though they do give Hamid the chance to convey the flavour of their impact – but they provide the impulse for our lovers to take a chance on escaping via a black door. The doors are essentially a fantasy element. How they work is never gone into, they just appear and do their, effectively magical, work.

Nadia and Saeed first alight on the Greek island of Mykonos, confined to a refugee camp, then later another door transports them to a plush but otherwise unoccupied London flat. Soon the flat fills up with more migrants through the door, unrest at the incomers builds up in the UK and the neighbourhood becomes ghettoised and a microcosm of the wider immigrant experience.

It is perhaps a flaw that Hamid doesn’t quite fully explore this strange new world where borders have been for all practical purposes abolished – and I suspect he is far too sanguine about the political accommodation the British state makes with the migrants, one which, in any case Saeed and Nadia eschew by taking another door to the US. Hamid’s main interest lies in portraying the migrant experience through the arc of Nadia and Saeed’s love affair, the strains their uncertain existence puts on the relationship between. Hamid also does a lot of telling rather than showing, but that is not uncommon among writers more celebrated than he is.

Hamid makes the point that migration is a trauma for the individual, “When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind,” and that, “We are all children who lose our parents ….. and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity.” Then again, “Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” (This is why nostalgia, a yearning for a lost golden age, is such a pernicious emotion.)

Despite Exit West’s nomination for the BSFA Award, nothing in Hamid’s treatment betokens Science Fiction. This is really a mainstream novel (albeit a good mainstream novel) with an SF idea bolted on. The black doors are not necessary for the plot to work and the implications of easier transit between countries are rather skated over.

All three nominees I’ve read so far are lacking in some regards. I really don’t know which novel to place first; only the one I won’t.

Pedant’s corner:- legs akimbo (legs cannot be placed on hips; at least not on the same body’s hips,) fit (fitted.)

Interzone 274 Has Arrived

Interzone 274 cover
Paris Adrift cover

After its brief hiatus, Interzone is back, this time with issue 274.

Among the usual selection of goodies – including no less than seven stories – this issue contains my review of Paris Adrift by E J Swift.

free hit counter script