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Science Fiction Age: Volume 2, Issue 4 (May 1994)

SF AGE May 1994.jpg

(This is a continuation of my re-read of Science Fiction Age. Here is the index of issues I’ve already covered.)

This issue begins with Scott Edelman’s allowing the “readers to write the editorial.” In his piece, he sums up the top 10 stories as voted on by the readers. I listed the tabulation in my writeup for September 1993, but in the additional issues that appeared since, I would make one change to my original listing: In the #1 spot I would put William Shunn‘s “Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde“. Everything else would shift down by one. I think Bill’s story is one of the finest pieces of fiction to appear in the run of the magazine.

On books, Michael Bishop reviews the second volume of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars triology, Green Mars, and it was fun to read Bishop’s thoughts on the novel, some 17 years later.  But the fun really takes off with the science column, where Arlan Andrews, Sr., Marianne Dyson, and Geoffrey A. Landis discuss “space travel the way God (and Robert Heinlein) intended it to be”. It is a fascinating discussion, as the science columns always manage to be in the magazine. Science and technology change rapidly and in space explorations, disasters can set us back years or decades, and monumental tasks like going to the moon or building a space station can seem daunting. Still, I was always taught to avoid absolutes. I mention this because of something Arlan Andrews says in the interview. While discussing space development, he says:

While we’re talking space development, my prediction is also that there will be no space station, not as presently planned. The plans call for 20 plus successful shuttle launches, plus a lot of Russian launches. That is not going to happen.

There is no shame in predictions like this. In a way, it is a safe prediction because if it comes true, Andrews predicted it, and if it doesn’t, it means our space program was more successful than he imagined it could be.

This issue contained six pieces of fiction. If there was a theme to tie the stories together in this issue, I think it is one of class or caste, or a person’s place in society, relative to others.

“Where Two Souls Dwell” by Al Sarrantonio

This is the story of a researcher trying to get access to a space station for his research. It is up to his old man to pull some strings for him to finally get him onboard and so this is the first example of the class theme in this issue. The story really gets interesting with the introduction of the mysterious Rayla and her dog and it eventually evolves into a love story. It was a fun story to read.

“Down on the 01 Level” by Gene O’Neill

Gene O’Neill makes the caste theme explicit with his “Down on the 01 Level”. In this world, classes are literally separated by levels within the overall city. “Bobbing” is cruising outside your own level and it’s what our narrator, Sandoval, and Oberon decide to do, mostly for the thrill of it. They live up in the high levels and decide to go bobbing down the lowest level. There is a good overall story arc here and a nice little twist at the end of the story. In reading this piece, I was reminded of Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside, with it’s towers and complicated sexual unions. (In O’Neill’s piece, people formed “quad-bonds” and I never understood this idea, even in Silverberg’s books), but it still made for an interesting story.

“The Biomantic’s Last Husband” by Ray Aldridge

Aldridge’s story approaches the class/caste theme from the point of view of master and slave–where the slave is a former freer of slaves, and emancipator. What I liked most about this story was the world that Aldridge envisioned, the living, breathing biomantic as a kind of world-person, an ecosystem of sorts. This is a story of deception and rebellion and one of a growing fondness and appreciation of the true nature of things.

“The Ballad of Sally NutriSweet(TM)” by Paul Di Filippo

I believe this is Paul’s third story in Science Fiction Age and in my opinion, it usurped Daniel Hood’s “Wealth of Kingdoms” as the funniest story–so far–to appear in Science Fiction Age. I felt like I was laughing at almost every sentence. First there is the deliberate (and for the story, appropriate) overuse of trademarks. Second, is the style in which the story is written, almost like a pulp hero story or a superscience story from a 1926 issue of Amazing. This story was hilarious from story to finish. I was tempted to count just how many name brands Paul managed to mention in the story–but I resisted.

“The Bigger One” by Gregory Benford

I was confused by Benford’s story at first because the blurb on the cover of the magazine referred to “California Timequake”, but I didn’t see how time played a role in the story that followed. (Maybe I was thinking of Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, which of course had not yet come out when this story appeared.) The story itself is written in the form of a radio announcer talking to people “on location” of a massive 8.1 earthquake in southern California. Keep in mind this story appears in the May 1994 issue. The Northridge earthquake took place in January 1994. My parents, who lived in Northridge at the time, had to move out of their house for 9 months while the damage was repaired; I was 80 miles east at UC Riverside when the quake hit. In reading the story, I wondered when it was actually written; and knowing that stories are often bought 6-9 months before they appear, I wondered if the appearance of this story in this issue was a coincidence or not. Maybe Scott can answer that question.

“Quality Time” by John Morressy

It was a close call–Paul’s story being as funny as it was–but I think Morressy’s “Quality Time” was my favorite story in this issue and that is unusual because it is a fantasy story and I generally prefer science fiction to fantasy. But this is one case where I really enjoyed the story which was about a wizard who has become an acquaintance of Death, and who on occasion, has the kind of conversations with Death that one might have with a stranger at a baseball stadium. There was humor in the story, which worked very well. There was a quest (don’t all fantasies have them) but this one was an interesting one, and one that made for a more poignant and meaningful ending

I’m hoping to squeeze in at least one more issue before I start on my vacation in the Golden Age of science fiction. The July 1994 issue of Science Fiction Age looks to be a lot of fun, and contains the story that I think should have won the Hugo and Nebula–but more on that next time.

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.

Rereading Science Fiction Age, Redux

More than three years ago, I began the process of re-reading my complete set of SCIENCE FICTION AGE magazines and commenting on each issue.  I managed to make through the first 8 issues before I became too busy to continue.  But I have always wanted to continue through the rest of the issues in the 8-year run, and I am now restarted that effort, although I bit more modestly than my first attempt.  Last time I was reading through an issue a week and I simply don’t have the time to do that.  This time, I’m aiming for an issue each month.

Those who followed along the first time, or those interested in catching up with what I have already written, all of the previous posts are collected here.  During its 8-year run, I think that Science Fiction Age was the best source of short science fiction available.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it was the best source of short science fiction since Campbell’s ASTOUNDING of the 1940s and Gold’s GALAXY of the 1950s.  Rereading these issues is sheer pleasure for me.

Expect to see my thoughts on SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 3 (March 1994) in the next week or so.

SF AGE: Volume 2, Issue 2 (January 1994)

Of the five stories in the January 1994 issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, more than half of them are stories that would not, under most circumstances, be considered science fiction. Three of the five stories are fantasies of one kind or another, and as I’ve stated before, I will take science fiction over fantasy any time. (I make an exception for contemporary fantasy; in reality, I am not a fan of epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, that kind of thing, but it is to my discredit, and says nothing of the genre.) I said from the outset that I might not comment on every story in every issue, and there have been a few stories I’ve missed. This is not meant as commentary on the story, simply a lack of time (or lack of time management skills) on my part. In the case of this issue, I focused on four of the five stories, three of which are some form of fantasy. It is therefore ironic that the story that I consider to be one of the best stories ever to appear in SCIENCE FICTION AGE through out its entire run is a fantasy that appears in this issue. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.

SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 2

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

Set aside for the moment Scott Edelman’s editorial on “recursive” science fiction, or Norman Spinrad’s controversial essay on how fantasy has infected science fiction. The table of contents for this issue includes 7 stories because, as the magazine cover indicates, “Now: More Pages! More Stories!” And among the stories included in this issue are back-to-back tales by Barry Malzberg and Harlan Ellison. Why don’t we see these guys showing up in Asimov’s Analog, or F&SF as much today as they did in SF AGE 14 years ago?

SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 1

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 6 (September 1993)

I was recently talking about Shakespeare with some friends, and on the same day, opened this latest issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE to read Scott Edleman’s editorial, “Science Fiction is the stuff that dream are made on”, which deals, of course, with Shakespeare. It was a good start to the final issue of SF AGE’s rookie year–and one story in this issue would turn out to be a Nebula-winner.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 6

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 5 (July 1993)

Volume 1, Issue 5 is a very special issue for me for two reasons each of which I will explain below so bear with me.

First, it is special because it is the first issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE that I ever saw and that I ever owned. I came across the magazine by accident, on a weekend during the summer of 1993 (the summer between my junior and senior years at the University of California, Riverside). To kill time, we would head out to the Moreno Valley Mall and while there, I could never resist going into the B. Dalton bookstore, even though I never had much spare cash to spend on books (I was, after all, a college student). On this occasion, however, I recall seeing the magazine toward the bottom of the magazine rack. I was attracted by Piers Anthony’s name on the cover and as soon as I had discovered that he had a short story in side, I willingly forked over the $2.95 for a copy of the magazine.

Which leads me to the second reason why this issue was special. It marked a turning point for me in science fiction and in fandom. Up until this point, my exposure to science fiction was limited. I liked science fiction, don’t get me wrong, but I hadn’t read more than a few authors. When I was much younger, I’d read Madeleine L’Engle‘s 1962 classic A Wrinkle In Time. I’d read bits and pieces of Isaac Asimov’s novel The Caves of Steel. I read a few other odds and ends here and there. But I’d read almost no short science fiction. And most of the science fiction I’d read up to that point was Piers Anthony (thus, what attracted me to the issue in the first place).

After reading this issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE I discovered just how good short science fiction was. I immediately subscribed to the magazine. Slowly, but surely, I also began to expand my own reading within the genre. When I could, I bought short story collections from the authors that I was most familiar with. One of the first such collections that I bought was Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. I started to learn the history of the genre and within a year of picking up that first copy of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, I’d read Dangerous Visions which gave me a much wider exposure to the biggest names in science fiction and lead me in 46 different directions. I read books such as Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo and Herovit’s World. I read Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. I continued to read Piers Anthony’s books as they came out.

At this point, I had been writing my own stories and submitting them for a little less than a year. After this “expansion” of reading on my part, I noticed a change in my own stories. They were still being rejected, but there was an increased level of maturity in the writing. I attribute this directly to the stuff that I was reading. I was learning how to write from the masters.

There was one other thing that happened. I entered fandom for the first time. Kind of. Because of that issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, I wrote a letter to Piers Anthony, telling him how much I liked his story and what I big fan I was. I can’t remember how long my letter was. Within a week or two, I received back a 2 page singled-spaced letter, which was clearly personal and which encouraged me to continue to pursue my reading and writing of science fiction. Since then I have never looked back.

I was a late-bloomer when it came to really diving into science fiction. I shiver to think what might have happened if I never saw that green-bordered issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE on the magazine rack in B. Dalton. But that is an alternate history that I no longer have to worry about. Thanks to this issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, I joined a special cadre of people the world over united by a common bond: the love of science fiction.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 5

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 4 (May 1993)

I have had a goal since 1996 of reading on average one book per week. That would amount to 52 books per year and the closest I have ever come is 41 books. It doesn’t sound like a lot especially when I see there are people reading two or three times as much as me. Maybe I’m just a slow (but steady) reader. I am way off my pace this year, and the main part of the reason is that I have been reading and commenting on my SCIENCE FICTION AGE collection. I worried about this through the first three issues. I worried that the time I was spending reading the stories was taking away from other books that I wanted to read–what I considered my “real” reading.

With this issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, however, I have changed mind. I had so much fun reading the stories in this issue that I thought to myself, so what if I am not finishing as many books as I normally do? I am deriving so much enjoyment from reading through the pages of these magazines, I am learning so much about what makes a story work, that I needn’t worry about what I am missing. I’m having too much fun to worry about it. And so I finally decided that it’s okay if I don’t finish as many books this year as I normally do. It’s okay because you really can’t beat the enjoyment you get from reading stories like these. Each issue is like a “best of” issue and this one is no different. We have Scott Edelman telling us that it’s time to go to Mars. We have Robert Silverberg demonstrating how we live in a science fiction age. We have Frederik Pohl’s words giving added meaning to Barlow’s amazing illustrations. We’ve got debate on fantasy vs. science fiction. We’ve got scientists telling us, in 1993, that we can be on Mars in 10 years. We even have a poignant review of Isaac Asimov’s last FOUNDATION novel, Forward the Foundation. And all this is aside from the five great stories that appear in this issue.

There’s nothing better than doing what you love and I love going back through these magazines, andante lugubre, reading the best that science fiction has to offer.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 4

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 3 (March 1993)

I meant to get this out yesterday but I had one more story to go and I didn’t get to the story until this morning. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on Volume 1, Issue 3 of SCIENCE FICTION AGE.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 3

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.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 2

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 1 (November 1992)

I have already discussed a few points about the premier issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE and these can be found here and here. In order to keep these posts manageable, in the future I will try and keep my thoughts to a single post per issue, but I can’t guarantee this will always be the case. That said, here are my thoughts on the rest of the premier issue of the magazine.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 1

SF Signal

Once again, thanks to mabfan, it would appear that my attempts to read through and review SF AGE this year has been picked up by SF Signal. I may need a longer commute to get all of this reading done!