Interzone #279, January/February 2019

Monday, 31 December 2018 11:14 Victoria Silverwolf

Interzone #279, January/February 2019

"The Backstitched Heart of Katharine Wright" by Alison Wilgus

"The Fukinaga Special Chip Job" by Tim Chawaga
"This Buddhafield is Not Your Buddhafield" by William Squirrell
"For the Wicked, Only Weeds Will Grow" by G. V. Anderson
"Seven Stops Along the Graffiti Road" by David Cleden
"Terminalia" by Sean McMullen

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

The long-running British science fiction magazine bids farewell to the old year and welcomes in the new with half a dozen original works. Appropriately, some of the stories look to the past and others to the future.

The title character of "The Backstitched Heart of Katharine Wright" by Alison Wilgus is the sister of the famous inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright. At first, this story seems to be alternate history. It begins with Orville killed in a bicycle accident, long before the creation of the airplane. The reader soon discovers that Katharine has the ability to change the past, saving her brother's life. Although this extraordinary power remains unexplained, she knows she will only be able to use it a limited number of times. Other tragedies follow, which Katharine must erase from history, until she has only one more chance to fix things.

The author knows her subject very well, and makes the past come to life. (A brief note explains that she wrote a work of illustrated non-fiction about the Wrights.) The characters are depicted warmly, and their compassion for each other comes across clearly. Although the theme of changing the past is not a new one, this is a pleasant story about likable people.

"The Fukinaga Special Chip Job" by Tim Chawaga takes place at a future time when global flooding has led to a large number of sea-borne cities. The narrator is a professional scavenger hunter, searching for valuable items, legal or illegal, for his wealthy clients. His current assignment is to locate a supply of a particularly delicious flavor of potato chips, not manufactured for decades. (There are hints that it was flavored with dolphin meat.) Accompanied by his inept, snack-loving brother-in-law, he sets out on an odyssey through many of the cities in search of the edible treasure.

This absurd quest, and the misadventures of the brother-in-law, suggest that the story is a comedy. Nothing particularly hilarious happens. The plot mostly consists of the two wandering from city to city, coming up with nothing. The most enjoyable aspect of their journey is the description of various communities, each one with its own quirks. In a minor way, this reminds me of Italo Calvino's classic novel Invisible Cities.

The setting for "This Buddhafield is Not Your Buddhafield" by William Squirrell is a vast mansion orbiting Uranus. A woman is hired to spend the rest of her life alone inside it. The money goes to support her family. The owner of the habitat never spends any time inside it, nor does anyone else. The woman cannot make use of the mansion's many luxuries. She lives in a small room, cleaning the giant structure from top to bottom over and over again.

Other than its basic premise, this story has no plot. The author sets up the situation, then describes the woman's lonely, pointless existence. Half a page is spent giving the titles of two dozen books. These are merely a tiny sample of the mansion's gigantic library of classics, which the woman is forbidden to read. Although a powerful metaphor for the Haves and the Have Nots, a tale with very little happening is unlikely to engage the reader.

"For the Wicked, Only Weeds Will Grow" by G. V. Anderson involves a hospice for many different alien species. Before the story begins, plant-like aliens were enslaved for the sake of the narcotic chemicals they produced from their bodies. A group of these took control of the starship they were aboard and landed on a planet. The starship was converted into a refuge for the dying. A human being arrives, sent there against his will. At first, he refuses the comforts offered by the aliens. Later he learns how he can benefit them as well.

This is a gentle, moving story, certain to capture the reader's emotions. In addition to richly imagined aliens, the author offers important lessons about the cycle of life and the importance of co-operation.

"Seven Stops Along the Graffiti Road" by David Cleden takes place after an unspecified disaster changed society in a very strange way. The survivors do not remember what happened, only bits and pieces of their prior lives. Now they find themselves on a road, walking toward an unknown destination. The protagonist encounters several people during his journey. A little girl travels by herself. A woman struggles to remember her past. A married couple and their children try to live a normal existence in a bizarre new world. A weird and beautiful event offers new mysteries, and a touch of hope.

The author manages to depict a surreal situation in a completely convincing way. By describing the characters and setting in calm, clear, detailed language, the narration makes the unbelievable seem real. In a welcome change from tales of apocalypse, the people in this story care for each other, and work together.

We return to the past in "Terminalia" by Sean McMullen. The main character is a French doctor living in London in the early Twentieth Century. He is an expert in reviving patients who have suffered cardiac arrest. Three peculiar people kidnap him at gunpoint and force him to participate in an alarming experiment. One is a mechanical genius who invents incredible devices. Another is a female physician. The third seems to be an alluring young woman, but turns out to be the oddest of all. Their plan is to kill the physician, then have the protagonist bring her back to life. It all has to do with a conspiracy by the rich and powerful to reserve an unusual form of immortality for themselves.

This steampunk fantasy moves at a fast pace, and contains enough action to satisfy readers looking for a thrilling tale of intrigue and adventure. Its concepts are more original than its cast of characters. The young woman, in particular, although her real form is an imaginative creation, serves mostly as the kind of temptress often found in popular fiction.

Victoria Silverwolf remembers buying the first issue of Interzone.