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Amazing Stories, Issue 600

Amazing Stories, Issue 600
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
ISFDB Issue Listing
SF Site Review: Amazing Stories, Winter 2000
SF Site Review: Amazing Stories, Summer 1999
SF Site Review: Amazing Stories, Fall 1998

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

To commemorate the 600th issue of the longest running SF magazine still in print, Amazing Stories has published what it bills as a "Special Collector's Edition" in between its regular Winter and Spring quarterly issues. While I don't know if holding on to a pristine copy of this issue will help pay for your grandchildren's college tuition (or should I say on-line access fees?), even if you're the type whose once-read magazines go immediately in the recycling bin, it's well worth checking out. And maybe even holding on to, less for monetary reasons than just as a handy reference to SF's roots.

Amazing has reprinted one story from each of its centennial issues since its initial publication in April 1926. (By the way, for those who care about such things, an irregular publishing schedule over the years -- including outright suspension for a time -- disqualifies Amazing from the record of most issues by a still publishing magazine. As Robert Silverberg points out in Amazing's regularly appearing feature of guest columnists called "The Observatory," although Amazing is the oldest in terms of years, Analog, which was born in 1930 as Astounding Stories of Super-Science and has more or less maintained monthly publication, currently exceeds 800 issues.) The reprints are sandwiched between two originals -- Harlan Ellison's lead story, "the Toad Prince or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes" and Pamela Sargent's "Common Mind," especially commissioned to represent Amazing's septennial issue. For the most part, the "bread" of this sandwich is actually more nourishing than the meat.

With a tough heroine working as an interspecies prostitute on Mars, Ellison's spin on the "princess kisses a toad" fairy tale pokes some good-natured fun at the pulp tradition which Amazing helped established. The difference is that Ellison is a better, cleverer writer who still manages to make some trenchant comments about humanity's less admirable tendencies. Ellison shows how a satirical homage can still have a cutting edge, as opposed to those efforts in which the form is merely mimicked (some of the stories of Garcia y Robertson come to mind), to what point I don't really get.

In our age of Oprah-inspired ad nauseum self-confession, Sargent's tale suggests that keeping to oneself might not be such be a bad thing. That much of the action takes place in a shopping mall places Sargent's story squarely in the modern era -- indeed, I wonder if any author in the history of Amazing envisioned such an horrific future exemplified by the sterility of the mall with its meandering teen subcultures. Of course, they were probably too worried about the atom bomb and other technological Faustian bargains to think much about vacuous consumerism.

To get an idea of the past's concerns about the power of technology to serve good or evil purposes, a perfect example is "Photo Control" by Bernard Brown, B.Sc. (The fact that someone would attach a bachelor of science degree to their name to attest to their distinguishing authority about scientific matters is itself an amazing anachronism in these over-educated days when you can actually get a graduate degree in something like hotel and restaurant management.) Published in August 1934 in Amazing's 100th issue, Brown is hardly a hallowed name in the field (indeed, he had only one other story published in the magazine). However, his extensive discussion on automotive braking systems and basic physical laws serves as a model for the type of "scientification" story championed by legendary Amazing editor-founder Hugo Gernsback (the guy the award is named after). Of course, all the science talk is the foreground for how technology itself is morally neutral; it's only in humanity's hands that it can turn towards destructive purposes, a longstanding SF theme. In a chilling reminder that the fans of SF may not always be on same interpretive plane as its authors, see the letter reprinted from 1945 which actually celebrates the atom bombing of the Japan as a vindication of SF's ability to predict scientific advances.

Speaking of 1945, "Gallery of Glacial Doom" by Francis M. Deegan, another less-than household name that may have been a pseudonym (a not uncommon practice when one author often contributed several stories to a single issue) of William Hamling, whoever he was. The story is a goofy tale of an encounter between "can-do" soldiers and beautiful aliens whose skin deep attractiveness hides darker motivations; of course, the GIs manage to outwit the aliens in the end, just as they would in every B-movie of the era in which the bug-eyed aliens could be seen as symbols for the just-defeated Nazis and the next force of evil, Communism. Yes, that's how ancient these stories are, back when there was something called Communism and it was actually thought to be something that threatened world domination. A similar story by Vance Simonds, from issue 400 published at the height of East-West tensions in 1964, concerns a group of telepathically enhanced Cold Warriors who thwart an evil Ruski plot to block, of all things, a Christmas show televised from the Moon. The story is a bit more technically ambitious that Deegan's, and perhaps ultimately a little less trite, but it's also evidence of why other contributors to that very same issue, who included Thomas Disch and Ben Bova, today have the name recognition that eluded Simonds.

Another now obscure name is Paul Fairman, but in his day (the 50s) he was apparently a fairly prolific author and editor. His "The Man in the Icebox" was a perfect tale for an era typified by the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit -- the male breadwinner who sold his soul to climb up the corporate ladder -- that in some respects is still a relevant parable today. Here we've gone from stories rooted in scientific speculation -- some purer than others -- to pure fantasy. A more well-know writer of today, James Patrick Kelly, writing in the 1981 500th issue, also contributes a fantasy, combining Lord of the Flies with an alien first contact story that makes for a thoughtful brew. There's a very good reason why the story is called "Last Contact."

Another look-back upon SF origins in a different media is provided by George Zebrowski in examining the "The Great and the Beloved Worst" of cinema SF. His selection for the best is 2001: A Space Odyssey (initially inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke short story, "The Sentinel" -- the novelization came later), Things to Come (the H.G. Wells novel) and Metropolis, Fritz Lang's silent classic written by Thea Van Harbou. Ironically for a magazine that usually features media tie-in fiction, there is nary a word by Zebrowski of the Star Trek series or its ilk.

I'd be remiss not to note the cool new illustrations for the reprinted stories, not to mention the cover, which is meant to illustrate an era, as opposed to a specific story. There is also an interesting retrospective of Amazing covers over the decades. With the recent demise of Science Fiction Age, Amazing is the only full-colour glossy, heavily illustrated magazine that pays serious attention (for good or bad) of SF ranging from media tie-in to cutting edge.

Long may it live.

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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