Science Fiction Age: Volume 2, Issue 3 (March 1994)

Each issue of Science Fiction Age presented a good mix of fiction, not just genre (fantasy, science fiction), but types too (humor, horror).  This issue is no exception, but the most remarkable thing to me containted in the March 1994 issue is the precience of Scott Edelman’s editorial.  Titled, “We must leave our children the best of science fiction futures” it is, in essence, an open letter to Scott’s son and one paragraph of this essay struck me as particularly prophetic:

My son will have all the information he could ever want at his fingertips, whenever he wants it.  He will carry an electronic Library of Alexandria in his pocket.  He will be able to stay in constant communication with all the world, and sift at will through all the globe’s wisdom.  His world will be smaller than mine.

In this brief paragraph probably written in late 1993, Scott captures the world nearly twenty years later.  His “electronic Library of Alexandria” might be wikipedia.  Sifting at will through all the globe’s wisdom is a fairly good description of a Google search (if you factor out all of the world’s idocy from the search results). With minimal alteration, this paragraph could be an ad for an iPhone or iPad.  What I find most ironic is that while Scott wished this for his son, he got to see it happen, too.  Today, if Scott is at a convention, you will find him tweeting about what people are saying on a panel (sometimes while he is on that very panel).  He is in constant communication with the world, spreading his dreams out across the global network.  You’d almost think he had a time machine, back when he wrote that paragraph.

It’s always amusing to go through science fiction book reviews from 17 years ago.  In this issue Connie Hirsch reviews a book by first time novelist Jonathan Lethem called Gun, With Occasional Music.  More disturbing was the science discussion on “a permanent manned U.S. space station is an idea whose time has finally come” between Joe Haldeman, Doug Beason and Geoffrey A. Landis.  While such a space station in now nearly complete (17  years after this discussion), there was this prophetic exchange between Beason and Haldeman:

BEASON: [referring to the space shuttle] One of these days we’re going to have another explosion.

HALDEMAN: Doug, the shuttle is dangerous and obsolete and is going to be out of the equation soon.   One more disaster and American’s are going to lose heart.

Of course, nearly 8 years later, the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on reentry and while flights eventually continued, the space program hasn’t had the same energy since.

It was a pleasure to read Jack Williamson’s essay on the birth of science fiction.  It was also sad.  Jack is no longer around and the essay serves as a reminder of not only all that science fiction has gained, but all that it has lost.

There were 6 pieces of fiction in this issue, of quite varying lengths.  The issue opened with Richard Parks “Simple Souls”, a story not unlike Daniel Keyes “Flowers for Algernon” about a mentally challenged boy and the experimental procedure he has to enhance his mental abilities.  The story is a good example of writing from a challenging view point, and I came away from it wondering who it was that was really “challenged”, the boy, or his doctors.  His sympathetic doctor, Susan Curruther’s was not only reminscent of Asimov’s Susan Calvin (coincidence?) but also of another Asimov character, the nurse Edith Fellowes in “The Ugly Little Boy”.

If there was a theme in the stories for this issue, it seemed to center around time.  Three of the stories touched on this theme, beginning with “The River’s Time” by Mark. W. Tiedemann.  The story centers around a world on which nine rivers dominate the lives of the people.  A group of siblings travel these rivers on a barge to make their living.  To replace crew (a brother who left for the stars, for instance) they pick up “Returnist” woman–the Returnists being a group of people who shunn technology and machinery and want to go back to simpler ways.  The story is a moving one, remincent of both Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” and Phillip Jose Farmer’s, To Your Scattered Bodies Go.  The time element in this story centers around absences.  People get the “wanderlust” and head for the stars and are not heard from again, or return only after long periods of time.  It is these absences that influence the lives of the characters throughout the course of the narrative.

In “Survivors” by Steven Popkes, a 20,000 year old simulacrum presents itself to a “surivor” warning him that there are still parts of the planet that are poisonous, even all these millenia later.

The last of the time-themed stories, “Taken For a Ride” by Brian Stableford, is a time-travel story dealing with the potential of future information and the paradoxes that arise out of it.  Most notible about the story was the twist at the end, reminiscent of the ending of Robert Silverberg’s end-all-be-all of time travel novels, Up the Line.

“Obituary” by Jeffrey G. Liss was an interesting story, the ending of which I simply didn’t get.  I didn’t connect it back to the title of the story and the opening paragraphs, and this is certainly my failure as a reader and not Liss’s as a writer.

Finally, there was the humour fantasy piece, “Sherlock the Barbarian” by David Garnett.  I like that Science Fiction Age includes humour stories from time-to-time and I think this one worked well on many levels.  It was clearly poking fun, not only at the Sherlock Holmes genre, but at logic, reason and inference itself.  This is brought to bear in a rather remarkable  way toward the very end of the story (no spoilers here, you’ll have to read it) when you find that your own assumptions about the narrator of the story brought into question.

The issue included an essay by Ben Bova on science fiction illustrator Vincent Di Fate, which provided some interesting insight into the illustration process for a magazine like ANALOG, to say nothing of some of the gorgeous illustrations that Di Fate has produced.

It’s always a pleasure to read these magazines.  I hope to keep better to schedule for the next one, which should appear about November 1.  In the meantime, all of the re-reads I have done so far have been compiled together here for anyone interested.