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For Interzone 278, Maybe

The latest book for me to review for Interzone arrived this morning.

Well actually it was three books as Head of Zeus has recently published Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy in paperback and they sent me all three.

I reviewed the first two books, The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, in Interzone 261 (Nov-Dec 2015) and posted that review on the blog about a year later.

The first two added up to 912 pages. I will concentrate on the third book, Death’s End, this time round. On its own it’s over 700 pages long so it may be too late for me to meet the deadline for Interzone 278. (There was a delay in the publisher sending me out the books.)

Interzone 279, then.

Interzone 277, To Be Read

Interzone 277 cover

The latest issue of Interzone, 277, arrived last week.

As well as the usual fictional goodies and commentary on SF this one contains two of my reviews.

The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri and Supercute Futures by Martin Millar.

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.

The Switch by Justina Robson

Gollancz, 2017. Reviewed for Interzone 271, Jul-Aug 2017.

The Switch cover

On Harmony, isolated from the rest of the Diaspora, balance is everything. It is ruled by a theocracy known as the Alchemy. Driven by its founder, Tecmaten, the Alchemy seeks to create, by non-technological manipulation of DNA, the pinnacle of human development; people called Exalted who have special powers. It teaches everything is twofold, arising from twinned energy flows; it preaches light must always be balanced by dark. Consequently it has a sister dark-side city, Chaontium, to which – since rejects must be treated with mercy – they are consigned.

Instead of a tidy sun and moon, one such reject, narrator Nico Perseid, a male homosexual, is composed of two suns. Even in Chaontium consummation of such sexuality is illegal as it would be a meeting of four suns and so burn through the fabric of reality.
We first encounter Nico when he is on trial for the murder of Chaontium gang boss Dashein VanSant, a rap for which he has been promised escape from the death penalty. This is not his first such deliverance. Chapter two flashes back to his childhood in Chaontium’s state orphanage where he met his lifelong friend Twostar Fae. They seized a chance to flee but Nico was hit by a car. Seemingly dead, he was revived by a bystander whom Twostar thinks was an Exalted. Nico, though, doesn’t believe in the theology of the Alchemy or its woo – “spooky bullshit nobody can prove”. In a kind of foreshadowing that is slightly over-egged he also occasionally sees a minotaur.

For Nico and Twostar life in Chaontium is a continual struggle till they are taken in by a gang. He is kidnapped by VanSant for a career in a variety of kickboxing which reads more like lethal cage-fighting. Under the guise of a wetware upgrade to prevent him dying in the ring Nico undergoes an operation to insert a pilot switch – provided by Twostar’s lover Tashin DeKalfu – a piece of Diaspora tech capable of synching with a starship; the only way out of Harmony except death. He wakes up to the murder charge and Tashin’s betrayal, the presence in his head of a Forged Interface, a Chimeric Avatar Switch, a Transhuman converter which can interface with anyone else and allows “Tek or Forged ships to pilot human or other biological avatars”. In other words, telepathy and remote sensing with a gloss of rationalisation.

An awful long time is spent on this set-up but from hereon in the focus is on Tashin’s agenda, the penetration of the Alchemy to try to prove it has been trading illegally offworld. Finally, we have the revelation of where and what Harmony actually is.

Nico is an engaging enough narrator, albeit overfond of expletives, but naturally impatient of the world he inhabits, “Cisnormativity. That isn’t even a word. It shouldn’t even be an idea. It should be destroyed in hellfire.” Despite his disparagement of woo and The Alchemical Wedding (the locus where mysticism, symbolism and reality meet to give rise to a new kind of being,) his encounter with the powers of mind of the Exalted and witnessing an apparent resurrection (or, “reanimation by goldlight intervention”) leads to some musing on the possibility of souls, of energy that exists above and beyond that of body and mind.

There is an idiosyncratic approach to chapter titling (One: is the loneliest number; Seven: sins; Three Threes – the charm; Light the Blue Touchpaper and Count to – Ten; Thirteen. Triskaidekaphobia can kiss my ass,) but these also give a flavour of Nico’s irreverent narrative style. There are times when the information dumping tends to be ad hoc but Robson has deployed a good coinage in the word datmosphere. There are some instances of odd syntactical choices, verb tense anomalies and phrases like “coins down the back of the sofa” and “Defcon One” which hauled me back out of Nico’s frame of reference into our own.

The setting is undeniably Science Fiction but, since the Exalted’s abilities are never truly explained hence might as well be magic, the whole seems an odd blend with outright fantasy and we don’t see enough of Nico’s early relationship with Twostar to make his enduring attachment to her entirely credible.

Fittingly there is a claustrophobic feel to the novel but it all feels rather breathless. Interesting but flawed, The Switch somewhat ironically suffers from a lack of balance.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing comma before a quote, (x 2,) “you do the math” (it’s maths,) ass (arse,) “a host of burning issues were eating him up” (a host was,) Daylus’ (Daylus’s,) “than I would’ve betted he could” (than I would’ve bet.) Dashein spelling varies with Dashain.

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.

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.

Another for Interzone

Close your Eyes cover

My latest review for Interzone – for issue 276 – will be of Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup.

Mr Jessup is another author new to me.

From my researches on the internet this seems to be an expansion of, or companion piece to, a novella, Open Your Eyes, he published in 2009.

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Angry Robot 2017, 397 p Reviewed for Interzone 270, May-Jun 2017.

The Stars Are Legion cover

Lit by an artificial sun, the worlds of the Legion hang in space. Massive orbs, they are living things covered externally by tentacles that simultaneously reach out but also offer protection to their world’s inhabitants. Their interiors are sticky and moist, biology taking the functions of such things as floors, walls and lifts. The worlds, though, are dying, with patches of rot blotching their surfaces. Beyond the misty veil that shrouds the sun lies the Mokshi, the only world to have moved out from the usual orbits of the Legion. As a result the Mokshi is an object of envy and conquest; but it is defended fiercely. Anat, Lord of Katazyrna, has a metal arm whose power is lost and she wishes to conquer the Mokshi in order to restore it and (literally) make a new world.

Each chapter here is prefaced by an aphorism by-lined, “Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion”. The narrative viewpoint, though, is shared between Zan and Jayd, once lovers, neither of whom are particularly sympathetic characters. At least twice as many chapters are devoted to Zan, who has lost her memory but is the only one of Katazyrna’s army ever to penetrate the Mokshi and survive. She is told she has made the attempt and returned many times.

The first set piece is a fairly standard piece of military SF as Katazyrna’s latest army attacks the Mokshi. However, the prospect this holds out of endless space battles is misleading. Hurley’s attention is more on the somewhat complicated relationship and backstory between Zan and Jayd.

It doesn’t take very long to work out that there are only women on these worlds. Hurley does not make anything of this – except in her afterword – it is merely a factor of this scenario, the society she has decided to portray. The mechanics of how their inhabitants become pregnant are obscure, though; even the mothers seem in the dark. Also, the birth products may be non-human, “Each world produces what it needs.” But in a strange mix of this magical-seeming biology with hi-tech, womb transfer can be effected surgically. Indeed we find Zan has donated hers and its contents to Jayd.

Neither does Lord Mokshi’s identity remain a mystery to the attentive reader, becoming obvious long before Hurley confirms it.

Interference from the forces of Bhavaja makes the attack fail and Anat decides on an alliance with these erstwhile enemies. To this end she arranges a marriage between Jayd and Rasida, Lord of Bhavaja. Jayd’s pregnancy is an important aspect of the deal. Bhavaja has not had a birth for some while. For a long time, to help Zan penetrate the Mokshi, Jayd has been working secretly towards this end.

The wedding is accompanied by a human sacrifice. This is only one of the many gory incidents in the book exemplified by Rasida’s despairing philosophy expressed later, “There’s no such thing as love in the Legion. There is birth and there is death. That’s all.” By this time Rasida has not kept her word, destroying Ana in the process, while Zan was thrown into Katazyrna’s recycler.

Which is where things begin to get bogged down. As well as what are in effect no more than monsters devouring the material to be recycled (Hurley seems to relish the details but they are oddly uninventive) Zan finds a woman living in the belly of the world, Das Muni, who helps her to escape to the next level.

The main body of the book is taken up with Zan’s journey up through the strata of the living world where the obstacles she meets are overcome perhaps a little too easily and she picks up another two handy companions.

One of Gene Wolfe’s prescriptions for writing fiction is that if your hero(ine) goes on a journey you must describe it. Well, there’s describing and then there’s overdoing it. The journey here is certainly important to the outcome as it provides Zan with clues to both her past (she has done all this before, remember) and future but it reminded me of the seemingly endless trek across the Ringworld in one of Larry Niven’s series of novels; it’s there more to show us the author’s invented world rather than advance the plot. Together with the emphasis on violence here that, for me, reduced engagement. It may be more to others’ taste.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- “I change directions” (direction,) auroras (aurorae.) “The security crosses their arms and puts their backs to me” (its arms, its backs,) “a bevy …. begin” (begins,) “the whole of Katzyrna pour out” (the whole pours out,) in the hopes (in the hope,) maw in sense of mouth (sigh; it’s a stomach,) “a hunger than no meal can satisfy” (that no meal,) “fearful that the council will change their mind” (its mind,) the moths become less and less (fewer and fewer,) a missing start quote when a chapter began with a piece of dialogue, “I motion to Das Muni to lower the litter …… I motion to Das Muni to lower our own load” without the load being picked back up in the meantime, “I … try to see the where it’s fallen from” (no “the” needed,) “lined in row upon row” (by row upon row,) “if it is was my child” (if it was,) “that something had happened to her leg” (the narration is always present tense; so, something has happened to her leg,) “One is full of clear liquid. The other is full of purple liquid.” (clear here is contrasted with a colour; since clear does not mean colourless, the purple liquid could equally have been clear,) “Zan gets up now and wipe her hands” (wipes.)

Interzone 275

The latest issue (no 275) of Interzone has arrived (cover image centre below.)

 Fifty-One cover
 The Great Chain of Unbeing cover

Interzone 275 cover

This one contains my reviews of The Great Chain of Unbeing by Andrew Crumey and of Fifty-One by Chris Barnham.

Latest Review

You may have noticed in my side-bar that I am now reading Fifty-One by Chris Barnham.

 Fifty-One cover

I bumped into the author at Follycon and vaguely remembered his book was on a list for review from Interzone a few months back.

Not knowing whether it had been sent to anyone else I blagged a review copy anyway with the promise of trying to get it into Interzone or else posting about it here.

IZ hadn’t sent it out so I’ve got the gig. The review might even be in the next issue (275) along with Andrew Crumey’s The Great Chain of Unbeing.

It’s a time travel story.

The cover (okay it has a doodlebug, but….) totally misrepresents the contents by the way.

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