This Happens

I’m as guilty as the next person for taking things for granted. We all do it. When something provides us with consistent high quality we forget to be amazed, or even grateful. We just register that it happens, and we expect it to keep on happening.

Take, for example, Interzone, Britain’s longest running professional SF magazine. I started reading it during what some have dubbed its Golden Age. That period of the mid-late 1980s, early 1990s when every month brought new stories by Ian McDonald, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Eric Brown, Keith Brooke, Chris Beckett, Nicola Griffith, Ian Watson, Molly Brown, Alastair Reynolds, Ian McLeod, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss… the list goes on. You’ve heard of these guys right? Well back then, many of them were starting out…and Interzone was the place to find them. Every month.

Little wonder that I took the magazine for granted, but looking back I’m grateful for whatever piece of luck it was that led to me picking it up off the newsagent shelves, because Interzone played a large factor in my decision to have a go at writing. I moved to London in 1990 and one of that year’s issues (#34 if I remember right) featured a story by Ian R McLeod called Well Loved. And it was, by me at least. It was a very simple, but immensely affecting, little story about a prostitute who, using a certain device, provides a service that allows men to swap bodies with her so that they can experience sexual violence from the female point of view. The descriptions of how she feels, as a man, having to hit her own face, anticipating the pain she’ll have to deal with half an hour later, are heartbreaking. This was the story that sparked ideas in my head. Extrapolations blossomed, possibilities unfolding like petals. I realised I had stories in me too.

I subscribed to Interzone after that, and have kept my subscription active ever since because the magazine continues to provide me with those moments. For a few years they were fewer and further between, but they were still there – Interzone introduced me to the marvellous work of Liz Williams, Tony Ballantyne and Zoran Zivkovic. And it I’ve never been prouder than when they published stories of my own.

Until a couple of years ago the magazine had persisted largely due to the dedication and energy of its longstanding editor, David Pringle, but when it became evident that Pringle’s reserves were down to the vapour it seemed the right thing to do to hand the magazine on. I stood and cheered at the 2005 Worldcon when David was given a special award in recognition of his services to science fiction, not least of which was Interzone, but by then the new look TTAPress Interzone was standing proud in the dealers room.

For me personally, the marriage of Andy Cox’s TTA and Interzone is perfect. I’ve been reading The Third Alternative since its inception. If you lay out the issues in sequence you can physically see the development of Cox’s talent as a designer, publisher and editor. The Third Alternative will be relaunched soon as Black Static, but Cox’s work on the redesign of the full-colour, sexy Interzone has turned it into a title that beacons out from the newsagent shelves. And the content has risen to fill those glossy covers The non-fiction giants of Interzones past – Langford, Clute and Lowe – have returned, and are joined by a whole host of fresh, insightful reviewers, interviewers and columnists.

And as for the fiction? Well, it’s like 1987 all over again. Alongside some familiar names like Ian Watson, Paul Di Filippo, Dominic Green and Chris Beckett, there’s a whole host of names I don’t know very well producing very good fiction. Check out Will McIntosh and Jay Lake, Karen Fishler and Jason Stoddart.

And in the most recent issue, #205, there’s one of *those* stories. One that excited me so much when I read it that I rewrote it fifty different ways in my head before I got to the end, only to realise that, yes, the way the author did it was the best way after all. It’s a very simple story about catastrophe befalling innocents in a war-zone and, like the best science fiction, it could not be more relevant to the world we live in right now, today.

It’s brilliant.

It’s by David Mace

It’s called This Happens.

Interzone has rolled on past its 200th issue and it’s as bright and lively and interesting and provocative as when I first started reading it 20-odd years ago, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We shouldn’t just notice peripherally that it happens, and it expect it to keep on happening.

Go check out Interzone. You’ll find it on your newsagent shelves. If you’ve got the disposables, take out a subscription.

Read This Happens, and be grateful. Be amazed.

16 thoughts on “This Happens

  1. TTA definitely breathed new life into Interzone… I read it from 2000-01 but found it was publishing sf I didn’t really like, plus the design wasn’t really aesthetically pleasing, but David Pringle definitely deserves all the accolades!

    But, now, well, I shall be subscribing to it for as long as I can afford to: Piccadilly Circus, This Happens, Soft Apocalypse and The Reef are the sf tales I like, with a hint of the dystopia about them.

  2. TTA definitely breathed new life into Interzone… I read it from 2000-01 but found it was publishing sf I didn’t really like, plus the design wasn’t really aesthetically pleasing, but David Pringle definitely deserves all the accolades!

    But, now, well, I shall be subscribing to it for as long as I can afford to: Piccadilly Circus, This Happens, Soft Apocalypse and The Reef are the sf tales I like, with a hint of the dystopia about them.

  3. >>Can you tell me what actually makes This Happens science fiction?

    Hi Duncan – actually I don’t think it is, not in terms of furniture, setting or trope. But it does use an exceptionally imaginative technique to examine a very pertinent contemporary issue – in the same way as, for me, the very best SF does. And certainly, historically, the very best of Interzone.

    I’m not saying this is where your question comes from, but for what it’s worth I think it’s pointless to get into a “this isn’t SF, so it shouldn’t be in Interzone” debate. David Pringle had to deal with this sort of thing as well, as I remember, and the rational answer to it is – if Joe Reader only reads Interzone for the “obviously” SF (whatever that means) then perhaps by his lights he’s been gypped a story in this issue. But it is only one story, in one issue. There’s plenty more stories of the kind he likes coming up.

    But for my money stories like This Happens are why *I* read the magazine – because they’re well written, engaging and thought provoking.

  4. >>Can you tell me what actually makes This Happens science fiction?

    Hi Duncan – actually I don’t think it is, not in terms of furniture, setting or trope. But it does use an exceptionally imaginative technique to examine a very pertinent contemporary issue – in the same way as, for me, the very best SF does. And certainly, historically, the very best of Interzone.

    I’m not saying this is where your question comes from, but for what it’s worth I think it’s pointless to get into a “this isn’t SF, so it shouldn’t be in Interzone” debate. David Pringle had to deal with this sort of thing as well, as I remember, and the rational answer to it is – if Joe Reader only reads Interzone for the “obviously” SF (whatever that means) then perhaps by his lights he’s been gypped a story in this issue. But it is only one story, in one issue. There’s plenty more stories of the kind he likes coming up.

    But for my money stories like This Happens are why *I* read the magazine – because they’re well written, engaging and thought provoking.

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