The September-October issue of this British SF magazine contains a departure from normal practice; instead of six short stories, there is one novella and four others.
The novella is Sublimation Angels by Jason Sandford, who has previously had a couple of well-liked, intriguing and rather weird short stories published in Interzone. This one is set in a distant, star-travelling future when humanity is largely managed by its AIs. The Aurals, incorporeal but powerful beings of light and energy, have been discovered but have refused to communicate except to a small group of explorers sent to occupy a remote planet in which the atmosphere has been frozen into solid form. Over the generations, the explorers revert to a primitive existence, always short of air (which has to be sublimated from its frozen state) and of warmth. The story focuses on the lives of some of these explorers and their relationship with the Aurals.
I was strongly reminded of Fritz Leiber's short story A Pail of Air which Sanford acknowledges in his dedication. This is set on a frozen Earth which has become detached from the Sun and despatched into interstellar space. The survivors, living underground, are forced to don spacesuits and venture onto the surface to scoop up buckets of frozen air to take back inside. Sublimation Angels is a well-written and involving tale, although I suspect that Leiber's much simpler but visceral and gritty story of survival will stay with me for longer.
No Longer You by Katherine Sparrow & Rachel Swirsky concerns a relationship in which the woman has a far more than singular interest in the man…a strange tale of multiple personalities.
Shucked by Adrian Joyce is a surreal horror story about the spirit of a demonic hound able to absorb and animate people – and even a coffee machine (that explains a lot…).
The Godfall's Chemsong by Jeremiah Tolbert is set on a planet among intelligent aliens who live on the seabed, communicating by scent – "chemsong" – and living off "godfall"; bodies which fall from above. Surely the first time that humans have featured in a story solely as carrion.
The Festival of Tethselem by Chris Butler initially has what appears to be a traditional plot in which a pair of thieves visit a planet to steal a sacred statue, only to discover that the statue has some very peculiar properties indeed, providing an unexpected ending.
Illustrations are by Adam Tredowski with an atmospheric cover of a landscape full of alien structures (I like that sort of thing – it reminds me of what first drew me to SF), with Paul Drummond, Mark Pexton, Dave Senecal and Martin Bland illustrating the stories.
Other features include an interview with Robert Holdstock focusing on his new book, Avilion. I must get this one as it is a sequel to Mythago Wood, the eerie tale of ancient wood magic which made a strong impression on me when I read it a couple of decades ago. There are several other book reviews as well as the usual emphasis on recent films and TV programmes. In the news section, I was sorry to hear of the death of Paul O. Williams (no relation – as far as I know) an academic who published the impressive seven-book Pelbar Cycle in the early 1980s, a complex tale set in a far-future USA which has reverted to a more primitive level of existence. I still have my set to re-read sometime.
I recently saw Angels and Demons, the film based on the Dan Brown book. From what I can recall of the book, the film follows its plot quite closely (which is not much of a compliment). This results in the pace being frantic and the characterisation minimal. As such things go, it's not a bad popcorn movie but it takes itself too seriously; there isn’t an (intended) smile in the whole film. Probably best enjoyed with a slightly drunken audience making ribald remarks at (in)appropriate moments. One minor detail for car enthusiasts: a new Lancia Delta is given a prominent role (I wonder how much they paid for that?). Lancias have of course not been imported into the UK for over twenty years since they demonstrated a positively alchemical ability to convert car body steel into rust. They keep promising to return, but no sign so far.