With Suzanne Palmer announced recently via social media as the winner of Interzone Readers’ Poll 2014, and the full results available imminently as the latest issue rolls out, I thought I’d post my votes here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Interzone is a fantastic magazine. If you like speculative fiction in all its forms but don’t already subscribe you should give it a go. Click here to check it out and follow the links for subscription options.
Anyway, my favourites from last year…
Lilacs and Daffodils, by Rebecca Campbell
A beautiful story about memory that isn’t memory, fragmented but linked in that associative way our minds work, emotive yet calculating, human and artificial and everything all at once. I loved this and read it again immediately upon finishing. This particular issue of Interzone had a few stories that played around with memory and perception but ‘Lilacs and Daffodils’ has a warmth to it that resonated with me more than the others, a quietly understated and very evocative piece and just the sort of thing that keeps me buying this magazine.
Ghost Story, by John Grant
Wonderfully intriguing from the outset, and a beautiful portrayal of a strong relationship. What could have been a frustrating domestic story focussing on trust is quickly bypassed so that we can focus on a different relationship and the story’s oddity, a situation involving past love and the passage of years with just a dash of skewed timeline and/or parallel universe. I love the concept here, the universe rewriting itself, but most of all I love its bitter-sweet poignancy.
The Posset Pot, by Neil Williamson
One of the best apocalypses I’ve read in a while. Parallel universes passing, fizzing with the friction, the bubbles giving and taking. The taking is what gives this story a sharp sense of loss, the narrator’s loneliness painful to read but compelling thanks to a small degree of hope. I loved this.
Two Truths and a Lie, by Oliver Buckram
Wow, where to start? This is a fantastic story, using a narrative technique that surpasses the gimmicky so that the reader plays a very active part in the story-telling, which is exactly the sort of fiction I adore. The first person perspective with its direct address of a specific intended reader provides an effective voyeuristic pleasure and its brevity, with ambiguous absences, makes it all the more striking. Weird and wonderful and original, and bloody brilliant.
Chasmata, by E. Catherine Tobler
A very personal, intimate story (with bracketed asides to make it more so, drawing attention to necessary half-truths and ambiguities) with some erotically-charged language that blurs the alien landscape with the physical bodies of the characters. This explores both the mysteries and the appeal of a different planet and a different person. There’s a lot of desire, not just of the physical but the desire to explore, move, leave, break away, with much of the focus on distance and fracture, still mixing planets and people with a prose style that is often poetic. A beautiful story.
Beside the Dammed River, by D. J. Cockburn
Beautifully effective in its casual tone, with a touch of the exotic in its foreign (to me) locale and culture, the mystery of what lies under the tarpaulins is revealed with little fanfare so that the focus is on the human story. Petty rivalries are made dramatic yet remain understated, though they can easily be extended to global bureaucracies. The characters are wonderfully full for such a short piece, thanks in part to the observations of the narrator but also the roadside conversations. He has the wisdom of an older man but faces the same temptations of one with youth, making him all the more believable. There’s a deceptive simplicity to this story, the random, somewhat mundane, encounter loaded with much more so that the theft of a set of tools can reflect the theft of millions carried out by an entire country. This won the James White Award, and I’m not surprised. It’s brilliant.
Songs Like Freight Trains, by Sam J. Miller
An incredibly relatable story dealing with the magic of music and how it can take you back, both metaphorically and literally. The relationships are presented convincingly, be it that of marriage, friendship, or the one between mother and daughter, with the claim that “time takes so much away from us” counterbalanced by how much it gives as well. It’s a story about growing up, about change, and is as much about the future as it is the past. The distances between the two are perhaps best represented in the mother daughter dynamic: as a dancer, the daughter is fully immersed in a world the mother has given up or lost, and yet music allows the mother to live again as a teenager. There’s a longing here but not necessarily regret, and the story is all the sweeter for it.
The Calling of Night’s Ocean, by Thana Niveau
An awesome story. Sections told from a dolphin’s perspective are convincingly ‘alien’ yet familiar enough to remain recognisable. The relationship between the dolphin and the human is endearing but this is really a story about our relationships with each other as humans, or rather it’s about how poor those relationships are, as the Vietnam war context highlights. We are so eager to communicate with animals, with aliens even, yet we remain unable to communicate effectively with ourselves, our inability to ‘feel’ each other very much the point of the story. “Existence is joy” the dolphin tries to teach us but we can’t hear the message. In fact, as the dolphin learns, we seem intent on making the opposite true, a realisation so distressing that the dolphins call to a darkness between and behind the stars to give the story a terrifying Lovecraftian finale, at least for this reader. Absolutely wonderful stuff, and I hope it gets picked up for various ‘best of’ anthologies.