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Latest Interzone – Issue 289

 Hold Up the Sky cover
 Interzone 289 cover

It’s that time again. The latest issue of Interzone – 289 of that ilk – landed on my doormat this morning.

This one contains my review of Cixin Liu’s collection of short stories Hold Up the Sky which I mentioned receiving here.

Once again the cover is a wraparound. See below:-

Interzone 289 full cover

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (x)

A day later than usual this week due to Remembrance Sunday yesterday here is the latest instalment of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but now collated by Katrina at Pining for the West.) Today I’m featuring Philip K Dick and Samuel R Delany. (Maybe my fourth and fifth favourite SF writers.)

Science Fiction shelves; The Man in the High Castle, The Game Players of Titan, Counterclock World:-

SF Books by Philip K Dick

Delany’s memoir The Motion of Light in Water and Dick’s posthumously published mainstream books:-

Books by Philip K Dick

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski

Tor, 2000, 382 p.

 Brain Plague  cover

Since the events of The Children Star – the third in Slonczewski’s tales of The Fold – the people of Valedon have come to terms with the microzoöids found on the planet Prokaryon spreading through their population. With some hosts the tiny creatures are under control (usually by means of restricting access to the arsenic necessary for their survival but also via rewards of the chemical azetidine,) in others their proliferation runs rampant resulting in a disease (the Brain Plague of the title,) whose victims become zombie-like. A rogue human element known as slavers promotes fear in the population by abducting citizens to their concealed planet.

The book’s protagonist is Chrys (Chrysoberyl,) an artist who can see infrared. Initially she is struggling to pay her rent and keep painting and when she is introduced to her colony of microbes, which reveal themselves and communicate with their host by flashing colours in the host’s eyes, some of her former friends and associates withdraw from her. Since the hosts have power of life and death over them the microscopic creatures refer to their hosts as gods. They also have only a limited understanding of their hosts’ lifestyles.

Chrys’s colony, known as Eleutheria and to whose leaders she gives names corresponding to the colours with which they “speak” to her, inspires her work and her paintings become collectable. Her microbes are also mathematicians and allow her to gain a contract to refurbish a failing piece of architecture known as the Comb, whose ever expanding structure has become unstable. The colony members’ lifespans are short and they have their internal politics for Chrys to contend with.

There is plenty of Valedon politicking to occupy Chrys outside all this and some intrigue involving the slavers whose secret planet she is the first to be abducted to and return to tell the tale.

Brain Plague is 392 pages of fairly small font size print and continues Slonczewski’s trait of incorporating biological and chemical ideas into her SF. It is rewarding enough reading and deals with a common SF concern (alien invasion of the body) with an unusual slant.

Pedant’s corner:- shrunk (shrank,) “the stress must have wreaked its program” (wrecked, I think, [and I spell it ‘programme’,]) “the shear newness” (sheer,) “laying low” (lying low,) a missing quote mark at the end pof a piece of direct speech. “The sphere cut in, it’s the plane of section…” (The sphere cut in, it’s plane of section.) “She shined her light inside” (shone.) “‘Such an distinctive cut’” (Such a distinctive cut,’) “Chrys grasp his back” (grasped.)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (ix)

Again, for this week’s contribution to Judith‘s meme now hosted by Katrina, it’s a crop of a previous photo (hence the blurriness.)

This is the shelf which contains books by my third favourite SF writer (after Ursula Le Guin and Roebert Silverberg,) Roger Zelazny.

ZelaznySF Books

So here you will find Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Isle of the Dead – starring the unforgettable Shimbo of Darktree, Shrugger of Thunders – and Doorways in the Sand. (The Dream Master, expanded from He Who Shapes, and This Immortal, ditto from …. And Call Me Conrad, must be just out of shot.)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (viii)

This week contribution to Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times started by Judith and taken up by Katrina.

This shelf is full of SF books by Robert Silverberg.

He is my second favourite SF writer. (Ursula le Guin is my favourite but due to the way my books are shelved hers are not to the fore.)

The photo is a crop of the one I featured on 16/8/20. As a result it’s a bit blurry.

Science Fiction Books, Robert Silverberg

There’s stuff here from Silverberg’s glory days; Thorns, Nightwings, The Man in the Maze – the one that persuaded me to persevere with SF when I was on the point of stopping reading in the genre – Tower of Glass, A Time of Changes – “My Name is Kinnall Darrival and I mean to tell you all about myself. Obscene! Obscene!” – Dying Inside. Then there’s the much later Kingdoms of the Wall (see my take on its first paragraph here.)

Looking at the photo I see the books aren’t quite shelved im my usual order system, probably due to them getting mixed up a bit in the house move – six and a half years ago now. Time flies.

A Socialist Utopia?

The keener eyed among you will have seen from my side bar that I have just finished reading Chinese SF author Cixin Liu’s collection entitled Hold up the Sky.

In it there were two separate references to characters requiring medical procedures that were too expensive for them to afford.

I also heard on the TV news recently that those receiving a test dose of a vaccine newly produced in China against the Covid-19 causing coronavirus also needed to pay the equivalent of £45 pounds for the privilege.

China is reviled in certain quarters as being a Communist country.

I must say that on the evidence above China must be far from being even a socialist utopia, the minimum requirement for which I would have considered to be medical treatment free at the point of use.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane times – A Plethora of Banks

This week’s entry for Judith, Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme now being run by Katrina at Pining for the West.

These are all on the top shelf of my “Scottish” bookcase and comprise all of Iain Banks’s non-SF fiction works plus his non-fiction wander round the world of Scotch whisky, Raw Spirit.

Books by Iain Banks

Lying around in a file somewhere I’ve got reviews of these that (except for the last four) haven’t been put on here. They were in preparation for a piece giving an overview of Banks’s work in a book that never saw fruition.

Maybe I’ll post them sometime.

Another Review Book

Hold Up the Sky By Cixin Liu

Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu is a collection of the Hugo Award winning author’s short stories. It’s my latest review book for Interzone and arrived this afternoon. It’s not usual for my mail to be so late in the day but I was pleased it came all the same.

Slow River by Nicola Griffith

Del Rey, 1996, 347 p (including 1 p each Author’s Note and “About the Author.”)

 Slow River  cover

Nothing dates so quickly as the future. Think of all those flashing lights, toggle switches and grilled loudspeakers – not to mention the outrageously sexist (lack of) clothing – in the original Star Trek TV series. In this novel someone makes an analogy by asking a six-year old, “You know how the telephone wire brings grandmother’s voice in to the house?” A reminder of different times. Ah well.

Main narrator Lore (Frances Lorien van de Oest) is the daughter of an extremely rich but dysfunctional family made wealthy by their proprietary water cleaning bioorganisms – and with a secret to conceal. She spent her childhood longing to be grown up and able to take part in running the family business. Almost as soon as she did so she was kidnapped and held to ransom, shown tied up and naked on a video broadcast worldwide. But her family didn’t pay. This last she ascribes to her somehow being wanting as an asset.

The story begins after she has escaped, by not swallowing the calming drugs the kidnappers gave her and subsequently surprising them. In the process she was badly injured but thought she had killed one of her captors. Sprawling naked on the street, bleeding heavily, she is ignored by passers-by till a woman called Spanner takes her home and arranges for her wounds to be healed – at a price. This is a world where the have-nots are very definitely separated from the haves and illicit dealings common. It is also one where water is seemingly very heavily polluted, hence the van de Oest family fortune but Lore’s experience has led to her no longer wishing to have contact with her family.

Lore’s debt to Spanner is paid off in various more or less unsavoury ways, some involving an oil that is a potent, irresistible, aphrodisiac. They also have an intense sexual relationship before Lore finally breaks away by adopting the persona of dead woman Sal Bird – a procedure which requires the insertion in her arm of a type of chip known as a PIDA, a blend of ID and personal history card. With this she gets a job in a water treatment plant, where she has to wear protective clothing called a skinnysuit (but other safety precautions are notably lax and have to be paid for out of wages anyway.) Her knowledge of the processes eventually leads to suspicion from her line-manager, but in the face of cost-cutting by the management and the ensuing crisis she earns her spurs.

The text is non-linear, memories from Lore’s past family life are narrated in third person present tense, her captivity and later life with Spanner are rendered in first person past tense. Griffiths’s writing is fine, the novel is very readable but the reader is way ahead of Lore herself in working out what the family secret is. The utterly polluted water thing is a bit of a stretch, though, which is unfortunate, even if does provide the opportunity for throwing in nuggets of chemical and biological terminology.

I reviewed Griffiths’s Ammonite here. Slow River is a different type of story entirely displaying her versatility. It seems, however, that after this she stopped writing SF in favour of crime and historical fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- “None of the family ever do” (None of the family ever does,) fit (fitted,) “to insure silence” (ensure,) sprung (sprang,) hiccoughs (has no provemance, the word is hiccups.) “The only wildlife she sees are worms” (the only wildlife …. is worms,) “the music was rising to a deafening crescendo” (the crescendo is the rise, not its climax.)

Interzone 287, May-Jun 2020

 Interzone 287 cover

Editorial duties fall to cover artist Warwick Fraser-Coombe where he outlines his influences and compares their apocalypses to today’s ongoing Covid crisis. In Future Interrupteda Andy Hedgecock wonders at the relative absence in modern fiction of stories dealing with debt. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories tells of her life-long (well at least since she watched the film of John Wyndham’s classic) fear of and fascination with triffids.
In Book Zone I find both N K Jemisin’s The City We Became and Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards well up to, indeed beyond, the mark, Duncan Lawie describes Paul J McAuley’s The War of the Maps as absorbing, Duncan Lunan reviews Beyond Time: Classic Tales of Time Unwound edited by Mike Ashley, reprints of mostly forgotten time travel stories, the most recent from 1958, Andy Hedgecock says Docile by K M Szpara is a promising but deeply problematic debut in comparing rape to financial exploitation in its exploration of debt-ridden commercial transactions while Maureen Kincaid Speller declares the third of Jeff Noon’s John Henry Nyquist mysteries, Creeping Jenny, the most satisfying yet in its twisting of narrative expectations and its binding of stories together.
In the fiction, meanwhile:-
Influenced by his Uncle Edward, the young narrator of Night-Town of Mars1 by Tim Lees seems to flit between our own reality and a separate one with an almost identical town to the one where he lives but which may be on Mars as its gravity is lower than Earth’s. Identical that is, except for the stones which can speak and the shop dummies which can move by themselves. This is all interpretable as a young boy’s dreams but the story’s thrust is that he moves between parallel universes.
Those We Serve2 by Eugenia Triantafyllou is told from the point of view of an ‘artificial’ called Manoli, who works on a holiday island whose human inhabitants have retreated undersea. Manoli is obsessed by human visitor Amelia who comes to the island annually. But the island is running down and Manoli is programmed not to leave.
In The Transport of Bodies by John Possidente, a journalist on a small space station (would he even have enough to do?) is told a tragic tale by a celebrity chef of his famous pitcher husband both just back from the two-year mission they’d volunteered for beyond Neptune. (Again. ??)
Make America Great Again3 by Val Nolan might have been designed to illustrate Halford E Luccock’s formalism to the effect that, when fascism comes to America it will not call itself fascism; it will be called Americanism. A black journalist – suspect to the police on two counts, then – is investigating the strange background of Kenny Hanson, who prevented a right-wing gunman, in his turn disrupting a protest, to stop him from killing Riley Porter, a woman who wants to be President one day. However, Hanson may be a fighter pilot from World War 2, brought to the story’s present by aliens.

Pedant’s corner:- a“in another story” (is another story.) 1“In the window were a series of posturing dummies” (was a series.) 2“he though” (he thought.) 3“with cops likes that on the beat” (with cops like that,) bandoleers (bandoliers.)

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