Thursday, April 24, 2008

Interzone #214, Two Stories

The Jan/Feb. Interzone kicks off with a novella by Jason Stoddard, "Far Horizons." A bioengineering genius, Alex, has made all forms of genetic engineering practical. However, his best, most useful discoveries (such as free, self-growing houses to eliminate homelessness) are suppressed by giant corporations. His sometimes lover, Adele, tries to fight the power from the inside (with predictable lack of success), and Alex, never stable, goes on the run.

He hooks up with some utopianists on the Moon, and decides that the best way for him to see the future he's dreamed of is to skip the intervening bits. He pays for an individual spaceship with hibernation capability, makes some plans involving Venus, and sets the alarm clock for 3000 years. Predictably, when he wakes up he doesn't find anything like what he was expecting.

Throughout it all, there's also a genetically engineered chimera he's adopted, named Shekinah. She looks like an angel, with beautiful features, body, feathers, and wings. She had been working for a strip club that was also a brothel for fetishists. Alex "rescues" her, but she is depicted as having enjoyed it there, having enjoyed the physical contact (creepy? yeah, a little). Alex of course refuses to exploit her, but his distance makes her sad. He "uplifts" her, giving her more intelligence and speech capability, and that hurts a lot as well. Eventually he leaves on his deep sleep voyage and she has to make her way alone.

There's a lot going on in this story, but the different threads never come together in a way that was satisfying to me. Alex doesn't really seem to grow or change much, none of his relationships ever really resolve, and the themes surrounding Shekinah seem separate from the themes surrounding the other plot threads. Perhaps they all deal with unintended consequences, but that is a flimsy ribbon to use to tie everything together.

A story that I like better is "Pseudo Tokyo" by Jennifer Linnaea. The travel technology of the future is teleportation. You pay a guide, teleport to your destination, spend a week or two, and jump home. You're expected to dress like a local and act accordingly so as not to disturb things. Hence, the guide.

Our protagonist, Sean, saves up all year for these jaunts. He wants to experience the world. However, this time he gets more than he bargained for. He is taken to another place, not on Earth, where everything is different. His guide takes off, never to be seen again. He has to make his way, alone, in a place where not only do people not speak his language, they're not even remotely human.

Thus he wanders around a surreal, dream landscape. He's in a city and can't find the exit. He keeps trying to grasp at familiarity: going into something he identifies as a bath house, he has a horrific encounter with some black tentacles. He can only barter for food by trial and error. The strong implication by the author is that tourists couldn't handle a truly alien experience, no matter how much we tell ourselves that's what we want.

Eventually Sean embraces the surrealness of it. He figures out some of the rules, and sets up a niche for himself. He goes native, and even finds a way to exploit the flaw that brought him here. It's a really fantastic tale. The dream-like qualities of it put me in mind of Haruki Murakami, especially some of the benign surrealness that accompanied The Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World. This is really first-rate stuff, and I'll be giving it consideration when awards nomination time comes around again.

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