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Interzone 289

Nov-Dec, 2020, TTA Press

 Interzone 289  cover

Editorial duties are taken by artist Jim Burnsa where, in the light of Covid, he reflects his roads not taken are most likely now behind him. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted considers “the slow cancellation of the future,” the recycling of cuture in all its forms, the lack of innovation during the past forty or so years. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Storiesb relates the thoughts and fears engendered in her by finding slow worms in her compost bin at the allotment.

Book Zone returns to its place just after the fiction. Duncan Lawriec finds Stephen Baxter’s World Engines: Destroyer and World Engines: Creator a muddle as if he’s crammed all his favourite SF tropes into one (double) package, seemingly designed to provide a “complete history of the solar system and the evolution of life as we currently understand it.” Stephen Theakerd notes Machine by Elizabeth Bear is heavily influenced by James White’s Sector General stories and so promised too much but was ultimately entertaining while The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem is like a post-apocalyptic Gilmore Girls but was very good and the author is now a new favourite of his. Maureen Kincaid Spellere thinks Mordew by Alex Pheby is amazing, not a thing she says lightly: the author shows an extremely thorough knowledge of the fantasy formula but constantly resists its confines. Jaime Lee Moyer’s Divine Heretic, a reworking of the story of Joan of Arc in which she is chosen by fae spirits who are “as dangerous as they are brilliant,” didn’t work for Juliet E McKennaf but may well for others, while she is enthused enough by Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke, the second “A Poison War” novel, to read her next book. I review Cixin Liu’s collection Hold Up the Sky whose stories mostly deal with mind-expanding concepts but sometimes lack emotional engagement.

As to the fiction:-

In Cryptozoology by Tim Lees a man whose marriage is breaking down tries to rescue it by embarking on an expedition with his wife (who believes they exist) to find all the legendary monsters (in which he doesn’t believe.) When they argue, and she leaves he carries on on his own. The story ends the way we know it will.
The Ephemeral Quality of Mersay by John Possidente1 combines two stories in one as a journalist on space station Humboldt has a starship captain relate her experiences on a planet with odd seasons at the same time as murders are occurring on the station.
The Way of his Kind by James Sallis2 is a very short tale of the advent of a new kind of human – or are they aliens?
The Smoke Bomb of Matt Thompson’s story3 is an unusual type of drink, concocted by the altered digestive system (seen through skin and organs rendered transparent) of an indentured woman. Her keeper becomes wary of a new customer.
Again very short, There’s a Gift Shop Now by Françoise Harvey tells of an experimental school with oddly proportioned rooms and spacious ceilings – which had unfortunate effects on its pupils. It’s now a tourist attraction full of warning signs.
The narrator of The Third Time I Saw a Fox by Cécile Cristofari4 is an old man working the night shift in a museum. He talks to the exhibits, dinosaur and whale skeletons, (all casts rather than the real fossilised bones) and to the anatomically extreme “circus man”. They talk back.
Rather appropriately this year’s James White Award winner, Limitations5 by David Maskill, deals with a medical problem being suffered by a fluorine-breathing alien, an alien which can protect itself via Biological Quantum Optimisation.

Pedant’s corner:- aa missing comma before a piece of direct speech. b“Aren’t there are number of” (Aren’t there any number of.) c“humanity has recognised the destruction they inflicted on the Earth” (the destruction it inflicted,) ditto “They have pulled back” (‘It has pulled back’.) d“Helen Alloy (a pun apparently on Helen of Troy)” (maybe but possibly – more likely even? -on Helen O’Loy from the 1930s SF story by Lester Del Rey which had that title,) steam-rolled (steam-rollered.) e“around feet” (around the feet,) “all fulfil their purpose very effectively all while” (no second ‘all’.) f“None of these tensions are” (None of these tensions is.) “None of these central characters are” (None of these central characters is,)
1Written in USian. 2Written in USian. 3wettened (usually ‘wetted’,) “time interval later” count: 3. 4“None of us have.” (None of us has,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. 5accepter (acceptor?) CaF2 (makes the chemical equation it’s in unbalanced, because it’s the wrong formula for carbon fluoride. It ought to be CaF4,) “one less friend” (one fewer,) missing commas before pieces of direct speech, “off of” (just ‘off’ please,) focussing (focusing.)

Interzone 288

Sep-Oct 2020, TTA Press

This issue’s Editorial is by Alexander Glass who reflects on the human need to define things, especially as regards gender, and contrasts two different approaches to this as found in Science Fiction. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda considers the failings of education systems to teach outside narrow parameters and SF’s almost complete recent failure to examine education at all by mention of novels that, in the past, did. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteleyb ponders the strange disjunction between these coronavirus times and SF futures, the necessary waiting involved before resolution, waiting that writers are habitually accustomed to. Book Zone again follows the film reviews and features an interview with M John Harrison plus a review of his new novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by Andy Hedgecockc (who says the novel quietly, but surely, slips the bounds of literary realism, sf and fantasy and transcends the limitations of all three,) my guardedly welcoming take on Tim Major’s Hope Island, Duncan Lawie delights in Ken MacLeod’s mix of summer romance with Scottish folklore, Selkie Summer, Maureen Kincaid Spellerd says the buzz about The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez is justified, while Stephen Theakere gets a bite at three cherries – Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Firewalkers (not ground-breaking but a solid story,) Andres Eschbach’s The Hair-Carpet Weavers (a retitling of The Carpet Weavers published in 2005) and, despite flaws, very good, plus R B Lemberg’s decent but not outstanding The Four Profound Weaves – Graham Sleight finds William Gibson’s Agency terrific fun but at the moment suffers from being written pre-Covid. Finally things are rounded off with Barbara Melvillef interviewing Agnes Gomillion.

In the fiction:-
Told as in an interrogation transcript Time’s Own Gravity by Alexander Glass1 postulates that time and energy are interconvertible – though it’s harder to do than with energy and matter. A man called Lukasz, of mysterious origins, developed (or brought with him) the Technology involved but something went wrong and emanations speeding time up locally are occurring with increasing frequency.
Soaring, the World on their Shoulders by Cécile Cristofari2 is set in an alternate steam-powered France (there is mention of Marseilles and Spain) in the time of its tipping over into a brand of fascism. (“You know, what they say makes a lot of sense. Our country will be great again.”) Madame Santucci is a scientist who despises the regime and then herself for complying with it. Her research is double-edged though.
A Distant Hum by John K Peck3 is one of those stories that never quite explains itself and of which Interzone is relatively fond. It’s set in a city by an archipelago in a familiar demi-monde milieu where our female protagonist has memories to exorcise and revenge to take.
The Captured Dreams of the Dead Machine of Daniel Bennett’s story are old computer files from before the great information plague now worth a great deal to collectors. In this society, however, tech – of any sort – is not a universally accepted boon.
Warsuit by Gary Gibson4 sees a battlefield scavenger find the powered down suit of the title on one of his expeditions. It is operated by a downloaded human intelligence and they come to an accommodation.

Pedant’s corner:- afocussed (focused,) “Larrry Niven’s” (Larry,) “the population … are exposed to” (the population .. is exposed to,) Sf (SF.) b“This inability to see what’s coming next be considered ironic” (might be considered ironic.) “Six weeks or so separates us” (Six weeks …. separate us.) c“returns to finds the business suddenly closed” (returns to find.) dJimenez’ (Jimenez’s.) e“the centre of a ever expanding desert” (an,) “Nen-Sasaïr agrees to come with.” (Nen-Sasaïr agrees to come with her.) fDouglass’ (Douglass’s,)
1“‘if you stay to close to it’” (too close) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. 2“filled to burst” (filled to bursting.) “A second person hauls themselves into the nest” (that pronoun should surely not be plural.) 3Written in Usian, “These [lighthouse foghorns] were unique to the region, in that they each used a distinctly different sound, so that an experienced captain could not only avoid foundering on the rocks, but could use the varied tones as navigational guides.” (Not unique: all lighthouse foghorns were like this,) “none of them were …” (none of them was.) 4“They span ever faster” (spun.)

Incomplete Solutions by Wole Talabi

Luna Press, 2019, 270 p. Published in Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019.

 Incomplete Solutions cover

This collection’s title may allude to the proverb from its author’s Nigerian homeland, “Starting a thing is not as crucial as seeing it through to completion,” but can also be seen as an explicit nod to Gödel’s famous theorem. Yet finishing things doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem for Talabi. Twenty stories in a first collection, all of them published in the last five years, is not a low count. As a result it probably contains something for everyone. Often set in Lagos and frequently taking inspiration from Nigerian mythology and folk-tales the contents range from intellectual explorations to straightforward what-ifs.

In Parse. Error, Reset, alters are electronic neurosocial profiles of humans, with a ninety day deadline for disposal, to be used when you need to keep up with social obligations. A Short History of Migration in Five Fragments of You is told in the second person in five sections tracing the lineage of the captain of a Nigerian mission to land on Europa.

Drift-Flux starts arrestingly enough with a spaceship exploding but soon degenerates into a race-against-time to foil a plot to destroy Earth, interlaced with a crudely characterised conspiracy by those prejudiced against enhanced humans and tinged with ancestral beliefs as a ward against nosiness. Its fight scenes are a touch unconvincing, though. A Certain Sort of Warm Magic is a love story, conventional in every way yet worth reading just the same. In the post-Singularity, post human-AI war, neural interfaced world of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions a man travels to the home of the murderer of his mother to exact revenge.

Tales within tales within tales saturate Wednesday’s Story, a meditation on the art and purpose of storytelling taking as its inspiration the rhyme about Solomon Grundy, here half-Nigerian, as told by a creature from outside time, who along with his six siblings is named after a day of the week.

An object falls from the sky in front of a pre-teen African girl in The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi. When she touches it she becomes fluid, inhabiting two places at one time. In Crocodile Ark the protagonist becomes the front man for a revolution on a theocratic habitat orbiting Mars. He knows the history of revolutions and their children, though. Told mainly in the second person, Nested follows a chain of deaths towards the ultimate creator.

Two years after an event when green light fell from the air and water rose into the sky The Last Lagosian scours his home city in search of the water he needs to survive. In If They Can Learn a cyborg police officer has killed a young black man without good reason. The Borg had been programmed with neural nets using input mostly from human twentieth- and twenty-first century US police officers. Nneoma is a stealer of souls who manifests as “the kind of woman that entire religions, cultures and civilisations concoct elaborate legends and myths to warn men like me about.” She appears again in I, Shigidi where she pairs up with that Yoruba god.

Polaris is the life story of Tunde, a convict exiled to Mars, a dumping ground for those Earth has deemed undesirable. Connectome, Or, The Facts in the Case of Miss Valerie Demarco (Ph D) is the tale of what happened when Connectome made the first memory map of a human brain. An entity calling itself Valarie Demarco holds forth from the lab’s loudspeakers. (We must infer that different spelling of Valerie is deliberate.)

In The Regression Test a woman is called on to perform a confirmatory Sorites test on the copy of her grandmother’s personality stored in a computer, while Eye is a philosophical exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of having true foresight.

Mars is inhabited by human and alien immigrants in Home is Where My Mother’s Heart is Buried. Tinu is influenced by her Chironi lover to let her younger sister go her own way. The longest story in the book, Incompleteness Theories, is a traditional SF tale about the extension of teleportation technology to living beings.

Finally, in When We Dream We Are Our God the internet has become conscious and gone on to ignore humanity except for those few humans who have become networked together themselves via a process called Omi Legba.

Talabi certainly can write and while not all the stories here are equally successful Incomplete Solutions is one to add to the growing presence of SF from beyond its historical bounds in the Anglo-American imagination.

The following did not appear in the published review.
“She started to explain with a question, such a uniquely Nigerian thing to do,” is a sentiment expressed twice here. Is it unique to Nigeria?
“Fela Kuti was on a small make-shift stage singing something socially scathing while simulating strange, savage sex with a sweaty, skinny seductress to scintillating sounds from a splendid saxophone,” takes alliteration a bit too far.

Pedant’s corner:- “that allowed her function” (that allowed her to function,) “the network of pipelines, cables, equipment, and rigging, that kept” (doesn’t need those last two commas,) (ditto in “space, time, energy, matter, spirit, and life, are considered”) (ditto in “ fire, lights, and panelling go by,) (ditto in “remained visible, from high above, a spectre”) “before continuing. ‘… That” (comma after continuing instead of full stop,) “in a smiled” (in a smile,) Adadevoh drive (spelling is sometimes Adedevoh,) “the solar systems economy” (system’s,) “the short man pretending to Mwanja Mukisa” (pretending to be Mwanja Mukisa,) “the squad that had meet then” (that had met them,) “where the fire raged most fierce” (fiercely,) “a large group …. were” (a large group … was,) “the cluster nearby asteroids” (cluster of nearby asteroids,) bioplasium (previously bioplasmium,) “‘my ships interface’” (ship’s,) “the middle of control deck” (of the control deck,) “‘Its drift-flux.’” (It’s,) “the ships basecode” (ship’s,) “trying to recall her what he’d been taught” (no ‘her’,) “allowed him access even the deepest layer” (allowed him access to even the deepest layer, or, allowed him to access even the deepest layer,) “the ships hardcoded path” (ship’s,) “and he edges” (the edges,) crenulated (crenellated.) “Under of all that hair” (Under all of that,) “allowing my tongue dance a private gentle waltz” (allowing my tongue to dance a private gentle waltz,) “mindless watching something silly” (mindlessly watching something silly,) “allowed them sink in” (allowed them to sink in,) “other times like brisk and efficient agent” (like a brisk and efficient agent,) “‘I just need you acknowledge your crime’” (‘I just need you to acknowledge your crime’,) “‘a nation of African people are the dominant hegemony’” (a nation of African people is the dominant hegemony’.) “The sharpness of its arcs flare and wane” (The sharpness of its arcs flares and wanes,) “his daughters initials” (daughter’s,) “the wood-carvers hands” (wood-carver’s,) like talon (like a talon,) the hunters head (hunter’s,) maw (it’s not a mouth!) “with he and his wife” (with him and his wife,) “went home the hunter” (went home with the hunter,) “the sphere that was chasing the ship matched their manuever [sic]” (matched its manœvre,) themselves (themselves,) to allow something like explosion to occur” (like an explosion to occur,) “allowed her senses re-engage” (allowed her senses to re-engage.) “The fear she’d developed for her mother” (the fear … of her mother was meant,) “made her pull hand away” (made her pull her hand away,) solider (soldier,) “as anyone who as ever read” (has ever read,) “one of the prophets many VR centres” (of the Prophet’s, lower case ‘prophet’ occurs frequently. In all cases since it is a particular individual it ought to be ‘Prophet’,) artic wasteland (Arctic,) “of the Earths destruction” (Earth’s,) “letting it explode like bomb” (like a bomb,) “what I imagined to be stately voice” (to be a stately voice,) vocapohone (vocaphone,) “how disengage from orbit” (how to disengage,) wold (would,) “they might have even succeeded” (they might even have succeeded,) Arinamaka (the spelling starts off Ariannamaka then begins to vary between the two forms,) “the Prophets records” (Prophet’s,) “‘Do you remember wat came before your birth?’ He asks. ‘If there was nothing before, why do you all believe something mist come after?’ He inquires further’” (Both those ‘He’s ought to be ‘he’,) “it finally it roared into life” (has one ‘it’ too many,) “beyond deaths reach” (death’s,) “like gates of a city” (like the gates of a city,) “pointing his gun Chuka’s face” (at Chuka’s face,) “allow him wrap his thick, veined hands around” (allow him to wrap,) “that don’t make a lot sense to me” (a lot of sense to me,) “the presence of things far and unseen reaches me” (the presence … reaches me.) “The bright, strobe lights” (the bright strobe lights,) “gathered the gathered the sheets around me” (remove one ‘gathered the’,) “it was written in wetness of her eyes” (in the wetness,) lay (lie, x6,) “to allow myself be recruited” (to be recruited,) shrunk (shrank,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) vermillion (spelling used a page later is vermilion.) “The real madness when I still worked for you” (the real madness was when I still worked for you,) “allowing everything that was me become fluid” (to become fluid,) “in readiness for was sure to come” (in readiness for what was sure to come,) “as he allowed her unzip his corduroy trousers” (as he allowed her to unzip his corduroy trousers,) seven unindented new paragraphs, bidurnially (bidiurnially?) “Synthesized water began to take back what was their ancient, ancestral home.” (Synthesised water began to take back what was its ancient, ancestral home.”) [He] “allowed himself forward to the control panel” (I know what it means but it’s a very odd construction.) “He pressed the pressed the ‘transmit’ button” (only one ‘pressed the’ needed,) “something that resembles like a bony ridge” (either, ‘something that resembles a bony ridge’, or, ‘something like a bony ridge’, not ‘resembles like a’,) “her sons life” (son’s,) “with fist full of naira” (with a fist full,) “I allowed myself feel” (is this missing ‘to’ after ‘allowed myself’ a Nigerian idiom, then?) “She brushed a stray strand of her from her cheek” (of hair, I think. Brushing a strand of her from her cheek would be in a different story entirely,) “a doctor with a kind smile and bald head whose name was Arogundade” (the head has a name? ‘a bald-headed doctor whose name’,) “clear sliver fluid” (silver, methinks – but if it was it could not have been clear as silver is not transparent,) “allowing it connect” (here is that missing ‘it’ again,) one doubly indented new paragraph, a paragraph continued when it puth ti have been a new one for a fresh speaker, “on her laps” (on her lap,) “‘I don’t want do this’” (want to do this,) “had been bleak affair” (a bleak affair,) “that would-be worm meal” (that would be worm-meal,) “to allow herself think” (again a missing ‘to’ after the verb allow,) “allowing …. fade and abrade” (yet again, ‘to fade’,) “in your way your progress” (‘in your way’, or, ‘in the way of your progress’,) was the point at which they were at” (remove one of those ‘at’s,) a logical followership of the facts presented” (followership? Following, surely?) laying (lying.)

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

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.

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.)

Interzone Issue 288

 Interzone 288 cover
 Hope Island cover

Interzone 288 is out now. (It arrived on my doorstep this morning.)

This is the one which contains my review of Tim Major’s Hope Island.

Along with many other goodies of course.

Palestine + 100, stories from a century after the Nakba. Edited by Basma Ghalayini

Comma Press, 2019, 235 p, including viii p Introduction by Basma Ghalayini, v p About the Authors, ii p About the Translators. Published in Interzone 283, Sep-Oct 2019.

 Palestine + 100 cover

It is over seventy years since what Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe) and this collection was inspired by the notion of what Palestine might look like 100 years after it. (Not so long now, really.)
In the Introduction,1 Basma Ghalayini describes the Nakba as an ethnic cleansing. Some may disagree with this but it is an understandable Palestinian perspective. She also says Palestinians write about their past knowingly or unknowingly (this can also be true of other peoples who feel themselves to be suppressed) but for Palestinian writers the past is everything. SF, then, does not look to be fertile ground, a luxury to which they cannot afford to escape. But one of the defining features of Palestinian fiction is absence, and SF is well equipped to deal with isolation and detachment as well as to interrogate the present by reframing it.
In Song of the Birds by Saleem Haddad2 an adolescent girl whose brother has committed suicide finds herself slipping between two realities, one where the Israeli occupation has been overthrown and a harsher one where it hasn’t and in which the first is a simulation.
The Dr Eyal Schott of Sleep it Off, Dr Schott3 by Selma Dabbagh is a scientist thrown out of Israel for being less than 50% Jewish, now working in Gaza but under surveillance in case he is forming an inappropriate relationship with his co-worker Professor Mona Kamal.
N* by Majad Kayal4 posits a novel two-state solution. Palestinians and Israelis occupy the same land but in parallel worlds. Only those born after The Agreement are allowed to travel between the two. VR ‘realities’ are still a source of isolation, though.
Anwar Hamed5 sets The Key* in an Israel which restricts entry by constructing a gravity wall through which only people with the right chip (keyed to a person’s genome and embedded in newborns at birth) can pass. Psychological problems connected to this begin to manifest themselves in the narrator’s family.
Digital Nation by Emad El-Din Aysha6 is also set in Israel, where a bemused head of the cybercrime unit finds his worst imaginings of hacking and Palestinian take-over of the digital realm coming true.
Abdalmuti Maqboul’s7 Personal Hero* also features a virtual reality theme as a Palestinian hero is resurrected by a simulation in which time is reversed.
Vengeance by Tasnim Abutabikh8 suffers from being told rather than narrated. Set against a background where CO2 in the atmosphere has ballooned and lifemasks for safe breathing are in effect rationed, Ahmed plans revenge on the descendant of a man who supposedly stole his family’s land generations ago.
A Palestine broken up into a series of independent city states connected only by tunnels is the premise for Application 39 by Ahmed Masoud9 which chronicles the aftermath of a surprisingly successful application to hold the 39th Summer Olympics made by pranksters from the IT Department of the Republic of Gaza City.
Samir El-Youssef’s10 The Association* is set twenty years after the Agreement (to forget all about it) ended the Eighty Years War. The story is set in train by the murder of an obscure historian.
In Commonplace by Rawan Yaghi11, Adam’s sister, Rahaf, was all but killed in an ill-advised trip into the Eastern Lands. He has been planning his revenge ever since.
In Final Warning* by Talal Abu Shawish,12 the sun fails to rise, every electronic device has failed and cars won’t start. Isaam, a film buff, correctly predicts the form the alien intervention causing all this will take.
In The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid* by Mazen Maarouf,13 Palestinians have been wiped out by a biological weapon. All save the narrator, who somehow stores the pure energy of these dead within him and is thus kept in a glass cube designed to absorb it when released on death. Some of it is leaking out, though.
Whether the brief, or the allotted word count, was somehow too restricting or the authors are uncomfortable with the form, many of the stories have a tendency to be overloaded with information dumping and often resort to telling rather than showing. Striking too, is the preoccupation with sisters, usually dead or comatose, shown by several of the authors. Overall, the collection is notable for the way in which Israeli domination of Palestinian life is still manifesting itself in these futures, or has only been overthrown by frankly unlikely means. Perhaps even imaginative fiction has its bounds.

The following did not appear in the published review.
*Translated works. I assume the authors of the other stories wrote them in English.
Pedant’s corner:- 1“is a kind of a dystopia” (is a kind of dystopia,) ‘are issued ID cards … that keeps track” (that keep track.) 2“The string of hotels and restaurants were replaced by” (the string was replaced by, “inside of:” (inside; just ‘inside’,) “ ‘I should probably take a small sleep’” (‘I should probably take a nap’,) sunk (sank,) snuck (sneaked,) faucet (tap,) “‘You know how us Arabs are’” (‘You know how we Arabs are’, but it was in dialogue,) baby carriages (prams,) “is it a cynicism borne out of loss?” (born out of loss, ‘borne means ‘carried’.) “The sea and her are like two cats” (She and the sea are like two cats.) 3“since I was a young” (since I was young,) “to only recognise Ethocoin as an international currency (to recognise only Ethocoin as….,) “The General Assembly weren’t just nosey” (I prefer ‘nosy’,) “how many canons were used in the battle of Waterloo” (cannons, a canon is a clergyman.) 4Has some USian but then, manoeuvre; “he was in secretly love with” (he was secretly in love with,) “it was old café” (it was an old café,) “with it’s blinding light” (its blinding light.) 5“she was sat” (sitting.) 6“His aid continued to stand there” (aide, several more instances,) “a woman to lay on top of” (to lie on top of,) “hit singles from 1948” (hit songs, maybe, but there were no hit ‘singles’ in 1948, it was mostly sheet music which people bought,) “humous fests” (hummus; humous or humus is a component of soil) “The county was in no position to go on the offensive” (The country,) “‘You must have me mistaken for someone else’” (You must have mistaken me for someone else’,) “‘Me, are you kidding.’” (requires a question mark not a full stop.) 7“In a house in al-Qastal sit the Army of the Holy War” (in a house … sits the Army.) 8“a group of children were plying” (a group was playing,) “his boss’ design” (boss’s.) 9“seemed to only contain a long series” (seemed to contain only a long series,) “had not be possible” (been,) “36th Summer Olympics” (previously given as 39th Summer Olympics,) “‘Look its one of’” (it’s,) “to hold the such a” (no ‘the’,) antennas (antennae,) “it’s left leg” (its,) ditto “It’s cheek screens” (Its,) “outside of” (outside, no ‘of’,) sprung (sprang,) “spilled it’s guts” (its,) northern-most but then southernmost (use the hyphen both times or neither time,) “its shoulder-antenna and crossed them” (if them, then shoulder-antennae.) 10“snuck in” (sneaked in,) “the Jozoor’s” (the Jozoor, it was a plural for an organisation known as the Jozoor. Perhaps Jozoors, but certainly no apostrophe,) “ditto the Jidar’s” (the Jidar,) “it was too was obvious” (it was too obvious,) publically (publicly,) “‘just one group that knows their rights’” (that knows its rights.) 11“seven hundred hours” “twenty-one hundred hours” (military usage usually written as 0700 hours and 2100 hours and seemingly out of place here,) “a group of young men…. were caught” (a group …. was caught,) “she went in day light” (daylight.) 12 “in Rahel’s flat” (I’ve no idea why that apostrophised ‘s’ is in italics,) “take the edge of the darkness” (off the darkness,) Michael Renie (Rennie, spelled as such later,) “and reviewing them a film critic” (as a film critic.) “Everyone started shielding their eyes from the sun” (the sun hasn’t risen, an alien spaceship has, though,) “and bellowing commands to soldiers outside, insisting they join him” (insisted they join him.) 13“look forwards to” (look forward to.)
In ‘About the authors’; “He was …. and currently based in Lisbon” (and is currently based,) “is a Palestinian novelist, poet and literary critic born. With a master’s degree..” (born where? When? And it’s Master’s degree,) “for whom he has written wrote and directed” (omit ‘wrote’.)

Beneath the World, A Sea by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2019, 283 p. Published in Interzone 282, Jul-Aug 2019.

 Beneath the World, A Sea cover

“The ground of one world is the sky of the world below” runs one of the myths and legends of the Submundo Delta, the most inaccessible place on Earth, the Delta Beneath the World. A place of magenta trees with spiral leaves and flowers with bright pink mouths, overhung by a huge sun and moon as if inside a magnifying bubble, and not really below the outside world, it can be accessed only from South America via a long boat trip on the (perhaps too obviously named) River Lethe, passing through the Zona de Ovido, the Zone of Forgetfulness, all memories of which disappear the moment you leave it. The Delta has no radio communication with elsewhere, aeroplanes which try to penetrate its airspace all crash.

Such a cut-off world is a staple of fantastical fiction of course – fairyland, hollow hills, parallel worlds, alien planets and so on – but Beckett’s vision is a fresh take on the sub-genre even if the Delta is a slightly recycled though embellished version of the Caramel Forest of the planet Lutania in the same author’s collection The Peacock Cloak.

The Delta’s local human inhabitants are called Mundinos, and are descended from a group tricked into going there by a Baron Valente in the semi-distant past, long enough ago for them to have developed their own gods in the benign Iya, whose idol adorns every Mundino household, and the less indulgent Boca. More recent incomers are scientists and adventurers or hippie types plus the odd business man on the lookout for profitable exploitation.

Following a UN decree that a Delta life-form known as duendes, grey long-limbed, frog-like flaccid creatures with black button eyes, (somewhat reminiscent of the goblins of Lutania’s Caramel Forest) and which may be the offspring of trees – with which they perhaps form a single dimorphic species – are ‘persons’ entitled to the protection of the law, police Inspector Ben Ronson has been delegated from London to investigate their endemic killing by Mundinos. Duendes can project settlers’ thoughts back into human minds, “‘Things already inside your head ….. become as powerful as things you normally choose to focus on,’” and build enigmatic structures called castelos. Despite their persecution the duendes keep intruding on Mundinos’ space.

What makes all this SF rather than fantasy is the attempt at scientific rationale. “‘There’s no DNA equivalent. No ‘animals’ or ‘plants’ in the delta,’” Ronson is told. “It seemed to him that it was just about possible to imagine that a completely different form of life might not only have a different chemistry and different anatomy, but might even involve the mind-stuff itself being configured in some manner unfamiliar to human beings,” while, “‘the trees and the harts and the duendes and so on aren’t competing against each other … any more than our blood cells are competing against our bone cells,’” but quite why the story is set in nineteen ninety is not clear. The Delta is obviously not quite of this world, making the tale an alternative history does not add to that.

Beckett also undercuts expectations. Despite the set-up what we have here is not a police procedural, nor a straightforward crime novel with a clear-cut resolution, nor indeed an action adventure. The author is more interested in the psychological aspects of isolation, the effect a strange environment has on human behaviour and particularly the influence the Zona might have on motivations and actions. Ronson is almost paralysed by the thought of what he might have done during those four days he cannot remember but is reluctant to consult the notebooks he compiled while in transit.

There are faint echoes here of other odd worlds, perhaps even a nod to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, there is a touch of Ballard in the detachment of many of the characters. We do not have the complete isolation that applied to the inhabitants of Beckett’s Dark Eden, nor the genetic paucity of that environment, and the existence of the duendes adds a distinctive flavour but at the end the nature of the enigma they represent is not unravelled. Perhaps Beckett intends to return to the Delta.

That might be a misstep, though. Beneath the World, A Sea is not really concerned with its backdrop. Instead it uses that backdrop to question how much a person can know of him- or her- self. While not in the highest rank – the characters indulge in too much self-examination for that – like all the best fiction it explores the nature of humanity.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- “whose contents, she learnt, turned yellow and shrank as it dried” (as they dried.) “Their only child, wherever she went inside the house, she was surrounded by” (that second comma distorts the meaning and should be removed,) outside of (outside, just outside, no ‘of’,) “before continuing towards to the west” (either “towards” or “to”, not both,) “a posse of men and woman” (it’s possible only one woman was involved but it reads oddly,) “for hundreds of millions of year” (years,) automatons (automata,) “‘take it out in the duendes’” (on the duendes,) ambiance (ambience,) a tendency to use ‘her’ and ‘him’ where ‘she’ and ‘he’ are more grammatical, “for goodness’ sake” (if the apostrophe is there it ought to be goodness’s, best to leave it out altogether,) “‘she’ll always being able to support herself’” (always be able.) “There were also a number of” (there was a number,) “all the holes on the ground” (in the ground,) “‘a range of tawdry attractions are duly provided for them’” (a range of tawdry attractions is duly provided,) epicentre (centre,) “cheer fully” (was split over two lines without the necessary hyphen when “cheerfully” was meant,) “‘to see if Rico’s turned up If you run into him’” (needs a full stop after “up,”) “three young woman were smoking” (women,) engrained (ingrained.) “He had a mango in there He’d bought at the last village” (No capital H after “there”, ‘he’d bought’.)

Interzone 286, Mar-Apr 2020

 Interzone 286 cover

Val Nolan takes the Editorial and outlines how in his day job at Aberystwyth University he uses SF and Fantasy to help his students explore the genres’ pedagogical possibilities and delights. In Future Interrupted Andy Hedgecock ponders the creative impulse and suggests humans do this sort of thing because simply living isn’t enough. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories addresses the utility and pleasure of discovering the “Easter egg” (what’s wrong with the word ‘allusion’ by the way?) hidden in a film or piece of fiction. Book Zone starts with my reviews of Re-Coil by J T Nicholas (whose flaws and unexamined assumptions I point out) and Myke Cole’s Sixteenth Watcha which attempts to humanise military SF but to my mind falls short. Juliet E McKenna recommends The True Queen, Zen Cho’s not quite sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown, which succeeds splendidly on its own merits, and praises the brave writing choices. She also interviewsb the author. Val Nolan considers that Alastair Reynolds’s Bone Silence not only concludes the story arcs of the previous two books in his Revenger trilogy but enhances them, Stephen Theaker finds the anthology New Horizons: The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction edited by Tarun K Saint entertaining and stimulating and Sea Change by Nancy Kress a tense and enjoyable SF thriller. Duncan Lawiec says Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer stirs the subconscious, raising questions without asking them directly, making concrete the many worlds theory; but is also much more. Maureen Kincaid Speller worries that Rebecca Roanhorse’s use of Navajo myths and beliefs in the books Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts violates that culture’s well-documented protectiveness towards its heritage and, despite the fact they were fun to read, sees little except that background beyond the usual urban fantasy clichés.

As to the fiction:
In Cofiwich Aberystwyth1 by Val Nolan each segment has a Welsh language heading. Our narrator, Mila, is exploring for his vlog an Aberystwyth nuked some years before by crazed Brexiter Royal Navy mutineeers who were enraged that the Welsh Senedd was seeking independence from the UK. He has his own demons to contend with though.
Rocket Man by Louis Evans is the story of a US rocket pilot in a universe where navigational guidance systems are not reliable so interballistic missiles require humans to steer them. Every night he dreams of Moscow but by day he resolves that his mission is to miss. In time he finds his attitude is shared by his fellow US rocket men (and by those in the USSR.) A certain admiration is called for when an author takes the old injunction against stating ‘it was all a dream’ and turns it into a strength.
Organ of Corti2 by Matt Thompson follows a group of scientists through the deserts south of Madrid to investigate a series of huge towers resembling termitaries. The labyrinth they enter resembles the organ of Corti in the human ear and turns out to have been built by deliberately genetically modified ants, now gone rogue.
Carriers3 by James Sallis is a post-apocalypse story, the usual tale of mayhem and casual inhumanity leavened slightly by one of its characters being a medic.

Pedant’s corner:- a Coast Guards’ (here the Coast Guard is a single entity so “Coast Guard’s” – the file I sent had Coastguard’s as I had employed British usage.) b“I wanted to the book” (no ‘to’.) ca missing comma before and after a quote.
1“She fancied herself my producer, always been more comfortable programming the drones” (my producer, had always been,) “just as its inhabitants has left it” (had left it.) 2antenna (an ant has two of these, so, antennae [which was used later].) “The same acoustic phenomena repeated itself” either, phenomenon, or, themselves.) 3Written in USian, missing commaas before pieces of direct speech, “give them wide berth” (a wide berth,) “at city’s edge” (at the city’s edge,) “might of” (might have,) theirselves (themselves, the narrator does not show a tendency to carelessness with language elsewhere,) “from forest’s edge” (from the forest’s edge,) “by water’s edge” (by the water’s edge, apart from the incidences noted indefinite articles were not omitted elsewhere,) one missing opening quotation mark.

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