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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Interzone #269, March/April 2017

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Interzone #269, March/April 2017

The Influence Machine” by Sean McMullen

A Death in the Wayward Drift” by Tim Akers
Still Life With Falling Man” by Richard E. Gropp
A Strange Kind of Beauty” by Christien Gholson
The Common Sea” by Steve Rasnic Tem

Reviewed by Kat Day

This issue of Interzone brings us five substantial short stories which range between five and ten thousand words. Four are science fiction and one is fantasy, and all feature characters who can see beyond the “normal” reality that everyone else perceives. Water, interestingly, is another recurrent theme. The illustrations in this magazine also deserve a mention – Richard Wagner has created some absolutely gorgeous images to accompany the first three stories in particular.

The Influence Machine,” by Sean McMullen is classic science fiction with clear influences of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells (both of whom get a mention in the narrative). The story is set in London at the very end of the nineteenth century, and McMullen has done his homeworkeverything is meticulously researched and beautifully described. We meet Inspector Albert Grant, an Associate of the Royal College of Science, who works for the Metropolitan Police as a sort of very early forensic science expert. He’s called to the scene when a woman, Lisa Elliot, is arrested after being found in possession of a strange, electricity-generating machine. Albert Grant could be a very interesting character—from a distance. The difficulty is that the story is written in first person, and his constant insecurities become wearing after a while. Several times he expresses the thought that the world “hates” him and I found myself wanting to tell him to get over himself! I simply didn’t want to constantly hear his thoughts. Written in third person, or perhaps from the point of view of his colleague, Sergeant Duncan (who displays likable flashes of wit), or even with a focus on Lisa Elliot, this could have been wonderful, but as it is, I’m afraid it left me rather cold.

A Death in the Wayward Drift,” by Tim Akers, is a dreamy story with a literary feel, combining science fiction with fantasy elements. It’s told from the point of view of Castaa who, we learn, is an initiate of the water caste. Her master sends her to swim deep below the surface of a strange lake, where it appears that there’s been some kind of machine malfunction, but things do not go smoothly. This is a story that requires some effort, as a lot of ideas and terminology are introduced quickly and with little preamble. The ending, I have to admit, left me with more questions than answers. But overall it’s a well-crafted piece and definitely worth a read.

In “Still Life With Falling Man,” by Richard E. Gropp, we return firmly to science fiction territory. We meet Julian, whose job is to hunt down “nexûs”—places where time has inexplicably slowed so much that it almost seems to be frozen, sometimes trapping people with it. We learn that ten seconds for such victims would last a little over twenty-seven million years, giving them (from their point of view) a speeded up journey to end of the universe. This story is a really clever take on the notion of relativity, and also tackles themes of relationships and the difficult idea of accepting oneself as a tiny part of an infinite reality. This was very much my favorite story in this issue.

A Strange Kind of Beauty,” by Christien Gholson, is a fantasy set in a desert community. Heoli is a “Vaithe”—someone who finds and translates prophecies. We’re told that they also lead the dead to the threshold of the underworld, and “keep the balance” of the world. She and her apprentice, Xicoh, follow a prophecy on a journey to the Acijua mountain range, a place which has traditionally been considered a place of death—and staunchly avoided. There are things to like in this story, but personally I felt it dragged a little, and there were sections towards the end which felt a bit labored. The ending provides a satisfying resolution, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this piece.

The Common Sea,” by Steve Rasnic Tem (who also writes the editorial in this issue) is set in a near-future where sea levels have risen so much that Tom and his extended family are living in a house sitting in water, raised up on stilts. The only form of travel is by boat. One day he sets off the “the Dock”—a collection of floating barges and platforms connected to a small strip of land. The normal trajectory of such a tale would be to describe a hopeless, dystopian future where everything is awful and everyone is downtrodden and depressed. It’s refreshing that Rasnic Tem doesn’t take this route—instead choosing to reflect on the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. A pleasing end to this issue of Interzone.

Kat Day writes the award-winning, non-fiction science blog The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at chronicleflask.com. She also has a fiction blog, at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.