Story notes, Interzone #285

Each Cell a Throne, Gregor Hartmann. A rich old man is prepared to die; a young policewoman has been hired to persuade him not to go through with it. The old man’s chosen form of assisted suicide is to let a possibly shady neuroscientist digitise his consciousness and upload it into the cloud. The young woman’s methods of persuasion include philosophical critiques of dualism, biology and theology, as well as the use of physical contact and reminders of food.

The territory this story roams through is certainly interesting, but I found myself uncomfortable with the protagonist’s motivations: all of her arguments were rational but none connected emotionally. The old man was unpersuaded perhaps because of this. Perhaps that was the point, since the story’s culmination involves emphasis on a very emotional human connection, but if so the irony was lost on the policewoman, who appeared inordinately committed to a crumbling old man perpetuating a life he evidently wished to leave behind. The idea the story is a proxy for critique of assisted suicide did come to mind, but the protagonist does state outright she has no issue with such things. Here she is apparently unhappy that the old man’s chosen form of assisted suicide involves the sin of vanity, and may involve digital littering and being taken for a ride by a huckster. He appears sanguine about such possibilities.

Flyover Country, Julie C. Day. Rogue genehacks that spread like plagues, editing and remaking those who contract them, have left the contemporary USA a mess of isolated communities and terrified cities (oh…). Our protagonist has removed themselves from it all, working as a janitor on a remote facility owned by one of the corporations that works to control the spread of these manmade plagues through, um, chemtrails. A sweet relationship later unfolds, albeit one that grows a sinister aspect towards the story’s end. Delightfully written.

Frankie, Daniel Bennett. A young soldier has captivated people back home with his poetic blog posts about life on the front lines of a terrible war. Following the poet’s death, his brother – also a soldier – returns home, but fame denies private grief. The narrator’s reflections on the past and storytelling suggest redemptive possibility even in the face of loss and one’s own inevitable death.

Salvage, Andy Dudak. A long story for Interzone and worth the pagecount. This story follows a traveller named Aristy who explores a civilization frozen in amber by the alien Curators. Deep breath: the universe was dying as the result of observation itself, and after the Curators’ pleas and information sharing met with limited success among other species, they took unilateral action and locked every sapient being into an underclocked and individual simulation of their lives at the time of the locking. With us so far?

Generations later Aristy, one of the human survivors aboard lightspeed arkships at the time of the “Turning Inward”, explores the minds of those so trapped and offers them a choice: join a community of their liberated fellows in another simulation, continue as they are but with whatever simulated enhancements they may desire, or oblivion. The civilization Aristy explores was a brutal ethno-nationalist dictatorship, and a desire for justice among those she frees intersects with the laws of her own people and her own past as the story moves onwards. It’s heady stuff. Alas, I felt the conclusion drew awkward moral equivalence and felt overly brief and passingly over-concerned with its own metaphors. But the journey getting there was worth every second.

The Dead Man’s Coffee, John Possidente. Our narrator scrapes a living aboard a space station, and one day meets a visitor who is happy to tell them the story of a court case that unfolded on a distant world. A group of photovores – photosynthetic humans – are brought under the magnifying glass because others feel they are not sacrificing during a period of fasting. The story is interrupted, as the title suggests, but our narrator still finds a satisfying conclusion.


And with that, my Interzone backlog has been cleared. And what a pleasure it has been to read through so many issues!

I will keep posting these story notes until I decide I don’t want to do so any more. From now on, the sources of these stories will be more diverse. 

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