Saturday 30 August 2008

Interzone 217

In a complete contrast with Interzone 216, the special "Mundane SF" issue, the six stories in the latest issue of the British SFF magazine are emphatically "non-Mundane"; they all feature elements of the fantastic, aliens or deep space travel.

Africa by Karen Fishler (illustrated by Paul Drummond: also featuring on the cover): It is the very far future. Humanity has been banished from Earth by all-powerful aliens (apparently for making a complete mess of it) and now survives only in vast spaceships travelling the Galaxy. And in the form of the Guardians orbiting the Earth, whose task it is to prevent humanity from returning to the planet which has been completely cleansed of their works and allowed to revert to a wild state. There are only two Guardians left, when a spaceship materialises nearby.

The Two-Headed Girl by Paul G Tremblay: A strange fantasy about a girl and her constantly-changing second head. I first assumed that it was a figment of her imagination, but it seems not…

The Ships Like Clouds, Risen by their Rain by Jason Sanford (illustrated by Vincent Chong): Another story in which it is difficult to grasp entirely what's going on, even at the end. A settlement on a strange world constantly battered by violent storms brought by "spaceships" which at first seem to be clouds. But it is strictly forbidden to dig downwards, because of what people might find there…

Concession Girl by Suzanne Palmer (illustrated by Darren Winter): A more conventional tale concerning a human space station being visited by aliens trying to resolve their differences, and the unexpected diplomatic role played by a girl selling hot dogs.

Little Lost Robot by Paul McAuley (illustrated by Paul Drummond): A different take on Saberhagen's Berserker series, this time seen from the viewpoint of an ancient but still all-powerful robotic killer spaceship. Problems arise when the ship detects signs of life in a system which seems strangely familiar.

Comus of Central Park (illustrated by Paul Drummond): An amusing parable about a woman living in New York who finds a faun (half man, half goat) in Central Park, and the mayhem which follows when she introduces him to society.

A very varied and interesting collection, all of them worth the read. Somewhat to my surprise, the one which intrigued me most was Jason Sandford's tale. Even though it was difficult to figure out precisely what was going on, there was enough to stop me from getting lost and it was strongest in that "sense of strange" which features in the best SFF.

There are the usual news and extensive review sections, the latter focusing more on film and TV than books, with no less than nine pages on the visual media, covering not just major studio releases such as the X-Files, Indiana Jones, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk, plus TV series Torchwood and Sliders, but lesser-known genre films from Japan and Korea.

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