Review of Interzone 212 and "A Handful of Pearls" by Beth Bernobich

I'm trying to catch up on my reading and just finished Interzone issue 212 (Sept./Oct. 2007). For the last year I've subscribed to this British science fiction and fantasy magazine and to say I eagerly await each new issue is an understatement. Part of the excitement is Interzone's amazing design--while stories rise or fall on their own merits, the beautiful art and layout make reading Interzone a more moving experience than one gets from many of the pulp-style digest magazines. Another reason I love Interzone is the editors take risks with the stories they accept, risks other SF/F magazines sometime seem loath to embrace.

For example, take issue 212. There are many excellent stories inside, including  "The Algorithm" by Tim Akers and "Feelings of the Flesh" by Douglas Elliot Cohen. I enjoyed these two stories immensely and highly recommend them to all readers. However, the story which stuck with me the longest, the story which twisted my gut into painful knots, is also the one I didn't particularly enjoy: "A Handful of Pearls" by Beth Bernobich.

I'm not saying this isn't a top-notch story. Beth is an amazing writer and the story grabs the reader's attention from the start, pulling us through a fascinating exploration narrative involving scientists trying to understand both themselves and an isolated part of their alien world. No, the reason I didn't enjoy the story is because the main character slowly reveals himself to be exactly as other people see him: a despicable, cowardly man. When the story's ultimate moment arrives--let's just say it involves a horrific act on a mute child--I placed the magazine on the table and told myself I was through with this story. However, to the author's credit the story was so well written, and the main character so fascinating in his self-denial and lack of self-understanding, that I returned to the magazine and finished reading the story.

I don't recommend "A Handful of Pearls" to most readers. But anyone wanting to understand how people do truly evil acts while imagining themselves to be the mistreated heroes of their own self-narratives, then this story is a must read. I'm certain that long after the fun stories I've read this year fade from memory, "A Handful of Pearls" will remain.