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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.

Interzone 280, Mar-Apr 2019

TTA Press, 96 p

In the Editorial Shauna O’Meara describes the genesis of her story in this issue in her practice as a vet, seeing the close bond between owners and their animals. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda muses on the influence of science and most latterly psychology on literature and SF and wonders what effect the development of neuroscience will have on the stories we tell ourselves. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories (Books That Smile Back) reflects the endless fascination some people have with books and their rewards. In Book Zone, again relegated to after the film reviews, I say of Helen Coggan’s The Orphanage of Gods that she writes well, with an eye for character and plot, Duncan Lunanb finds quality in the stories in game spin-off The True History of the Strange Brigade edited by David Thomas Moore, but arguing from the first page with The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman before eventually finding the author in complete control (though his final paragraph suggests to me the author is not entirely playing fair,) Lawrence Osbornc welcomes the fifth “Invisible Library” book, The Mortal World by Genevieve Cogman, “a detective story that actually works within the parameters set by its fantasy context,” Tim Major is impressed by Helen Marshall’s “eagerly awaited” first novel The Migration,like a parable offering moral guidance, Stephen Theaker thought M T Hill’s Zero Bomb very good indeed despite it switching protagonist halfway through, Val Noland tells us Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds succeeds by threading a tonal and thematic discourse between the two extremes of bleakness and optimism exemplified in the author’s previous work and offers a series of satisfying steps on the main characters’ journeys, Maureen Kincaid Speller praises the subtlety and nuance – unusual in a tale of interstellar goings-on – of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and commends this first novel, Ian Sales finds it a sad state of affairs that Mimi Yu’s The Girl King having two female leads is worthy of note but that the tale is nevertheless an opportunity missed, Andy Hedgecocke lauds the invention, narrative energy and linguistic exuberance of the stories in The Clockworm and other strange stories by Karen Heuler but that there is an emotional flatness at their core.
In the fiction: Cyberstar1 by Val Nolan is narrated by a man whose body is transformed by a religious cult into a cyborg spacecraft in order for him to get close to God in the form of the Sun.
A survivor of a group of humans who were altered to sing in a way that would defeat the bots taking over the world is the viewpoint character of And You Shall Sing to me a Deeper Song by Maria Haskins.
Coriander for the Hidden2 by Nicholas Kaufmann examines the crisis of conscience suffered by Suriel, the angel designated to kill the firstborn of Egypt. This story may be theologically a bit iffy as I believe Judaism has no concept of an afterlife such as the one implied here.
In Everything Rising, Everything Starting Again3 by Sarah Brooks, people’s souls turn into black butterflies, which push themselves out of the body after death.
That Shauna O’Meara story, ‘Scapes Made Diamond4, turns on the desire of a kind of farmed alien animal, which nevertheless has intelligence, to achieve its goals; all mixed in with a human tale of love and sacrifice.

Pedant’s corner:- afocussed (focused; similarly focusses = focuses,) “the period immediately World War II” (the period immediately after World War II,) floatation tanks (flotation.) b“None of them are” (None of them is.) c “This is the fifth volume the very enjoyable” (of the very enjoyable,) Borges’ (Borges’s,) 1930s’ (1930s,) “a number … are being held hostage” (a number is singular,) d“no one is whom they seem to be” (while I welcome the use of whom in its context, the verb ‘to be’ does not take an object; therefore, ‘no one is who they seem to be,) “the work of an author enjoying their material” (Reynolds is male, ‘enjoying his material’.) efocussed (focused,) “critique of humanities tendency” (humanity’s.)
1“of the solar system’s brightest stars” (last I heard the solar system had only one star,) “the populace on Mars were forced to endure” (the populace on Mars was forced to endure,) “off of” (I hate this USianism. It’s just “off”.) < sup>2Written in USian, “None of them were” (None of them was,) “none of the other angels understand the language of flowers” (none … understands the language.) 3“but the pile of black flakes on the chopping board untouched” (is untouched.) 4“the form laying on” (lying on,) clear (I think ‘colourless’ was meant rather than ‘transparent’,) “… would stay close to our charge, stroking them, calming them…” (to our charges,) Bassinos’ (Bassinos’s,) staunching (stanching,) “our species’ vocabulary” (it was ‘species’ singular; so ‘species’s’.)

Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

Apex Book Company, 2018, 230 p. Reviewed for Interzone 276, Jul-Aug 2018.

Close your Eyes cover

This certainly starts with a bang; to be precise a supernova, in which the star in its death throes somehow impregnates a woman called Ekhi, apparently by means of light. Thereafter she is forced to pilot her own ship after shutting down its AI heart since it goes insane due to entropic breakdown of its programmes. She is found floating, naked, in the ship’s control centre – throughout the book these are named egia – by Mari, Hodei and Sugoi, scavengers from The Good Ship Lollipop. At this early point the text displayed an uncomfortably voyeuristic attitude towards Ekhi, embodied in the character of Hodei, who is also fascinated by a nude model in a stache of magazines he keeps. (Magazines? These digital days?) This fascination is later revealed to be because he has the essence of a woman, Iuski, hidden inside him.

Sugoi is Mari’s (very jealous) lover and resents, to the point of violence, any hint of interest in her by Hodei. Sugoi is a lumbering, almost inarticulate creature. With his propensity for violence it is difficult to see what, for Mari, his attraction might be. Then too, there seems to be little jeopardy. Biological repair organisms named thalna can restore to health a body damaged to a high degree. In a similar way robot-like mozorro keep the egias running “smooth and perfect”. Moreover each character contains within itself systems called patuek which “have the ability to store a mind in stasis and be transplanted into a healed, cloned body”.

The ship’s captain, Itsasu, has a frail withered body tethered to the ship’s control heart near the Ortzadar engine (found on the ruins of a moon) and its “bizarre wisdom culled from centuries of intelligence algorithms evolving and learning and storing information into complex data matrices”. She is on a long, 435 year, quest to find her husband but has kept this from the crew, never explaining “exactly why they wandered the stars, stealing from dead cities and spun-down relics of starships”.

None of these are sympathetic characters, not even Ekhi, who seems to be present only to kick-start the story and incubate the supernova’s child. This problem of empathy is exacerbated by Jessup’s use of short, sometimes one word sentences. This is a technique best used sparingly, rather than being endemic.

Jeopardy does come; in the shape of pirates of a sort whose main weapon seems to be language; “‘We would whisper the word once, just once, and your mind would become a slave to this foreign tongue, this alien thought device.’” “That language is a giant looming inside of my mind. Hunting me.” “With the new language came a new being, a hive mind that commanded each and every one of them.” This enemy is connected with the sakre, which can drive human minds to destruction.

The novel is divided into two “books” titled “Open Your Eyes” and “Close Your Mouth” both with five Acts and separated by an Intermission. The birth of the child of the supernova (“I am Arigia. I am the dreams of humanity, the lands of the stars. I am the coupling between all and everything. I float, I am free. And I sing this ship to life. The port to life. I sing the sorrow song at the end of the universe, at the end of time,”) ends the first section. This seems to presage Arigia’s subsequent importance but she is all but totally absent from Book II wherein a wheelchair bound Isatsu, accompanied by Mari (now turned into a bird,) and Isatsu’s husband Ortzi – or, rather his consciousness contained within a skull – wander a labyrinth loosely drawn from the minotaur legend through a landscape of severed heads, while trying to escape the clutches of a bear-like creature called Basa and his diminutive controller La whose driving force seems to be, “Cover them in words. Take their heads. Fill with eggs.”

It all presents as just a little bonkers. Add in some purple-skinned, elephant-headed creatures for seasoning.

Bonkers is fine, but a human story to hang on to while we’re at it, characters whose fates the reader might care about, would help the medicine go down. If SF ideas for the sake of SF ideas do it for you then give this a go. Those who prefer their senses and sensibilities to be engaged should look elsewhere.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian, eg “inside of” (for inside) is littered throughout the text, as is outside of, though there was at least one plain “inside”, shined (shone,) gasses (gases.) Otherwise; sung (sang,) pixilated (pixelated; “pixilated” means drunk, not “blocky in appearance”,) madamoiselle (mademoiselle,) “the sound of the engine became a thundering rush of sounds” (sound….. became …. sounds,) “recording each movement and sending it back” (sending them back,) “and he doesn’t expect me too, either” (expect me to, either,) “kept trying on the shape of names” (shapes,) “had climbed into … and stole away” (stolen away is more natural.) “The only thing preserving his being … were his patuek” (The only thing …was.) “She felt a smile, somehow, hung in her mind” (hang in her mind?) “The eyes were not orbs, but instead flashlights, letting out hot white halos from LED eyes.” (The eyes …. eyes,) “[you] will be discarded of properly” (discarded properly; or, disposed of properly; not “discarded of properly”,) “the heart and the AI where the only things” (were the only things. How on Earth does this “where” for “were” substitution get past i] the writer, ii] any agent involved, iii] a publisher’s reader, iv] the editor?) “her remembered his mother” (he remembered,) “tried to push his cheek back and out its washcloth caress” (and out of,) “with the tip of his toes” (tips.) “His life readings show that his still alive” (he’s still alive,) “near were we need to be” (and now we get the reverse; “were” for “where”,) “a white milky, substance” (a white, milky substance,) ganeeshas(ganeshas,) “with doors along the every facet of the interior” (along every facet,) “Hodei opened door” (opened the door,) “a craggy old fishermen” (fisherman,) “and horded them for itself” (hoarded,) “of the most importance” (utmost?) “it heard a voice sing a solitary voice sing” (take out either ‘a voice’ or ‘a solitary voice’,) “on one the lesser pods” (one of the lesser,) batadur (previously betadur,) crow’s feet (crows’ feet,) “all of her wonderful machines she’d been building” (all of the wonderful machines she’d been building.) “The tenor of the words were true” (The tenor … was true.) Patuek (patuek.) “Sword to help each other” (Sworn makes more sense,) “She saw that flicker of flame tattoos on each of the foreheads” (that flicker of flame tattoo,) shrunk (shrank.) “The profound of absurdity of our very existence” (The profound absurdity of our,) “we watched thirteen suns float through and endless sea of night” (an endless sea,) encoves ….. “on a raised dais where the reprogrammed dolls” (Here it is again; were the reprogrammed dolls,) “all I found where your doubles” (and again: were,) a missing question mark (x3,) Mozorro (elsewhere mozorro,) their epidermis (their; therefore epidermises,) super nova (supernova,) “a room that was on large tank” (one large tank,) “waiting to be woke into” (woken,) “It always changed when they go on the hunt” (when they went on the hunt,) “And where they more her than she was?” (once more; were,) “through the infinite of space and time” (infinity,) sat (seated; or, sitting,) “The pain one’s experiences” (the pain of one’s experiences; or, the pain one experiences,) “This ship was filled with the most flammable object known to humankind. Oxygen.” (That “object” ought to be “substance”. And oxygen isn’t flammable. It’s the agent that causes flame,) damnit (elsewhere dammit,) “a thought eeked out” (eked? Leaked?) “with these cluster of doubles” (this cluster; or, these clusters,) ‘Can you use to revive him?’ (use it,) “full of explosive oxygen” (oxygen isn’t explosive; in its presence other substances may be.)

More From Interzone

 Palestine +100 cover
 Interzone 282 cover

Busy, busy.

Interzone 282 has arrived and it does contain my reviews of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, and Beneath the World, A Sea by Chris Beckett.

By the same post came Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini, the first ever collection of SF from Palestine. This, along with This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (see a few posts ago) is for review. To appear in Interzone 283.

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