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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 2002
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 2002
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, founded in 1949, is the award-winning SF magazine which is the original publisher of SF classics like Stephen King's Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. Each 160-page issue offers compelling short stories and novellas by writers such as Ray Bradbury, Ben Bova, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mike Resnick, Terry Bisson and many others, along with the science fiction field's most respected and outspoken opinions on books, films and science.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Website

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A review by David Soyka

The argument goes something like this. The prime demographic for science fiction is a 12-year-old boy whose pre-pubescent sense of wonder is ripe for notions of intergalactic travel and marvelous inventions. It helps if that 12-year-old was born in the 50s before space travel actually happened. Before cinematic Dolby Surround sound let us all take trips to the stars, even as the real space program degenerated into a bureaucratic taxi service. So the question becomes, does the genre have any hope of viability now that we've actually come to live in the 21st century, not just read about it?

Funny that they don't have these kinds of discussions about other kinds of literature. No one seriously questions why anyone would still be interested in Dickens or Melville because women don't wear hoop skirts and bonnets and Nantucket sailors don't butcher whales. So if SF wants to stop bitching and moaning about its second-class literary status, maybe it needs to grow up and stop worrying about the 12-year-olds.

Actually, it already has. Consider the March 2002 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Not for some chubby, pimply-faced kid who watches too much Discovery Channel. This is for adults. And for kids who might be trying to figure what that adult world is all about.

It's doubtful if a 12-year-old can really appreciate Maureen F. McHugh's meditation on the effects of Alzheimer's not only on its victims, but their loved ones. It's one of those investigations into what exactly is it that defines a human being for which SF is noted. But instead of robots or mutations, McHugh's subject is the very real horror of a living person whose identity, the very essence of what defines an individual, is slowly stripped away.

Mila is an engineer. So was her husband, Gus, whose neural connections have deteriorated to the point where a flower bed seems a perfectly suitable facility for bodily functions normally performed on a toilet. There is an engineering solution of sorts available, an enzyme treatment that comes with several hitches. It's very expensive. It's not a permanent defense and the disease could easily recur in a few years. Moreover, while it restores the neurological connections necessary for human reasoning, it doesn't revive lost memories or the abilities embedded in them. Gus can be re-engineered to a fully functioning human being, but that human being won't be the same Gus restored to a state before Alzheimer's took away his personality. It'll be a new and different Gus. In either case, Gus will never again be the man Mila married. The difference is that while one is the shell of himself, the other is in a shell that forms a new self.

The 12-year-old might consider this a cool story, but it probably won't resonate the way it will with anyone who has begun to forget where they left the car keys or a long-time acquaintance's name and wonders if this is a portent of drooling senility. Similarly, Carol Emshwiller's bittersweet depiction of an aging and infirm super-heroine in "Grandma," though told from the perspective of a child, is not for the comic book set, though it is for those who have fond memories of that as their main source of literature.

But where less sophisticated readers are really going to get lost is with "Coelacanths." Here Robert Reed stretches out into Borges territory with a parable of how the spread of the human species throughout the universe simultaneously changes certain essential notions of humanity while also reaffirming the core of what it means to be human. As Peter Tillman points out, this theme builds on the classic James Blish novel, The Seedling Stars. My guess is that the immature reader is going to get lost trying to figure out just what the hell is going on here. As a somewhat mature reader, myself, I'm not sure I altogether understand it either. But that's part of the fun. I can say the same thing about James Patrick Keely's "The Pyramid of Amirah," which ponders the concept of religious revelation and sacrifice. I think.

With that in mind, it's interesting that Michelle West in her regular book review focuses on novels aimed at young adults as a personal reaction to the September 11 attacks because:

They remind me of what reading was when I had a much clearer idea of what the world was about -- or of what it should have been all about; they invite me to re-enter that world and that place, to set aside the more demanding rigor of the nuance of an older life, to exchange it for the magic of a moment that has nothing to do with the mundane responsibilities of balancing books, paying mortgages, worrying about wars that built because of the subtleties of the mundane.
This issue offers that escape too, in Albert Cowdrey's "Ransom," which doesn't pretend to be anything more than escapist entertainment. Which should appeal to kids as well as adults who, these days, perhaps may need it even more.

Copyright © 2002 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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