The November/December issue of the British SFF magazine is a Jason Sandford special, focusing on the work of this US writer. He has already had several highly-regarded short stories published in Interzone which I have reviewed in previous posts, and this issue features three new ones. There is also a long interview (with Andy Hedgecock) in which he explains his view that a new form of genre writing is developing, which he dubs SciFi Strange. He says this "sets high literary standards, experiments with style, is infused with a sense of wonder, takes the idea of diverse sexuality for granted, focuses on human values and needs, and explores the boundaries of reality and experience through philosophical speculation." Which all sounds very impressive, but for me bottom line is simply "is it a good read?"
Peacemaker, Peacemaker, Little Bo Peep (illustrated by Warwick Fraser-Coombe) is the first of his stories. The population of the USA is gradually fragmenting into a patchwork of lynch mobs trilling "Peace!" as they slaughter not just criminals but anyone using violence - including police officers and soldiers. A policewoman escapes with the aid of a serial killer and discovers the chilling truth behind the frenzy.
Memoria (illustrated by Richard Wagner) is next up. Spacecraft travel between parallel worlds, but there is a price to be paid by some of the crew; possession by ghosts of the dead. Criminals escape jail by volunteering to be the "shields" to experience this, gradually losing their memories and minds from the impact of the series of imposed personalities. But it all goes wrong when a new sort of possession afflicts one crew, and they learn why civilisations on parallel Earths have destroyed themselves.
Millisent Ka Plays in Realtime (illustrated by David Senecal) completes the trio of Jason Sandford stories. A future in which the economy runs on time - people's life time. Whenever a citizen wants something - to be educated or to be healed, or just to shop - the price is paid in the form of a specified period of time, ranging from seconds to years, for which they are committed to serve the Lord who provides such services. Their accumulated debt is burned into their genes so it can never be lost. But what might happen if someone discovers that the system isn't infallible? A young musician finds out.
So, do Sandford's stories live up to the billing? The plots are complex and the reader only gradually discovers what is going on; they need careful reading - some passages more than once - which might absorb some readers and irritate others. His writing is to a high standard, the ideas are original, there is a strong "sense of strange" infusing each one (particularly Memoria), and, yes, they are good reads.
There are two other stories in this issue:
The Shoe Factory by Matthew Cook, illustrated by Ben Baldwin. A man keeps being distracted from his solitary mission on a doomed spacecaft by spells of reliving a past life with a former girlfriend. Can he escape by recreating his former existence? A strange story with a complex structure; I wasn't sure what was going on until the end (and I wasn't entirely certain even then).
The Shipmaker by Aliette de Bodard, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A story set in this author's "Xuya continuity", an alternative Earth in which the Chinese discovered America before Columbus. A Grand Master of Design Harmony, responsible for integrating all of the aspects of a spaceship project ready for the new Mind which will be uniquely capable of transforming the ship into a viable entity, is thrown into a crisis when the Mind is born too soon. There is an appealingly lyrical flavour to this author's writing.
In addition, the usual book, film and DVD reviews are present and correct, and I notice that a favourite TV series from my young adulthood, The Avengers Series Five (the first series in colour) is now available on DVD, featuring the wonderful Diana Rigg as the action woman Emma Peel. That should brighten up a lot of lives.