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Interzone 274

Paris Adrift cover

Interzone has been taking a wee break.

The next issue, no 274, is though, I believe, scheduled to be published in March.

In the meantime I have received a copy of Paris Adrift by E J Swift for review in that number. She is the author of a trilogy which I’m afraid I haven’t read.

I have sampled her shorter fiction though.

Interzone 273

 Interzone 273 cover

Erica L Satifka’s Editorial states her surprise and delight at winning the best newcomer award at Fantasycon for her novel Stay Close. Jonathan McCalmont’s column1 comments on the ebb and flow of the Science Fictional year due to the awards cycle and bemoans the narrowing down of discourse to only the professional sphere. Nina Allan extols the merits of the French short SF film La Jetée. Book Zone is now relegated to coming after Nick Lowe’s Mutant Popcorn film reviews. This edition features my review of Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows plus others on Gnomon2 by Nick Harkaway, 2084 an anthology edited by George Sandison, Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee, Tricia Sullivan’s Sweet Dreams, the new Ann Leckie, Provenance, Jane O’Reilly’s Blue Shift, Jane Yolen’s collection, The Emerald Circus, the tie-in book to the Channel 4 series Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun: a Novel of the Fae and The Overneath3, a collection by Peter S Beagle.

In the fiction we have:-
Looking for Laika4 by Laura Maro, an altered history where the Soviet Union seems to have survived longer than in our timeline. An adolescent with fears of atomic conflict consoles his younger sister with tales of Laika the first space dog travelling the universe in search of a better planet. Off-stage in this story London is immolated in a nuclear strike.
After the Titans5 by Rachael Cupp is a fabular construction in a bucolic setting where Titans roam the land and ordinary folk are as flies to the gods.
In the future of Dan Grace’s Fully Automated Nostalgia Capitalism people are pervaded by mites of all sorts that protect them from the harmful effects of smoking and the like. But the mites also act as agents for control. Nevertheless petty acts of defiance are possible.
The Big So-So6 by Erica L Satifka is set in the aftermath of an alien takeover where they used a drug to pacify and classify the populace. Then they withdrew it and themselves.
The Garden of Eating7 by R Boyczuk riffs on the Garden of Eden theme in a post-apocalypse setting where an (AI?) remnant of the UN counsels a young boy against a police-like entity called the Amerigun.
James White Award Winner The Morrigan8 by Stewart Horn is narrated in a style flavoured by demotic Glaswegian. While well-written it depressingly panders to the “hard man” image and the gang culture by describing the influence of the (possibly other-worldly) woman who instigates the biggest gang fight in Glasgow’s history.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“less time, less money, and less staff,” (I know staff is technically singular but fewer staff is a more natural usage,) “that might have an influence on the discourse: Ordinary fans (surely needs a full stop. Not a colon.) 2 “into which a body is broke” (broken?) 3”The sheer breath of theme” (breadth,) “eventually a pair of elderly Turkish mystics take the tenants to..” (a pair takes,) “characters getting out of their depth” (characters, so depths,) “in which monarch’s relinquish power” (monarchs,) “intervenes in a case of marital fidelity and creates chaos” (infidelity? Possibly not.) 4“Taken a deep shuddering breath, and began to read” (the previous sentence was in the pluperfect so begun to read,) “they lay in rows” (this one is present tense, so “they lie in rows”. Mauro has the preterite, lain, correct, though.) 5To emphasise the ‘ancient’ nature of the tale this has a ligature between the letters s and t – as in st – when they occur consecutively within a word. “I say, May all creatures tremble,” and, “He says, Make to me a sacrifice” (why not put in the quote marks?) Cronus’ (Cronus’s.) 6written in USian, “none of them look at us” (none looks.) 7Written in USian. 8Crosslea park (that’s a proper noun so Crosslea Park,) “‘They’re gonnae to be” (no “to” required,) “like was made for cutting” (like it was made for cutting.)

Interzone 272, Sep-Oct 2017

TTA Press

Andy Hedgecock’s Editorial1 is an appreciation of the late Brian Aldiss of blessed memory. Jonathan McCalmont2 ponders the uses of allusion, contrasting the reductive and lazy with the dense or expansive. Nina Allan welcomes post-SF. Book Zone has an interesting and discursive author interview by Jo Walton3 with Adam Roberts to tie in with his new novel The Real-Time Murders but neglects to review the book. Duncan Lunan4 reviews Paul Kincaid’s book of criticism Iain M Banks mostly by relating his experiences of the late master. There is also Juliet E McKenna’s take on Charles Stross’s Delirium Brief, Stephen Theaker5 on Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning while John Howard reviews Xeelee Vengeance by Stephen Baxter, with the final item a review of Hal Duncan’s A Scruffian Survival Guide by Elaine C Gallagher who also interviews6 the author.
In the fiction:
As the world slowly rebuilds after war and ecological disaster, Blessings Erupt by Aliya Whiteley tells the story of the last of the original plastic eaters, consuming the hydrocarbon-based tumours that afflict the population in return for years of service to the company he represents.
The Music of Ghosts7 by Paul Jessop is set on a generation starship after Earth has been destroyed. The voyagers’ essences are supposed to be uploaded into the library after their death but things go wrong.
In a Melbourne fifty years past any relevance it ever had Ghosts of a Neon God8 by T R Napper tells of two small time crooks who are unwittingly embroiled in a dispute between the Chinese who run the place.
A white mist of unknown origin – possibly alien, possibly human – has “clouded cognitive processes and slowed down conscious thought” and in Erica L Satifka’s The Goddess of the Highway9 people are fitted with plates in their heads in a caste system to suit each to their new roles. Viewpoint characters Harp, a Plastic who monitors a truck criss-crossing the former US, and Spike, a Platinum, come together to try to join the resistance. The titular goddess may be a manifestation of the plates.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) 2 aWritten in USian, “the crowd are right” (the crowd is.) 3Lord Peter Whimsy (did Roberts actually say that? I believe him capable of such punnery but in English English – as opposed to Scottish English – the correct, Wimsey, and the pun, whimsy, are much less distinguishable,) descendent (descendant,) 4 Banks’ (Banks’s,) “human affairs are so complex than any stance (that any stance,) 5”A series of innovations have set this world apart” (a series has,) 6 fit (fitted) 7Written in USian, “the sun grew wane and hungry with light” (wan?) “the whirring of machines are chugging” (the whirring is chugging but even that is clumsy.) Ray stops programming for a moment and touches Ray’s hands” (Mark’s hands.) The story is riddled with errors in tense. It’s written in the present but has past tense verb forms intruding, “He’d been training for this day” (He’s ) “And his heart was a wild thing inside his ribs” (is.) “They ran into the storage facility” (run,) “and then she turned” (turns.) 8“Now it may as well not even existed” (exist,) his practiced stride (practised,) focussed (focused.) 9Written in USian, hocking up (hawking,) “the majority of what gets shipped are luxuries” (the majority is,) “intersecting a round sphere” (I’d like to see a sphere that isn’t round!)

Interzone 273

Interzone 273 cover

Interzone 273 has arrived.

Included along with the usual columns, fiction and reviews this one contains my review of Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows.

I note the Book Zone now occupies the last part of the magazine, its order having been swapped with Nick Lowe’s film reviews.

Interzone 271, Jul-Aug 2017

TTA Press

Interzone 271 cover

Roy Gray takes the Editorial and describes a visit to the summer’s Barbican exhibition, Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction. Jonathan McCalmont discusses China Miéville’s history of the Russian Revolution October, describing it as the book Miéville was born to write. Nina Allan again reflects on SF’s distinction or otherwise as a genre and the necessity to question and reinvent its tropes. Book Zone1 has appreciative reviews of Nina Allan’s The Rift and Emily B Cattaneo’s collection Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories plus author interviews with the pair and also considers novels from Eleanor Lerman, Aliette de Bodard and Taiyo Fuji along with Ex Libris, an anthology of stories set in libraries, not to mention my review of Justina Robson’s The Switch.

In the fiction:-
Julie C Day’s The Rocket Farmer2 has three narrative viewpoints in its 10 pages: the descendant of a long line of Mongolian rocket farmers, her daughter, and one of the rockets. It is the daughter who is the first to truly understand the rockets.
Gods in the Blood (of those who rise)3 by Tim Casson is narrated by a science teacher (who has rather unprofessional biological deterministic views about his charges I must say. But these turn out to be plot related.) The nearby Genomic Innovation Facility is manipulating human epigenetics. All this is tied in with a legend from a Sumerian manuscript.
In If Your Powers Fail You in a City Under Tin4 by Michael Reid a tentacled creature called the God Beast has settled in the sky over the city now called Duolunduo. Some people have developed superpowers as a result.
The titular Chubba Luna5 in Eliot Fintushel’s story is an interplanetary music star in a future where people’s life partners are allotted to them in accord with their biochemistry. This doesn’t turn out any better than choosing them for yourselves.
Chris Barnham’s When I Close My Eyes is a mix of SF and ghost story. It is the tale of the first potholer on Titan, a man who hallucinates his dead wife while encountering extraterrestrial life after being trapped by an ice-fall.
The McGuffin of Cryptic Female Choice6 by Andy Dudak is a spermathecal, a mechanism introduced to the womb by virus which allows women to store various men’s sperm and edit their content to produce a desired genome. The societal backlash is portrayed.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“while allowing they catch up” (allowing them to catch up,) “how do you feel it has effected your life as a writer” (affected,) Goss’ (Goss’s.) 2Written in USian, “so that it spread across the table” (the rest of the story is in present tense, so “spreads”,) practicing (practising.) 3where a bunch of other kids were gathered (a bunch was gathered.) 4Written in USian, ”none of them recognize” (none recognises,) “‘can you come with?’” (with me,) “he shines it on the floor near the figure, trying not to startle them” (not to startle it.) 5Written in USian. 6Written in USian, inside of (inside,) “there used to be hundreds of words for love like Inuit words for snow” (isn’t that snow thing a bit of a myth?)

Interzone 270, May-Jun 2017

TTA Press

Interzone 270 cover

The Editorial apologises for housekeeping issues not entirely within the magazine’s control, Jonathan McCalmont’s column argues for a recognition that the SF and Fantasy community still has a lot to do to welcome and encourage, writers and readers of black or other “minority” (my quotation marks) background, instead of discouraging them as at present, Nina Allan1 reflects on her experience as a shadow Clarke Award judge and concludes that it is difficult to argue for SF as any longer being distinct from wider literature; a novel is good or it isn’t regardless of its origin or intent. Book Zone contains Paul Kincaid’s* review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2140, reviews of the latest novels from Clare North2 and Cory Doctorow plus the collaboration between Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster as well as collections by Ellen Klages and regular Interzone contributor Malcolm Devlin (who is also interviewed) along with my review of Karen Hurley’s The Stars are Legion.
(*Kincaid mentions austerity as being needed to pay for the bank bailout after the 2008 financial crisis. It wasn’t. The economy was beginning to recover by the time of the 2010 election. Austerity was a choice made by the incoming government for ideological, political, reasons. The bailout merely provided the excuse for its imposition. And the measures killed the recovery stone dead.)
As to the fiction:-
In Rushford Recapitulation by Christopher Mark Rose3 women in Rushford, New York, start giving birth to technological artefacts, bringing a rush of visitors, protesters, pregnant mothers. The technology becomes less advanced as time goes by.
Like You, I am a System4 by Nathan Hillstrom features an intelligence of silicon and electric current coming to consciousness and taking over its environment. Then it interferes in the wider world.
Dirty Code5 by Wayne Simmons is set in what appears to be a simulation. The protagonist keeps waking up with a new face and is in the employ of someone who wants him to get rid of those passing on the titular dirty code by infecting others via activities in strip clubs and the like.
Encyphered by Jonathan L Howard is the life story of a man obsessed with cyphers, determined to keep his secrets (after all, we all have them) to himself till the day after his death. It is also a potted history of cryptography and cryptanalysis and contains the wonderful observation, “In those halcyon days before successive austerities and unimaginative governments, the library was a mighty thing indeed.” I’m struggling to see it as either SF or fantasy though.
In The New Man6 by Malcolm Devlin a man killed in an accident in the warehouse of the cloning company where he works is, to make them look good, revived in one of their bodies. His new body is the basic model though. The warehouse seems absurdly low-tech for a company making such a modern product.
Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse7 by Emily B Cattaneo is a tale of childhood friendship, messages in bottles, roads not taken, the regrets of adulthood and that tantalising, inaccessible, forbidden lighthouse. All this in only eight pages.
In Memories of Fish8 by Shauna O’Meara virtual tourism enabled by drone footage is the big online attraction. A young woman at the viewed end takes a drone on a journey through areas the local authorities don’t want seen. While the story’s target is compassion fatigue it strays close to perpetuating the idea that dreadful living conditions in traditionally poor countries cannot be ameliorated. Since the viewer’s country had suffered extreme drought the story might have had more punch if the situations of viewer and viewed had been reversed.

Pedant’s corner:- 1focussed (focused.) 2involunatary (involuntary,) and a sentence with four verbs whose subject is team, the first verb is singular (tick) but the remainder plural. 3written in USian; “far ahead or behind schedule” (far ahead of or behind schedule,) “Rushford’s human inhabitants where healthy and normal” (were healthy,) blunderbuss (blunderbusses,) “Inca kuipu” (quipu.) 4written in USian; ”none of you pick your own nodes” (picks.) 5written in USian despite the author being Northern Irish. 6over emphatic (over-emphatic makes more sense,) fit (fitted,) “the both of us” (no “the”; just “both of us”.) 7Written in USian. 8”that this where she lives” (that this is,) “the olfactory interpreter’s best attempt at recreating a stench that is probably far worse in person” (in person is for, well, a person; not a smell; “in reality” fits better here.)

Interzone 272

Interzone 272 cover
A Skinful of Shadows cover

Two packages from Interzone have arrived.

The latest issue, Interzone 272, containing all the usual but no contribution from me this time.

An ARC (uncorrected proof) of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge for me to review for the next issue.

Ms Hardinge is another writer new to me though her entry on Fantastic Fiction lists seven previous books by her. Most seem to be fantasy works.

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.)

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