Thursday, December 17, 2009
Interzone serves up another unique mix of SF/F stories and non-fiction in its latest issue (#225). Unlike the previous issue, however, #225 takes a few more wild punches by delving into some less traditional areas of the speculative genre, with superheroes and witches gracing its pages. Unfortunately, I think the more varied approach in this particular issue makes it weaker than #224. Hopefully the fine folks at Interzone will go back to the more enjoyable styles of the previous issue, because I think the slightly more weird stories in that particular issue made it an excellent beginning point for a new subscriber like myself (I reviewed #224 here). #225 contains five new stories and their still amazing non-fiction section of book and movie reviews. Stories include "Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows" by Jason Sanford, "By Starlight" by Rebecca J. Payne, "The Killing Streets" by Colin Harvey, "Funny Pages" by Lavie Tidhar, and "Bone Island" by Shannon Page and Jay Lake. Fiction The stories for this issue didn't grab me in the same way as in #224. The strongest stories here, in my opinion, are "By Starlight" and "The Killing Streets," each somewhat unique in their own right and full of some interesting ideas, but none of the stories snatched me in like "Shucked" by Adrian Joyce or "Sublimation Angels" by Jason Sanford (both from #224). While I don't think many of the stories in this particular issue are bad, most left me wanting more. "By Starlight" takes place in a world of flying ships run by starlight, following a pair of women as they try to survive the treacherous skies of their world. I enjoyed the story, but felt that there needed to be more in terms of detail for the world, almost as though a short story is too simple for the kind of setting the author wanted to portray. Despite that, though, there's much to love about this story, particularly its sentimental nature and its fun, if incomplete, world. Much more could be said here, though, and I hope the author will take this tribal sky sailing concept to the longer format for a more enjoyable and in-depth read. "The Killing Streets" is somewhat more odd, utilizing the themes of betrayal and redemption in familiar ways, but set in a world where bizarre monsters called snarks attack people from below the ground and a terrible disease sweeps over the nation. The story unfolds a lot of interesting social dynamics, from the faults of protest movements to the disturbing level of social control governments will often go to in extreme circumstances. My only complaint with this story is that its ending was far too predictable for its own good. Despite there being a lot of interesting things going on with the snarks and the government (it's part dystopia and part horror), the lackluster plot took some of the flare away, leaving me wanting more, even if "more" would imply an artificial injection of adventure. Sanford's newest piece, "Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows," is sentimental in much the same way as "By Starlight," but places a heavy focus on the terror of a world overrun by strange creatures who live in the shadows. It's an interesting story, and I personally liked the emotional turmoil of the characters, but I felt like I had read this story somewhere before (in fact, it felt like a movie I had seen, like an episode of Doctor Who or Outer Limits). "Funny Pages," goes in the complete opposite direction by taking on the superhero/supervillian dichotomy in an obviously humorous way. Probably the most unique thing about this story is that it takes away the typical separation you see between hero and villain, placing many "enemies" in the same rooms (think of it as a way of bringing both sides down to Earth). The story was cute, but it did for me what most superhero novels tend to do: end up forgotten. I love superhero comics, but I have such a hard time taking seriously any superhero story written in prose form. A personal quirk, for sure, but I do recall at least enjoying "Funny Pages," but I don't expect that it will remain in memory for long. My least favorite story for this issue, however, would have to be "Bone Island." The story takes place on some island with witches and some guy with a bloody ax, but, to be honest, I can't remember what the story was really about. I think one part of the problem was my mistake in reading the little note from the authors on the front page that told me the story was based on a medical anomaly, which led me to spend the first few pages trying to figure it out. But, I never did figure that out and the way in which the authors approached the characters and the style left me bored, resulting in my complete disinterest in whatever was going on. Either this was due to a contrived attempt to be "literary," or simply my own personal disinterest in the subject matter. Either way, this is the one story that I didn't actually want to finish in #225. Non-fiction As with #224, I absolutely loved the non-fiction section of #225. Most of the book reviews pointed me to some interesting books I hadn't heard of before and Tony Lee and Nick Lowe tore into new DVD and movie releases with a vengeance. The style of attack is much the same as #224, which is not only enjoyable, but almost a form of storytelling in its own right. Lee and Lowe are a pair of unrelenting critics with the kind of knowledge most movie critics need today. They are the kind of writers I wish I could be in my own movie reviews, and I am learning much from them as a result. The magazine itself is almost worth paying the cover price just for the non-fiction. Overall, I think #225 is a mixed bag. While the non-fiction is stunning and brilliant, the fiction left me yearning for whatever was missing. I'm looking forward to #226, though, and hopefully there will be a return of some of that flare I saw in #224, something a little weird, a little speculative, and a lot of beautiful.