Category: science fiction

Science Fiction Age: Volume 2, Issue 3 (March 1994)

Each issue of Science Fiction Age presented a good mix of fiction, not just genre (fantasy, science fiction), but types too (humor, horror).  This issue is no exception, but the most remarkable thing to me containted in the March 1994 issue is the precience of Scott Edelman’s editorial.  Titled, “We must leave our children the best of science fiction futures” it is, in essence, an open letter to Scott’s son and one paragraph of this essay struck me as particularly prophetic:

My son will have all the information he could ever want at his fingertips, whenever he wants it.  He will carry an electronic Library of Alexandria in his pocket.  He will be able to stay in constant communication with all the world, and sift at will through all the globe’s wisdom.  His world will be smaller than mine.

In this brief paragraph probably written in late 1993, Scott captures the world nearly twenty years later.  His “electronic Library of Alexandria” might be wikipedia.  Sifting at will through all the globe’s wisdom is a fairly good description of a Google search (if you factor out all of the world’s idocy from the search results). With minimal alteration, this paragraph could be an ad for an iPhone or iPad.  What I find most ironic is that while Scott wished this for his son, he got to see it happen, too.  Today, if Scott is at a convention, you will find him tweeting about what people are saying on a panel (sometimes while he is on that very panel).  He is in constant communication with the world, spreading his dreams out across the global network.  You’d almost think he had a time machine, back when he wrote that paragraph.

It’s always amusing to go through science fiction book reviews from 17 years ago.  In this issue Connie Hirsch reviews a book by first time novelist Jonathan Lethem called Gun, With Occasional Music.  More disturbing was the science discussion on “a permanent manned U.S. space station is an idea whose time has finally come” between Joe Haldeman, Doug Beason and Geoffrey A. Landis.  While such a space station in now nearly complete (17  years after this discussion), there was this prophetic exchange between Beason and Haldeman:

BEASON: [referring to the space shuttle] One of these days we’re going to have another explosion.

HALDEMAN: Doug, the shuttle is dangerous and obsolete and is going to be out of the equation soon.   One more disaster and American’s are going to lose heart.

Of course, nearly 8 years later, the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on reentry and while flights eventually continued, the space program hasn’t had the same energy since.

It was a pleasure to read Jack Williamson’s essay on the birth of science fiction.  It was also sad.  Jack is no longer around and the essay serves as a reminder of not only all that science fiction has gained, but all that it has lost.

There were 6 pieces of fiction in this issue, of quite varying lengths.  The issue opened with Richard Parks “Simple Souls”, a story not unlike Daniel Keyes “Flowers for Algernon” about a mentally challenged boy and the experimental procedure he has to enhance his mental abilities.  The story is a good example of writing from a challenging view point, and I came away from it wondering who it was that was really “challenged”, the boy, or his doctors.  His sympathetic doctor, Susan Curruther’s was not only reminscent of Asimov’s Susan Calvin (coincidence?) but also of another Asimov character, the nurse Edith Fellowes in “The Ugly Little Boy”.

If there was a theme in the stories for this issue, it seemed to center around time.  Three of the stories touched on this theme, beginning with “The River’s Time” by Mark. W. Tiedemann.  The story centers around a world on which nine rivers dominate the lives of the people.  A group of siblings travel these rivers on a barge to make their living.  To replace crew (a brother who left for the stars, for instance) they pick up “Returnist” woman–the Returnists being a group of people who shunn technology and machinery and want to go back to simpler ways.  The story is a moving one, remincent of both Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” and Phillip Jose Farmer’s, To Your Scattered Bodies Go.  The time element in this story centers around absences.  People get the “wanderlust” and head for the stars and are not heard from again, or return only after long periods of time.  It is these absences that influence the lives of the characters throughout the course of the narrative.

In “Survivors” by Steven Popkes, a 20,000 year old simulacrum presents itself to a “surivor” warning him that there are still parts of the planet that are poisonous, even all these millenia later.

The last of the time-themed stories, “Taken For a Ride” by Brian Stableford, is a time-travel story dealing with the potential of future information and the paradoxes that arise out of it.  Most notible about the story was the twist at the end, reminiscent of the ending of Robert Silverberg’s end-all-be-all of time travel novels, Up the Line.

“Obituary” by Jeffrey G. Liss was an interesting story, the ending of which I simply didn’t get.  I didn’t connect it back to the title of the story and the opening paragraphs, and this is certainly my failure as a reader and not Liss’s as a writer.

Finally, there was the humour fantasy piece, “Sherlock the Barbarian” by David Garnett.  I like that Science Fiction Age includes humour stories from time-to-time and I think this one worked well on many levels.  It was clearly poking fun, not only at the Sherlock Holmes genre, but at logic, reason and inference itself.  This is brought to bear in a rather remarkable  way toward the very end of the story (no spoilers here, you’ll have to read it) when you find that your own assumptions about the narrator of the story brought into question.

The issue included an essay by Ben Bova on science fiction illustrator Vincent Di Fate, which provided some interesting insight into the illustration process for a magazine like ANALOG, to say nothing of some of the gorgeous illustrations that Di Fate has produced.

It’s always a pleasure to read these magazines.  I hope to keep better to schedule for the next one, which should appear about November 1.  In the meantime, all of the re-reads I have done so far have been compiled together here for anyone interested.

Rereading Science Fiction Age, Redux

More than three years ago, I began the process of re-reading my complete set of SCIENCE FICTION AGE magazines and commenting on each issue.  I managed to make through the first 8 issues before I became too busy to continue.  But I have always wanted to continue through the rest of the issues in the 8-year run, and I am now restarted that effort, although I bit more modestly than my first attempt.  Last time I was reading through an issue a week and I simply don’t have the time to do that.  This time, I’m aiming for an issue each month.

Those who followed along the first time, or those interested in catching up with what I have already written, all of the previous posts are collected here.  During its 8-year run, I think that Science Fiction Age was the best source of short science fiction available.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it was the best source of short science fiction since Campbell’s ASTOUNDING of the 1940s and Gold’s GALAXY of the 1950s.  Rereading these issues is sheer pleasure for me.

Expect to see my thoughts on SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 3 (March 1994) in the next week or so.

Some reading lists

In light of the Hugo Awards this weekend, a few reading lists that might be of interest to others:

And just so people can be incredulous with me:

Writers’ daydreams

Most people get an enjoyable thrill out of imagining what it would be like to win the lottery.  How would they tell their friends and family?  They go on a mental shopping spree, spending huge sums of money on all kinds of things.  I’ve done this kind of day-dreaming before and it does give you a thrill to engage in this kind of wish fulfillment.  But the daydreams that give me the biggest thrill, more even than those that involve winning the lottery (which I believe would be far more stressful than it seems) are writer’s daydreams.

For me, this is the daydream in which I sell a science fiction story.  These daydreams still occur despite my having already sold a couple of stories.  Whenever I have a story out in the wild, whether that story is buried somewhere in a slush pile, or sitting on the desk of an editor I happen to know, I am apt to fall into a reverie, imaging the thrill and excitement of how it would feel to receive an acceptance.

These daydreams have a way of becoming steadily more grandiose in their nature.  They evolve from making a sale to the excitement of seeing the story appear in print half a year or more down the road.  And when the story appears in print, they turn to the possibility of critical acclaim, of opening up a copy of LOCUS or some other magazine or blog and seeing a positive review of the story by someone with clout within the industry.  From there, the dream continues on unabated to the receipt of fan mail; of being at a well-attended convention and having a stranger wander up to me with a copy of the magazine in hand, asking me to sign it for them, as I have asked so many of my favorite authors to do for me.

Daydreams like these have no bounds.  As I continue on my mental journey, I imagine receiving word that my story has garnered a Nebula recommendation; then another, and another, and three more.  Before I know it my story appears first on the preliminary Nebula ballot, then the final Nebula ballot.  There on that final ballot in the same category as mine, are names like Haldeman and Sawyer and Steele and Burstein.  Good-natured phone calls and emails are exchanged between the nominees and I think to myself at last that the honor is merely appearing on the same list as these stalwarts of our profession.

But my daydreams do not allow me to stop there, no, they take on an uncharacteristic element of delusional grandeur.  Having made the final ballot (I imagine) it only makes sense to make an appearance at the Nebula Awards banquet, if only to hear my name read from the list of finalists.  And so there I am, decked out in the suit I last wore on my honeymoon, sitting at a table with people who, for me, have been heroes of mine since childhood.  They are talking to me as if I am one of them.  The talk only occasionally touches on the business of writing.  Mostly it’s about travel or sports or the kids back at home, mundane things, but thrilling nonetheless because of who I am speaking with.

Then comes the awards and watching in awe as this person wins and that person wins, and in the category of Best Short Story (yes, I know this award is usually given first, but this is my daydream, remember?) the nominees are read off and the presenter then opens the envelope and intones, “And the Nebula goes to–” and I hear the title of my story being read outloud, “–by Jamie Todd Rubin,” and there is a look of utter, unbelievable surprise on my face and the people at my table, these demigods of mine, are laughing, and clapping and urging me up to the podium.”

And I get up there, shaking in my imagination as much as I shake in real-life from the thrill of the dream itself, hands placed nervously on the podium, eyes scanning the haze of the audience, all a blur, and my thoughts repeating again and again, remember this moment, it will never get any better than this moment.  And though my imagined self hasn’t prepared a speech, I take a nervous breath and holding up my Nebula, say to these people all of whom I love dearly, “This is the power of science fiction.  I won this not because of any particular skill on my part, but because of what I was taught by Isaac.  And Lester.  And Barry.  And Cyril.  And Rob.  And Robert.  And Michael.  And Joe.  And Alfie.  And Fred and Arthur and Judith and Jack and Harlan and Ray.  I stand here tonight on the shoulders of giants.  They all contributed to this story in their own way and without them it would be nothing.”  I am in tears and there is not a dry eye in the room as the audience rises to their feet in a thundering applause that takes my breath away.

I don’t know if there are other writer’s who have daydreams like these, but it is these daydreams that keep me going.  And I’ll take these daydreams over winning the lottery any day.

Emotionally investing in other worlds

Regarding his new film, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio was quoted by the London Daily Star as saying:

This is my first science fiction film.  I have a hard time with science fiction.  I have a little aversion to it, because it’s hard to emotionally invest in worlds that are too detached from what we know.

I can only assume that DiCaprio was referring to science fiction films, and not written science fiction.  I, too, find difficulty emotionally investing in much of the science fiction films that are out there, but I simply can’t see how this is possible for written science fiction.  It begs the question:  what, if any, science fiction has DiCaprio read that he has found it difficult to invest in?

Well-written science fiction is all about getting the reading to emotionally invest in what is happening in the story; suspension of disbelief requires this.  This can be a difficult challenge for writers (and why so many writers say that the most difficult kind of writing they do is science fiction).  The fact that they can do it successfully again and again is a testament to the skills of the writer.  It doesn’t matter that the worlds we sometimes visit are detached from what we know–we still fall in love with those world, come to feel a familiar bond with them (think Dune or Foundation, for instance).  And yet the implication that all science fiction is about worlds too detached from what we know belies an ignorance of the genre.

Think of Robert Silverberg’s brilliant novel Dying Inside, which takes place in New York City in the 1970s.   Think of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, the setting of which might be unfamiliar, but the theme of which–the purpose of war–is something that touches us every day.  Ray Bradbury writes stories about familiar and unfamiliar worlds, but in each of them we recognize ourselves, our gifts and our follies carried with us.  These stories shine a different kind of light on the human condition, allow us to examine ourselves in ways hidden from a classical narrative.  Every world we visit in science fiction, not matter how unfamiliar, is a world we know.

Sometimes, clarity gets lost in the storytelling.  In the same interview, DiCaprio says of the script:

It’s a very well-written, comprehensive script.  It’s completely original.  But you really had to have [directory] Chris [Nolan] in person to articulate some of the things swirling around in his head.

If the director of the film had to explain the concepts that underlie the story to its lead actor, what does that say for the rest of us?  Sometimes, lack of clarity in writing can make it difficult to emotionally attach to something, be it familiar or unknown.

Readercon 21: Friday

Today was the first full day of Readercon, and I did my best to get in a full day.  One of the things they are doing this year is a series of Theodore Sturgeon readings.  The first one today was at 11 am and Sturgeon’s story “It’s Nothing Really” was read by Scott Edelman.  I got to meet Sturgeon’s daughter, Noel Sturgeon, who was delightful and Scott did a great reading of a story that I’d never read before.  Here is Scott reading from the story:

Scott Edelman reads Sturgeon's "It's Nothing Really"

The first panel I attended was on the “Scientific Mystery” at noon.  Panelists included Allen Steele,Jack McDevitt, Don D’Ammassa, and David Swanger and they talked about the challenges (and examples) of stories that are scientific mysteries. Good discussion.

The Scientific Mystery panel

At 1pm (in the same room) I attended a panel on “Order–and Chapters–of Magnitude”.  Included on the panel was Robert Killheffer, David Swanger, Ellen Asher, Paul Di Filippo, and Charles Stross.  Just before the panel started, Paul graciously signed my premier copy of Science Fiction Age in which his great alternate history, “Anne” appears.  This panel talked about fiction in which large magnitudes of time (sometimes trillions of year) pass and how a human perspective can be brought to such stories. Lots of stories were mentioned but I was surprised no one brought up Asimov’s “The Last Question” until David Swanger finally did just before the end of the panel.

Orders--and chapters--of magnitude panel

From 2-3 pm I had a break before heading into the 3 pm panel on “Influence as Contagion” with Allen Steele, Howard Waldrip, Jack M. Haringa, James Morrow, Resa Nelson, and Mary Robinette Kowal.  This was a particularly fascinating discussion on how writers are influence by other writers, movies, whatever.

Influence as Contagion panel

When the panel wrapped up, I jumped at a change to have Resa Nelson sign my premier issues of Science Fiction Age.  Her story, “The Dragonslayer’s Sword” appeared in that issue and while I am not usually a big fan of fantasy, I really liked that story.

Next was perhaps the highlight of my day.  I headed to the hotel bar with Allen Steele and we sat there for an hour talking shop. Allen is an absolutely terrific guy who gave me excellent practical advice on writing and the field.  He was also encouraging, telling me that I was going about things the right way.  It was just the kind of encouragement a novice writer like myself needs from time-to-time and Allen was very gracious for spending time with me.

I spent some time wandering about the huckster room, browsing longingly at books.  Mary Robinette Kowal was signing books and I asked her to sign my copy of DESCENDED FROM DARKNESS in which my story, “Hindsight, In Neon” appears and her story, “Scenting the Dark” appears.  I thought it would be cool to have a copy of the book signed by all of the other authors.  After that, I realized it was well after 6 pm.  I had signed up for a Kaffeeklatsch with Jack McDevitt and figured I should grab some food before that.

I went to the hotel bar/restaurant and while sitting there, ran into K. A. Laity.  I’d never met her before but she is a writer, panelist at Readercon, and also a friend and colleague of my good friend Ryane.  It was Ryane who told me to look out for her. She sat down with me and we chatted briefly while I rushed through my dinner.  I had to run pretty quickly but it was very nice to get to meet here.

The Kaffeeklatsch with Jack McDevitt was a lot of fun.  For those who don’t know what these are, about 6 or 7 people sign up in advance to sit around with a favorite author and shoot the shit.  Jack and I first met at RavenCon and we had chatted earlier in the day in the huckster room.  But now was a chance to sit with him and talk about his books, his writing, the education system (he used to be a teacher) and it was a lot of fun.

The last panel I attended was one entitled, “Why aren’t I repeating myself, again?” with Patrick O’Leary, Scott Edelman, Jennifer Pelland, David Anthony Durham, Michael Swanwick, and Paul Park.  Swanwick amused the audience during the introductions by saying who he was and then saying, “And I guess since Gene Wolfe isnt’ here, I guess that makes me the best writer at Readercon.”  The panel focused on writers who’s styles vary from one project to the next and the challenges that imposes on them.  When the panel wrapped up, I asked Jennifer Pelland to sign my copy of DESCENDED FROM DARKNESS.

Why aren't I repeating myself, again panel

The evening concluded with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.  Barry Malzberg presented the award in an amusing speech.  The recipient of the award this year was Mark Clifton, who collaborated on the first Hugo-winning novel, They’d Rather Be Right.

At this point, I was absolutely exhausted and didn’t stick around for the party that followed.  But I had an absolutely wonderful time on the first full day of Readercon and am looking forward to another fun-filled day today.

Readercon 21: Thursday

I arrived at the Readercon hotel in Burlington, MA around 3 pm, after flying into Boston from Baltimore.  Hertz gave me a Chrystler Sebring convertible but–of course–it was too hot to take the top down.

The first person I ran into at the hotel was Mary Robinette Kowal, the new Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).  Mary was previously the Secretary of SFWA and I had worked with her online in my capacity as a volunteer for the organization, but I’d never met her in person.  That situation has now been remedied.

Next, I ran into Barry N. Malzberg.  Now for those who don’t know, Barry is my absolute favorite living writer.  His writing is to science fiction what Shakespeare was to the dramatic form.  I got to meet Barry for the first time at Readercon 19 and have kept in touch with him since then.  He goes for occasional walks around the hotel grounds to stretch his legs and was on his way to do just that when I ran into him.  So off we went together, talking about the history of the science fiction genre, about writing, and as usual, I was in awe and just trying to soak it all up.  Barry offered some excellent advice, and I was so captivated by what he had to say that I didn’t even notice it was well into the 90s out.

I ran into Mike Allen at the hotel desk, whose face I recognized in my capacity at the maintainer of the “Featured Author” section of the SFWA website.  And I saw Scott Edelman in the lobby as well.

Thursday evening at Readercon is open to the public.  There are only a couple of panels and I attended a fascinating one entitled “I Know These People Personally”.  The panel included John Langan, John Kessel, Kit Reed, Barry Malzberg.  Elizabeth Hand moderated.  The discussion centered around the morals of writing characters based on actual people, famous or otherwise.  Just before the panel Scott introduced me to Paul Di Filippo, who’d I’d met two years ago, and who I referred to as the “crazy envelope guy.”  (He also had a memorable story in the premier issue of Science Fiction Age, “Anne”.)

"I Know These People Personally" panel at Readercon 21. From left to right: John Langan, John Kessel, Elizabeth Hand, Kit Reed, Barry N. Malzberg

In between these happenings, I managed to grab some dinner and hit the gym.  I turned in early in anticipation of the very full day that I have today (Friday).

My Science Fiction Age challenge

With Readercon 21 coming up in a week, I decided to move ahead with an idea I’ve had for a little while now.  I have a complete collection of the outstanding science fiction magazine, Science Fiction Age and I am very proud of it, since it was the outstanding magazine of its day.  A couple years back, at either Capclave or Readercon, I asked Scott Edelman (who edited the magazine over the course of its 8 years) to sign my premier issue.  I was very excited.  I had a premier issue of the magazine signed by the editor.

In looking over the attendees of Readercon 21 this year, it occurred to me that no less than three of the seven authors who had stories in the premier issue will be in attendance:  Paul Di Filippo, Resa Nelson, and Barry N. Malzberg.  So it occurred to me to bring the issue along and see if they wouldn’t mind signed by their bylines.

In fact, it seemed to me that I might try to get as many of the authors of the stories that appeared in Science Fiction Age to sign the various issues that I have as time goes on.  At each subsequent con I attend, I can see who might be there, check which issues their stories appear in, and see if they wouldn’t mind signing.  I’m sure this is not a novel idea, and I realize there will be some authors, no longer with us, unfortunately, whose autographs I won’t be able to get.  But the completist in me thinks it would be swell to get as many as I can.  And maybe, one day, I’ll be writing to tell yo that not only do I have a complete set of Science Fiction Age, but that the issues are signed by the bulk of the authors they contained.

(In fact, I see now that the May 1993 issue has stories by Malzberg and Allen Steele, who will also be at Readercon.  I wonder just how many issues I’ll have to take with me?  Stay tuned…)

My favorite Harlan Ellison stories

Five of my all-time favorite stories by Harlan Ellison:

  1. “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore”: not only my all-time favorite Ellison story, but one of the best pieces of short fiction I have ever read.
  2. “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”: one of only two stories that have ever really scared me.  (Ray Bradbury has the other.)  The scene in the elevator is absolutely remarkable.
  3. “Susan”: a humble Ellison love story.  Yes, humble and a love story!
  4. “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”: this one can be described in one word: brilliant.
  5. “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”: Isaac Asimov once described his story, “The Last Question” as the computer story to end all computer stories.  “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” is the Vegas story to end all Vegas stories.

SF AGE: Volume 2, Issue 2 (January 1994)

Of the five stories in the January 1994 issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, more than half of them are stories that would not, under most circumstances, be considered science fiction. Three of the five stories are fantasies of one kind or another, and as I’ve stated before, I will take science fiction over fantasy any time. (I make an exception for contemporary fantasy; in reality, I am not a fan of epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, that kind of thing, but it is to my discredit, and says nothing of the genre.) I said from the outset that I might not comment on every story in every issue, and there have been a few stories I’ve missed. This is not meant as commentary on the story, simply a lack of time (or lack of time management skills) on my part. In the case of this issue, I focused on four of the five stories, three of which are some form of fantasy. It is therefore ironic that the story that I consider to be one of the best stories ever to appear in SCIENCE FICTION AGE through out its entire run is a fantasy that appears in this issue. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.

SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 2

SF AGE: Volume 2, Issue 1 (November 1993)

Set aside for the moment Scott Edelman’s editorial on “recursive” science fiction, or Norman Spinrad’s controversial essay on how fantasy has infected science fiction. The table of contents for this issue includes 7 stories because, as the magazine cover indicates, “Now: More Pages! More Stories!” And among the stories included in this issue are back-to-back tales by Barry Malzberg and Harlan Ellison. Why don’t we see these guys showing up in Asimov’s Analog, or F&SF as much today as they did in SF AGE 14 years ago?

SF AGE Volume 2, Issue 1

SF AGE: Volume 1, Issue 6 (September 1993)

I was recently talking about Shakespeare with some friends, and on the same day, opened this latest issue of SCIENCE FICTION AGE to read Scott Edleman’s editorial, “Science Fiction is the stuff that dream are made on”, which deals, of course, with Shakespeare. It was a good start to the final issue of SF AGE’s rookie year–and one story in this issue would turn out to be a Nebula-winner.

SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 6