I was at the British Library on Saturday where I saw the very first issue of Interzone, No.1 Vol.1. It was back from the days when magazines would appear as 'Volumes', a practice that seems quite hard to understand these days. I think people used to collect magazines and put them in binders, but I don't know many collectors who would still hole-punch their magazines for binding.
Anyway, let's call this new issue No.7 from Vol.20 for old time's sake. Or perhaps we could call it 'A Very Good Issue (Apart From the Cover)'.
Insha'Allah by Matthew Cook addresses concerns about Islamic society, in particular the role of women and the potential strength of the Mullahs in dictating the law. Science fiction often uses metaphor or extrapolation to make serious points about the way we live today. This story makes its points absolutely straight up with only a sprinkling of sci-fi in the background. It could be set in modern Afghanistan and be about a crashed fighter pilot, but the enemy being fought are the E'k, the fighter pilot has implants and technology under her skin and there are hints that the battle is taking place in the near future.
However, it drew on Islamic culture to portray a convincing and rich world within its story-frame. The importance of ritual is emphasised, but there is the implied hypocrisy of the system too. Shaomi the nurse realises that the ejector-seat that brought the Captain down could have equipment to help save her life, but when she sends her assistant out to bring the chair back she finds that it has been gutted; everything has been stolen from it, including the first aid kit.
I enjoyed this story, even though the sci-fi setting might have been unnecessary. It was still a great story.
For Love's Delirium Haunts The Fractured Mind by Mercurio D. Rivera has a fine wordy title, but I'd have preferred something a little less lyrical. Still, it's an accurate description of the states-of-minds of the Wergens, an alien race who are chemically predisposed to affection towards humans. Joriander is an ambassador for the Wergens, but he is treated as little less than a servant. None of the humans in the story are remotely sympathetic. Lady Madeline comes across as vaguely tolerant, while young 'Master' Alex is an uncaring little sod. Joriander still offers them unconditional love, but it's put to the test when his brother arrives and gives him a chemical inhaler that would inhibit his love for the humans.
The story plays with the idea of whether love is purely chemical, or whether there needs to be a deeper connection. It also shows how humanity would probably behave if we encountered a species who offered us unconditional love - we would turn them into slaves. It might have been interesting to have shown some difference of opinion amongst the humans, but as the viewpoint of the story is entirely from Joriander it succeeds in making them seem like a totally uncaring oppressor.
The Walrus and The Icebreaker by Jon Wallace reminded me a little of Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, not for its content but for its setting and tone. I loved the sheer bleakness of these desperate men squabbling over the last drops of oil in the arctic.
However, I missed a small but important detail in one of the opening paragraphs that would have put a different complexion on the story. The narrating character is Doctor Lewis, who is training a walrus to carry torpedoes into battle, avoiding the chaff and the radar nets that the other ships employ. Reading the first page again, it turns out Doctor Lewis was a woman. I did wonder why all the sailors were pestering him for sex all the way through, it would have made more sense if he was a she.
I know, I thought I was reading it quite carefully but it turns out not. Ahem! It was a really decent story though and I found the ending particularly satisfying. The only issue with it is that there's no indication of how the walrus was able to dive deeper than 200 meters. It seemed that the explanation might be a key part of the plot, but it was never expanded on. It's only a minor point though.
Eleven Minutes by Gareth L. Powell is essentially a one-joke story, but it's quite a pleasing little joke. Compared to everything else that's been in Interzone for the last five years, it was incredibly light-hearted and it made for a refreshing change. It's a bit like watching every Presidential Inauguration speech one after another and finding that one of the Presidents wears clown shoes.
The conversation about parallel worlds that Carl and Gary engage in was a bit familiar, but it had a good punchline. The use of the eleven minute gap between sending a command out to the Mars Rover and getting a response was employed very successfully, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue as the two NASA slobs spot things on their cameras that simply shouldn't be there. Being British, I found the ending quite delightful, though I don't know how it would translate to other countries, such as America. It was also a bit Robert-Rankin-esque.
Of Dawn by Al Robertson was the BIG ONE. I loved that it seemed to be built around a 3am Open University documentary. OU broadcasts are among the scariest and most surreal experiences that a mind can have, especially given their ultra-late-night slot. It's a time of day when you should be either sleeping, doing a night-shift or up to no good and yet there's a scary looking man on the telly explaining quadratic equations. With a Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack!
Sadly, the Workshop wasn't in evidence. This was about a violinist named Sarah, who's brother Peter died on duty in Northern Ireland. Sarah's mind is totally crushed by her brother's death and she falls into a depression.
I enjoyed 'Of Dawn', but I have no idea how the elements of the story fit together. There's Sarah's prickly Aunt; the abandoned village of Parr Hinton; the Wiltshire countryside; Satyrs; wax cylinders; randomly arranged music and all sorts going on. It's as if the musical cylinders are a key to something, but we never quite find out what. So I found this story baffling, but in a pleasing way.
Overall then - A whole issue of Interzone without a single stinker! All of the artwork inside was pretty good too, it's just that cover which lets the show down. Ah well, who cares, I'm going to imagine my own 'Vol 20 Issue 7' cover and use the artwork from 'For Love's Delirium Haunts The Fractured Mind'.