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Amazing Stories, Winter 2000

Amazing Stories, Winter 2000
Amazing Stories
Amazing Stories was the first publication solely dedicated to the science fiction genre. It was founded in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback, who is widely acknowledged as the father of science fiction and is the person for whom the prestigious Hugo Award was named. Wizards of the Coast resurrected the magazine to continue the tradition of publishing science fiction short stories and adding short fiction based on the settings and characters in science fiction film and television. Other features include reviews of science fiction books, film, and electronic games.

Amazing Stories Website
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SF Site Review: Amazing Stories, Summer 1999

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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With its Winter 2000 issue (an astounding date in and of itself), Amazing Magazine continues to pull off its amazing trick of packaging a pretty cool collection of leading SF and Fantasy writers sandwiched between the covers of a media tie-in publication seemingly of interest only to adolescent gamers. Actually, in disproving the adage that you can tell a book by its cover, only one media-related story is featured, "Genius Loci" by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski; there's also a short interview with Rick Berman on the future of the Star Trek franchise, and a pull-out section for a role playing game. What's left is a nicely illustrated SF magazine with some real edge.

Babylon 5 fans presumably will be interested in the cover story, as it deals with the further adventures of G'Kar and Lyta, who were evidently popular characters on the series. Taken just as that -- a "short storyization," if you will, of a TV episode -- it's an okay effort. Normally, I'd leave it at that, because even while recognizing there's something to be said for the talent it takes to craft a workmanlike story, it's just too easy to take pot shots at media-related fiction. But the sidebar profile which depicts Straczynski striving to "address the concept of life's higher purpose" and the "search for meaning beyond oneself" in his Babylon 5 fiction calls out for comment. I mean, cut me a break! The plot resolution of "Genius Loci" hinges on a hoary SF device -- posing an unanswerable question to a superior intelligence as a means of overcoming it -- that's a cliché even in media terms, having been used in the original Star Trek (which was famous for appropriating classic SF storylines without giving due credit) as well as another, much superior, 60s series, The Prisoner. (The latter, by the way, is more truly SF than other small screen attempts at the genre, perhaps in part because it ran, having said what it wanted to say, by design for only one season. Interestingly, despite a cult following, it has spawned relatively few spin-offs; I'm aware of only a series of graphic novels and a novelization by Thomas Disch, currently out-of-print).

That media fiction rarely rises above the conventional is implied in The Observatory column by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (ironically enough, since she herself is a prolific writer of media-inspired novels). In suggesting contemporary works that one day might become classic SF in the tradition of Brave New World or Stranger in a Strange Land, media tie-ins are conspicuously absent from her list (though Rusch does cite the original Star Trek series as a "foundation for [her] love for SF").

One story Rusch thinks deserving of classic-status is Harlan Ellison's "Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman!" A sort of contemporary take on that parable of nonconformity is "Shadow of the Mothaship" by Cory Doctorow. I'm not about to hazard a guess about whether people will be reading it with reverence four decades later as we do today with Ellison's short story, but it does posit a bizarre reality that, like the best speculative fiction, reflects the problems and issues of the current milieu. Doctorow's style reminds me of Paul DiFilippo, who is also represented here by "Working for the U," the "U" being a cosmic entity that employs historical and fictional characters to set right certain people's misconceptions about the workings of the universe. In contrast to media-fiction that is typically self-referential, both in terms of plotlines and the genre (Straczynski's story makes reference to an "Asimov class" of spaceship, nudge, nudge), a full appreciation of DiFilippo's story requires broader intellectual horizons, with his allusions to Ambrose Bierce, the Amazing Randi, and Whitley Strieber, as well as ET.

Howard Waldrop treads similar landscapes as DiFilippo -- meaning he's just as weird -- and his "London, Paris, Banana," about the adventures of a trio of robots that have survived humanity, is no exception. Here Waldrop echoes the genre's classic advocacy of space travel in suggesting that the only rationale for extraterrestrial exploration is the same as for climbing Mt. Everest -- when the need to embark on such adventures simply because "it's there" withers, the human spirit withers.

Another favourite SF subject as venerated as space travel is the Frankenstein monster. I don't know how many SF fans have actually read Mary Shelley's gothic novel (and if you haven't, you should), but its influence is pervasive. Of course, most people, even people who don't read, much less read SF, are familiar with the Boris Karloff movie bastardization. While the cinematic Frankenstein has its charms (only echoing the complexity of its source material), its immediate sequel (and of course there are more sequels than there should have been), The Bride of Frankenstein, is actually the better movie. Elizabeth Braswell's "The Bride" takes an interesting riff in considering what might have happened had the monster gotten his desired mate. While this could have degenerated into a reactionary feminist polemic, positing a "dysfunctional" relationship between the emotionally-clueless-because-he's-male monster and his much-more-sensitive-female partner, the monster manifested in the ending offers insights that transcend mere male-bashing.

More towards the conventional, in the sense of dealing with the "science" of science fiction, is the second and concluding installment of Frederik Pohl's "Hatching the Phoenix." The plot is less important than the idea that we can literally see the past because of the time it takes for light from far-flung galaxies to travel to our perception, along with a meditation on the general stupidity and self-destructiveness of so-called intelligent creatures. Classic SF, indeed, from a classic SF author.

Monte Cook's "Born in Secrets" also delves into well-trodden territory, that of alien possession. At first I dismissed this as a nicely written, but "been there done that" sort of story. But when I realized that the means by which the alien intelligence is transmitted to its hosts is the very same that I'm using to read the story, I began to have second thoughts. Who among us cannot claim to have been transformed into something else by reading a book?

A transformation of another sort takes place in the centre-piece story, the one that instead of the Babylon 5 tableau should be on the cover, "Mud" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The author combines several classic themes -- a coming of age story, first contact, an inversion of "Terraforming" in which the reformulated terrain is human consciousness -- and blends it together in a way that transcends the limited Twilight Zone feel of the aforementioned "Born in Secrets." A wonderful, thoughtful story that the likes of Straczynski could take a lesson from in what constitutes a real literary investigation into the search for identity and the choices we make that define us as uniquely human. SF, in other words, that is truly amazing.

Copyright © 2000 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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