Archives » Interzone 285

The Menace From Farside by Ian McDonald

Tor.com, 2019, 153 p. Published in Interzone 285, Jan-Feb 2020.

 The Menace From Farside cover

This novella is set in the milieu of McDonald’s Luna series of books which might have been designed to illustrate the mantra that “Lady Luna knows a thousand ways to kill you.” As an aphorism this calls to mind The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I don’t know whether McDonald has read that book (I confess I haven’t) but it could be a possible inspiration.

In The Menace From Farside our narrator is Emer Corcoran who hates her name and prefers to be called Cariad. Initially it appears that she may be addressing the reader directly – on first sight a fine literary touch – but it turns out that these interludes in which she gives her views on the intricacies of story-telling and construction, relationships, the forever beyond reach lure of Earth, among other things, she is talking to a psychiatric bot as a kind of debriefing after an escapade in which she was involved (and incidentally made her famous on the Moon) and which her narrative goes on to describe.

A background sociological aspect of McDonald’s tale (but with a tangential impact on the plot) is the existence on the Moon of the arrangement of the ring marriage, wherein each member is married to two spouses, a derecho/a and an iz, left and right. This provides an SSSS, super-stable support system, said to be great for kids as it provides a network of ceegees (care givers.) When Cariad opines, “‘when it comes to love, rings are the craziest of all possible families, apart from all the others,’” McDonald manages to allude to both Tolstoy and Churchill in the one sentence.

The introduction to Cariad’s ring of a new “husband” for her mother, also brought into her life his daughter Sidibe Sissay. Cariad rather resents this intrusion into her “family.” Cariad fears heights and Sidibe’s effortless use of a special winged suit to fly from Osman Tower on a visit to the cavernous centre of the habitat of Queen of the South compounds her feelings. As a result Cariad conceives a scheme to take her “siblings” to visit the site of the first human footprint on the Moon – almost half the Moon distant – as a way for her to take back control. (Those last three words have a particular resonance for contemporary British readers. For the more general SF audience McDonald also explicitly references the phrase, ‘Make it so,’ as a sentence which leaders are supposed to utter.)

The scenes on the Moon’s surface are vaguely reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s novel A Fall of Moondust and short story Robin Hood FRS mainly because of that background. In McDonald’s vision, however, less untrammelled considerations intrude. At Queen of the South, the sun only ever appears to crawl around the rim of the crater in which the habitat is sited. On their journey, our group of adventurers find its full glare unsettling, their possible vulnerability to cosmic ray impacts troubling. And this Moon being McDonald’s Luna, things do not go entirely smoothly for them.

Quite what transpires, and the contribution to that of the dog-eat-dog nature of Luna’s overall organisation, plus the importance of the Moonloop – a sort of slingshot orbiting at very low level to wheech cargoes off into space or capture them on the way down – to the resolution of Cariad’s story I’ll leave to the reader to discover.

Through Cariad, McDonald adds in another comment about writing. “You know what makes storytellers laugh? That people really think their story reveals something about the person who tells it. It doesn’t. Stories are control. First, last, always. It tells you something about who’s hearing it.”

McDonald’s control is never in doubt.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- My copy was an ARC (proof.) Some or all of these may have been corrected for the final print run.)
ass (it’s arse,) “your shine up your image” (you shine up your image,) “‘your idea of family and parents are so ancient’” (your idea …… is so ancient,) “with radarand seismics” (radar and seismics,) “a ring of warning lights flash” (a ring …. flashes,) “the thing not do” (not to do,) “that’s what makes the gut lurches” (lurch would seem more grammatical,) “onto bridge” (onto the bridge,) “There’ dusters” (There’s dusters or, more preferably, there’re dusters,) “pulled into chest” (into his chest,) “is going notice” (going to notice,) “it’s won’t be open wide enough” (it won’t be open.) “‘Do want me to count off …’” (Do you want me to count off,) phosphorous (phosphorus,) Tranquility base (Tranquillity, please,) “humanity’s first steps on the moon” (humanity’s first steps on the Moon,) “tells Kobe to told her left arm” (to hold her left arm,) “the smiles goes out of me” (the smiles go out of me,) “the moon want to kill you” (the Moon wants to kill you,) “his right arms swings” (his right arm swings,) “how to they get back” (how do they.) “That when the consequences arrive.” (That’s when..,) heard-earned (hard-earned.)

Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley

Titan Books, 2019, p. Published in Interzone 285, Jan-Feb 2020.

Skein Island cover

As readers of Interzone already know, Whitley writes impressively. Here she takes a modern domestic setting and gradually blends it with strange happenings and figures from Ancient Greek myth to make a tale that is always readable and looks at sexual politics from an oblique angle.

On the day she receives an invitation from a dead woman, Marianne Spence has an encounter with a pervert at closing time at the library where she works in Wootton Bassett. The incident prompts Marianne to accept that invitation to the Skein Island of this novel’s title; a retreat for women only, set up after the Second World War by the adventurer Lady Amelia Worthington. The only requirement for beneficiaries is to make a written Declaration of their reasons for visiting, to be kept in the island’s library. Marianne’s mother Vanessa had herself gone to the island seventeen years before – and never returned; prompting Marianne’s father, Arnie, himself to retreat, into moroseness, spending his evenings at The Cornerhouse, a pub with a dubious reputation – and odd goings on in its back room. The ramifications of Marianne’s decision rumble through the novel as husband Dave takes to lying in wait for the pervert to prevent him offending again. Here his path crosses that of Police Community Support Officer, Samantha, who also hopes to catch the offender. The narrative is delivered in two strands which for the most part alternate; a present tense first person chronicle from Marianne’s viewpoint and a third person past tense account focusing on Dave.

Threaded through the initial stages of the novel is the appearance in the narrative of either squares or cubes coloured red, blue, yellow and green and an emphasis on a quote from Homer’s Odyssey, “Each man delights in the work that suits him best.”

The dead woman is a bit of a tease on Whiteley’s part as the invitation was not in fact written by her but by Marianne’s mother to whom Lady Amelia bequeathed the operation on Skein Island. Vanessa tells her the cubes represent the four types of men in the world, heroes, villains, sidekicks and wise men, corresponding to the four colours. In the library Marianne reads Lady Amelia’s Declaration in which she described looking for the Throne of Zeus in a cave on Crete and instead found a monstrosity which caused her male companions to rip each other to pieces. Amelia tamed it by telling it her life story, turning it into a statue which she took back to the island and locked underground to keep it away from men, naming it Moira after the Greek fates. Its appetite for the stories which bind it is fed by reading the Declarations to it. Marianne encounters Moira in the basement and recognises its strangeness. Her roommates remain unconvinced, but the possibility it was all illusion is not supported by the rest of the narrative. Things go awry when in his attempts to find Marianne, Dave finally gets to the island and his presence there leads to a demolition and Moira’s disappearance.

Thereafter, in the wider world, men’s behaviour, already somewhat overbearing, changes; their tendencies towards being heroes, villains, sidekicks and wise men, to “protect” women, becoming exaggerated. Marianne reasons that Moira’s constraint seems to be necessary for equable relations between the sexes so Marianne’s task becomes to find Moira and restore “her” to captivity on the island.

On the face of it Skein Island has an explicitly feminist perspective but Marianne’s thought that Moira’s existence means men are meant to be more important than women sits oddly with that. However, “When a hero walks into a story, he doesn’t do as he’s told,” is an entirely consistent proposition. In this context the relationship between Dave and policewoman Samantha also struck a discordant note.

As to Moira: it may be a rather well-worn trope but for supernatural beings to exert influence on human behaviour is a problematic feature of a fantasy since that automatically removes agency – and responsibility – from its characters. Characters’ behaviours should not be exculpated in this way. They can also be perceived as dancing too much to the author’s tune rather than behaving as if independently.

I should add that, completely unheralded, either in the blurb or the title page, and taking up 35 pages here, is the inclusion in the book of a novelette, The Cold Smoke Declaration, a ghost story partly set on Skein Island. Value for money then.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:-“the physical cracks that lead to emotional ones” (context suggests ‘led’ rather than ‘lead’,) zipper (zip,) “to not have to field questions,” (not to have to; many instances of ‘to not’ rather than ‘not to’,) “a chemical brand that irritates my nostrils” (this is of a washing powder, what does Whiteley think any other brands of washing powder contain apart from chemicals? The phrase ‘chemical free’ is a nonsense.) “There are a number of caves in Crete” (strictly, there is a number,) Zeus’ (Zeus’s,) sunk (sank,) fit (fitted – used on the next line!) smoothes (smooths,) “the eldest girl had thrown back her shoulders and sang to the vaulted ceiling” (that ‘had’ carries on so the next verb ought to be ‘sung’,) “it would be impossible to spit it into sentences” (split, I think,) “exclamation points” (exclamation marks,) “the lay of the island” (it wasn’t a tune; lie of the island.) In the novelette, “a strong draft” (draught.)

Interzone 285, Jan-Feb 2020

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone 285 cover

Guest Editorial this time is taken by Andy Dudak (who has a story elsewhere in the issue) and he relates how his experience as a translator and reader of translated fiction has affected his own.
Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted investigates how SF/fantasy/weird writers are responding to the greed, corruption and flagrant abuse of power in the modern-day world. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories ranges over theme-park rides, maps and films as well as books in contemplating how transporting a story can be and how it’s never the same on each subsequent experience of it.
Book Zone starts with my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Menace from Farsidea by Ian McDonald. I had some minor reservations about the first but none about the second. John Howardb finds the collection of essays on altered History stories Sideways in Time edited by Glyn Morgan and C Palmer-Patel brisk, lively and illuminating. Maureen Kincaid Spellerc welcomes the “long-needed biography” that is John Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters by Amy Binns, which increased her respect for the man and his writing. Stephen Theaker says Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock is interesting and thoughtful, keeping readers engaged throughout, and the review is followed by an interview with the author. Andy Hedgecockd lauds The Crying Machine by Greg Chivers as an entertaining romp with an unexpected degree of thematic complexity, flawed but promising.

In the fiction:
Each Cell a Throne1 by Gregor Hartmann contains a fair bit of intrusive information dumping. The story concerns an off-duty cop who has been hired to persuade an old man not to let his personality be uploaded into a datasphere.
Flyover Country2 by Julie C Day is a love story in which the caretaker of an extremely little used airfield falls for one of the operatives of the firm AeroFix (which to British eyes looks very like a miniature modelling kit manufacturer,) which sprays cures for logic illnesses.
In Frankie3 by Daniel Bennett the titular character never appears though some of the posts from his popular website, written as reflections on his terminal illness and which always end in -ah death followed by the date, do. His brother has come back from the front in the (unspecified) country’s ongoing war to visit the shack where they lived in their youth. The shack is now all-but besieged by Frankie’s followers.
Since the expansion of the universe is caused by it being observed, a millennium ago all humans bar those travelling through space were turned inward (frozen in time) by aliens in Salvage4 by Andy Dudak. Aristy Safewither is a soul salvager, illegally extracting the thoughts of the frozen on the planet New Ce. This all gets mixed up with the tale of the planet’s dictator at the time of turning inward.
The Dead Man’s Coffee5 by John Possidente is an odd piece where a journalist on a small space habitat learns (at least second-hand) from a conversation in a coffee bar about a planet where photovores – humans who can photosynthsesise – fall foul of a mandatory fasting-during-day-time rule.

Pedant’s corner- a“is a novella is set in a” (quite where that extraneous ‘is’ crept in I have no idea. I have checked all three files in which I keep my Iz reviews [the original, the one for sending and the one where I stack them to be posted here] and it appears in none of them.) bAldiss’ (Aldiss’s,) “silences and onmissions that … marginalises many” (marginalise – it was a quote from the original text though,) Sales’ (Sales’s.) cParkes’ (Parkes’s,) Binns’ (Binns’s.) dChivers’ (Chivers’s.)
1Written in USian. 2convey (convoy,) “both stylus and table” (stylus and tablet.) 3None of us have the time (none of us has the time.) 4personal affects (effects,) “opened hellish geothermal maws” (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth.) 5Written in USian.

Interzone 285 Est Arrivé

The latest Interzone (no 285, Jan – Feb 2020) popped onto my doormat this morning.

Interzone 285 cover

 The Menace From Farside cover
Skein Island cover

As well as the usual fiction and features this one contains my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Ian McDonald’s The Menace From Farside.

I am expecting a couple of books for review in Interzone 286 through the post any day now.

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.

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