Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Interzone 234

An early post this time, since I'll be otherwise occupied later in week. So while you read this one, you have to imagine that it's next weekend....

Among the regular columnists in the British SFF magazine is David Langford, whose Ansible Link is a compilation of news items about SFF and authors, usually with an amusing twist. There's always something to raise a smile, but one item in the May/June issue of Interzone made me roar with laughter, so here it is, from Australia's Herald Sun:

A 'Sci-Fi and Fantasy Friendly Church Service' near Melbourne, encouraging fans to come in costume and hear moral lessons from The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars, was frowned on by a rival pastor: "I don't have a problem with people enjoying sci-fi, but church isn't the place to encourage escapism and fancy dress," Mentone Baptist minister Murray Campbell said.

The featured writer is David Wingrove, author of the Chung Kuo series, interviewed by Ian Sales who also reviews his book Son of Heaven. Another author who is new to me; the name Chung Kuo rings a distant bell but I've never read any of the books. Those who do recall the eight-volume series (published 1989-97), set in a future dominated by China, may be interested to know that Wingrove has revised and extended his world - to no fewer than twenty volumes. Son of Heaven is the first of two prequels which explain how the present Western civilisation ends, while the final four books will be added to the other end of the timescale. Since I am something of a completist and don't like starting a series I might not finish (although I must admit I do that a lot more than I used to), I regard such a massive work with some trepidation, but it sounds as if it might be worth a try.

Five short stories this time:

Sleepers by John Ingold, illustrated by Mark Pexton. An intermittent conversation between a monk and an elderly man, set in a future in which a lightgate established in the Solar System by a past alien civilisation had been discovered a century before and used to travel to Centauri. But the habitable planet they discovered offered such challenges as to destroy the attempted colonisation, leading to the shut-down of the lightgate. Now, as the protagonists discuss the past and the future prospects of such exploration, another attempt is to be made - but do the rumoured hostile Centaurons actually exist?

In the Season of the Mango Rains by Lavie Tidhar. A short, atmospheric piece about a doomed emotional relationship in a strange future world.

The Ceiling is Sky by Suzanne Palmer, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A far-future dystopia in a crowded and cheerless world, in which those who have not achieved the dizzy heights of a permanent job have to compete ferociously for short-term contracts which just might, if they are very good and very lucky, lead to a job offer. Such a contract worker is recruited onto a team to plan the technicalities of a project to strip-mine a beautiful world against the wishes of the residents. He is the best at his job, but is targeted for special attention by the residents.

Her Scientifiction, Far Future, Medieval Fantasy by Jason Sandford, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A long story, set in a generations-long part-virtual medieval world controlled by an AI. There are some human inhabitants who live their mock-medieval lives for the benefit of huge numbers of "expers" who experience their world through full-immersion virtual reality. Kris is a teenage princess and, a rarity, someone who was actually born in that world. She would also much rather be somewhere else. But there are complications with dragons, chivalric knights, and an AI which could turn nasty if enough of the expers decided that they didn't like you…

Incompatible by Will McIntosh, illustrated by Mark Pexton. A mysterious and terrifying affliction has ruined the lives of two people, but when they happen to discover each other they both have to face up to their fears.

An interesting variety of unusual stories, as Interzone often manages to deliver. Sandford's story is (as usual) outstanding, but I also liked Palmer's tale, despite my usual prejudice against dystopias.


Fred said...

I've got the first book in the Chung Kuo series, but I've never gotten around to reading it. Now that I learn that it's grown to 20 volumes, I'm not sure I will ever start it.

And being somewhat obsessive about reading order, I would prefer to begin with the two prequels. When is the second prequel due out?

I tend to avoid long running series, which would be another problem. Do you think the series is really worth the effort?

Anthony G Williams said...

I'm not sure, Fred, but judging by the interview the original first book was only OK - the quality improved through the series.

I'm inclined to buy the first of the new books to see if I like the ideas and the writing, then take it from there if I do.

The interview wasn't explicit, but I had the impression that the new series was pretty well done already, so the various novels should be appearing without too much delay.

roy said...

I read several of the original series and was intrigued but I always felt there was a big characterisation flaw in the first volume and when the last couple in the series were delayed, for me, I got out of the habit and never read the final volumes.

I still have an unread one somewhere.

The series would require extensive rewrites to cope with all the new history and technology since the original. 20 volumes is too many for me. It would be out of date by the time I get to the last few, should I live that long.

Anthony G Williams said...

I take your point Roy. I still might try the first new volume, but given the time commitment in reading 20 volumes, it would have to be brilliant to persaude me to get the rest.