SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 2 (January 1993)

I’ve finally gotten around to finishing issue #2 of SCIENCE FICTION AGE. It’s been a busy month, since I last posted and thus the delay, but hopefully these posts will come more frequently going forward. It’s amazing how little time there is in a day to do everything you want to get done.

“A Family of the Post-Apocalypse” by Thomas M. Disch

Stories can be good for any number of reasons: they can be skillfully written, have interesting characters, settings, or plots that draw you in. Or any combination of these things. And sometimes, it is the idea that can make a story. That’s what made Thomas Disch’s story for me. The story is about the people (and world) that is left behind after the apocalypse–after the Rapture and the Second Coming–and I liked that idea. How would the people left behind cope? Turns out, they would just try to get through each miserable day in the same way that people do today, although facing different challenges. The idea resonated with me. It was a realistic approach. It was believable given an unbelievable situation. The short story has a Jonathan Swift feel to it.

The story pre-dates, I believe, James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah (and the two books that followed in his Godhead series) but the themes are similar. Physical personification of metaphysical beliefs. I like stories like these because they are few and far between (Piers Anthony’s INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY series is another example.) I am not a big fan of “high” fantasy, as I have mentioned before, but this is the kind of fantasy that I really enjoy.

“The Frog Wizard” by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Over the years, recalling just from memory now, SCIENCE FICTION AGE published what I considered to be several very good fairy tales. These are modern-day fairy tales, of course, some with elements of science fiction, and others with elements of fantasy but clearly and obviously fairy tales. I will try to briefly discuss each of these stories in its proper place, but the first of them was Lawrence Watt-Evan’s “The Frog Wizard”. It is the story of a man who has taken to hiding on a deserted island because of a terrible magic power he has. He has isolated himself in order to avoid being a danger to others, but he is found by a group of sailors, and it is to these sailors that he tells his story.

This wizard’s great and terrible power: he could turn people into frogs.

From Spiderman we learn that with great power comes great responsibility. But at first glance, the ability to turn people into frogs does not seem like a great power. And yet the moral of this fairy tale is that even subtle, seemingly innocuous powers also require great responsibility. In traditional stories of wizards (I’m thinking of Lord of the Rings here), there is an array of magic, lightening bolts, telekinesis, fire ball, you name it. But here we have a wizard who can do nothing but turn people into frogs. It seems simple enough until we see that he can turn whole opposing armies into frogs. And when those who press him into their service become concerned that he can be too dangerous and try and put an end to him, well, he can just turn them into frogs.

Greed for power blinds people to the dangers and that is why with great (or small) power, comes great responsibility. I think Lawrence Watt-Evans did a really nice job of illustrating that in his fairy tale.

“Puss In Boots” by Ronald Anthony Cross

This is a tough story to describe without giving away too much and so I won’t try to recap the plot here. Science fiction is filled with stories about human gender, what it means to be male, what it means to be female, and where the lines get blurred. There is an entire subgenre of these type of stories within science fiction, notably spearheaded by the likes of Joanna Russ, Ursula K. LeGuin, and James Tiptree, Jr. I would place “Puss In Boots” into this category.

“Always Falling Apart” by Tony Daniel

I really liked the title of Tony Daniel’s story, “Always Falling Apart”. It was probably the best-titled story in the issue, when one considers that there are multiple levels to his title. Story titles can be simple and direct. Or they can be layered. I prefer titles that mean one thing when you have not yet read the story, and take on added meaning when you have finished it. This is what happens in “Always Falling Apart”.

The story is about a woman studying to be a gate tech, which we are told, is someone who manages these gates of instantaneous matter transmissions to the stars (like the transporters in Star Trek). We find out that there are high-res and low-res gates and that when people are “transported” they die on the departure end, but are reconstituted on the other end. This idea is not new in science fiction. A.J. Budrys’ classic Rogue Moon was probably one of the first books to use this idea (and more recently, Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan also makes use of this idea.) But add to this the fact that when people (or organic matter) is transferred at low res, the person at one end does not have to die and a copy can be made, but that copy does not last long.

Cassie, the woman of the story eventually meets and falls in love with a man and we follow her struggle: should she stay with this man or follow her dream of going to the stars?

Without giving anything else away, I think this story was the most touching in the bunch and it represents the kind of story that I most enjoy reading (and writing): the competition between human desires for companionship and human desires to explore and know the universe.

The Letters column still contained mail on the endless controversy as to whether or not fantasy belonged in a science fiction magazine. These types of controversies in letter columns go back a long way, but it is always amusing to see them.

I was also amused to read Michael Bishop’s review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, which he praised and which he predicted would become something big. We all know just how big that book, and the two other books in the series became but it is still amusing to see what people say about what ultimately becomes an authors magnum opus before it is widely recognized as the case.

I don’t much get into SF television shows (the new Battlestar Galactica is a rare exception for me) but the Television column, by Eric Niderost on the “new” (remember this was 1993) s.f. series Babylon 5 raised my curiosity about the show (which I have to this day never seen, even though I have met J. Michael Stracynski at Dangerous Visions Bookstore back when I lived in L.A.) I note that the first 2 seasons of Babylon 5 are now available on the iTunes store, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I am already pressed for time, I might download and watch them based on the review.

I hope to have my thoughts on volume 1, issue 3 posted with much less delay than this one. That looks like a particularly juicy issue with the likes of Harlan Ellison, Ben Bova, and Arlan Andrews. Stay tuned…