Review: Amazing, Fall 2018

Amazing, Fall 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “Captain Future in Love (Part One)” by Allen Steele (serialized science fiction novella)
  • “Harry’s Toaster” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (science fiction short story)
  • “Beyond Human Measure” by Dave Creek (science fiction short story)
  • “Flight of an Arrow” by Shirley Meier (short story)
  • “Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” by Kameron Hurley (science fiction short story)
  • “Foster Earth” by Julie Czerneda (science fiction novelette)
  • “Slipping Time” by Paul Levinson (fantasy short story)
  • “When Angels Come Knocking” by Drew Hayden Taylor (fantasy short story)

The Fall 2018 issue of Amazing (which came out in August) marks yet another resurrection of the venerable title. As such, I’ll spend some time on general and non-fictional aspects of the magazine before moving on to its fiction.

Non-Fiction

The new Amazing is attractively presented, with interior illustrations and cartoons (the first is especially funny) enlivening its three-column layout which packs in a lot of wordage relative to its 104 pages. An interesting bit of style is the use of the first column of each story for a drawing of the author set above the biographical blurb. A problem (though less of one than for many other magazines) is that there are several typos or misspellings, poor word breaks, and uncorrected grammatical lapses. Its common in other magazines of this sort to present a fraction of an item followed by a “continued on Page N” and I appreciate that they don’t do this, but have complete non-fiction articles bookending the complete run of stories.

Speaking of that non-fiction, it opens with a presumably irregular “Publisher’s Note” from Steve Davidson which thanks everyone, living or not, who contributed to this revival and makes a good point about Amazing being not just a magazine, but a symbol of science fiction and “the genre’s birth place.” The rest of the non-fiction columns are presumably regular. Raconteur Robert Silverberg, the current Memory of the Field, relates his history with Amazing in an engaging piece. In the last piece before the fiction, NASA man Jack Clemons brings us a regular column on space exploration.

Moving to the back, there’s a “European Author Profile” (interview) from Gary Dalkin on Tade Thompson. While Wells and Verne were major early Europeans drafted by Amazing, I’m not sure what the real connection is and if simply profiling one of the authors published in the issue, like Analog and many other magazines do, wouldn’t have been better. Then there’s a movie review column from Steve Fahnestalk rather than a book review column (shades of some of Amazing‘s more multimedia periods) and, lastly, an editorial from Ira Nayman on the uses and abuses of stories, amazing or otherwise.

Fiction

The fiction reminds me most of Galaxy’s Edge, overall. There’s science fiction and fantasy, the former is usually far from hard, and both include humor. There may also be some comparison to On Spec in that there’s a strong Canadian (specifically Ontarian) presence which includes the editor and a third of the authors.

It begins with a two-part serial of Allen Steele’s “Captain Future in Love” which, if the parts are at all equal, will be a novella. There is also a reprint of Rudy Rucker’s 2013 tale “Apricot Lane” which is typical of the author.

The original fiction opens with “Harry’s Toaster.” In the award-winning “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” (IAsfm, July 1987), Harry runs a diner which serves as a nexus for travelers of parallel worlds and sometimes receives strange payments from them but the story primarily concerns his assistant. In this short, humorous (but lesser) follow-up, the focus is on Harry as he’s paid with a “toaster” which doesn’t have anything to do with bread.

Beyond Human Measure” is also a sequel, this time to “Stealing Adriana” (Analog, October 2008), and related to others. Carrie Molina is guarding Vicari, the evil nut who tortured and killed Carrie’s sister Adriana. They are on a mission to try to save a sick Jupiter whale who is the only one who can broker a peace deal between other whales. Because of Vicari’s modifications, he’s the only one who can heal it. When Vicari falls ill himself and needs to take an extraordinary step to accomplish the mission, Carrie must choose between her hatred of him and her desire to, um, save the whale. Leaving aside Jupiter whales, Vicari’s uniqueness is implausible, the emotions aren’t convincing, there are repeated minor contradictions (such as Carrie saying she’d never turn her back on Vicari when she’s done just that immediately prior and will again later) and much “as you know, Bob” and telling rather than showing (such as Vacari saying, “I’ll walk all of you through this so it’s clear what I’m doing”). Finally, the story veers sharply from a sort of science fiction towards a sort of fantasy.

Flight of an Arrow” conveys its grimdarkness well but is too sadomasochistic for me. It’s also categorically odd because, despite a practically impossible ending, I couldn’t find any fantasy (not to mention SF) in it. A small man who is poor with a sword but a superb archer attracts the animosity of an extremely ignoble noble and, after his wife is insulted and the men fight a duel with swords, the archer loses and is blinded, put into a miserable, filthy cell, and abused for a long period until the noble drunkenly offers him one chance at freedom.

Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” is a profanity-filled tale which is fixated on smells, so I might mention the musty odor of decayed cyberpunk this gives off. A wimp of a man and a super-warrior of a woman are “gene-freaks” who hunt down other gene-freaks, perhaps as victims of divide-and-rule. No changes are rung on the dystopian cli-fi scenario and the characters don’t come alive but some may find the pace and smart-aleck narration from the wimp give it energy.

Slipping Time” is actually a pun on “timeslipping.” Sometimes, when the protagonist accidentally slips and falls, he travels backwards in time a few hours, days, or weeks. This gives him a do-over after a fight with his girlfriend. The ending doesn’t punch and, because it’s not mechanical or rationalized in any way, I call it a fantasy, but it’s a decent read.

A woman is trying to bead “When Angels Come Knocking” (or an angel, anyway). Gabriel’s come to tell her she’s been picked to be the next mother of the son of God but times have changed and she’s got her own opinions about that honor. This is much like “Slipping Time,” both in terms of its ending and overall readability, but did have an early line that hit me sideways and made me laugh out loud.

Saving the best for last, in “Foster Earth,” humanity is part of a six species “Hub” when aliens, who come to be called “The Silent,” go around dropping off some of their babies to each of those species. This does not generally go well. This story concerns two main threads: one of official investigations, with most of those scenes featuring scientist Zeynep Qadri, and a more personal experiment in which Ernest and Julia (Gallo?), who have recently lost a son, become foster parents of one alien infant. They all work to unravel the mystery of the aliens and establish meaningful contact. It all seems biologically implausible, the movement between scenes feels choppy, and, again, this is a little shaky on the dismount with the last line seeming overly forced and sentimental but it was engaging and read quickly. The Hub feels a bit like Isaac’s Universe (a shared universe created by Asimov in 1990) and that and the general story has a dash of Cherryh. The sense of a lively universe, median society, and real individuals being involved in intellectually and emotionally stimulating things was strongly conveyed and welcome.

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Review: Spacehounds of IPC by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Spacehounds of IPC
by E. E. “Doc” Smith


Date: 1973-12 printing (1931 serial, 1947 book)
Format: Mass-market paperback
ISBN: 0-515-03300-6
Pages: 220
Price: $0.95
Publisher: Pyramid Books

Percival “Steve” Stevens is aboard the Inter-Plantetary Vessel Arcturus, as a “computer” who is checking on some navigational problems. These turn out to be the fault of some lazy “astronomers” who haven’t been correcting the position of their stations in the space lanes. That problem solved, he’s tasked with entertaining the daughter of the head of the Inter-Planetary Corporation. This turns out to be, not a little girl as he originally thought, but the young, intelligent lady golfer, Nadia. She and Steve, who is a burly swimmer/diver in addition to being a great scientist/mathematician, are a perfect match. He’s showing her the ship when, suddenly, he feels something amiss and learns that the Arcturus is being sliced apart by rays emanating from an alien ship. They end up in one of the many airtight sections of the ship which forms a little short-range ship of its own, but all are dragged off to Jupiter in the aliens’ tractor beams. Finally, Steve and Nadia make their break when the time is right and end up on a habitable Ganymede where they play Robinson Crusoe together and Steve must rebuild civilization from scratch in order to produce a communications device with which to contact Earth, turning into a Herculean Hephaestus. Meanwhile, Nadia also develops “amazingly in musculature” and becomes the huntress Artemis, bringing home the bacon (or “boiled warple,” anyway) while her man does his work at the base. With part of the necessary fundamentals complete, they go off to a comet for metals and meet the enemy again, but also a new group of aliens (from Saturn’s moon, Titan) who turn out to be human, like ourselves, but much mutated. Working together, the two strains of humanity manage to fight off the enemy and help each other out in other ways. Finally, Steve sends out the signal and can convey to “Tellus” (Earth) the knowledge of what happened, and what the IPV Sirius will face and how to soup it up so that it can deal with the alien challenge. At this point, the view shifts and the milieu recomplicates as more ships and races and angles of combat are introduced, culminating in the overwhelming appearance of the Vorkuls: generally isolationist flying snake-things of South Jupiter with their omnipresent motif of seven-pointed stars and mega-ships. Their planetary and space combat with the intrinsically violent North Jovian hexans (who have been our enemy all along) forms the climax (which humans helped trigger but don’t really participate in), followed by a more human-centered denouement.

This novel is about 86,000 words and first appeared in three 1931 issues of Amazing before being published in book form by Fantasy Press in 1947. As Smith is mostly known for his Skylark and Lensman series, I was hoping it would be an unjustly neglected gem but its secondary status turns out to be fair. Those who are not fans of Smith or 30s SF or space opera would almost certainly have no interest in this while even those who are might not be fully satisfied with it. I enjoyed it, overall, but it has problems, mostly in the POV-shifts and time overlaps of the second half. Its main points deal with the “complementariness” of genders and multiple races of humanity (Martians, “Venerians,” and the people of the Jovian and Saturnian moons) and the idea of omni-competent people being pro-survival, being able to wage “a war of applied physics” (despite earlier saying that earth had united under one government “so that wars could no longer interfere with progress”). A further element in this war is that friendly interaction or isolationism each have their virtues but intrinsic aggression is unacceptable and must be met with greater, albeit momentary, aggression. For an urban American in 1931, some of the details in attitudes were remarkably “advanced” though they certainly wouldn’t pass muster with today’s ideologists. In this, Smith is much like Heinlein and, indeed, this is probably the book where Smith’s influence on Heinlein comes through most clearly. Much of the Steve-and-Nadia portion reminds me irresistibly of Heinlein.

In “Larger Than Life,” a 1979 essay on Smith, written at the request of Smith’s daughter (and the dedicatee of Spacehounds of IPC), Verna, on the occasion of MosCon I which was dedicated to him, Heinlein made the point that Smith was, himself, omni-competent, honest, hospitable, and “the perfect gallant knight” and that all this was “reflected in his stories.” He goes on to mention various attacks on Smith by the critics of that time and proceeds to defend his style (even dialog), love scenes, plots, and social values (Good and Evil, inequality of men (and women)). While the love scenes of IPC are certainly chaste and in keeping with the slang-filled general dialog, they’re actually not all that painful. The rest would certainly give some of today’s audience problems but Heinlein’s defenses are mostly reasonable. Smith actually does write proper English in a consistent and oddly effective way in narrative voice and his dialog may be “all x, no fooling!” but it contributes to a gee-whiz-bang feel blended with the, “Say, Bob…” old-style movie feel in everything from The Thing to even 2001. Heinlein gives Smith too much credit for plotting originality in terms of dynamics (and, in a different sense, the uneven plotting is my major problem with this particular book), but it is true that Smith basically invented the space opera and any critique of what came to be its cliches is, in Smith’s case, historically naive and backwards. As I touched on before, the social values are a curious mix. In 1931, they might have been seen as liberal and/or radical while, today, they would be seen as hopelessly incorrect. The hexans are not so much evil as just bad, like a plague of locusts, and the humans in all their strains are good as groups. Between those good groups, however, the question of whether they’ve diverged so much that they are no longer interfertile isn’t clear but interplanetary romance isn’t seen as acceptable by the hero. (The question as to whether this should be taken literally in science fictional terms or symbolically is also open.) Within these groups, men (and women) are not treated equally. The hero is better than the lazy navigational bums and certainly better than his enemies. While Nadia is smart, athletic, muscled, and hunts for their food and the two form a pair from the start, the hero is more mathematically and scientifically skilled than the heroine and the heroes certainly outnumber the heroines. There is also a question about whether Nadia will turn out to be a “spacehound” (able to handle zero-G and the general environment of space) or a “weight-fiend” (a landlubber), but she does turn out to be as spaceworthy as Steve or anyone else. These things will strongly affect those of any stripe who read SF primarily as social symbolism, although in different ways.

What most affected me were the “complementary intelligences” and “war of applied physics” concepts. For the first, the Tellurians (as Smith calls us), Venerians, and Martians work together to make a whole greater than the sum of the parts (as do men and women) and this motif is played out again when we meet the people of both the Jovian and Saturnian satellites. For the second, curiosity, intelligence, and an engagement with the actual physical world is seen as providing the keys to the kingdom. There is a remarkable blend of far-out super-science and nitty-gritty plausible engineering. There are wonderful perspective shifts such as a reference to the natives of Titan and their relation to Saturn’s rings and, of course, to Tellurians in relation to the various moonfolk. There are amazing set pieces such as the descriptions of the city and race of the Vorkuls and their war with the hexans. For people who respond primarily to such things and fun, super-science epics, Spacehounds of IPC may appeal.

Edit (2018-05-26): re-positioned cover image, added bibliographical information, “ex libris” tag.