Reading Around in Old SF Magazines

Bick

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I read this issue (and all of 1986) way back when. As an ardent cyberpunk fan it's one of their best for me. I hope you find the rest of the year more to your taste, Bick.
I'm sure I will enjoy the 'upcoming' issues more, Vince - I think it was just a little unfortunate the Cadigan wasn't to my taste and other stories were not classics, making it a slightly weak start to the 'exploration'. Asimov's editorial and the eulogies to Sturgeon were very illuminating and interesting though. I'm looking forward to February, not put off at all.

How are your 1983 Analogs progressing?

EDIT: By the way, Vince, I have subscribed anew to Analog and Asimov's - I'm going to give their current output another go.
 
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Vince W

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I'm sure I will enjoy the 'upcoming' issues more, Vince - I think it was just a little unfortunate the Cadigan wasn't to my taste and other stories were not classics, making it a slightly weak start to the 'exploration'. Asimov's editorial and the eulogies to Sturgeon were very illuminating and interesting though. I'm looking forward to February, not put off at all.

How are your 1983 Analogs progressing?

EDIT: By the way, Vince, I have subscribed anew to Analog and Asimov's - I'm going to give their current output another go.
It's been very busy at the moment so I'm still finishing up February. I will be very interested to hear what you have to say about the current Analog and Asimov's.
 

Vince W

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View attachment 72424

February 1983
Frederik Pohl - Servant of the People
Hugo Award nominee for Best Short Story in 1984. Frederik Pohl started writing short stories with C. M. Kornbluth in 1940 at the start of the 'golden age', of course, and was a giant of the genre, winning 4 Hugo Awards, and 3 Nebula's, edited Galaxy and If for many years, and was named the 12th SF Grand Master by the SFWA in 1993. This is a solid if not great story, telling the story of an aging career politician running for office against a robot competitor. I do like old robot stories (especially Asimov's) but this seemed slightly anachronistic given it was written in the 1980's. It also depends more on the 'twist' at the end than on the actual substance of the story, which perhaps also makes it seem older from a structural perspective.
I 'finished' the February 1983 issue of Analog and it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Again, I did not read the conclusion of the novel serial.

I started with the novella 'Seeking' by David R. Palmer. This story is a sequel to a story Palmer had published in the January 1981 issue of Analog. Set after a virus has wiped out homo sapiens leaving only a handful of homo post hominem alive. The premise is quite on the nose given our current situation in the world. H. p. hominem are super-humans with far greater intellect than anyone else. The main character is Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, an eleven-year-old girl and part of the h. p. hominem subspecies. It's written as diary of Candidia in a very halting and stilted style. It's meant to say that if we were like her we wouldn't need the extra grammar to understand her. Frankly, this wore thin on me very quickly and after several pages of Candidia telling us just how great she and others like her were I gave up. DNF.

Next came the novelette 'Murphy's Planet' by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. On the distant planet of Kaillex-5 some very strange things are occurring. So strange that Jon Lane, a very open and level headed person, is charged with putting a team together to investigate the happenings and come up with an explanation. The rumours of 'miracles' do not sit well with the Advance Exploration Service. Almost as soon as Lane and his team arrive strange things start happening, but Lane takes them in his stride and sets about investigating. His logic is aided by openness of mind to accept what is happening for what they are and not jumping to irrational conclusions, yet is an intuitive leap that puts him on the correct course. The story is abl written and interesting. Lane is almost Sherlockian at times. The story is a first contact type of sorts with a twist. It's a good story but not one I'd ever include in anthology.

Last comes Frederik Pohl's short story 'Servant of the People'. While I do like Pohl in general, I found this one to be merely okay. It felt like an exploration of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics from a different angle. I liked the ideas in the story but the ending was far too obvious, though I wonder if I would have had a different reaction had I read it in 1983. Still, Pohl on his worst day writes a capable story.

The stories in this issue were not outstanding for me, but the highlight had to be Tom Easton's review of Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. That had me in stitches.
 

Bick

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'Murphy's Planet' by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. ... It's a good story but not one I'd ever include in anthology.
Sounds decent enough - perhaps the best in this issue then.

Last comes Frederik Pohl's short story 'Servant of the People'. While I do like Pohl in general, I found this one to be merely okay. It felt like an exploration of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics from a different angle. I liked the ideas in the story but the ending was far too obvious, though I wonder if I would have had a different reaction had I read it in 1983. Still, Pohl on his worst day writes a capable story.
That's almost exactly how I felt about it, too.

... the highlight had to be Tom Easton's review of Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. That had me in stitches.
I'll have to go back and read this!

This was not a very strong issue it seems - March was perhaps better (I'll be interested to see what you think of the Silverberg), and May onward is where I found the really good stories, I guess.
 

Bick

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I've now read the best (highest reputation) stories in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction from February 1986, so here are my thoughts on three stories from that issue:

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Gregory Benford - Of Space-Time and the River
This story was nominated for the Locus Award for best novelette, and has been anthologised heavily, including by Terry Carr in his Best SF of the Year 15. It's a very entertaining tale, nicely told with good pacing and characterisation. A US professor of literature travels to Egypt with his wife for a vacation. While his interest is in the antiquities, he also sees the aliens resident there, as Egypt is the only home on Earth to a species of alien visitor. These aliens look like big bugs, they keep to themselves and their reason for showing interest in only Egypt is unknown, except that they too appear to be concerned with preservation of the antiquities. It's not possible to say more without giving the plot away, but the outcome for those living along the Nile is greatly impacted.

Orson Scott Card - Salvage
This novelette has also been anthologised a good deal and was also a Locus nominee, but for me, it was a little less successful than the Benford. This is one of Card's Mormon Sea series of short stories, in which much of Utah (and Salt Lake City itself) is flooded following a nuclear war, with only church spires and skyscrapers now standing above the water of the new lake. A young salvage hunter hears there is gold stocked in the top of the old church in the city and persuades two friends to help him take a boat and diving equipment out to look for it. The scenes of the drowned city and the subsistence life of the post-war survivors is well presented, and the writing is good, but I couldn't forget here that Card is a Mormon himself, and the story is ultimately a bit of a sermon, based on his religious beliefs, and this detracted from it for me.

R. A. Lafferty - Junkyard Thoughts
Lafferty is one of SF's true originals, and this proves the point. His fiction skirts the edges of SF, fantasy and magical realism and he needs his own genre category, really. To summarise the story without spoilers will not be easy: it's about a junkyard owner (Jake Cass) who has a talking, chess playing, dog (Junkyard). A 'police person' (Drumhead Joe Kress) thinks Cass may be related to the elegant criminal J. Palmer Cass, who lives nearby. They meet and talk this through. Is Jake Cass related to J. P. Cass, as the police person wonders, or is he indeed J. P. Cass himself? And is the police person also the same person (his name is very similar), with one character hallucinating the whole thing? This is weird fiction, not SF per se, but that's not a detraction. It's written in a very unique manner, but is nonetheless very readable. I'm not sure what it's about, but I enjoyed it very much. Lafferty offers a few remarks at the start of the story which give you sense of what you're letting yourself in for here: "...all writers should be funny-looking and all stories should be funny... sometimes readers tell me that such a story of mine is not funny at all. 'Wait, wait,' I tell them. 'You're holding it upside down. Now try it.' And sure enough, it is funny if they get ahold of it right."

Overall, I'd say this was a superior issue to January 1986, with three very readable stories.
Onto March 1986 next, which features work from Tanith Lee, John Kessel and Michael Bishop.
 
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Bick

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Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 1986
The best stories, based on reputation, from that issue:

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Tanith Lee - Into Gold
This was a fantasy novelette, set in ancient Illyrium (or similar - the exact location isn't mentioned), in which a women with the apparent power to turn anything into gold joins a princedom, at the prince's request. The prince's loyal captain doesn't trust the 'witch' and the ramifications for the city state may be considerable. I'm not sure what I thought of this - the writing style may or may not be Tanith Lee's usual style, but some of the prose was strange and clumsy - for me the style was 'not very good'. But then I've not knowingly read any Tanith Lee I liked much, to be honest, and this fantasy was simply okay. As an aside, it's interesting that the magazine is called Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, as this is clearly fantasy. Asimov's is known to publish fantasy, of course, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's odd they use a magazine title that suggests otherwise.

John Kessel - The Pure Product
As I started this novelette, I realised I'd read it before in a Dozois' anthology. It's not at all bad, telling the tale of destruction and violence brought about by time travelers from the future. It's brightly written and keeps the attention, but the more I think about it afterward, the more I wonder what Kessel's point really was here. The suggestion is that misdirected technological advance will lead to lazy lawlessness, but the plot tells this rather bluntly without exploring the idea as fully as it could have been, and overall, its less convincing than one hope's it will be from half-way in. I think I felt exactly the same way last time I read it. It's a solid enough piece of entertainment though.

Michael Bishop - Close Encounters with the Deity
Okay, not sure what to say about this one. I found it ultimately disappointing, which was a shame as the set-up was great. A badly disabled physics genius solves the general unified theory and has a ship built to take him to a star that's forming planets, 22 light years away. He will hibernate on the way there, and then wake briefly every few thousand years to observe the formation of the planetary system, as a reward for his achievements in theoretical physics. This is all fine, except... he's a devout Roman Catholic and the story doesn't end in an interesting way, but with silly pseudo-scientific mysticism. Not my cup-of tea ultimately.

I'm really enjoying the editorials by Asimov, incidentally. This month's was an absolute hoot - referring to a letter Asimov received "anonymously" from Arthur C. Clarke, in which they were jokingly rude to each other. I may scan the relevant page and post it - its highly enjoyable.
 

Bick

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Okay, here is the end of the editorial from Asimov from March 1986 in the magazine. It's worth a read!
Asimov has been talking about the use of persona, by authors, and whether how he presents himself is real or a projected persona, and he has been suggesting that everything he projects is real and not persona. A letter he says he had recently received presents a counter-argument to one aspect of his self-professed personality:

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Fantastic!
 

BigBadBob141

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Just thinking back the other night about a British SF magazine that came out either mid or late nineties, I think it had a single word title but I could be wrong, I came across adverts for it prepublishing so took a punt and subscribed for a years worth of issues, not sure if it was bimonthly or quarterly.
It was in a slick ( ie. close to A4 size ) format not Readers Digest sized such as Analog and F&SF is today, the first issue was great, there was a truly brilliant short comedy/horror story by Karl Edward Wagner to start off with, with a really great and funny ending, the second issue was fine with I think a flying saucer on the cover, then the third issue had a cyborg mercenary on the cover from a just published book, it had a title something like "Black Knights......" and then alas there were no more issues.
The founder/editor wrote a letter saying it had been killed off by W.H.Smith's, the majority of issues were sold by them, the first two issues had sold well, but after the printers had delivered the third issue to their distribution warehouse instead of going out to all their shops it had just sat there for months before being pulped.
Which effectively bankrupted the magazine as I think Smith's only paid for issues sold off their shelves, great pity, somebody really dropped the ball badly on that one.
Never got the rest of my money back, not that I was too bothered, would have preferred more issues, I think the editor was selling off his book collection to raise funds, I think I even bought a few, but alas no more magazine, don't know if he tried to sue Smith's or not.
Does any one out there in the big, bad universe know which magazine I mean, and does any one have any of the issues including the what must be rare third issue?
 

BigBadBob141

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That's the fella, absolutely spot on, a great pity the mag died such an early death, it looked very promising!
Thanks Bick, this is very helpful.
 
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