My quest isn’t off to an auspicious start. I’ve spent eight weeks in London, trying to get into the archives of the Ministry of Science Fiction. Every morning, I arrive at the ministry to find a person I haven’t seen before sitting at the front desk. I show them yesterday’s approval form, and they tell me it’s a form for something else, but are happy to provide me with the “correct” form. This new form requires a signature from somewhere across town: the US embassy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Royal Observer Corps, etc.. I spend the entire day at that place, being persistent and annoying enough to get the signature just before closing time. The cycle repeats the next day.
So, this morning, I’m waiting outside the ministry, wondering if I should legally change my name to Sisyphus. I go inside as soon as the door unlocks, and hand my form to yet another new person. I’m pretty sure she’s going to tell me I need a paw print from one of the Queen’s corgis.
“All of your paperwork appears to be in order, sir. Please proceed down the hallway to the lift. The archives are on basement level fifty-one.”
I sprint down the hall before she can change her mind. I leap into the elevator, hit B51, and jab my finger into the ‘close doors’ button repeatedly. I don’t perceive any movement, but when the doors open again, I’m at one end of a bridge (without any sort of handrails or guards on the sides) over a chasm. I jump onto the bridge before the elevator can leave.
At the middle of the bridge, an armored knight holds up one palm to stop me. He holds a sword in his other hand. I wave my stack of forms at him. “I have written permission to enter the archives.”
“Before you may enter, you must answer three questions.”
“What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?”
I look at the 42 forms in my hand. “Forty-two.”
“Correct. What is your favorite color?”
I almost blurt out ‘green’. “Blue.”
“Correct. What was Scotland’s average annual rapeseed oil production over the past five years?”
“Get out of my way.”
As the knight raises his sword, I smash my shoulder into his chest, sending him over the edge. I hear his armor crash into the bottom of the chasm.
“It’s only a flesh wound,” he yells.
Interzone is, to my understanding, the most popular science fiction / fantasy magazine from the UK. Since Britain is where our language originated, I chose Interzone to begin my quest.
On my kindle, Interzone 260 opened not into a table of contents, but into an editorial about the recent Hugo Awards conflict. I hadn’t planned to read editorial or non-fiction sections for my blog posts, but I read this anyway.
I was disappointed. The article didn’t present any new information or analysis, and didn’t suggest any reconciliation. The author is clearly on one side (anti-puppy, the winning side) and the gloating tone of his writing seems more appropriate for an online forum than a magazine. There were also several factual inaccuracies; it appears that the author repeated things second or third-hand without bothering to look up original sources.
Science fiction magazines perpetually struggle to stay in business, and I’m shocked that one would lead with an article designed to offend a group which represents between one-half and one-third of science fiction readers. Oh well, it’s time to put my disappointment aside, and look at the short stories:
Weedkiller by John Shirley. At first, I thought this story was just meandering through various dystopian and virtual reality tropes. I was relieved when there really was a point at the end, but I felt the point could have been arrived at sooner.
Blonde by Priya Sharma. A dystopian version of Rapunzel. In my notes, I wrote ‘way too long’, except I spelled ‘way’ with four ‘a’s, underlined it four times, and raised it to the fourth power. I know short story authors get paid by the word, but show some restraint! This story also had far more editing errors than the others; I was surprised to find so many errors in a professionally-edited magazine.
No Rez by Jeff Noon. For quite a while, I didn’t understand anything in this story. Then, it seemed like there was a world where people had some kind of artificial lenses in front of their eyes which pixelated everything unless they paid for more resolution. Plus, there were popup ads. But, it was voluntary. Then, it seemed like there’d been some kind of dystopian collapse, and people didn’t want to see the ugliness, which doesn’t explain people unable to perform simple tasks due to low resolution, or the main character’s job of riding a bicycle around to record reality for people who paid to see it. At the end, the story turned all artsy.
Murder on the Laplacian Express by CA Hawksmoor. This story has some steampunk elements, such as a flying train and habitable environments on the surface of Jupiter and Saturn. It was a page-turner, but unfortunately it raised several issues about murder plots, political intrigue, etc. which were left hanging at the end. It would have made a nice start to a serial, but there was no indication it was anything other than stand-alone. Note: suspecting nobody was born with a name as cool as Hawksmoor, I looked the author up, and it is a two-person writing team.
The Spin of Stars by Christien Gholson. This is an urban fantasy set mostly in late 60’s Florida. It was well-written, but like most of Interzone’s stories, it was too long for what it delivered. I completely missed the point of the wrapper story around the main story.
I re-shelve Interzone in the archives. My quest will not end in Britain; I’ll have to search the colonies. I suppose if quests were quick and easy, we’d call them “errands”.