|Amazing Stories, Fall 1998|
|A review by Steven H Silver|
Amazing #594, the second issue since their relaunch, has now hit the stands. While the first issue had a cover with a painting of Star Trek's Enterprise, this one has an eye-catching cover piece by Mark Zug which illustrates Diane Duane's "Recensions," a story set in WotC's STAR*DRIVE gaming campaign. "Recensions," unfortunately, reads less like a story than background information for a story. It is a tale within a tale and introduces the sesheyans and explains a little about their culture, which seems at odds with the bureaucratic tale the sesheyan scribe offers.
Ursula Le Guin's story, "The Island of the Immortals" also suffers from a sense that the author is presenting background information. The story of a woman's search for an island on an alien planet where people grow to be immortal opens with a long description of her research into the island, and with the story of an ancient sage who visited it. The same information could have been presented in a more active way, and the pacing is not helped by the fact that when the woman arrives on the island the atmosphere, which she hardly comments on, is one which could depress an hyena.
The first non-fiction article which appears in Amazing is Ben Bova's "You Might Live Forever," an excerpt from his recent book Immortality. This essays ties in well to the immortality theme in Le Guin's "The Island of the Immortals." In essence, a short description of the current knowledge of aging and possible ways to prevent them, the article comes across as summary rather than anything new.
The first story in this issue is the first publication of James Tiptree, Jr.'s first story, "Please Don't Mess With the Time Machine." Although it's a light send-up of traditional space-opera, it has a muted punchline, one which is seen fairly frequently and often done better. Whereas the title is a typically fantastic Tiptree title, it is also misleading, as this is not a time machine/travel story in any way.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Going Native" is an almost Luddite examination of the fears and hysteria which surround the introduction of new technology. In this particular case, the technology is teleportation, but that is less important to the story than the themes Rusch explores. The story works well, although it does end at a point where it could be expanded should Rusch decide to continue it.
Although Gregory Benford's "Scientifiction" non-fiction column mostly deals with the purpose of science fiction (not to predict, but to prevent), he also discusses why science fiction is so separate from mainstream fiction and comes to a conclusion which complements Rusch's anti-technological theme.
J. Gregory Keyes's "Good With Secrets" is an excerpt from his upcoming Babylon 5 novel, Dark Genesis. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has an unfinished feel, almost as if it is an outline that needs fleshing out. The relationship which develops between the two main characters doesn't feel as if it has any grounding beyond the fact that they are in close proximity, and the logical leaps required to solve the mystery Keyes sets up are worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle.
One of the best stories in the magazine has the unlikely title "Thematic Torus in Search of a Cusp," by the writing team of William Barton and Michael Capobianco. In this alternate history, Mariner 4 has discovered evidence of at least one city on Mars. For the most part, the story deals with the way scientists and politicians deal with the discovery, although there is a cute twist on the end which works. Like so many of the stories in this issue of Amazing, this one also feels as if it ends before it really gets to the point.
Eliot Fintushel's "Crane Fly" deals with alien entities who are trying to return to their home world from Earth. In order to achieve their goal, they must arrange for humans around the world to lose their appetites. The "About the Author" note mentions that "Crane Fly" is part of a short story cycle Fintushel is working on, and it is difficult to believe that knowledge of the earlier stories wouldn't make "Crane Fly" more complete and enjoyable.
While parts of William R. Eakin's "Encounter at Redgunk," about a redneck's guilt at beating up the town genius and killing his mother in a car accident, work, at other times Eakin seems to fall into the trap of portraying the inhabitants of Redgunk as stereotypical poor white trash. His depictions come across as mean-spirited rather than satirical. However, the story manages to work because he eventually focuses on Bobby Joe Raymond Thornton's feelings and guilt rather than on his "Southerness."
"What Does the Algae Eat?" by Uncle River is practically a stream-of-consciousness rambling which fails to have a plot and seems to begin with an examination of faith in the modern world and eventually moves on to discuss environmental issues. Perhaps the most unfocussed piece in this issue of Amazing, it is, perhaps, the only story which would never have appeared in a magazine edited by Amazing's patron editor, Hugo Gernsback.
Not only is the cover a full color glossy illustration, the interior of the magazine is filled with similar paintings and graphics, giving Amazing a very slick look and feel. Each story is accompanied by a sidebar in which a short biography of both author and illustrator are provided and frequently include a small pictures of them.
There is a very self-promotional feel about Amazing, partly due to the number of ads for Wizards of the Coast properties or Babylon 5 tie-ins. This is increased because scattered throughout the magazine are reproductions of various Amazing covers from the past. These covers are accompanied by promotional material about what was included in the magazines and could be a nice historical overview if they were somehow linked together. As it is, they come across as filler materials, like the quotes at the end of some Analog articles.
While it is good that Amazing has once again risen from the ashes, the editor (currently Kim Mohan) must select his stories more carefully. Otherwise, the magazine will close shop again because of the inability to present enough cutting edge SF, relying instead, as this issue seems to, on works which have been rejected from the other major markets.
Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.
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