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Two More For Interzone

 Re-Coil cover
 Sixteenth Watch cover

My tbr pile just increased by two.

Re-Coil by J T Nicholas and Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole both arrived (courtesy of Interzone) this morning.

Both authors are new to me. Re-Coil is Nicholas’s fourth novel.

Cole is apparently best known for writing Fantasy but Sixteenth Watch is SF. Looking him up today on the internet I note that he has made an apology for sexual harassment in his past.

Interzone 285 Est Arrivé

The latest Interzone (no 285, Jan – Feb 2020) popped onto my doormat this morning.

Interzone 285 cover

 The Menace From Farside cover
Skein Island cover

As well as the usual fiction and features this one contains my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Ian McDonald’s The Menace From Farside.

I am expecting a couple of books for review in Interzone 286 through the post any day now.

Interzone 283, Sep-Oct 2019

TTA Press, 96 p

 Interzone 283 cover

John Kessel takes the guest Editorial and wonders about the utility of fiction in today’s ‘alternative facts’ world. In that context too, in Future Interrupted Andy Hedgecocka reflects on the nature of beliefs and memory. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Storiesb appreciates the sequencing involved in ordering stories in an anthology – some have compared it to the similar process in musical albums – each choice reflects on previous and subsequent stories/tracks. In a bumper Book Zone Duncan Lawiec calls the climate change themed A Year Without a Winter edited by Dehlia Hannah interesting, strange and irritating, I run my eye over the excellent This is How You Lose the Time War by Amar El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone plus the anthology Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini, John Howardd surmises that present day equivalents of the stories from the twentieth century in Menace of the Machine and The End of the World and Other Catastrophes, both edited by Mike Ashley, might not deal with their subjects very differently, Lawrence Osborn finds Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago entrancing, a book to be savoured many times, Maureen Kincaid Speller praises Mick Wood’s collection Learning Monkey and Crocodile for a “striking insight into how one might write genuinely good stories in a respectful way”, Barbara Melville thought Driving Ambition by Fiona Moore disappointing since it didn’t work for her as it’s told by the wrong narrator and reads like an early draft, Stephen Theakere characterises Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes as goofball space opera with a more serious protagonist but far too long, Ian Hunterf says The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith has at least one narrative viewpoint too many but the author has a hit on her hands, Georgina Bruce calls The Complex by Michael Walters a ‘startling and confident debut’ but is ponderous reading at times and its women only operate in relation to the men but is still elusive, stylish, complicated and interesting, while Andy Hedgecockg delights in the ‘narrative treasure trove of wit, compassion, excitement and erudition’ that is Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein.

In the fiction:-

Society is literally stratified for Sib and Malmo in The Winds and Persecutions of the Sky1 by Robert Minto. Their first plan is to adopt strict hygiene and work hard to access the lowest floors. Malmo eventually gives up and instead climbs their skyscraper till he can access the outside. Sib follows him trepidatiously, but the girl he finds there and who helps him seek out Malmo wants only to go inside.
In Of the Green Spires2 by Lucy Harlow a plant-like organism called a starthistle takes over Oxford before retreating again leaving its offspring behind.
The titular entity of Jolene3 by Fiona Moore is a sentient truck, who has left her rider, part-time country singer Peter McBride, for another job. McBride has also lost his wife and dog but wants the truck back and is referred to our narrator, Noah Moyo, a consultant autologist, to help with that. Jolene (“‘Please don’t take my van,’”) turns out to be a hard case. (Pun intended.)
The Palimpsest Trigger4 by David Cleden tells the story of Marni, who works for one of the palimps, creatures who can overwrite people’s memories.
Fix That House!5 by John Kessel starts off as it will be an account of a house restoration project for a TV programme but it later chillingly turns out that houses are not the only antebellum things that have been restored.
The James White Award Winner, Two Worlds Apart6 by Dustin Blair Steinacker, features an inhabitant from Earth (candidate to join the benevolent intragalactic Consortium) tested for suitability on a mission to persaude the inhabitants of a planet without a star into the fold.

Pedant’s corner:- a Goebbels’ (Goebbels’s.) bH G Wells’ (Wells’s,) Mary E Wilkins’ (Wilkins’s.) c“I took exception with” (it’s ‘took exception to’) “There are a variety of” (there is a variety of.) d Jenkins’ (Jenkins’s,) “Usually it is the entire planet and its inhabitants that is threatened” (the ‘and’ makes it plural, so, ‘that are threatened’.) e“to the ends of universe” (of the universe.) fLiz Williams’ (Williams’s,) “our merry band are initially trying to bring back” (our merry band is initially trying to bring back.) gDickens’ (Dickens’s.)
1Written in USian, miniscule (minuscule.) 2St Giles’ (Giles’s.) 3“to lay over top of it” (to lie over the top of it,) veterinarian (this is set in the UK and narrated by a Brit, hence vet, or veterinary surgeon.) 4Socrates’ (x4, Socrates’s,) similarly Endymius’ (x2, Endymius’s,) “Shafts of weak light like heavenly search lights, stabbed down” (no need for the comma.) 5Written in USian. 6Written in USian, shrunk (shrank,) “as if the hybrid had never spoke” (spoken,) “none of the Tarsach were coming forward” (none … was coming forward,) “between she and them” (between her and them.)

Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Head of Zeus, 2018, 729 p. Translated from the Chinese, 死神永生 (Sǐshén yǒngshēng) by Ken Liu. Published in Interzone 278, Nov-Dec 2019.

Science Fiction is often said to be the literature of ideas. If that is where your pleasure in it lies, Cixin Liu is certainly the author for you. His Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (the first two of which, The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, were reviewed in Interzone 261, with all three having now been published in paperback with a themed set of covers) throws out SF concepts with abandon. It is prodigiously imagined, none more so than this last in the series, which has ideas in abundance. Enigmatic alien civilisations, four dimensional universes poking into ours, star-busting weapons, a light speed drive, manifestations of quantum entanglement, gravitational wave communicators, a weapon which reduces dimensions, the possibility the speed of light was once infinite, an unremittingly hostile universe, the laws of physics as the ultimate in weaponry, a timeline extending nearly nineteen million years. There is surely enough here to satisfy anyone’s quest for a sense of wonder.

Given such an almost Stapledonian timeline any narrative has to tend towards the episodic, even if due to the development of suspended animation technology (here called hibernation) we are able to follow the fortunes of Cheng Xin, a spaceflight technologist, and, with her, those of wider humanity down the ages. The advent of reliable hibernation allows the author to tease us with the thought that, “As modern biology advanced apace, people began to believe that death’s end would be achievable in one or two centuries …. those who chose hibernation were taking the first steps on the staircase to life everlasting,” but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Periodic extracts from a journal called A Past Outside of Time act as a sort of historical filler between episodes. While there is some early overlap between events in Death’s End and those of the previous two books we are soon venturing well beyond them.

Death’s End start though is comparatively prosaic; at the siege of Constantinople, with a magician being engaged to kill Sultan Mehmed II and so save the city. She doesn’t, of course, but we are told her magic is due to the first manifestation of a four dimensional universe into ours. That telling is emblematic of the book’s overall style. The section is, however, notable for its concentration on the interactions between its characters.

Move on centuries to a college classmate of Cheng Xin, Yun Tianming, who, mainly due to an unrequited affection for her, at the time we meet him is contemplating the newly legalised euthanasia. His acceptance of death makes him an ideal candidate to represent humanity as a sole envoy to the incoming fleet of the Trisolarans, as he won’t be coming back. The book has a structural problem here as Yun remains offstage for a large portion of it before returning as a crucial contributor to the later story it tells. The fleet finally turns back after Earth’s broadcasts of a third planet’s location to the universe implicitly threatening the Trisolaran home star since in an inimical (Dark Forest) universe this invites pre-emptive destruction by aliens with superior technology. A system of deterrence is established between Earth and Trisolaris which holds until Cheng becomes the Swordholder responsible for initiating the required signal. Seconds after she does so, Trisolaris strikes. Cheng does not act; but an Earth ship in deep space, effectively nothing but a gravitational wave antenna, does transmit the coordinates. Trisolaris’s sun is swiftly destroyed. Here we lose what was one of the attractions of the two earlier books, the descriptions of Trisolaran society.

The rest of Death’s End is taken up with humanity’s efforts to avoid or evade Dark Forest annihilation, basically keeping schtum but also building habitats to hide in the shadows of the giant planets. There is some by-play involving a meeting between Tun and Cheng promoted by Trisolarans from a spaceship that picked him up. He has invented folk tales to embed clues to their superior knowledge of Physics. These tales, clever metaphors on Liu’s part, are perhaps the most readable part of the book. Elsewhere the characters are little more than pegs to hang the story from and most of their conversations relate purely to the ongoing scenario or its exploration.

Death’s End is certainly the culmination of a tour-de-force of speculation (and hats off too to its translator Ken Liu) but its 700+ pages are in effect one long info dump. Intellectually bracing, but emotionally cold.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Translator’s note; “thus preserving a flicker of hope for humanity during their darkest hour” (its darkest hour.) Otherwise; colons are invariably followed by a capital letter (which they should not be. It is not after all, a new sentence,) none is most often given a plural verb when it ought to be singular, antennas (antennae,) advisor (adviser.) “Neither droplet struck their respective targets” (Neither droplet struck its respective target,) “the two crafts” (craft, this incorrect plural later appeared several times,) candelabras, (candelabra, one of them is a candelabrum,) “in close proximity of” (proximity to,) “mark in the psyche of the world” (on the psyche,) “the dark side of the moon” (it has no dark side. A far side yes, but all of it experiences sunlight. Plus it should be the Moon,) “there were a total” (there was a total,) football-shaped (USian; the shape was that of a rugby ball,) “the Federation fleet had sent the bulk of their ships” (the Federation fleet had sent the bulk of its ships,) “three point forty-one” (three point four one. Forty is a signifier for four tens and no units – 40 – not a placeholder for four tenths and zero hundredths as in 3.40. Later we had “point five three” correctly rendered,) gasses (gases,) “back to this chest” (his chest.)

New Review

 The Menace From Farside cover

Hot off the Press.

Also for Interzone 285 I will be reviewing Ian McDonald’s latest novella The Menace From Farside, one of his “Luna” stories of which I have read New Moon and Wolf Moon.

Interzone 282, Jul-Aug 2019

TTA Press, 96 p

 Interzone 282 cover

In her guest Editorial Kristi deMeester tells how her story in this issue was generated. Andy Hedgecock considers cities in Future Interrupteda. In Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Storiesb she ponders the mysterious processes that go into constructing – and choosing from – a tbr pile.
In Book Zone Andy Hedgecock lauds Nina Allan’s The Dollmaker as literary fantasy at its most ambitious, erudite and entertaining and also interviews the author, I compare Chris Beckett’s Beneath the World a Sea to the best fiction for its exploration of the nature of humanity but am slightly less enthusiastic about The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders for lacking something in urgency, Juliet E McKenna finds secondary world fantasy The Resurrectionist of Calligo by Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga highly enjoyable, Ian Hunter rejoices in the delights of New Maps: More Uncollected John Sladek edited by David Langford, Maureen Kincaid Spellerc respects the novels by Ian McDonald (of which Luna: Moon Rising is the third) but cannot love them and welcomes the SF-ness of AfroSFv3 edited by Ivor W Hartmann but also for the reminder that while society and SF have made great strides in increasing representation recently, there is still some way to go.
In the fiction:-
The Verum1 of Storm Humbert’s story is a new kind of drug which delivers experiences which seem real. The narrator is the purveyor of choice for verum, until Regina comes along. The denouement is not what you might expect from this set-up.
The weasel virus turns women’s reproductive organs to mush while killing them. As a preventive measure all as yet unaffected women have had hysterectomies, hence there will be no new humans ever again. Our narrator is working on a Sesame Street-like TV series called Gumdrop Road which is using the preserved bodies of dead children (their brains implanted with computers connected to their nervous systems) to simulate former normality. This is the world of Can You Tell Me How to Get to Apocalypse?2 by Erica L Satifka. The afterword tells us it has been brought to us by the letter P and the emotion despair.
The Frog’s Prince; Or, Iron Henry by N A Sulway is a kind of modern day fairy tale, or variant of one. The titular frog’s ‘prince’ suffers from an unusual curse: to have “no daughter of a woman born.” After turning the frog into a boy – and a lover – he several times turns him into a woman in order to bypass the curse.
A girl is lost in the eponymous mall of The Princess of Solomon Pond Mall by Timothy Mudie. Living things wink out of existence when she sees them. Her only contact with the outside world is through the food drops and robot parachuted in to her by the military looking to exploit her powers.
In Heaven Looks Down on the Tomb by Gregor Hartmann all human life on Earth has long since been eradicated. Those on the moon survived and now a few of their descendants have come down to Earth to try to harness any possible useful bacteria. Factions on the Moon complicate things, though.
In FiGen: A Love Story3 by Kristi deMeester the titular FiGen is a company which claims to be able to predict the likelihood of a spouse having an affair from a genetic sample. Our female narrator attempts to pre-empt the situation.

Pedant’s corner:- aJeffries’ (Jeffries’s, several instances) “Jeffries’ vision is in tune twenty-first century pessimism” (Jeffries’s vision is in tune with twenty-first century pessimism.) b“that is understandable given situation” (given the situation,) Nichelle Nicols’ (Nicols’s,) Billy Dee Williams’ (Billy Dee Williams’s.) cRobrerts’ (Roberts’s,) Garth Ennis’ (Eniss’s.)
All the fiction was written in USian. 1“a smattering of leaves huddle” (a smattering huddles,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth.) 2“lay down” (lie down.) 3“expensive whiskies[sic] drank neat” (drunk neat,) “as if I needed reminding of whom you were” (extra marks for the use of ‘whom’ elsewhere but here it is the subject of ‘were’; so, ‘of who you were’.)

The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri

Titan Books, 2018, 384 p. Published in Interzone 277, Sep-Oct 2018.

 The Book of Hidden Things cover

Dimitri is an Italian fantasy author now living in London. This is his first novel in English but there is no awkwardness in the text to betray that circumstance. In fact he writes with more facility than many a published native speaker (for which he can be forgiven the few USianisms present.) The book’s setting, though, is deepest, darkest rural Italy, the Puglia region, a town called Casalfranco. Four friends, Tony, Fabio, Mauro and Art(uro) have a pact to meet up in their home town every year, kept to ever since they left school, despite mostly living elsewhere, abroad in one case. This year Art doesn’t turn up. The other three feel compelled to find out why.

Things are complicated by the fact that in their youth Art disappeared for a week (putting his friends under suspicion) and never gave a truly satisfactory explanation for his absence. Due to that legacy the Carabinieri aren’t interested in his latest disappearance and the three (musketeers?) are left to their own devices. Their investigation of Art’s home reveals an unsavoury aspect to his recent activities and, in his marijuana plantation, a likely source of conflict with the local mafia, the Sacra Corona Unita. The deeper into the web of Art’s life they delve the more they find his connections dangerous. For a dispensation, Art once cured a Corona chief’s granddaughter of leukaemia by mysterious means and in a previous conversation he raved about Hidden Things. He is also said to have been obsessed with a woman he called la Madama.

The bulk of the narrative is carried by first person, present tense sections narrated by one or other of the three and in which their present relationships and frustrations with their lives are revealed, with salient important incidents from the past drip-fed to the reader throughout the novel. Very little of this has the feel of fantasy and most of it reads more like a crime novel. In fact until Dimitri inserts his slice of the weird (and even afterwards to a great extent) The Book of Hidden Things felt as if it could easily have been a lost Iain Banks – without the M – novel written somewhere in the continuum between The Crow Road and Stonemouth. There is that same emphasis on home, and the gravitational pull of family and old friendships, not to mention one of our narrators’ fascination with a particular woman. Obviously some things are universal.

Up to now all might have served to illustrate the thought, “We think we are in control of our lives but we aren’t. Most of the time we don’t know what we’re doing.”

A start to resolution comes when they read the prologue to Art’s manuscript THE BOOK OF HIDDEN THINGS, a discourse about barriers and dry stone walls as boundaries.

Then, as before, the spanner in the works, Art returns, with a story about being drawn over the boundary into a world of hedonism, his rejection from it and desire to go back, which he accomplished. Even though Puglia lies under “a long-forgotten curse that makes change, any change, impossible,” his book delineates the connection of physical things and spirituality. Landscape is context, not backdrop. People have left the land, giving space for the hidden things to flourish. Chapels dedicated to all sorts of Saints litter the countryside. Junctions between the profane and the sacred, the seen and unseen, they mark the boundary between two different lands. He expresses his wish to take his friends across the barrier with him and the necessity of transgression to breach it. Not convinced (all the other world seems to boil down to is a promise of endless sex) the three swither over trying to stop him. And the Corona wants to use his abilities for their own purposes.

Dimitri’s book captures the claustrophobia of small town life, the brooding atmosphere of menace of a mafia ridden polity, the yearning for the lost possibilities of youth and the belated acceptance of adulthood. The possibility that Art may be mad, or at least delusional, is left open till the last word, which swings the pendulum firmly in one direction. Whether it contains enough of the fantasy element to satisfy the buffs is a matter of choice but The Book of Hidden Things is well-written, characterful and, in the end, humane. You could read it for those alone.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- *ass for arse, ice tea for iced tea, awesome, faggot. Otherwise; “none of us were expecting” (none of us was expecting,) Lucius Apelius’ (Apelius’s.) “The first thing I notice are the books” (the first thing is the books,) Blu-Tack (Blu-Tak?) “there are a set number of pharmacies” (there is a set number,) “their chirping reaches a crescendo” (reaches a climax, the crescendo is the rise not its culmination,) “a bunch of teenagers burst into laughter” (a bunch of teenagers bursts into laughter,) “the tourist crowd find it oh-so- picturesque” (the tourist crowd finds it.) “Half of Casalfranco were my father’s students” (half was,) “‘the only structure I ever saw on that side were drystone walls’” (the only structure was,) the golden writing underneath assure the faithful (the writing assures the faithful.) “The couple seem happy” (the couple seems happy.)

Supercute Futures by Martin Millar

Piatkus, 2018, 232 p. Review first published in Interzone 277, Sep-Oct 2018.

Welcome to the realm of Mox and Mitsu, stars of the Supercute Show, the world’s most popular entertainment. Starting as teenage girls in a bedroom in London with only an iPhone and a collection of cuddly toys, using their own skills, software assistance and enhanced bodies – only thirty percent of their brains is still organic, about the only original body parts left – they have parlayed their following into the mammoth Supercute Enterprises, one of the world’s top nineteen conglomerates, with fingers in every pie (including weapons production) but particularly desalination. Their trade-marks are multi – but never clashing – colours, always having twelve centimetres of skin showing between their skirts/shorts and stockings (they are not unaware of older male followers) and Big Colour Super V-hair. Not color, note. Mox insists. Civilisation may be having a difficult time but it’s not yet ended. The Supercute Show can be accessed via what reads like “normal” television but also through Supercute space, in effect a virtual reality zone, a kaleidoscopic cyberspace, entry to which is mediated through purchases and brand enthusiasm.

The outside world is in the wake of an unspecified set of disasters alluded to but not described in the text. Large areas lie derelict and deserted at best, irradiated at worst, with government regulation of the C19 virtually non-existent and its members subject to fierce competition. “‘When you get to a certain size you can’t stop.’” Investors want growth. If you stand still you get swallowed up. Hence Mox and Mitsu are there to be shot at.

Enter Moe Bennie at Lark 3 Media with his offer to Supercute’s desalination rivals RK Enviro. He plans to exploit a flaw in Mox’s and Mitsu’s android Artificial Intelligence Forecast Unit, Aifu, to gain control of the company’s shares and consign Mox and Mitsu to oblivion. Literally. Members of the C19 deploy lethal force vigorously to protect their interests. Premises are guarded by “ag-scans” which detect hostile intent.

It does then seem a little odd that Millar puts into Bennie’s mouth the thought, “‘Most people don’t care about the super-rich. They’re struggling through life, worrying how they’re going to pay the rent while politicians tell them it’s time to make sacrifices. Meanwhile some guy on a yacht had just made 100 million with his AI investment software. The same day my first hedge fund reached ten billion, the government cut child benefit in half.’” The text offers no other trace of conscience on his part. Rather the opposite.

Not that Mox and Mitsu are innocent themselves. As things progress we learn more about how their success was achieved, how much potentially reputation damaging information they have suppressed. Their rise was in part propelled by confrontationalism, until their edge was blunted by the necessity to placate advertisers, their educational intent watered down so as not to baffle consumers unduly. Happy Little Science Pixie, anyone? In this, Millar’s dystopia is depressingly familiar.

Bennie’s strategy begins to succeed and the Supercute Show falls off air but he has reckoned without Mox and Mitsu’s determination and their devoted followers. Two of these, Amowie in Igboland and Raquel in South America, all but pre-teenagers, are the most engaging and (a little conveniently?) resourceful characters in the book.

The final confrontation – in shoot-em-up style – is enabled by a pair of time-limited Mox and Mitsu clones quickly computer-printed in a back-street laboratory.

The comparison to Vonnegut which is blazoned on the back cover is to my mind totally misplaced and does Millar no favours. There is a certain tonal similarity but in matters of execution Millar falls way behind, especially as regards information dumping. It is obtrusive enough elsewhere but it sometimes appears that the only purpose of a Mox and Mitsu conversation is so that a piece of background can follow immediately. Plus no matter how true it is I don’t recall a Vonnegut protagonist ever displaying cynicism of the order of, “‘As for confidence. If you don’t have enough you can fake it…. tell the world it’s lucky to have you … after you’ve faked it for a while, you’ll start to believe it.’” He was more for the underdog.

Supercute Futures isn’t pretending to be high art nor is it a rigorous exposure of corporate (lack of) ethics. It’s a bit too broad brush for that and its intention different. But if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a pleasant enough ride.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- (I stopped counting the number of times a corporate entity in this book was granted a plural verb form; such an organisation is a singular concern.) Otherwise; a missing end quote mark, desalinisation (innumerable instances, the word is desalination,) “Mox and Mitsu’s” (strictly Mox’s and Mitsu’s but they are frequently treated as a single unit linguistically here,) “Ms Mason’s” (Ms Mason,) neeed (need,) fender (civilisation hasn’t ended, remember: it’s bumper,) “‘his board aren’t going to abandon the deal’” (his board isn’t,) “‘I have to go to’” (I have to go.) “Neither were squeamish” (neither was squeamish.) “Soot in the stratosphere had severely damaged the ozone layer.” (I doubt it would. In addition the text following that sentence gives the impression the ozone layer prevents Earth overheating. It doesn’t, it blocks ultra-violet, not infra-red radiation,) “turbulence in the ionosphere affects satellite communications” (really?) “said one of the policeman” (policemen,) “in the celling” (ceiling,) anesthetised (anaesthetised, or better still anæsthetised.) “Once Ishikawa had lowered their radiation to manageable levels” (that’s some jump in medical technology to be able to do that.)

Interzone 283 Has Arrived

Interzone 283 cover

Interzone 283 has landed on my doormat.

The issue contains, among the usual fare, two reviews of mine:-

The novel This is How You Lose the Time War, a collaboration written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini, the first ever collection of SF from Palestine.

Time flies….

I’ll need to be getting on with reading the books for review in issue 284.

More for Interzone

 Automatic Eve cover
 Incomplete Solutions cover

At the end of last week two books arrived from Interzone (very quickly I might add. I only let editor Andy Cox I was interested in them on the Wednesday.)

The books are:-

Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui, a Japanese writer hitherto unknown to me.

The story collection Incomplete Solutions by Wole Talabi, a Nigerian.

The reviews ought to appear in Interzone’s issue 284.

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