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Reviews by Doug Reeder

Science Fiction Age: review of premier issue

About 4 min reading time

review Copyright © 1992 by Doug Reeder

Science Fiction Age is a new magazine which aims to cover “ALL of science fiction.” The format is 8x11 in. on glossy paper, with eighty-four pages. The premier issue has ten articles and departments and seven works of fiction. The pieces not fiction include the editorial, letters, book review, movie news, an essay, a science article, an art article, a comic book review, a computer game review, and information on authors. The fiction includes four stories set in the future, one fantasy, one technological historical fiction, and one alternate universe. There are nineteen full page ads and seven full page equivalents of part-page ads. They cover all the bases - with a style and attitude that rarely cuts to the heart of the matter.

“Bright eyed and bushy tailed” describes the editorial by Scott Edelman. The fiction book reviews by John Kessel and Michael Bishop are in-depth, but therefore cover only three books in three pages. There is also a box on upcoming releases, plus about half a page by Scott Edelman recommending two fiction and four non-fiction books. Jim Steranko covers the status of sf movies in production, a news topic which is too light for my taste. The essay by Jerry Pournelle failed to convey any insight into its topic. The “science article” is an interview aimed at an audience that has not considered the paradoxes of time travel in depth. It has nowhere near the meat of a science article in Analog.

The three pictures of Robert McCall reproduced largest in the article on his art appear bland and naive technophilia to my eye. Three of the smaller ones: “First Men on the Moon”, a detail of an EVA, and “Apotheosis of Technology” deserved larger spreads. Bruce Sterling’s review of the twelve part miniseries “The Hacker Files” from DC Comics scripted by Lewis Shiner is excellent. Sterling incisively says “The Hacker Files also has one absolutely vital element for a successful comic book in that it’s totally unrealistic and unbelievable. This is a total power-fantasy comic for a target audience of dangerously alienated computer nerds.”

Regrettably (at least from my standpoint), the reviewer of the computer game “Star Trek - 25th Anniversary” was Ann Crispin, who has written Star Trek novels, rather than someone who understands games. Special effects and faithfulness to source material are of minor importance to the long-term success of a game - what really matters is how the game plays: are many strategies possible, or does the player always end up using the same strategy because it’s the only one that works, can you set up genuinely different scenarios, is the user interface transparent?

The stories were all together in the middle of the magazine and were not interrupted by ads, a sound design. “The Last Robot” by Adam-Troy Castro was vague of theme and had little storyline and essentially no characterization. “Undercover” by Gene O’Neill is mildly humorous - too bad humor is its only selling point. “A Dangerous Knowledge” by Arlan Andrews, the historical work, is compelling, historically accurate, and brings alive just why an industrial revolution did not spring from the sophisticated civilization of ancient Greece.

“Anne” by Paul Di Filippo is an alternate history of Anne Frank, which makes an interesting point at the end. “The Dragonslayer’s Sword” is a politically-correct (that’s NOT a complement) fantasy by Resa Nelson which left me asking “so what?”

“A Tale from the War” by Don Webb has two illustrations by the French artist Moebius. The illustrations are expressive and compelling, as are most of Moebius’s non-serial drawings. The story is artsy (that’s not a complement either) like most graphic novels illustrated by Moebius. “Is This the Presidential Palace?” is a short-short by Barry Malzberg which is unpleasant for the same reason as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” without the other qualities that make the latter a classic.

There is a lot visually appealing artwork - much of it in the ads! The (excellent) Michael Whelan cover will be familiar to many from “The Robots of Dawn”. The James Warhola cover for “Stranger in a Strange Land” which fit that novel so well appears in the movie article. Most of the art accompanying the fiction is so-so, but the pen-and-ink illustration by Mike Hill for “A Dangerous Knowledge” is good. The Morpheus International, Greenwich Workshop, Worlds of Wonder, Bill Toma, Glass Onion Graphics (showing Michael Whelan’s “The Snow Queen” and “The Summer Queen”), The Computer Lab, and Bantam ads are all worth looking at in their own right.

Many of the ads have found their proper home in this magazine. There are seven ads for Star Trek products, five for sf video, eight for sculpture or art prints, six for new book releases, nine for stores and mail-order houses, and a number for narrow market science-fiction products (such as hypertext) that are difficult to classify, but one of which is probably something you’d really like to have.

You will like some things I disliked, and vice-versa. However, my comparisons are (I hope) accurate and should give you something to work with. The level and emphasis of the magazine are abundantly clear.

My fundamental problem with almost all the material in the magazine is that it has no depth. You won’t want to read through it again a year or five or twenty from now. Given the magazine’s mission of covering all of science fiction, there have to be newsy bits to cover events and happenings. This does not prevent the rest from being hard-hitting articles, insightful reviews, and good stories. I’d like to see articles on emerging and fading sub-genres, why they might be changing, and how they relate to what audiences look for. Emerging mediums such as interactive computer works, hypertext, and robot choreography should be evaluated for artistic possibilities. I’d like to see editorials and science fact articles as good as Analog’s; essays that challenge the reader with new perspectives; critical analysis of groups of stories by an author; and, not least, fiction worth anthologizing. To cover everything happening in science fiction would take a newspaper and make dull reading. A monthly magazine can cover in depth the important things.

Science Fiction Age is light reading on many topics in science fiction. Is there an audience for this? Probably. An audience for what I would have it be? Probably smaller, I hate to admit. Most people try to avoid hard thinking.

%A Scott Edelman
%A Arlan Andrews
%A Eric T. Baker
%A Michael Bishop
%A Adam-Troy Castro
%A Doug Chezem
%A Ann Crispin
%A Ronald Anthony Cross
%A Vincent Di Fate
%A Paul Di Filippo
%A Harlan Ellison
%A Craig Shaw Gardner
%A Ron Goulart
%A Al Kamajiyan
%A John Kessel
%A Geoffrey A. Landis
%A Annie Lunsford
%A Barry Malzberg
%A Pat Morissey
%A Resa Nelson
%A Gene O’Neill
%A Jerry Pournelle
%A Bruce Sterling
%A Charles Sheffield
%A Don Webb
%A Michael Whelan
%E Scott Edelman
%T Science Fiction Age
%I Sovereign Media Company
%C Herndon, VA
%D November 1992
%G ISSN 70989-36021
%O magazine, US$2.95/issue, US$14.95/year
%V Vol 1 No 1
%P 84 pp