Archives » Interzone 287

Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards

Titan Books, 2020, 333p. Published in Interzone 287, May-Jun 2020.

 Echo Cycle cover

Just before Britain finally locked itself off from the continent, congratulating itself on escaping from incipient chaos, Winston Monk and Lindon Banks were on a school trip to Rome. Monk, a homosexual, had long suffered persecution at the hands of his school year’s bully, Tobias Easter (who in that Public School way is usually referred to only by his surname.) Having just received news he has failed to get into a Cambridge College, Monk snaps under another of Easter’s provocations and almost kills him before fleeing into the Rome night, to vanish.

Twenty years later, in 2070, Britain is much diminished, women are of little account and same-sex marriage utterly out of the question, with such relationships long since criminalised and persecuted, and the Royal Family mostly holed up behind protective barbed wire in Windsor. But in a sudden change of foreign policy, Banks has been chosen as part of a delegation headed by Easter, now a top Government official, to re-establish contact, diplomatic relations and trade with a recently ascendant European Confederacy, whose official language is a carefully chosen resurgent Latin, its centre of gravity switched to southern Europe, and Rome a gleaming, ultra-modern architectural wonder. In this world the US has collapsed after the Yellowstone super-volcano erupted, its citizens desperately seeking refuge in the countries to north and south, besieging the walls they had previously striven so hard to erect. Japan is in recovery after a seemingly unprovoked Chinese immolation of Tokyo.

On the swift train journey south through France Banks feels the contrast between his homeland where cars run on dung, there are riots in the streets and something grim though unspecified has happened in Scotland, and the prosperous, far from gloomy countryside outside. He also misses his deceased wife Elanor, and feels protective of his daughter Sara, sent to a boarding school in his absence. At times he hears his old schoolmaster, Orkney, speaking in his head, bemoaning his follies. In Rome, the British delegation is at pains to refuse all forms of Euro tech, including the near-ubiquitous but expensive translation devices most Europeans carry.

After his flight from the consequences of his attack on Easter, Monk fell through time. No concrete mechanism is presented for this, it has to be accepted for the purposes of story. He came to consciousness in 68 CE, the year of the four Emperors, Nero, Galba, Vitellius and Vespasian, just in time to witness the first’s death. From then on Monk’s fate is closely linked to the fortunes of Nero’s close companion, the androgynous Sporus, which rise and fall according to whoever the new First Man is.

Enslaved, branded, made to clean out latrines by hand – Edwards spares us no gritty detail – plucked by Sporus from utter servitude to become a scribe only to be finally despatched to a gladiatorial ludus, Monk resigns himself to death yet, despite receiving only rudimentary training, in his first arena combat he discovers he has a talent for it and eventually wins his freedom thereby, whiling out the years with a successful scribing business.

This story of his time-slip and sojourn in the past is addressed to an at first anonymous reader (but who we learn soon enough is Banks,) and in the novel is interlaced with Banks’s own first-person account of events in 2070, where he has made a connection with Mariko, a half-Japanese European functionary. This tentative association is tainted (both in Monk’s mind and his superiors’) by suspicion of diplomatic underhandedness. On leaving a restaurant one night the pair literally bump into a dishevelled, disorientated vagrant, who turns out to be Monk, returned from 96 CE.

Despite Monk appearing fairly early in the 2070 narrative the balance between the two strands is handled delicately by Edwards. The tone of both accounts is pitch perfect, encapsulating their narrators’ characters, the Roman set passages seem convincing, the dystopian Britain all-too plausible. The characterisation is adept, though Easter is perhaps a bit too relentlessly crass. But then again he is a bully, and an authoritarian. The author’s verb choices are considered, he has a subtle touch with information dumping and a good eye for description.

The denouement, where the importance of Sporus to the overall design becomes clear, is only slightly marred by tipping over into a thriller type plot which also puts Sara into danger – marvellously readable at the time but in retrospect a touch disappointing. Edwards is a talent though.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- Despite the book having an overwhelmingly English sensibility there are USianisms in the text, snuck (x 2, sneaked,) fit (fitted,) parking lot (car park,) rowboat (rowing boat,) outside of (outside,) to visit with (to visit.) Otherwise; “it was every man for themselves” (for himself, surely?) “less fumes” (fewer fumes,) missing commas before pieces of direct speech, “The intoxicating flash of tomorrows were twisted” (the flash … was twisted,) Antinous’ (Antinous’s; every name ending with an ‘s’ here is treated as regards apostrophes as if it were plural – except we had one ‘Charteris’s’,) “none of us were surprised” (was surprised,) “The only reminder of the tons of water above my head were the small bronzed drains” (the only reminders were, or, the only reminder was,) “to the half-dozen or so people sat facing the stage” (seated, or, sitting,) “and Sporus, her of the large eyes” (she of the large eyes,) “I think I’d already be shaken” (been shaken,) “Didn’t mean the everyday citizen wanted their children to come home speaking another language” (citizens would be more grammatical,) “capacity or compartmentalisation” (for compartmentalisation,) sprung (sprang,) “a sword a foot-long and double-bladed,” (a foot long,) “that held giant, pulsating pupa” (Pupae,) lay (lie,) staunch (stanch,) “and the guttering torchlight fell revealed him there” (fell and revealed him? fell revealing him?) “seeing …. the certainty of death hove in on them” (‘hove’ is past tense, ‘seeing the certainty … heave in.)

The City We Became by N K Jemisin

Orbit, 2020, 443 p. Published in Interzone 287, May-Jun 2020.

 The City We Became cover

The central conceit of the first book in Jemisin’s latest trilogy explains its otherwise odd-sounding title. Here cities can achieve some sort of critical mass by which they come alive and are personified by an individual. In the prologue we meet Paulo (Săo Paulo) come to aid the emergence of New York into sentience, but something goes wrong. This being New York, though, we have not one living embodiment but six; its five boroughs and the overall avatar, each the epitome of the area they personify. The book follows the five boroughs’ personas as they come to the realisation of their nature and seek each other out to help not only themselves but also the overall City, now underground and in a coma.

Manhattan’s instantiation is Manny, a new arrival whose awakening to his fresh nature involves him losing the memory of his previous identity. We then meet (Staten) Aislyn Houlihan, whose Irish parents did not pronounce her name in the Gaelic way and who physically cannot bring herself to visit the rest of New York. The former MC Free, Brooklyn Thomason, is now a mother and city councillor. Bronca, descendant of the original Lenape inhabitants of Long Island, runs the Bronx Art Centre, and maths whizz Padmini, of Asian extraction, is the avatar of Queens. On her confusion over her new status Padmini’s aunt invokes her background to tell her, “Real gods are people, who make love, have babies, fight, die. ‘It’s duty, it’s normal. Get over it.’”

If you were counting that’s four out of the six metropolitan areas are embodied by women. The narrative has sections focusing on all five boroughs, by intermittent turns, plus Interruptions describing Paulo’s endeavours before four of the avatars finally get together.

In Jemisin’s previous trilogy, the ground was literally not safe beneath her characters’ feet. Here it is not just the ground but also the air and especially the water in which weird things can happen. The first manifestation of this is when a tentacle rises out of the East River and smashes the Williamsburg Bridge. The ordinary folk of New York are aware only of the bridge’s destruction and some sort of obstruction preventing them from going about their business as usual.
Sentient cities traverse the layers of the parallel worlds. On emergence they punch through, killing other universes. If a city isn’t born, it dies, hard, (witness Pompeii, Tenochtitlán, Atlantis, Sodom and Gomorrah.) The enemy looming here is the city R’lyeh, an entity from the many parallel universes, out to kill new-born (newly-awoken really) Earth cities at birth. Manifesting as The Woman In White, she infests New York’s buildings and its ordinary citizens with white tendrils controlling their behaviour, putting obstacles into the boroughs’ way and sending large white columns shooting up into the sky.

Little vignettes of New York history are slipped into the narrative, from the original Dutch settlers (featuring an aside making this the only fantasy work I have read to give a name-check to Eddie Izzard) to Staten Island’s prickly relationship with its neighbouring boroughs, its almost orphan status, in contrast to Jersey City’s longings. It also manages to include three mathematical equations and remarks on the distinctiveness of Guastavino tiles.

Though incidental to the book as a whole, where in The Broken Earth Jemisin approached the subject of prejudice in a more-or less oblique way the use of an all-but contemporary setting here allows her to tackle it head-on, especially in the form of Aislyn’s everybody-but-him-is-wrong policeman father, attitudes which bleed over into Aislyn herself. At one point she ascribes a Canadian as “driven mad by the cold and socialised medicine,” at another, “terrorists are bearded Arab men who mutter in guttural languages and want to rape virgins.” An appearance by Alt-right ‘artists’ at Bronca’s work insisting on their right to have their art displayed and that any refusal to do so can only be evidence of reverse prejudice is a comment on our times.

Using five aspects of one whole might be seen as an attempt by Jemisin to repeat the bravura narrative of The Fifth Season, where three different viewpoints turned out to be the same person, but The City We Became feels more conventional, with its down-to-Earth, often demotic, dialogue and prose, but no less worth reading.

Roaming as it does over almost all of New York those unfamiliar with its geography might be grateful for the map which precedes the prologue here.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- “None of the people around him react” (none … reacts,) antennas (antennae,) “lay of the land,” (lie of the land.) “‘Are you actually insane.’” (ought to have a question mark after insane, not a full stop,) dredlocs (is this how USians spell dreadlocks?) “None of them are talking to each other.” (none of them is talking to..,) “None of them face each other” (None of them faces each other,) several more examples of ‘none’ with an unwarranted plural verb, ambiance (ambience,) no opening quotation mark when a chapter begins with dialogue.

Hugo Awards 2021

The short lists for this year’s Hugo Awards have been announced.

The fiction nominees are:-

Novel-

Black Sun Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery/Saga Press/Solaris)
The City We Became N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Harrow The Ninth Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com)
Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tor.com)
Piranesi Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
The Relentless Moon Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Solaris)

I note here the crossover with the BSFA Award list as regards N K Jemisin (which I reviewed for Interzone 287 but have not yet published here) and Susanna Clarke.

Novella-

Come Tumbling Down Seanan McGuire (Tor.com)
The Empress of Salt and Fortune Nghi Vo (Tor.com)
Finna Nino Cipri (Tor.com)
Ring Shout P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com)
Riot Baby Tochi Onyebuchi (Tor.com)
Upright Women Wanted Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)

I have read none of these.

Novelette-

Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super A T Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020)
Helicopter Story Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020)
The Inaccessibility of Heaven Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2020)
Monster Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020)
The Pill Meg Elison (from Big Girl, (PM Press))
Two Truths and a Lie Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com)

Ditto.

Short story-

Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse Rae Carson (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020)
A Guide for Working Breeds Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris))
Little Free Library Naomi Kritzer (Tor.com)
The Mermaid Astronaut Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2020)
Metal Like Blood in the Dark T Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020)
Open House on Haunted Hill John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots – 2020, ed. David Steffen)

Ditto.

Series-

The Daevabad Trilogy S A Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
The Interdependency John Scalzi (Tor Books)
The Lady Astronaut Universe Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)
The Murderbot Diaries Martha Wells (Tor.com)
October Daye Seanan McGuire (DAW)
The Poppy War R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

Ditto.

I’m obviously not keeping up with SF from the US. (Mind you the stuff from there I have read recently hasn’t been too inspiring.)

BSFA Award Time Again

The short lists for this year’s awards (for works published in 2020) have been announced.

In the fiction categories we have

Best short fiction:-

Eugen M. Bacon, Ivory’s Story, Newcon Press.

Anne Charnock, All I Asked For, Fictions, Healthcare and Care Re-Imagined. Edited by Keith Brookes, at Future Care Capital.

Dilman Dila, Red_Bati, Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, Aurelia Leo. Edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, Aurelia Leo. Edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki.

Ida Keogh, Infinite Tea in the Demara Caf, Londoncentric, Newcon Press. Edited by Ian Whates.

Tobi Ogundiran, Isn’t Your Daughter Such a Doll, Shoreline of Infinity.

I have read none of these but of course the annual BSFA Awards booklet ought to be able to remedy that.

The Best Novel list is longer than usual due to a tie for fifth place in the nominations:-

Tiffani Angus, Threading the Labyrinth, Unsung Stories.

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi, Bloomsbury.

M. John Harrison, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, Gollancz.

N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became, Orbit.

Gareth L. Powell, Light of Impossible Stars, Titan Books.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, Orbit.

Nikhil Singh, Club Ded, Luna Press.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Doors of Eden, Tor.

Liz Williams, Comet Weather, Newcon Press.

Nick Wood, Water Must Fall, Newcon Press.

I reviewed The City We Became by N K Jemisin for Interzone 287 (May-Jun 2020) but that review has not appeared here yet.

That leaves nine others to get through before April 4th. No chance. (I see from the link, though, that BSFA members are to receive a PDF containing excerpts of the nominated works.)

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.)

Issue 287 of Interzone

The latest issue of Interzone arrived today. Number 287. It has a great wraparound cover:-

Interzone 287 cover

This is the one which contains my reviews of The City We Became by N K Jemisin and Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards.

I note that one story inside is titled Make America Great Again. Hmmm.

Two More From Interzone

 Echo Cycle cover
 The City We Became   cover

Thursday’s post brought two more goodies from Interzone. (Well I hope they’re goodies.)

The first was The City We Became by N K Jemisin. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for best novel three times in a row with the components of her Broken Earth series of books.

The second is from a writer new to me, Patrick Edwards. His novel is titled Echo Cycle. The reviews ought to appear in issue 287.

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