I like this era of Internet magazine reviews. When I was growing up, back when computer communicated only through punched cards (or with the voice of Majel Barrett), I would read fabulous short story reviews in fanzines and such, and breathlessly race down to my local news stand to buy the magazine in question, only to have the bookseller look at me funny and say, “That issue sold out six months ago, son.”
Not today. Today, booksellers don’t even know what a magazine is. They still look at me funny though, but now it’s because I forgot to change out of pajama pants before leaving the house.
Also, the wonders of the Internet include short story reviews that appear before the magazine even goes on sale, which means me and my pajama pants can wander out to Barnes & Noble on a Saturday morning to pick up a copy of the September/October issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, after reading this terrific Tangent Online review of “The Caravan To Nowhere,” a new Alaric story in the issue by my friend Phyllis Eisenstein:
Her stories have been nominated for Hugos and Nebulas and this reprint from Rogues, a recent anthology edited by Gardner Dozios and George R. R. Martin, shows why… Alaric, a wandering minstrel and recurring character in Eisenstein’s larger universe, joins a merchant on his journey to harvest a mysterious drug, Powder. The drug has made the merchant’s son an addict and part of Alaric’s job is looking out for the young man, who tends to wander and rant.
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I called the last magazine I covered (Fantastic for April 1960) “determinedly minor.” This issue of F&SF seems much more significant to me.
The cover is by Jack Gaughan, illustrating Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever novelet “The Sorcerer Pharesm.” The features include a Gahan Wilson cartoon, a poem by Doris Pitkin Buck, a very short science snippet by Theodore L. Thomas, Judith Merril’s Books column and Isaac Asimov’s Science column.
Asimov’s column is one of his lesser ones: little but a list of the Nobel Prize winners in the Science fields by nationality. That’s a long list, so it takes up most of his page count. He does a tiny amount of analysis of the numbers, but not much.
Merril begins by reviewing two very ’60s-ish popular science books: LSD: The Consciousness Inducing Drug (edited by David Solomon, with contributions from those you’d expect, like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Timothy Leary), and Games People Play by Eric Berne. She recommends the LSD book, but is quite negative about Games People Play.
In the way of SF, she begins by looking at two John Brunner books, The Day of the Star Cities and The Squares of the City. She identifies the first as “up there with the best of his earlier work” and the second as a step beyond, building on his growth that started with The Whole Man. I think that jibes with the consensus view of Brunner’s career. She ends up saying, “[I]t leaves me very eager to see Brunner’s next.”
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On my way home from work yesterday, I dropped by Barnes & Noble to pick up the latest issues of Asimov’s SF and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I couldn’t find them at my local B&N here in St. Charles, Illinois, so I made a special trip all the way to Schaumberg.
No dice. After poking behind all the knitting and puzzle magazines for nearly 10 minutes, all I managed to come up with was last month’s Asimov’s and Analog. Both clearly stated “On sale until 9/2″ in the bottom left corner, which tells me the new issues are more than a week overdue.
Come on — what’s a guy gotta do to buy a science fiction magazine around here? It’s almost enough to make me give up and buy Health Magazine instead. Maybe I can get some suggestions on how to reduce all this stress in my life.
Now, it’s not strictly true that all I found was Asimov’s and Analog. Just a few inches over, hidden behind the latest issue of McSweeney’s, I discovered something unusual: issue #40 of British horror magazine Black Static.
Well, this is timely. Just last week, as I was formatting the article on the British Fantasy Awards and looking for pics to go with it, I stumbled on the cover of Black Static #33 (containing Best Short Story winner “Signs of the Times,” by Carole Johnstone), and I thought, “Damn, that’s a mighty fine cover, with that creepy subway, and floating vapor, or whatever the heck that is. I should really get a copy of this magazine. I bet I’d like it.”
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Five weeks off have done a lot to recharge my batteries. Among other things, I actually read several books that are not swords & sorcery in the slightest. Among them were Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy by John LeCarre (rereads both), The Children of Old Leech edited by Russ Lockhart and Justin Steele, Killer Move by Michael Marshall, and Miami Blues by Charles Willeford (also a reread). I recommend all of them highly.
I also read the first of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood books, Brethren of the Main, and am in the midst of reading The Chronicles of Captain Blood. I can place the revival of my obsession with pirates at Howard Andrew Jones’s and my seven-year-old nephew’s feet. These are books you will definitely be hearing about in the near future.
But enough blather; I’m here to fill you in on the past month’s S&S shorts. Between Swords and Sorcery Magazine #31 and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #21, six new stories made their appearances this past August. You may not love every story or even the ones I do, but I can never stress strongly enough the need to check them out for yourself. The authors and editors need to know there’s an audience for the work they’re doing.
As he has every month for the past two and half years, Curtis Ellett presented two new stories in his most recent issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine. In the first, “Red Cat’s Marriage” by Melanie Henry, the skillfully manipulative daughter of a king brings dire consequences down on herself when she tricks a man into marriage. While well written, it’s not suspenseful nor really fantasy, let alone swords & sorcery.
Paul Miller’s “A Promise Made” is nice meat-and-potatoes S&S. It’s right on target, giving the reader a heroic sword-wielding main character, a dangerous world filled with deadly denizens, and innocents in peril needing rescue. The Blademistress is a supernaturally gifted warrior working as a guard on a caravan in a world that has fallen to the forces of darkness. She’s determined and more than ready to do whatever is necessary to honor her promises — even to the point of death. Among the many evils haunting her world are the Fallen.
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The February, 1952 issue of Galaxy included a pair of articles along with its fiction offering. I covered Robert A. Heinlein’s predictions from an article titled “Where To?” in a previous post. The other, by L. Sprague de Camp, reflects on science fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, assessing the failed predictions within older stories.
It seems odd to showcase an article about how science fiction authors failed to predict the future and then follow it up with a science fiction author predicting the future. But I digress…
“Double Standard” by Alfred Coppel — The protagonist is bent on space travel, even if he isn’t suitable for colonial breeding. With forged documents and the illegal work by a plasti-cosmetician, he’s ready to board a ship to anywhere.
This is a quirky tale with a predictable ending. But it’s short enough that it works.
“Conditionally Human” by Walter M. Miller, Jr. — Norris and his wife run a district pound, not for average dogs and cats, but for genetically modified creatures. Some are intelligent versions of dogs and cats while yet another breed, called neutroids, closely resemble humans. The neutroids only grow to specific, chosen ages between one and ten and remain at that level of development. They are suitable pets for C-class couples — people who have been deemed as having a defective heredity and thus are forbidden from having children of their own.
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There are 60 original Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 56 short stories and 4 novels (novellas, really). He also wrote two very short Holmes “bits” that are not included in the official Canon, though all acknowledge they are his works.
In August of 1948, the Doyle Estate added a 61st story to the official list when Cosmopolitan proclaimed “FOUND! The Last Adventure of SHERLOCK HOMES, a hitherto unpublished story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”
Included in that issue was “The Man Who Was Wanted,” a long lost Holmes tale from the pen of Doyle himself. Five months later, London’s Sunday Dispatch serialized it in three installments during January of 1949.
Rumors of the story’s discovery had started in 1942 and Hesketh Pearson, the man who found it while working on an authorized biography of Conan Doyle, had printed the beginning of the story and commented on it in Conan Doyle: His Life and Art.
Notable Baker Street Irregulars such as Edgar Smith, Vincent Starrett, and Anthony Boucher raised a hue and cry for the story to be published. For Sherlockians, this was on a par with the discovery of a Homeric account of the first nine years of the Trojan War!
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The February, 1952 issue of Galaxy opens with two articles, and I don’t usually cover articles when I’m reviewing the fiction of each issue. In this case, I couldn’t resist commenting on Robert A. Heinlein’s article: “Where To?”
The first article is by L. Sprague de Camp, commenting on how science-fiction predictions from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries failed on many levels. So it is ironic, I think, that it’s is followed by Heinlein’s, which gives its own point-blank predictions for the future. Heinlein feels that by comparing the present (that is, 1952) to the past (1900), he can reasonably predict what the future (2000) would look like.
Heinlein believes that the curve of human achievement — advances in science, technology and transportation, for example — is one that will rise with increased steepness. And in a graph he provides, it reminds me of an exponential increase (no numbers are shown, so that’s just a guess on my part).
Heinlein’s predictions fall into two categories — achievements that are probable and things we won’t get any time soon, if ever. He was almost 100% correct (or arguably perfect) on the items we would not achieve by 2000: time travel, traveling faster than the speed of light, control of telepathy or E.S.P. phenomena, “radio” transmissions of matter, real understanding of what “thought” is and how it is related to matter, scientific proof of survival after death, manlike robots with manlike reactions (Asimo, the Honda robot wasn’t introduced until late 2000), and a permanent end to war. One item that’s arguable is laboratory creation of life, depending on whether or not cloning counts.
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Back in February, John Joseph Adams’s Lightspeed magazine held one of the most successful genre Kickstarter campaigns of the year, raising money for a special Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue. With a modest $5,000 goal, the magazine ended up raising $53,136 before the campaign ended on February 15.
Ambitious Kickstarter projects frequently have a reputation for being late — and I’m not sure I’ve seen many as ambitious as this one. But the issue shipped right on time in early June, and we reported here on the details back on June 5th. Lightspeed is a digital magazine and, as you’d expect, this groundbreaking issue was first made available in digital format. I’m not much of a digital magazine reader, truth be told — I like to read magazines curled up in my big green chair — but I thought I’d eventually make an exception for this one.
But about a week later, on June 14th, I saw a Facebook post from contributor (and occasional Black Gate blogger) Amal El-Mohtar, showing off the print version of the magazine.
Wait, what? There’s a print version? I want it. How do I get it? Amal’s description was tantalizingly cryptic:
My physical copy of Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Science Fiction arrived! It’s gorgeous, and huge, and I love it so much and can’t seem to stop petting it. It contains “The Lonely Sea in the Sky,” my first (and hopefully not last) piece of science fiction… The print copy contains everything — the interviews, essays, editorials, reprints, flash fiction, and originals. You can’t quite tell from the photo but the book is about 2 inches thick. It really is more of an anthology at this point than it is an issue of a magazine. To reiterate: TWO INCHES THICK.
I knew that I had to have a copy. And as it turned out, it wasn’t very hard to get one: Amazon has them in stock, discounted to $12.77 — less than the cost of an average trade paperback. I ordered a copy on July 3rd and it arrived a week later.
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I’d rank this as a determinedly minor issue of this magazine, from fairly early in Cele Goldsmith’s tenure. It has a bland cover by an artist I’ve never heard of, Jack Faragasso. The feature list is slim. Norman Lobsenz’s editorial, very brief, is about an idea to put a ring of dust around the Earth so that it is always light. (What a dreadful idea!)
There is also the lettercol, with no contributors I recognized – the names are Miles McAlpin, James W. Ayers, Wesley Sharp, Billy Joe Plott, Frank P. Pretto (perhaps a typo for Prieto), and Michael W. Elm – and their usual small “Coming Next Month.” Interior illustrations are by [Leo] Summers, Varga, and Grayam.
So, what about the stories?
The cover story is “Doomsday Army,” by Jack Sharkey, an entirely too long story about a National Guard captain who ends up being the main intermediary to a bunch of (as it turns out) very small alien invaders. He’s portrayed as a fairly ordinary suburban husband, prone to taking shortcuts in solving problems his wife brings to his attention: so of course his solution to the alien problem will be a dangerous shortcut. And so it is, with an implausible solution.
There’s joke enough here for maybe 3,000 words at the outside, and this drags terribly at some 13,000 words. (I wonder if it was written to the cover, which does portray a scene from the story but in a very generic fashion.)
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Sometimes, it’s easy to think that writing science fiction in the early 1950′s couldn’t be easier. After all, how many cliches existed at that time?
Well, apparently there were plenty. Gold writes in his opening of Galaxy’s January, 1952 issue:
The world today is loaded with ifs! So crammed, crowded, bulging with ifs jostling each other, in fact, that it’s a pure bafflement to see writers turning the same ones over and over, looking for some new bump never before noticed on the use-worn surfaces.
Yes, he wrote this for the January 1952 issue. The more of his commentaries I read, the more I think nothing has really changed over time.
Galaxy set the bar high, not allowing anyone to write stale stories. “Known authors who depend on their names to sell inferior fiction are finding no market in Galaxy; new authors who are willing to dig for ideas and fresh treatments are getting an enthusiastic, cooperative welcome.” Gold cared deeply about quality fiction and it’s clear to me with each issue I read that he accomplished it.
I’d love the chance to tell him how much I respect the work he did back then, but since I can’t, I only hope it serves to drive others toward that same level of quality, whether as editors, authors, artists, or any other roles involved with speculative fiction. Let’s look to Galaxy as a standard to match or exceed, if that’s even possible.
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