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

Interzone #280, March/April 2019

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Interzone #280, March/April 2019

"Cyberstar" by Val Nolan

"And You Shall Sing to Me a Deeper Song" by Maria Haskins
"Coriander for the Hidden" by Nicholas Kaufmann
"Everything Rising, Everything Starting Again" by Sarah Brooks
"'Scapes Made Diamond" by Shauna O'Meara

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The 280th number of Interzone contains two fantasies and three science fiction tales (including a novelette) which feature some religion, revenge, redemption, reconfiguration, and romance. While none appealed to me, all are substantial and some may appeal to someone.

"Cyberstar" by Val Nolan

The first-person narrator describes in detail how he is having his eyes and even more important things removed as part of a procedure to fulfill his Abbot's mission for him. He is to become a sort of spaceship with a very important payload and fly from his home (a pair of bound asteroids) to God (the Sun) so that something amazing can happen. Once the surgeries are complete, he does.

As the synopsis indicates, this isn't for the squeamish or for anyone interested in an exciting plot of complex conflict. The majority of the story reads like a parody of ascetic masochism (perhaps of both the religious and science fictional kinds) but then it decoheres when the protagonist discovers what the reader knew all along and mixed messages involving the deceitful and truthful Abbot (and his fate) ensue. This near-novelette isn't so much SF as a contrived system of thematic imagery ending with a sort of pun.

"And You Shall Sing to Me a Deeper Song" by Maria Haskins

When a shot goes by Nysha, the war against the bots that's just ended forcefully comes back to her but, when it turns out to have been a mistake, she and the shooter make up and go to his settlement, where he can keep an eye on her if she's actually a Central Command fascist after all. Of course, she's not, but someone is, and the kids who get captured by the bad guys must be saved. Fortunately, she's got a big "splice-beast," a re-purposed bot-gun, and her technologically enhanced singing voice which can work magic on man and bot alike.

This features the second improbably modified protagonist in a row. The military SF aspects of this are unconvincing (a bot-gun with a slow rate of fire—120 rpm—which needs to be reloaded after killing one man and an implausible sonic weapon) and the "art vs. tyranny" motif is so tired it makes me cry but it's otherwise effective in a rote way.

"Coriander for the Hidden" by Nicholas Kaufmann

Suriel is an angel who's supposed to guard flowers but eventually gets assigned to slaughter the Egyptian children as a lesson to Pharoah. Suriel doesn't like this task at all and figures out a way to make it a little less unbearable.

The theme of bucking the system for what it's worth has many predecessors, perhaps the most recent one being Sean McMullen's "The Washer from the Ford" (F&SF, January/February 2019); even some of the events which illustrate it are similar though this uses a Christian mythos (with a nice concluding element) and the other used a sort of Celtic one.

"Everything Rising, Everything Starting Again" by Sarah Brooks

These days, when people die (and they're doing so frequently), their souls are manifesting as butterflies. This is causing such a multitude of personal traumas (including a domino effect of people becoming butterfly junkies) that it's also wrecking society. Our protagonist has lost a close friend and has more loss in store.

This sort of story which literalizes the death/change motif (Natalia Theodoridou's "The Birding: A Fairy Tale" (Strange Horizons, December 18, 2017) for example) is also very common, as is the ending which never appeals to me. The "fantastic within the prosaic" element is done well, though.

"'Scapes Made Diamond" by Shauna O'Meara

Graeyan narrates how Alec and Satoi were married and employees of Expollo, who breed and slaughter aliens for a magic substance which makes starflight possible. He has an affair with Alec and they discover that the aliens are a sentient hivemind. An inadvertently comical plan to free the aliens goes awry with the result that Graeyan has spent the last 27 years in jail. Now the main alien is dying and, with its psychic contacts with the three, manages to bring them together for its final plan.

That plan and the human's limitations and abilities (especially Satoi's) are contrived and unsatisfying. This novelette starts out feeling like it's going to be something like James Tiptree, Jr.'s tale of alien slaughter for human greed, Brightness Falls from the Air (1985), but turns into a self-absorbed romance story which focuses on the triangle and uses the alien as a narrative device as the two men relive events through the alien's psychic impulses.

Incidentally, Analog must not have gotten the memo because it had no reference to Debussy. Of the March/April printzines, Asimov's has Debussy in a title, F&SF has a reference to Debussy in a title, and this Interzone story mentions Debussy in the body.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.