Archives » Reviews published in Interzone

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2016, 380 p. Reviewed for Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.

 Revenger cover

The first thing that strikes the reader about this novel is that (barring two very small encyclopaedia extracts laid out in a dark green) it is printed in brown ink. This turns out to be no mere presentational quirk but is instead symbolic. Our narrator, Arafura Ness, tells us fairly early on that she has scratched her story in blood onto rough paper. (Just how rough we find out in the last chapter.) This foreshadowing of things to come belies the book’s initial brightness which has some of the tonal qualities of a Victorian Boy’s Own Adventure; except for the female lead. Throughout the book individuals are denoted by the word “cove”, spaceship crew argot abounds and there are quests for hidden treasure. In that sense it might have been a YA title and in accord with that there is first the necessity to be rid of the parents.

Fura is sixteen, well educated, but her mother is dead and her father fallen on hard times. Her elder sister, Ardana, leads her astray, into the shady environs of Neural Alley where she is tested for ability to read Bones. These are only one of many types of artefact left over from before the Sundering and allow Bone Readers to communicate instantly if sometimes unreliably across the reaches of space. Both sisters are of course adept. To gain quoins to help their father’s plight they sign up for six months service on the Monetta’s Mourn under Captain Rackamore.

Like all the other spaceships in the novel Monetta is a sunjammer with auxiliary ion engines. Rackamore uses her to seek out baubles, closed environments which contain valuable items of ancient tech but which only open at irregular intervals and for irregular times. Along with the Bone Readers the ship’s crew contains an augurer to divine those times, an assessor to determine what any finds are worth, integrators to unseal internal locks plus other specialists. Each bauble (and most of the large habitable environments in the book) has a mini black hole called a swallower at its core.

The science fictional aspects of this – a degenerate humanity seemingly restricted to a relatively small area of space surrounding the habitats of the Congregation, in an era called the Thirteenth Occupation; cut adrift from its origins in the Old Sun, a history with many gaps, with only barely recalled legends for memories, relying on tech it can use but not understand, tech more or less indistinguishable from magic – mostly lie in the background and lend the whole the feel of steampunk in reverse; while bone reading verges on fantasy. There are also aliens; especially those nicknamed Crawlies who fortuitously turned up just before a banking crash and now oversee the financial system despite claiming to have no interest in money themselves, a question as to just what exactly quoins might really be and hints of shadowy others beyond human knowledge.

Of course things do not go smoothly. While plundering a bauble the Monetta is attacked by the shadowy ship Nightjammer, captained by the notorious Bosa Sennen. Most of the crew are killed, Ardana is captured and Fura only saved by the selfless action of the previous Bone Reader, Garval. In hiding, Fura is forced to eat lightvine to survive. As a consequence she contracts the glowy, which makes her skin emit light and may affect her brain function. She and the only other survivor, Prozor, eventually gain rescue and form an alliance, which is soon interrupted by what at first seems an authorial misstep as Fura is legally forced to return to her original home. But this becomes a means to underline how much her experience has changed her. Desires for both revenge and to free Ardana have made any thought of returning to her old life intolerable. With the help of Paladin, the family robot (another remnant of ancient tech, a battle robot no less, but with much diminished competence) she escapes – a process which requires the hasty surgical removal of a lower arm to get rid of her restraint bracelet with Fura acquiring an artificial hand in its place, the partial destruction of Paladin and the devastation of her father. She again teams up with Prozor, taking ship on the Queen Crimson and working towards inveigling Bosa into a trap.

Reynolds tackles it all with brio. Yet he doesn’t ignore deeper concerns. Bosa has a rationale for her depredations. Fura regrets the hardness which has entered her soul, the deceptions she has had to undertake, the decisions made. Revenger asks the question: is the search for revenge worth the price of turning you into what you detested?

I doubt I’ll read a more engaging work of SF this year.

The comments below did not appear in the published review:-

Pedant’s corner:- a figure lying on their back (a figure is singular and ought not to carry a plural pronoun; so lying on her back. There are other instances of their being used of an individual,) we adjusted to the routines to the ship (of the ship.) “Whether it was my words ….but Garval’s distress seemed to lessen” (is missing something like “I don’t know” before the “but”,) two full stops at the end of one sentence, a space missing after a parenthetical dash, ‘I think I can there easily enough’ (get there,) in the opposite direction that I had come (,) adingy (a dingy,) refers to an over-wound clock (they still have mechanical clocks? – and telegraphs later,) to fight if off (it off,) was still set as it had been in when (no “in”,) “how likely is that it someone” (how likely is it that someone,) a missing paragraph indent at a new speaker, “moved you into lock” (into the lock,) for a while.Even (for a while. Even,) ‘I was part of it wasn’t?’ (wasn’t I?) the sorry state Paladin had been when (had been in when,) but there’d no reason (be no reason,) a acceptance (an acceptance,) I should never have let Vidin Quindar to bring me home (no “to” necessary,) maw for entrance, “trying not to drop the pillowcase in the process I thought of all the limbs” (full stop after pillowcase,) moved a hand to brake lever (to the brake lever,) he’d had resigned himself (he’d, or he had,) walled=in (walled-in,) skeptical (sceptical,) Cazarary (Cazaray,) just enough to pluck his interest (pique his interest? – but pluck his interest is a good formulation,) weedled your way onto (wheedled?) “Ground that had been trod” (trodden,) “as if she were holding over a new born baby” (handing over makes more sense,) “since I’d been any contact” (been in any contact; or, seen any contact,) shrunk (shrank,) “‘I’ve told you aren’t anything special’” (‘I’ve told her you aren’t anything special,’) “maybe we should be get at that first” (no “be” required,) were were, pivotted (pivoted,) wickedabout (wicked about,) “but then was so Mattice” (but then so was Mattice,) not not, sometimesd, intution (intuition,) “and was were coming back with it” (either was or were, not both,) in the all the (in all the,) “I’d shirked it off” (shucked it off?) Nighjammer (Nightjammer,) bronzey (bronzy,) “whether was that the start of it” (whether that was,) “some work to on that score” (work to do,) deviousways (devious ways,) “I stroked her hair than bid her rest” (then bid her rest.)

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Vintage, 2016, 296 p. Reviewed for Interzone 265, Jul-Aug 2016.

 Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights cover

The title is an indicator, clearly alluding to a famous collection of tales of wonder, promising (as it then does) exotic happenings, digressions, meanderings and stories within stories. Yet it is also somehow unmistakably Rushdian. Exotic but recognisable, aslant but accessible. In any case, I doubt any other present day author would invite comparison to such a well-known set of stories as the Arabian Nights. But the conceit doesn’t come from nowhere. If he perhaps hasn’t addressed the supernatural quite as directly in most of his previous novels there has nearly always been more than a hint of the strange, brushes with the uncanny, in Rushdie’s work. So here we have jinn (not genies, no, we don’t use that word any more) the Grand Ifrits, Zumurrud the Great, Zabardast the Sorcerer, Shining Ruby the Possessor of Souls – so slender he disappears when he turns sideways – Ra’im the Blood-Drinker, the source of all the world’s vampire stories, and the jinnia Dunia, otherwise known as Aasmaan Peri, aka the Sky Fairy and the Lightning Princess of Mount Qâf.

The narrative is couched as a looking back at the legendary time when the seals between the worlds eroded, a great storm struck the Earth and the Strangenesses began. Yet the story begins over 800 years earlier, in 1195, with the arrival at the house of the philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) of a young homeless girl. This was Dunia, indulging her fascination with human men and her capacity for love. For two years eight months and twenty-eight nights they lived as man and wife and produced numerous offspring, whose descendants, all characterised by their lobeless ears, became the Duniazát. Not named after him as, “To be the Rushdi would send them into history with a mark upon their brow.” Ibn Rushd’s dispute with the philosophy of a predecessor, Ghazali, “Only fear will move sinful man towards God,” and who stated that things happen only because God wills them, provides us with disquisitions on God’s nature, “God is a creation of human beings; the clap-hands-if-you-believe-in-fairies principle.” These differences are played out on a grander scale during the war between the worlds that followed the Strangenesses.

During that time rationality crumbled. Some found their feet didn’t touch the ground and might float away so high that they died, others were weighed down so that they became crushed. A baby born during the storm caused outbreaks of sores on anyone corrupt or dishonest into whose vicinity she came. The irrational became commonplace. The Duniazát had inherited some of Dunia’s jinn powers and were invaluable in the final confrontations with the Grand Ifrits. The whole time of Strangeness lasted, of course, two years, eight months and twenty-eight nights.

Lines like, “If I get hurt in this putative affray of yours then I’m not an innocent bystander?” to a policeman from a musician at risk from the incitements of a rabid preacher show that the events of Rushdie’s life so far have contributed mightily to this – as, I assume, theirs must necessarily do for all but hack authors. Yet while the novel contains all Rushdie’s strengths, it also manifests and perhaps magnifies his faults. There is not much restraint here, there is a lot of telling, the treatment is, as ever, consciously literary and full of word play (Lebanonymous; “all the gold, men, in your sacks will not save you.”) Yet the retrospective narrator defuses any tension in the reader as to the eventual outcome. Rushdie also feels it necessary to define FTL despite name-checking eleven masters of the golden age of science fiction.

However, the book is mainly a meditation on the nature of story. “All our stories contain the stories of others and are themselves contained within larger, grander narratives.” “The first thing to know about made-up stories is that they are all untrue in the same way,” (which feels Tolstoyan but is certainly debatable.) “To tell a story about the past is to tell a story about the present.” That stories tell us what we are; we tell them in order to understand ourselves. Quite where the incursion of the supernatural leaves us with that one is rather problematic. “To recount a fantasy is to tell a tale about the actual.” Well, maybe. “If good and evil were external to Man, it became impossible to define what an ethical man might be,” is closer to the mark.

In general Rushdie is at his best when his flights of fancy are tethered more firmly to earthly events, more centred on his human characters which here are too thinly delineated. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is pyrotechnic, impressive even, undoubtedly worth reading, but, ultimately, curiously lacking in heart.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- St Sebestian (Sebastian?) Nietzche (later rendered correctly as Nietzsche,) “when the princes’ attention was elsewhere” (yes it was princes, plural, ergo it should be attentions were,) bsattling (battling,) Rossonero, (Rossoneri.) In name (In the name,) one less sad angel face (one fewer – but it was narrated in tight third person,) waitstaff (that’s just a horrible conflation, waiting staff is entirely adequate,) knobkerry (I’ve only ever seen the spelling knobkerrie before,) scent to the lower world (sent.)

Extinction by Kazuaki Takano

Mulholland Books, 2016, 512 p. Translated from the Japanese ジェノサイド (Jenosaido) by Philip Gabriel. Reviewed for Interzone 265, Jul-Aug 2016.

 Extinction cover

Jonathan Yeager has just finished a tour working for a private defence contractor, protecting VIPs visiting Baghdad – in plainer terms, a mercenary – when he is recruited for a secret mission in Africa. Operation Guardian is to seek out and kill a group who may be infected by a deadly virus but its members are also given the strange instruction to kill on sight a “living creature you’ve never seen before,” a creature which becomes immediately clear is the operation’s real target.

Kento Koga is a pharmaceutical research worker whose father, a virologist, has just died. He receives an email from his dead father asking him to look in a certain book and not to tell anyone. In there he finds an ATM card and a memo informing him about a hidden laptop of which he is never to relinquish control, an address to go to and to expect all his communications to be monitored. The building contains equipment for carrying out Organic Chemistry reactions and he is tasked with researching and synthesising an agonist for a mutant form of the protein GPR769,l to be completed within one month.

Unfortunately the prologue, which describes a meeting in the White House, dissipates any sense of mystery about the reasons for Operation Guardian as it reveals the existence of a new life form (an evolved human, or more precisely a Pygmy born into the Kanga band of Mbuti.) This may lead to the extinction of the human race and of course is seen as a threat to the US. The President here is named as Gregor S Burns but reads as an extremely thinly disguised version of George W Bush, as he ordered an invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and declared victory before the war was won.

The US security apparatus is also concerned about leaks to human rights organisations concerning extraordinary rendition (a procedure which Takano feels the need to explain to us at length.) A secondary purpose of Operation Guardian is to kill the leaker, Warren Garrett, one of its members, who wishes to intimidate President Burns into stopping rendition/torture by revealing the evidence to threaten him with a war crimes tribunal. We all know this could never really happen and like the text’s attempts to soften Yeager and the other members of the operation is rather limp. These are killers after all.

And the relationship between the two strands? Yeager’s son Justin suffers from pulmonary alveolar epithelial cell sclerosis, or PAECS, which is the fatal disease caused by mutant GPR769. There are occasional passages from other points of view which are only visited the once.

Takano has characters hark on violence’s inevitability. “We project our true colours onto our enemies, fear them, and attack them. And in using violence against others, the nation and religion are the support systems that pardon our actions.” Maybe so; but, “‘War is just another form of cannibalism. Humans use their intelligence to try to hide their instinct for cannibalism,’” Really? Again, “‘Good deeds are seen as virtuous precisely because they run counter to human nature,’” which is definitely arguable. The point is in any case somewhat undermined by Koga’s determination to succeed and the members of Operation Guardian ending up protecting the creature – a three-year old named Akili.

The descriptions of the mechanics involved in undertaking Organic Chemistry are also not convincing. And a month to synthesise a chemical’s agonist from scratch – even with the help of an advanced computer programme – is more than a tall order. The violent scenes, in addition to being curiously perfunctory, read more like reportage at a remove. Then there is the skating over of the ethics of administering an untested drug (actually two drugs; an allosteric agent is also required) on human patients.

Extinction is an uneasy mix of military fiction and thriller. A work of pure SF would surely focus more on the evolved human. Granted, Akili has an undeveloped pharynx and is therefore incapable of speech (though can two-finger type.) He can factorise large numbers into their prime components so compromising the security of encrypted data and communication between computers but otherwise his agency is limited. Not so Koga’s mysterious telephonic prompter, a further link between the two main narratives.

Whether it is a consequence of translation is difficult to determine but the writing is plodding. It is also full of redundancies and meanderings of various sorts such as a disquisition on the lack of remuneration scientists receive for their endeavours. The slightest action is described, information dumping is intrusive, often ad hoc and frequently unnecessary. One phrase read, “Yeager, who’d had reconnoitring training.” Haven’t all soldiers?

As SF, Extinction is nugatory. Action thriller devotees may wish to take a look.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- “the number of US war dead and Burns’s rising popularity were both trending upward” (the word rising does rather imply an upward trend doesn’t it?) “the formal internment of his father’s bones” (interment,) CO2 (CO2,) “a core structure of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen molecules” (a core structure of atoms: oxygen and nitrogen molecules are discrete entities not bonded to other things; ditto a carbon molecule – which would also be a sliver of diamond, graphite, Buckminster Fullerene or graphene,) “he hovered his laser pointer over at the middle of the map” (at it; or over it?) one faction …. are (a faction is,) “we have more of a metallic bond. We’re just atoms moving in a group” (atoms moving in a group? Electrons roaming the structure, not strictly bound to any one atom, is more my conception of metallic bonding,) coversationalists (conversationalists,) homology (homologue,) “lining up the cans of juice he’d just bought on the tatami mat” (he’d bought them on the tatami mat?) “someone was going to force his way in here and grab the laptop away” (grab the laptop,) “he knew right way what they’d done” (right away,) “still had something he wanted ask Sugai” (wanted to ask,) semispherical (usually that’s hemispherical,) lingua francas (the noun here is lingua not franca so linguae – or in English, linguas; plus in Latin the adjective also takes its noun’s case, hence linguae francae,) president (President,) “like an inverted triangle” (triangles have a correct orientation?) dumfounded (dumbfounded,) ecstatic.e (ecstatic,) “the river was hundred metres wide” (a hundred metres,) “the jostling crowd…. were dressed” (the crowd was dressed,) “Yeager looked at this watch” (his watch,) thisnk (think,) “a long thin structure with two benzene rings and one heterocyclic compound” (heterocyclic component; again a compound would be separate.) “Although the allosteric drug used together with it was of a different composition and structure, it was also made up of three cyclic compounds” (three cyclic compounds would again be separate and not part of the same drug,) was mowed down (mown,) half the vocabulary … are foreign words (half is,) if worse came to worst (if the worst came to the worst.)

Interzone 271

Interzone 271 cover
The Switch cover

The latest issue of Interzone, number 271, arrived last week.

Along with the usual columns from Jonathan McCalmont, Nina Allan, plus David Langford’s Ansible Link, there are six short stories.

The book review section features an interview with Nina Allan and Emily B Cataneo focusing on their latest books The Rift and Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories respectively, and my review of Justina Robson’s The Switch.

Interzone 269

Interzone 269 cover

Steve Rasnic Tem’s Guest Editorial outlines ten actions you could take to help address climate change problems. Jonathan McCalmont’s column1 argues that attempts to open up genre culture to previously marginalised voices are all well and good but that reading genre cannot of itself address the world’s problems, only action can. Nina Allan’s Timepieces2 reflects on the many homes she has had, some of which have fed into her fiction. She hopes she has now settled down. The reviews contain one of Tem’s latest novel Ubo plus an interview with the author. Also covered are the latest novels by Charles Stross, John Scalzi3 and Adam Roberts, the very good indeed Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař, and my thoughts on The Mountains of Parnassus by Czesław Miłosz.
In the fiction, The Influence Machine4 by Sean McMullen is narrated by Albert Grant, the only Metropolitan Police Inspector in 1899 with knowledge of science. A woman has been arrested for loitering with intent as her wagon contains something “scientific”. Her machine can peer into a parallel, more scientifically advanced world. The story is delightful but its ending is a bit weak.
A Death in the Wayward Drift5 by Tim Akers didn’t grab me at all. It features divers in a lake of strange water, things called emissary birds, trees that move and, despite the title, more than one death.
Still Life with Falling Man6 by Richard E Gropp. A man who can see into other dimensions is employed to find when a new nexus opens. These are spaces wherein twenty seven million years goes by in a subjective ten seconds. He gets trapped in one and is counting down from ten. This aspect reminded in part of my own Closing Time (Interzone 89, Nov 1994.)
In A Strange Kind of Beauty7 by Christien Gholson the Scoryax Kahtt wander a parched landscape following the prophecies of scrolls. Their Vaithe find new scrolls and translate the prophecies. Heoli’s find points her tribe to a hitherto forbidden place replete with water.
Set in a globally warmed flooded south Florida The Common Sea8 by Steve Rasnic Tem focuses on a man whose oldest memories are visions of another dying world and who is trying to get by in this one. In part the story riffs on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Pedant’s corner:-
1arm sales (arms sales,) “lies not in the protagonist’s ability to leap tall buildings but in the knowledge that his ability to deploy overwhelming force in a manner that is beyond reproach” (of his ability,) “designed to illicit (elicit,) “the moral and political value of books lays not in the quality of the ideas” (lies not, see earlier quote.) 2Merthyr Tidfil (Merthyr Tydfil.) 3emperox (emperor, I believe.) 4waggon is used throughout. I prefer wagon, “open to the naval” (navel.) “seemed” in a present tense sentence; so, seems, discretely (discreetly,) 5”trying to not think of what lay ahead” (trying not to think of what lay ahead.) “Initiates wore …….to allow easy movement … when we are on the lake” (wore, therefore “when we were on the lake”.) 6”The skin, clothing and furniture remains unchanged” (remain,) “There was very little flora” (flora is plural???) 7Xichoh (elsewhere Xicoh.) 8no where to go (nowhere.)

Two Months on

The Switch cover
The Stars Are Legion cover

Two months seems to come round very quickly.

Yesterday The Switch by Justina Robson dropped onto my doormat.

It is the latest book for review in Interzone – to appear in issue 271.

Issue 270 arrived earlier in the week. That one features my review of Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Jo Fletcher, 2016, 450 p. Reviewed for Interzone 264, May-Jun 2016.

 City of Blades cover

In this sequel (of sorts) to Bennett’s City of Stairs the action of the book is set round the Continental city of Voortyashtan, quite a few years after the events of the previous novel. The Continentals are still resentful of the rule of Saypur and, in Voortyashtan, especially of the cannons threatening its citizens from the ramparts of Fort Thinadeshi.

Saypuri General Turyin Mulaghesh has been recalled from retirement by Shara Komayd, now Prime Minster of Saypur, to investigate the strange goings-on in Voortyashtan to do with a mysterious powdery ore (at first described as a new element) which can greatly enhance electrical conductivity. Komayd’s previous investigator, Sumitra Choudhry, has disappeared and a series of strange ritualistic murders is taking place in Voortyashtan’s hinterland. Examination of the crime scenes rouses Mulaghesh’s guilt at what she did on the Yellow March during Saypur’s war with the Continent.

Voortyashtan was formerly the Continent’s main port but most of the city has been destroyed, sliding into its waters in the event known as the Blink which ended the war. Voortyashtan’s harbour and river are now being cleared by a consortium of Dreyling, the people from the Northern Isles. This project is being managed by Signe Harkvaldsson. The suspicion nags that the Dreyling are only there so that Sigrud from the earlier novel can be dragged into the tale. Bennet has made an effort here to humanise Sigrud a little (Signe is his estranged daughter) but he’s still quite cartoonish; and, while we’re casting aspersions, Thinadeskite is a strangely Wellsian name for the mysterious ore.

Despite its suspicious nature, on close examination the Saypurians can find no trace in Thinadeskite of influence of the Divine who used to rule the Continent. This is as it should be, as all these old Gods are supposed to be dead, killed either in the war or the Battle of Bulikov which ended City of Stairs. Yet the spirit of the Continental Saint Zhurgut still somehow manages to manifest in a guard who handles the gift of a sword meant for Mulaghesh and cuts a swath through Saypuri soldiers and Voortyashtani citizenry alike before Mulaghesh can bring him down.

Mulaghesh’s investigations lead to a scene where the blood – why does it always have to be blood? – of killers (herself, Sigrud and, more surprisingly, Signe) is required to transport her to the Voortyashtani nether world and its City of Blades where she believes Choudhry has gone. There, she uncovers the mystery of Thinadeskite but is too late to prevent an army of the dead from which the ore derives its potency setting out to devastate Voortyashtan. Her trip does provide her the means with which to confront them though.

Mulaghesh has something of a rose-tinted view of the trade of soldiering as a noble enterprise whose standards she fell below during the Yellow March but still strives to uphold. General Biswal, her commander during that march and now in charge of security at Fort Thinadeshi, represents what is perhaps a more realistic tradition of single-minded self-righteousness.

Its treatment of such themes of personal responsibility and the importance of relationships makes City of Blades very readable stuff.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- to not say so (not to say so. Please?) Secret (Bennett meant secrete,) “none of them produce anything” (none produces anything; repeat instances of “none” with a plural verb,) “the figure’s head….. [is] oddly swollen as if their skull is far too large” (only one figure, therefore its, not their, skull. Bennett repeats this use of plural possessive pronouns relating to singular nouns several times,) routing (routeing,) Olvos’ (Olvos’s,) off of (just off, no “of” necessary, multiple instances,) Mulaghesh’js (Mulaghesh’s,) a gazing pool (is a usage I had not come across before; it seems to mean a pool which reflects light,) each of which resemble (each resembles,) “the surface of the waters are dotted with shapes, long and thin and curiously shaped” (the surface is dotted [and shapes/shaped is clumsy],) “the ship is shook” (shaken,) putting the lives … in incredible risk (it’s usually “at incredible risk”,) “he lunges at her piling riposte upon riposte as she just barely manages to parry” (a riposte is a return thrust, not an attack; barely also appeared two lines above,) “the endless line toil up” (a line toils.)

The Paper Menagerie and other stories by Ken Liu

Head of Zeus, 2016, 460 p. £14.99 Reviewed for Interzone 264, May-Jun 2016.

 The Paper Menagerie cover

In the preface to this collection Liu says he doesn’t pay much attention to the distinction between fantasy and science fiction – or, indeed, between genre and mainstream. For him fiction is about prizing the logic of metaphors over (an irreducibly random and senseless) reality; some stories simply literalise their metaphors a bit more explicitly. His position is borne out by this collection’s contents as many of the stories straddle those boundaries. Most are informed and coloured by the author’s Chinese heritage but the first few are more conventional fare.

The Bookmaking Habits of Selected Species is not about gambling but rather the ways in which different species (every sentient species it would seem) produce and consume books. In State Change Rina goes through life keeping her soul frozen in case she loses it – and her life with it. The Perfect Match reads a bit like a 1984 for the digital age. Tilly’s algorithm makes suggestions for you, finds partners for you, remembers for you. Its parent company Centillion’s mission statement is “to arrange the world’s information to ennoble the human race.” Tilly, however, doesn’t switch off.

The only story in the book with no real fantastical content is The Literomancer, who is a Mr Kan, and can tell fortunes via calligraphy. He befriends Lilly, the daughter of a US secret service operative. In 1950s Taiwan that turns out to be dangerous.

Good Hunting is set in late 19th century China, and comes over as a fantasy and steampunk cross wherein a werevixen and her former hunter’s lives become intermittently intertwined. The inventor of the titular technology in Simulacrum disgusts his daughter by using his invention in a debauched way. After their estrangement he keeps a copy of her childhood self, which despite her mother’s entreaties she still finds off-putting. The Regular sees us in gumshoe territory. Police investigators have software to inhibit their emotions and, to access their data for use in blackmail, a serial killer is targeting only those upmarket call-girls who have had security cameras built into their eyes. The police aren’t interested and (the rather programmatically named) ex-cop Ruth Law takes the case.

Multiple award winner The Paper Menagerie gains its title from the collection of origami animals the protagonist’s mother, a mail-order bride from China, made and breathed life into. As he grows, her lack of integration to life in the US embarrasses him so that he neglects his Chinese roots. Partly written in the second person An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition deals with a project to use the gravitational lensing of the sun to search for extraterrestrial signals. This necessitates sending the receiver (and the humans to operate it, one of whom is “your” mother) to a point 550 AU away. The Waves is a strange beast wherein the occupants of a generation starship face a dilemma when life-prolonging technology becomes accessible. This on its own would have been enough for most authors but Liu goes further. When the ship reaches 61 Virginis the rest of humanity has got there before them and its members are so changed new choices must be made. The Japanese narrator of Mono No Aware (Japanese for the sense of the transience of all things) is faced with a threat to the solar sails of the generation starship carrying the last remnants of humanity fleeing from the destruction of Earth.

The longest story in the collection, All The Flavours, has little fantastical content bar the traditional Chinese tales with which it is interspersed in its account of the incoming of Chinese workers to 19th century Idaho and their (ultimately successful) attempts at fitting in. Boasting a Formosan narrator, A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel is an alternative history wherein Japan proposed the project in response to the 1930s Great Depression. This being mainly an endeavour of Shōwa era Japan, regrettable incidents occur during its construction.

The Litigation Master and the Monkey King features a peasant lawyer (or vexatious litigant according to taste) who can see and converse with the demon spirit Monkey King. His coming into knowledge of a suppressed book describing the atrocities of the Yangzhou massacre a century before constricts his options. In The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary the discovery of quantum-entangled Bohm-Kirino particles allows the past to be witnessed but the process of doing so destroys the evidence. Its inventor wants to demonstrate to the world the realities of Unit 731, the site of Japanese medical experiments on prisoners during World War 2 in Harbin province. Politics remains politics though.

Liu’s stories are never less than well-crafted, he has an excellent range, and a clear eye for the subtleties of human relationships. You will read worse.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- a team trace out (a team traces out,) “Eliot could not have written, and the world would have understood, Four Quartets without the scent of Eliot’s soul,” (either “not” is missing before “have understood” or the tense is awry – “nor the world understood” instead?) “so much of their lives are lived in..” (so much is lived in…,) over this shoulder (his shoulder,) to not ask (not to ask,) “the jade from which the cups were made had an inner glow to them” (the jade had an inner glow to it,) “all you’ve said simply show” (all you’ve said simply shows,) one of the older man (men,) of of (just “of”,) accused with murder (accused of murder,) Femal (Female? But this was in an extract of a poem in olde style language,) sprung (sprang,) “the flight of neutrons are determined” (the flight is,) “about ten years in age” (of age,) sheepherding (okay; shepherding has a different ring to it,) “a 120 miles per hour” (120 means one hundred and twenty; there is no need to preface it with “a”,) United Stat es (United States,) “more and more evidence … have come to life” (has come to life,) “reformed through ‘re-education’, They were released” (they.)

Interzone 268

TTA Press

Interzone 268 cover

Dave Senecal’s Editorial1 ponders the necessity of mystery to the creative impulse.Jonathan McCalmont’s column examines how SF got into its present sorry state and says it ought to return to preparing us for the future. If his example of Carl Neville’s Resolution Way is to be believed (not to mention the world’s political circumstances) that future may be hellish. Nina Allan’s Time Piece reflects on the different approaches required to writing fiction and non-fiction especially with regard to those recent political events. In the book reviews2 you’ll find mine of Ken Liu’s Invisible Planets, Maureen Kincaid Speller’s evaluation of Johana Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun, Duncan Lunan’s review of Stephen Baxter’s H G Wells’s estate-approved War of the Worlds sequel The Massacre of Mankind and Shaun Green’s take on both Iraq +100 edited by Hassan Blasim and Adrian Selby’s Snakewood, while in 2016 Round Up3 Interzone’s regular book reviewers list their bests of the year. Despite not reading not much new fiction in 2015 Jo Lindsay Walton manages to produce an extended essay on the year’s fiction.

As to the stories, Everyone Gets a Happy Ending4 by Julie C Day features an unusual apocalypse. A plague of rabbits foisted on human wombs by Immaculate Conception.

The Noise & The Silence5 by Christien Gholson. In a world saturated by The Wall ceaselessly pounding out Orwellian slogans and musical pap, a resistance movement known as The Silence arose. It was put down but adherents hang on in the hidden places.

The Transmuted Child6 of Michael Reid’s story is Esmonde, thrown out by her family after her Erkess implant makes her drown her brother. Her new carer, Dao Nghiem, takes her to the Erkess home world to try to find a cure for her.

Mel Kassel’s Weavers in the Cellar are spiders kept in captivity to weave clothes and armour for their captors. Any thoughts of their species’ previous relationship are Unthinkable. But our narrator’s mother passed on knowledge of her heritage.

Freedom of Navigation7 by Val Nolan is set amidst a territorial dispute in the asteroid belt. Two of the narrator’s slaved AIs come to believe he is a traitor. For some reason I was reminded of the film Casablanca.

The Rhyme of Grievance8 by T R Napper follows the granting of human rights to the first AI. A woman who needed to finance a life-saving operation is recruited by those who see AIs as merely an extension of the powerful class to destroy it. I was reminded of Robert Heinlein’s The Roads Must Roll.

Pedant’s corner:- 1wont (won’t; but Sevecal’s an artist not a wordsmith.) 2refers throughout to England rather than Britain. Perhaps Baxter did this, I can’t remember if Wells did. 3practise (noun; therefore practice) “the emotional contortions forces onto us” (forced,) Roberts’ (Roberts’s,) an italicised Thing is which didn’t seem to be a title, superrare (super-rare,) The Triump of Mechanics (Triumph,) 4unphased (apparently phased is a legitimate US variant of fazed. I prefer there to be a distinction in the spellings.) 5”The vibrations … was said” (were said.) 6Erkess’ (Erkess’s.) “A bundle of ropy organs descend” (a bundle descends,) 7“Part of the sides of my feet were numb” (Parts were numb,) florescent (fluorescent,) “the Belt Republic is moving one of their asteroids” (its asteroids,) “there was nothing us pilots liked more than mischief” (we pilots,) ci-Martian space (cis-Martian space?) “subservice activity via seismic shivers” (subsurface makes more sense,) ordinance (ordnance – used previously.) 8“The audience were” (was,) colourful vegetable and fruit (vegetables,) to sooth (soothe,) “up to white porcelain sink” (to the white porcelain sink.)

Interzones 269 and 270

 The Stars Are Legion cover
Interzone 269 cover

Interzone 269 arrived today.

It contains my review of The Mountains of Parnassus by Czesław Miłosz.

A few days ago I received The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley.

That review is due soon for Interzone 270.

free hit counter script