While I flew through this book and, therefore, obviously enjoyed it, its flaws prevent me from giving it a high rating. Perhaps surprisingly,...more2.5 stars
While I flew through this book and, therefore, obviously enjoyed it, its flaws prevent me from giving it a high rating. Perhaps surprisingly, given the pedigree of some of the authors involved, chief amongst these flaws are some passages of startlingly bad writing. I mean, sentences or paragraphs that I would re-read thinking I must have misread them the first time around they were so badly constructed. I really should have kept notes as there were several. I remember one being something like “They outnumbered our numbers.” Wow, really?
Many of these read like editing problems - or, rather, a lack of editing. Any half-decent editor should surely have picked up these clumsy sentences. I’m not sure how the seven named authors worked together but I suspect that is the major issue, more care being taken in constructing the storyline and making sure the styles matched as closely as possible than actually ensuring the writing works. Perhaps all the glaring faults can be attributed to one of the authors and the others felt unable to cut him out. There was also some glaringly anachronistic language. I know that, unless it were written in Latin, Old French and Mongolian it can hardly be accurate, but some sentences and words just jumped out at me as inappropriate. For instance, there is the constant use of the word “ass” in its modern American meaning, sometimes in quite rapid succession. Again, this is just bad writing; grab a thesaurus and use alternatives: backside, posterior, rump. Actually, I am beginning to suspect that this and the terrible writing may be able to be laid at the door of the same member of the authoriat.
The book actually reads as though it is the write-up of a Roleplaying campaign - albeit rather a dull one - and the descriptions at the back of the dramatis personae, complete with ink line sketches, further reinforces this. (Spotting whether authors are roleplayers is actually something of a hobby of mine; you can often spot the tell-tale signs).
The characters are engaging enough, although not especially well drawn - and some of the shield-brethren have the air of cardboard cut-outs with a single defining characteristic to distinguish them. Again, something that made me think of extras in an RPG.
Not unexpectedly from a book from Neal Stephenson (although I have no way of knowing whether he wrote these particular sections) there is the occasional, sometimes heavy-handed, infodump, but I still felt that the world was under-explained, the setting unclear perhaps because the authors could picture it but failed to get that across to the reader. I couldn’t tell whether this was straight historical fiction, or history with a slant. At times I found myself wishing it was written by Mary Gentle and then, not only would we get her superb writing, but the wonderfully fleshed out reality of the historical setting would be shot through with fantastical anomalies that both enhanced it and made the reader examine it more closely.
All this said, the first volume of this series was an enjoyable read and I will probably continue with the series. The setting seemed to solidify somewhat toward the close, perhaps due to the style becoming more uniform or maybe simply because of to the gradual build up of detail, and I am intrigued to see how the arc of the two stories will intersect. As well as, perhaps, to find out whether the events are broadly historical or introduce elements that would never be found in the most detailed history of that time. (less)
I was a regular reader of Interzone magazine back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, along with Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF on occasion. The publication in...moreI was a regular reader of Interzone magazine back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, along with Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF on occasion. The publication introduced me to some fine writers, many of whom went on to great things (or were already well-established and I had simply not come across them before).
I stumbled upon it again recently, pleased to find that the magazine is still going - now published by TTA press, having replaced their periodical The Third Alternative, rather than John Clute and David Pringle - and decided, on a whim, to take out a subscription. I’m glad I did.
Although in a smaller, glossier format than it used to be, much is as it was those years ago; a wide range of book reviews, Nick Lowe’s Mutant Popcorn film coverage and the great David Langford’s Ansible Link, a round-up of SF news, gossip and too many obituaries. And, of course, the stories.
I had heard of none of the writers in issue 252 before now, but will definitely be seeking several of them out in the future. The opening main feature, The Posset Pot by Neil Williamson is classic Interzone fodder; a weird, bleak post-apocalypse set story about loss and holding on to hope, little more than a vignette but enough to interest me, along with the interview with Williamson, to interest me in his new novel, The Moon King.
The Mortuaries by Katherine E. K. Duckett is likewise bleak, in a US where despite overpopulation due to the rising sea levels and dwindling resources, the dead are preserved and displayed a la Gunther von Hagens. Deliberate references to Make Room! Make Room! its movie, Soylent Green.
Val Nolan’s Diving Into The Wreck is similarly about preserving the past at the expense of looking toward the future, this time about the search for the lunar module that still sits somewhere in the dusty regolith.
Sleepers by the superbly named Bonnie-Jo Stufflebeam is odd and melancholy (definitely a theme here), the narrator keeping watch over her dying father while strange half-seen creatures run through the night and fascinate and terrify everybody.
The two stand out stories are the barely (if at all) SF A Brief Light by Claire Humphrey about a family dealing with loss and the funny and indescribable Two Truths and a Lie from Oliver Buckram where a relationship that may or may not be with an alien is plotted out over instants taken from a year, each described with the titular two truths and a lie.
As this is the first taste of my return to Interzone I'm not sure whether the downbeat, somber tone struck by the majority of the stories is typical, although I do remember that was often the case before - leavened by glints of hope and humour, to be sure, but Interzone always seemed to revel in its rather bleak reputation. Regardless, I am enjoying again an Interzone reader and am looking forward to the invention and quirkiness and independence that its semi-prozine status always allowed it to cultivate. And I'm sure I shall, once again, discover many great writers herein.(less)