Tangent Reviews

Interzone 134, August 1998

from Tangent online

In an often surprising interview, Mary Doria Russell, whose first novel The Sparrow has seen as much praise and as many awards as any book in the field in years, reveals that after The Sparrow's sequel is published, her third book will be about the Jewish underground in Genoa under the Nazi occupation. Her editor's reaction “was to sit quietly for a little bit, then lean back and say, 'I'm so glad you're not going to turn out to be a science-fiction writer.'”

Well. On the other hand, there is much to be said for the audience of science fiction readers. Any group willing to accept stories as totally different in tone, content, quality, and setting as are displayed in this issue of Interzone under the common banner of "science fiction & fantasy" is a group to be treasured.

Russell's editor, for example, would almost certainly never get past the bad dialog and clunky exposition that opens Alastair Reynold's "Stroboscopic." Veteran sf readers, conversely, will likely plow through to the end. They will have been trained to know that any story with writing this awful that still gets published must be a hard science extravaganza. And it is, a scientific puzzle story in which the gamesman hero must solve the mystery of an ecology that has developed on a planet whose only light comes once every 72 seconds from its nearby pulsar.

And, unlike the editor lady, who would develop whiplash, sf readers no doubt can easily handle the shock cut from a pulsar to our middle distant past in Michael Bishop's "Sequel on Skorpiós." In this gentle story about the meaning of faith, certain to offend many, an opiated Yeshua is taken from his cross and spirited to the island of Skorpiós, where an even worse fate awaits him. As in the more famous version, a miracle also lies at the end of this tale.

Mary, in Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's novelette, "Who Have No Eyes," knows from the age of eight that she will someday go blind and tells herself for 17 years that the reality will not be a tragedy. When the day comes she is, in the author's deliberate irony, playing the blind lead in a production of Wait Until Dark. She welcomes the darkness. But does she welcome it too much? Her doctor tells her nothing organically is wrong, that her blindness is, in the technical term, hysterical. Hysterical is a better word for those around her when they find out, especially her lover and eventual husband, David, who can never come to terms with what is to him the worse of afflictions, and to her the most blessed of gifts. "Who Have No Eyes" is, despite a paragraph at the end, completely mainstream, and it is also completely disturbing. Russell's editor would love it.

It only seems that Alexander Glass has been in every single issue of Interzone since his debut; he has missed one. He returns with yet another vignette about yet another self-aware artificial intelligence, this one a probe in deepest space suffering from memory loss. It may be time for him to find a new subject and a new length. I wanted wonder and I thought I had found it in this sentence: “It was the Flores-Stravic Point, the point at which the four-dimensional sphere of the universe began to intersect with itself.” Unfortunately, the very next sentence begins: “The probe had no time to consider the implications of this...” Pity.

"Toast: A Con Report" lives up to its name, although it is an Association for Retrocomputing Meta-Machinery con that Charles Stross gives us. He flips back and forth faster and faster between a future so advanced he can't describe it to us and early 90's hip references until they intersect in their own Flores-Stravic Point several pages before the story actually ends.

Cherry Wilder wanders through interstices rather than intersections in her novelette, "The Bernstein Room." The nameless editor, who would surely have flipped rapidly past the previous two stories, would just as surely linger here, if only to determine where among the possibilities of science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, and magic realism Wilder would finally settle. Bernstein is the German word for "amber," and the art gallery owner/protagonist uses the pun to design an "environment," an exhibit based on Leonard Bernstein's music and a recreation of Czar Peter's lost Amber Room. The amber is not just amber, the room is more than a room, the effect on the visitors is art plus. You get to supply your own answer as to the meaning of that plus. Science fiction readers alone know how many possible answers there might be. And that is our lasting strength, the reason we persist in the face of editors and others who are as blind as Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's Mary.

Copyright 1998 by Steve Carper

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