Archives » All You Zombies

Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone cover

Joanna Berry takes over the guest editor role and asks how much of themselves players take into decision making when playing video games. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda makes a plea for stories to tackle the threats of the subtle and pervasive surveillance and tracking technologies rampant in the modern world. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteley seeks solace from the news in films. Speedy Sci-Fi adventure won’t do but conspiracy thrillers will. She now wants to go back to the source books. In Book Zone I review Rokurō Inui’s Automatic Eve and Wole Talabi’s Incomplete Solutions welcoming both, Val Nolanb finds Duncan Lunan’s collection of stories and articles From the Moon to the Stars too fond of “rigorous maths” and primarily of interest to those who enjoyed them at time they were written, Maureen Kincaid Speller engages in hand-to-hand fighting with concepts of language and meaning in the ‘very strange’ novel Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko but concludes that is only a good thing, Jo L Waltonc heartily recommends The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman, though thinks some of the stories might be a bit too polished, Graham Sleight appreciates the quality of Ted Chiang’s stories in Exhalation (and Chiang’s previous collection) as being worth the price of their scarcity, Stephen Theaker praises the “grown-up, fiercely feminist” The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs, warns against the cover and blurb of Earwig by B Catling though he recommends it to “some readers” and says Stephen Palmer’s collection Tales from the Spired Inn is pretty much the ideal small press SF title, Ian Hunterd laments the passing of Dianne Wynne Jones as he considers her Poems while Duncan Lunan discusses the history of Dyson spheres in SF as his take on the stories in Around Alien Stars by G David Nordley.

As to the fiction;
In The Kindest God is Light by Joanna Berry a poet is engaged to provide an embodiment of humanity – warts and all – to aliens. Typographically unusual in that it involves a lot of glossed over (crossed out) inner thoughts.
She and I and We1 by Timothy Mudie is a time travel story. Poet (yes, another one) Nathaly Evariste is stalked by someone from the future who says she has come back to save her from being killed. This is no All You Zombies… or even By His Bootstraps but there’s a neat twist to the ending.
Dent-De-Lion2 by Natalia Theodorou is set on a planet to where Thomae has been sent to find a silicon plant-based cure for an endemic sickness back home. She finds it – and more.
In Parasite Art3 by David Tallerman our narrator is an artist who has gone to the planet of Culcifa to find one of the Zobe, an alien race which has appeared there and can merge with people who can then experience the Zobe’s dreams.
The Duchess of Drink Street4 by Tim Chawaga on its surface charts the relationship between a cupcake seller on the eponymous street and the food reviewer who damns those cupcakes with one word, inauthentic. With a globally flooded background featuring floating cities it is about fads, gentrification and its reverse and the elusiveness of memory.
Against a background of the end of the world in which the rich are sending samples of their hair skin and semen into space to save the species, Dream of the High Mountain5 by Daniel Bennett relates the experience of a poet (yes, a poet again) who goes on a retreat.

Pedant’s corner:- aCastells’ (Castells’s,) Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) b“are a series” (is a series.) c“None of the stories feel out of place” (None feels,) hijinks (high jinks.) “Much as I stan Luce, social and economic consequences of technological developments are never inevitable” (???) dJones’ (Jones’s,)
1Written in USian, “neither of you react” (neither … reacts.) 2Written in USian. 3“soon be discarded” (soon to be discarded,) “she must recognise as her and I” (as her and me.) “Conceivably we were one of its ancestors. Seeing it, my muscle memory recalls what it’s like to make those spasmodic movements” (‘descendants’ for ‘ancestors’ is the only way to make sense of this, and it would be ancestral rather than muscle memory,) canvasses (canvases?) 4Written in USian, at first I read ‘chicest part of the city’ as a misprint for ‘choicest’, but they’re much the same in meaning. “The difference in textures … work well together” (the difference works well,) “New Lagos’ greed” (New Lagos’s.) 5“‘This the survival of’” (This is the survival.) “Upon the fourth floor” (Either, ‘On the fourth floor,’ or, ‘Up on the fourth floor’,) “inside of him” (inside him, no need for an ‘of’.) “His group were among the last” (his group was among the last.)

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Tor, 2018, 138 p.

McDonald has always been a stylist. There has tended, though, to be a pyrotechnic quality to his poetically inclined prose, plus a certain knowingness. Knowingness isn’t entirely absent here, a pitch perfect novella in some contrast to his most recent Luna series (which tends to emphasise violence and power manœuvrings rather than relationships,) but it is always ruthlessly subordinated to the tale he is telling. Here the pyrotechnics have been reined in and the author shows an admirable restraint, total control. Everything is at the service of the story. Though there is still room for his sly allusions, I doubt there’s a spare word in its 138 pages. Before the inevitable deployment of the Science Fictional concepts underpinning the novella, the language used stands in comparison to that of anyone who has ever written fiction, the emotions conjured as poignant. My only caveat is that since it was published in the US it contains USianisms (‘ass’ for ‘arse’, ‘Dumpster’, ‘soccer’, ‘tires’ etc) and for a British reader the first two in particular immediately lift him or her straight out of the narrative. However, this is still the best piece of fiction I have read this year – and possibly for a long time beyond.

It is narrated mainly by Emmett Leigh, a bibliophile and bookseller who finds an odd book in the cast-offs of a bookshop which has gone out of business, inside which is enclosed a letter from one World War 2 soldier to another. A love letter. Other passages are extracts from a memoir by one of the two soldiers of his time in Shingle Street, engaged in a very hush-hush World War 2 project on the English coast.

Intrigued by both the book, Time Was – “A singular book,” which has “no author biography, no foreword, no afterword, no index or notes. No publisher’s address, no publication date. No clue to author,” – and the letter, Emmett sets about finding out more about the pair. This brings him into contact with Thorn Hildreth (who is twice greeted by the phrase, ‘Thorn thirtieth letter of the Icelandic alphabet,’ – I will merely note it is also, like yogh, a former letter in English both now defunct -) whose grandfather’s papers contained a photograph of the soldiers. Emmett contacts Shahrzad, a Persian émigré with the ability to recall not only faces but also where it was she first saw them. She identifies the pair of soldiers, Seligman and Chappell, in photographs taken in Gallipoli in 1915, and Goritsa in the war of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Pictures of Seligman and Chappell are also traced as far back as the Crimean War. By application of the normal distribution curve, Emmett eventually reasons Seligman and Chappell are time travellers, venturing up and down the ages with only the book Time Was – that in Emmet’s time exists solely in the inventories of five bookshops with strict instructions as to its disposal – to enable them to contact each other. Via the extracts we also find the Shingle Street project entailed “The Uncertainty Squad” using quantum superposition in order to achieve displacement of the location of a ship but instead conjured displacement in time.

A hint of McDonald’s background comes with the phrase, “Pagans are worse than Protestants for denominationalism.” We also have the observation, “Emotions have no definition other than themselves….. All written art is an attempt to communicate what it is to feel,” and a comment on the novelist’s and poet’s bane, “the irreducibility of feeling, it can’t be broken down into anything simpler or more explicable.”

While the SF idea In McDonald’s Time Was isn’t quite as outré as in Robert Heinlein’s All You Zombies (the father and mother of all time travel stories) it’s up there with that same author’s By His Bootstraps and, in contrast, a thousand times better written than either.

Pedant’s corner:- thatfirst (is two words, not one,) a new paragraph that was unindented, hadhoped (again, two words.) “‘A hot wind blew in our aces’” (faces,) “ ‘”Not abductees. Immortals.”’ ” (that first double inverted comma in the quote ought to be a start quote mark not an end one,) a missing start quote mark, at “ Mea culpa””, “any simpler: (anything simpler.) “He hops up behind he” (behind me,) “soe time” (some time,) “dedicated to a pastry-cooking” (why the “a”?) “‘I sold this copy one of your bookfinders’” (copy to one of your,) “a new tray or drinks” (of drinks,) “strung out along for half a mile along the street” (has one “along” too many.) “His glee is evident as he cast around” (casts around.) “He beckons me out to the where the bikes” (to where the bikes,) drafhty (draughty,) an extraneous single inverted comma at “ “East Suffolk”’ ” and again at “ ‘I look around’’ ” , the start quote mark for a piece of direct speech given at the end of the previous line (x 2,) withany (again, two words,) “I could be certain that that I lived with Thorn” (only one “that”,) “from the across the shop” (from across the shop.) “I would always been that Englishman” (always have been, or, always be.)

free hit counter script