Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Interzone 211

For the uninitiated, Interzone is a British SFF magazine currently celebrating its 25th anniversary year. It has been through various changes in that time, and is now a glossy, full-colour, 60-70 page mixture of news, reviews, interviews and short stories, published every other month. There is a strong emphasis on art, with named artists producing illustrations for the stories as well as the cover, and artist as well as author bios often provided. The news is in the form of David Langford's Ansible Link (wryly humorous insider chat) and the reviews of books, manga and (especially) films and TV programmes have a tendency towards erudition.

I have had an on-off relationship with the magazine, subscribing for a while in the early 1990s before dropping it because I wasn't getting around to reading them. Now that I'm focusing much more on reading and writing SFF, a few months ago I decided to subscribe again. I am not a natural short story fan – when I think of SFF I think of settling down to a good novel – but I've being toying with the idea of trying to write some, and magazines like Interzone are a good way of becoming familiar with the kind of work which is popular these days.

I find the stories which appear in Interzone a very mixed bag: they include everything from quite traditional to experimental. Regular readers of this blog (hi, how are you both?) will have realised that I am a traditionalist myself, so I usually find stories to like and dislike in each issue. I do not like stories where the reader has no idea what is going on until all is explained in the final paragraph, and, even less, ones in which the author is impressing himself so much with his obscure and oblique writing style that the story becomes impenetrable (you know who you are…).

So to Issue 211. This is a Michael Moorcock special, featuring a long interview, an extract from his memoir of Mervyn and Maeve Peake, a short story (The Affair of the Bassin Les Hivers) and an extract from a work in progress: a novel titled London, My Life, or The Sedentary Jew. I have also had something of an on-off (remote) relationship with Moorcock, this time starting in the 1960s. Over the years his output has varied greatly in genre, style and quality. I still have his Elric saga, a classic fantasy series, and Gloriana, and more recently have enjoyed Mother London and King of the City – which are mainstream novels with nothing sfnal about them. Both of his fiction contributions to this issue of Interzone start with a large infodump to set the scene. Unusual these days – especially in a short story – and I wonder what progress that one would have made out of the slush pile if it had been sent in by an unknown author. That story introduces a lot of strange characters in a strange environment, and doesn't work too well as a stand-alone; too many introductions, not enough conclusions.

There are three other longish stories, plus a rather sardonic piece Elevator Episodes in Seven Genres by Ahmed A. Khan, which tell a very short story, switching between genre conventions as it does so. For once, all of the stories are conventional and thereby eminently readable. Exvisible by Carlos Hernandez is the least successful for me, about a man paying to have his estranged, terminally-ill, father downloaded onto a hard drive. I was unable to relate to his emotions and reactions. Deer Flight by Aliette de Bodard is a very traditional fantasy about shape changers, wood magic and love; but the stand-out for me is Knowledge by Grace Dugan. A student starts to see faint numbers appearing over people's heads. She realises (almost as soon as the reader) that these numbers are indicating how many days everyone has left to live, down to a hundredth of a day. I usually forget short stories quite quickly, but I feel that this one will stick in my memory.

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