2/03/2015

Interzone Summer 1982 (Number 2)

I wrote about Interzone Number One here. That naturally led me on to re-read the second issue, but actually acquiring it proved...less than easy.

Back in 1982, wanting to know more about the magazine after having found that first issue, I kept my eyes out for its second which, being a quarterly publication, was due sometime that Summer. My primary memory of that year is somehow winding up at an Ultravox concert during their Rage in Eden tour because someone gave me a spare ticket for free.

It was the first real gig I'd been to, unless you count seeing the Wombles at the Glasgow Pavilion sometime in the mid-70s. The Ultravox concert took place in the Glasgow Apollo, across the road from the Pavilion, a long-notorious and now sadly missed concert hall that, in fairness, looked as if it was constantly in danger of collapsing. I can't tell you much about the gig except that it was okay, and I only really knew the one song Vienna because you basically couldn't escape it if you happened to be passing by a radio. I was still at school, but the end was in sight. A year later and I'd be into Hawkwind and Iron Maiden.

I made a point of dropping by Futureshock frequently, in order to keep my eyes out for Interzone and, indeed, new books. I had developed a habit of walking long distances around Glasgow, frequenting different book shops and walking from the city centre to the West End. This was back in the days before giant superstores like Borders came to - briefly - dominate the publishing landscape. Bookshops were smaller, and frequently secondhand. I can't remember if the Glasgow branch of Forbidden Planet had yet opened up in Sauchiehall Street, but it was in roughly that time period as I recall.

I kept checking back, but there was no sign of Interzone issue number Two. I gave up waiting and asked Neil Craig, the owner of Futureshock, when it was likely to come in.

'They're not publishing it anymore!' he spat around a jam tart half-wedged into his mouth in a tone of voice that told me what he really meant was go the hell away, kid. He didn't even lift his eyes from the tatty paperback wedged into one hand as he crouched behind the filthy counter. Bits of pastry lay on the counter from yelling at a little boy, all cherubic in his neatly pressed school uniform, who'd made the unfortunate mistake a few minutes earlier of asking for advice on which comic to buy.

I thought about asking him are you sure? But I had a feeling that wouldn't be a good idea.

In the end, I didn't lay my hands on that second issue until some years later. I departed that day, feeling sad yet another magazine had bit the dust before it had even started.

Later that year, in the Autumn, I dropped in again and found Interzone 3 wedged, like the first issue, so tightly into its wire rack next to the counter the top half drooped limply like a body left hanging after a lynching. I stared at it in confusion. I looked over at Neil Craig, who darted a furious, thin-lipped look at me, then breathed loudly through his nose before turning back to the paperback that was, as ever, wedged in one hand. He avoided my gaze, staring hard at the pages, as if he could see something concealed behind the words.

You tosser, I thought.

Many years later, I had a conversation with,  I think, Jim Steel, some time after I became a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer's Circle - indeed, Jim is now Interzone's reviews editor. Jim briefly worked  in Futureshock in the late 80s/early 90s.

'Yeah, he just tells people stuff isn't published any more because he can't be bothered,' he explained with a shrug (or words to that effect). 'It's just something he does.'

So what did I miss in that second issue? Stories by JG Ballard, Rachel Pollack, Tom Disch and a small handful of new names. And reviews! A few, anyway.  According to the editorial, they'd received hundreds of submissions from hopeful writers. It states they're glad the material veers away from space battles and futuristic kung fu. This is a touch ironic since, much later, in the post-cyberpunk era, it was variations on such things in the context of New Space Opera that Interzone became a major influence on, albeit with a slightly more literary bent.

Ballard's Memories of the Space Age is exactly as bonkers as you'd expect classic Ballard to be: all bizarre, empty urban landscapes, strangely altered states of mind and temporal and spatial shifts. Ballard would later go on to write some genuinely science fictional stories for Interzone that are amongst my very favourite stories published in that magazine. Here, Cape Canaveral and much of Florida has been abandoned due to a strange stretching of time perception so that single moments seem to last an infinity. Naturally, we have a protagonist who for reasons known only to himself is drawn to precisely such a moment, hoping to find in it some kind of apotheosis. The whole thing is set against the backdrop of a failed space age. It's a damn shame, you know, that Kubrick never filmed a Ballard story. It would have been a masterpiece of filmic art and borderline sociopathy.

Andrew Weiner's Third Test is a neat enough story about, of all things, cricket and aliens, at least one of which bores me to death. But, it's serviceable. The Rachel Pollack story, Angel Baby, was my first encounter with her fiction, and a brilliant introduction at that, as a young woman has to find a way to deal with becoming pregnant after being sexually assaulted by an angel. There's also a very short piece by Alex Stewart whose brief bio tells me - like a fair proportion of Interzone readers of the time, or so I suspect - that he was unemployed at the time of submitting. Try admitting that nowadays without losing all your benefits immediately.

Tom Disch has a short poem to the memory of Philip K. Dick, who had recently died, which means that's the summer that Bladerunner came out. What a time for an sf magazine to start. I'm clueless about poetry, but it seems an effective enough tribute. Finally, there's a couple of reviews, of recent books, and it's also interesting that all of them are now regarded as stone-cold classics: Little, Big by John Crowley, The Divine Invasion by Dick, and Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss. Of the three, I've only actually read the Aldiss. I might have made an attempt on another Crowley book, but left it unfinished. Maybe I should try again.

It's clear even this early the magazine was slowly building its own identity, synthesising pulp tropes with literary sensibilities to terrific effect. Some time soon I'll read issue three and post here about it.

Another thing: the covers, with their shifting sun, are quite brilliant, and perfect examples of how to do a lot of effective work with little in the way of graphic resources.
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