Galaxy’s Edge Magazine is a new bimonthly publication appearing in both paper and electronic forms. The March 2013 issue is the first, and I purchased a copy of the electronic version as soon as it came to my attention. However, compared to Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and F&SF, among others, it is a mediocre collection of mostly reprints.
Galaxy’s Edge appears to be aimed toward those who miss the old pulps or want more hard SF that reads like the present Analog. The inaugural edition states that it is an “invitation only” magazine that does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning that you will not find previously unpublished writers in these pages. To the contrary, you will find reprints of stories and novels by “very-well-known authors” and new stories by “less-well-known (but not less talented) authors.” For the editor, Mike Resnick, and the publisher, Shahid Mahmud, this apparently means mostly male authors, as there is only one item by a woman in the entire issue.
Resnick’s introductory essay about the history of science fiction magazines is informative, but the nostalgia he invokes makes it clear that he hopes Galaxy’s Edge can primarily hark back to the styles and subjects of an earlier era. The first story, Robert J. Sawyer’s “The Shoulders of Giants,” is an indication of this. Although published originally in 2000, the story has the flavor of so-called Golden Age science fiction, with clear, unadorned prose and a well-worn plot of a spaceship travelling for generations with its occupants in stasis only to find that technology has outpaced them. The frontier planet the ship was headed for is thriving with human life by the time they arrive 1,200 years after their departure from Earth. What should these travelers, these explorers, these pioneers do without a frontier to tame? The question almost answers itself.
The next story is another reprint, this one by Kij Johnson from 1993 entitled “Schrodinger’s Cathouse.” Bob has received a package in the mail that he is unwisely attempting to open while maneuvering his car through traffic in Brighton Beach. Just as he is about to collide with a bus through inattention, he finds himself in an entirely different place, one that looks like a traditional whorehouse one moment (flocked wallpaper in fuschia and crimson) and an upscale, contemporary house of ill-repute the next (dark blue wallpaper with silver streaks). The bar in front of him changes from polished walnut to chrome from and back again every time he looks at it. Even the bartender changes in appearance, from white to black, mustachioed to clean-shaven, in the blink of an eye. A friendly voice (he’s closed his eyes to keep the changes out) explains to him that this is La Boîte, and undertakes to tell him what’s going on. Those familiar with the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment will have figured this out by now, but even so, the ending is a considerable let-down.
Nick DiChario offers the first new publication in this issue, “Creator of the Cosmos Job Interview Today.” A man has seen a sign in a window with the same words that comprise the title of the story, and decide to pop in and see whether he qualifies for the job. Things start getting strange the moment he opens a dialogue with the alien figure inside the door, a figure who appears to be female but is quite different from humans, as her three vermillion eyes demonstrate. The more confused the protagonist gets at a series of odd changes in his environment, the better the alien seems to think he’s doing. Once again, the reader will quickly figure out what’s happening in this very short, very familiar story.
Lou J. Berger is the author of the next original story, “Just a Second.” It’s got yet another very familiar theme, the magic shop that sells the magic potion. This time the potion offers the drinker an extra second when he needs it — when completing a stock sale, or approaching a stop light. Frederick Thomas is the protagonist, and he’s a jerk of the first water. He notices the shop one day and ducks in, makes a purchase, and sure enough, his gifted life becomes even more gifted. And, of course, he wants more, and so returns to the shop. And again. You’ll be able to see the moral, and the ending, a mile away.
Jack McDevitt gives us “Act of God,” a reprint from 2004, a story about an experiment to recreate the Big Bang that has gone awry. The story is narrated by a man who got away, at least for now. But God will not be denied, mocked or imitated, and it appears that this experiment has riled up the Wrath of God, straight out of the Old Testament. Yet again, the story uses well-worn tropes and does nothing new with them.
“Requiem for a Druid,” a new story by Alex Shvartsman, is about a magician who can see magic just fine, but can’t cast it, a halfway-there sort of gift that forces him to make do with magical objects instead of casting his own spells. He’s smart enough that it works pretty well for him, and the association of magicians for which he works doesn’t seem to have figured out his secret. One fine day he is dragooned to work for his world’s equivalent of Donald Trump. (There is no mistaking this figure: “His name, slapped indiscriminately on everything from condo developments to cologne, was the gilded standard for the bourgeoisie.” He also has a television show that is clearly “The Apprentice.”) His mission: to clear a slice of land in Manhattan of whatever is haunting it and stalling his construction project of a high-end theme resort that is supposed to look like ancient Rome. The magic at work in the area is surprising, though, and the denouement made me smile. It’s a fine comic story.
Don’t be fooled by “The Bright Seas of Venus” by Stephen Leigh, the next original story. The title has nothing to do with the tale, and deliberately so. The story is a paean to the narrator’s hatred of the reader, and especially of the reader who purports to dislike science fiction and fantasy. It ends about the way you’d expect it to.
Robert T. Jeschonek is the author of the original story, “The Spinach Can’s Son,” in which the narrator takes the role of the pen-and-ink can of spinach a sailor much like Pop-Eye, though here he’s Pot-Pie, uses to gain his legendary strength. The threat Pot-Pie faces is a three-dimensional woman, not another cartoon character, and she is looking for someone — in fact, the narrator. The woman is his wife, trying to retrieve him from the Underfunnies, where he is a deformity in the panel geography. The man lurches from comic to comic (and these are very old comics indeed, including the Katzenjammer Kids and Dagwood — all renamed but recognizable to anyone who’s been reading the comics page in the local newspaper for the better part of half a century). The narrator is an explorer in these pages, but he is also a refugee. We ultimately learn why, along with how this netherworld works, and what miracles it can offer. It’s a nicely original story, full of puns and crazy images.
“Think Like a Dinosaur” may well be the story for which James Patrick Kelly is best known, and if that’s so, it’s all right with him. It’s a spin on Tom Godwin’s famous — or infamous — story, “The Cold Equations,” in which a young woman stows away on a spaceship, hoping to see her brother on a faraway planet. She reckons without the “cold equations” of space, fuel, distance and weight; if she stays on the ship, she will preclude it from completing its mission, thus dooming not just the pilot and herself, but all the people to whom the ship is bringing a vaccine from a deadly illness. The story has been criticized over the years for being unrealistic; surely there would be enough loose hardware on the ship to jettison, or an allowance for additional weight, so that the equations wouldn’t be quite so cold. Kelly takes the concept and applies it to a different set of equations that is no warmer — indeed, they’re rather more chilling than the original. It’s a fine story that is worthy of being reprinted here.
“From the Heart’s Basement” is a column by Barry Malzberg that is subtitled “The Carlin Effect,” after the popular stand-up comedian, George Carlin. It’s based on a late routine by Carlin in which he advises his audience that there’s a big club that his audience isn’t in: the rich, the powerful, the ones who make the rules and make up the stories they tell the rest of us. Malzberg uses this to define science fiction as a club of which we — or, at least, most of us — are not members. The column is a long lament about how the science fiction community and business has passed him by. His particular complaint is that science fiction is now a community of insiders, no longer the transgressive literature that it was born to be. There are now other like-minded individuals with whom the writer can form friendships, thus losing his sense of exclusion, his anger, his ambition, all of which made him a writer in the first place. Malzberg assumes that this community destroyed many writers altogether, and lists Walter Miller, Phil Klass, Judith Merril and Cyril Kornbluth, names that may be unfamiliar to many reading this, but who were all pioneers in the field. It reads like a column by an old geezer lamenting that the kids keep trampling his lawn.
Another column, “Something Different” by Horace E. Cocroft, is about economics in science fiction. It points out various problems in how the Star Trek series deal with money (claiming that money no longer exists, yet frequently using coins and cash to deal with other species), checks out a couple of novels that give some attention economics, and concludes that there are a few novels that get economic concepts right.
Reviews by Paul Cook are of books published in 2012 or earlier, and generally of books that have the same sort of old-time feel as does much of the fiction published in this issue. Cook even refers to one of the books as “a throwback to the after-the-apocalypse novels of the 1950s,” and complains that another book contains “nothing even remotely new or inventive” (and, oddly enough, this book is Ernest Clines’s Ready Player One, which has been praised as “wildly original,” even if “stuffed with nostalgia”).
The magazine closes with a serialized novel — a feature of older magazines that I had hoped had died out for good. If I’m going to read a novel, I want to read it straight through, not wait months for the next installment. I’d not previously heard of this novel, Dark Universe, by Daniel F. Galouye. That’s not too surprising: it was first published in 1961, before I’d even learned how to read. It was nominated for a Hugo, but lost to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, apparently, oddly enough, on the weight of Galouye’s own vote, which went to Heinlein instead of to himself. The novel was written at a time when it seemed like nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. was close to inevitable. It is therefore set underground, clearly many generations after a nuclear war forced humans there to survive from the radiation. Much knowledge has been lost, principally the knowledge of light. Humans maneuver solely on the evidence of their ears, and their hearing has become extraordinarily sensitive. This beginning section of the book introduces us to the principal characters, the world in which they live, and the dangers they currently face. It’s competently written, and the notion of sound replacing light as humankind’s guiding sense is fascinating. On the strength of this first section, I find myself thinking that this novel should have survived the years every bit as much (if not more than) Heinlein’s tome.
Galaxy’s Edge strikes me as an exercise in nostalgia. There is probably a place for it in the market. And there are certainly stories that deserve to be reprinted and brought to the attention of a new generation. But these stories do not seem to be the best of what is available; and the best has been reprinted and reprinted again in anthologies over the years. I wish Galaxy’s Edge all the best, but it is clearly intended for readers a generation older than I — which, given that I am in my sixth decade, means that it has a select audience indeed.