The usual engrossing mix of SFF news, book, film and TV reviews and short stories in the Jan-Feb 2010 issue of the British magazine, which this time has a cover by Warwick Fraser-Coombe. As usual, I'll focus on the stories:
Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas by Jason Sandford, illustrated by Ben Baldwin: a young woman in a coastal village finds the names of local sailors running across her body - the names burn when they are dying.
Hibakusha by Tyler Keevil, illustrated by Mark Pexton: a man makes a dangerous pilgrimage to where his lover died in the ruins of a London hit by a dirty atomic bomb.
In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty by Mercurio D. Rivera, illustrated by Jim Burns: against a strange background in which humanity's access to space is aided by aliens who believe we are just wonderful, an abandoned husband chases across the solar system after his drugged wife and her abductor.
Human Error by Jay Lake, illustrated by Daniel Bristow-Bailey: mining the asteroids - and the consequences of finding something decidedly unnatural.
Again and Again and Again, by Rachel Swirsky: generational rebellion comes full circle.
Aquestria by Stephen Gaskell, illustrated by Jim Burns: a human-colonised world is decaying and dying; what does this have to do with a strange, tortured man?
A varied mix as usual, although none especially stood out for me this time.
This issue contained the Readers' Poll for the best stories and artworks published in Interzone in 2009 (issues 220-225). It wasn't too difficult to select the artist who produced the best cover, since all of them were by Adam Tredowski. This was a treat, since I really enjoy his style of art; bizarre conjunctions of alien landscapes and vast unidentifiable machinery painted with an almost photographic realism. Visual SF at its best. If really pushed, I think I'd choose the cover of issue 224 to hang on my wall.
The short stories are tougher, largely because they have such varied styles that they are difficult to compare. However, looking back at what I said about them in this blog, I'd pick out four as particularly intriguing me:
Will McIntosh: A Clown Escapes from Circus Town (#221)
"a bizarre tale of a world in which clowns and other circus characters are the sole occupants of a town. One escapes to find similar towns scattered around the countryside, each inhabited by a different occupation. What's the explanation, and why do the inhabitants keep disappearing? A story which is amusing but also rather sad; just like circus clowns."
Sean McMullen: Mother of Champions (#222)
"cheetahs are not at all what we think – they have evolved to perfection!"
Jason Sanford: Sublimation Angels (#224)- a novella.
"...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."
Shannon Page & Jay Lake: Bone Island (#225)
"a remote present-day island, where different kinds of magic still hold sway in parallel with our normal world, sees two fearsome women battling over possession of a young man with a gift - and a responsibility."