Galaxy’s Edge #18, January-February 2016

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ISFDB listing

Other reviews:
Sam Tomaino, SF Revu
Chuck Rothman, Tangent Online
Various, Goodreads

Fiction:
The Bone-Runner • short story by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks ♥♥♥
Wiping Out • reprint short story by Robert J. Sawyer
Full Skies, No Water • short story by Lou J Berger ♥
The Press of the Infinite Black • short story by Rene Sears ♥♥
Second Person Unmasked • reprint short story by Janis Ian ♥
The Little Robot’s Bedtime Prayer • short story by Robert T. Jeschonek ♥♥♥+
Life on the Preservation • reprint short story by Jack Skillingstead ♥♥
Love, Your Wolpertinger • short story by Dantzel Cherry ♥
Thundergod in Therapy • short story by Effie Seiberg
Coward • reprint short story by Todd McCaffrey
Confidence Game • short story by Laurie Tom ♥♥♥
The Long Tomorrow (Part 1 of ?) • reprint serial by Leigh Brackett ♥♥♥+

Non-fiction:
The Editor’s Word • by Mike Resnick
Book Reviews • by Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye
Scandals: Being True to Our Own Imaginations • reprint essay by Gregory Benford
From the Heart’s Basement: Fifty Miles of Bad Road • essay by Barry N. Malzberg
The Galaxy’s Edge Interview: Joe Haldeman • by Joy Ward

Galaxy’s Edge, edited by the well-known writer Mike Resnick, is another of the ‘new’ magazines I have been meaning to get around to (new to me is anything that started after 2003). I noticed the print copy was relatively inexpensive on Amazon, so I ordered a copy of that as I was curious to see what it was like. I also got a six issue electronic PDF subscription for issue #19 onwards.1
The physical magazine is described as ‘quarto’ on ISFDB: it is a large-size, square-ish publication, as tall as a pulp copy of Astounding but wider. It measures 7½ by 9¾ inches (approx. 190x245mm) and runs to 108pp. (there is a further page with Lightning Source printing information on it). The cover stock is matt card and the paper looks like that high-quality laser printer paper you get in POD publications. The pages have two columns and the material runs continuously, with various book covers filling the empty space at the end of partial pages of text.2

The cover is a generic pro effort and uncredited. There is far, far too much type over the artwork; the bottom half of the cover is just a mess. The last time I can remember seeing something as bad as this was when Sol Cohen forced Ted White to use a letraset shotgun on the 1970’s covers of Amazing and Fantastic.3
The fiction, however, gets off to a reasonable start. The Bone-Runner by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks is a post holocaust tale about a brother and sister who scavenge in a decayed city that is still affected by a gas which affects humans but not animals. The humans that are exposed to the gas become shambling creatures who are drawn to blood. This description probably gives entirely the wrong idea about the story: it is nicely done old school SF whose story partially parallels the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.
I may as well take the opportunity to talk about the other two stories I liked. Best of the issue is probably The Little Robot’s Bedtime Prayer by Robert T. Jeschonek. This is a fascinating story about a near-future world where personal robots have been programmed to treat their owners as God:

“Good morning, God.” Occam-657 smiles up at me when I emerge from my bedchamber the next morning. He has been waiting outside my door like a good little household robot, prohibited from doing chores until now lest he wake me prematurely.
I respond to his greeting as if God, and not Sean, is my given name. As if I am an omnipotent deity and not a thirty-seven-year-old self-employed ge­netic engineer specializing in novelty bio-apps. (Re­member Thumbo, the elephant who fits in the palm of your hand?) As if I am more than a slightly over­weight mere mortal whose wife left him six weeks ago for another man. p.38

We head over to my friend Pander’s place in Oathtown in a drone-palanquin, a purple velvet-lined coach carried by four built-in robotic bearers. Occam-657 prays during the entire trip. I tell him to keep it down, but I still hear the soft sibilance of whispered words aspirating from his artificial lips.
Sometimes, I wish the robot manufacturers had never come up with the bright idea of making all the robots worship their owners as gods. It was the best way, the programmers say, to ensure that flesh-and- blood owners never come to harm at the hands of mechanical servitors (though I’m pretty sure human ego might have had more than a little to do with it, as well). But the constant, obsequious worship does tend to get old after a while. For me, at least.
For example, as our palanquin slows to a stop at a busy intersection, a choir of robots on the curb de­tects my human presence and sings a cyber-hymn in our direction. They chant the sonorous words with great gravity, upraising their folded hands in blissful praise.
I am so not in the mood for it right now, and that makes me wonder. Does the real God, if He exists, ever feel the same way? And is it possible, now that we’ve managed to create our own flock of worship­pers, that humanity is finally getting a taste of its own medicine? p.39

Sean has illicitly spied on his robot during the latter’s Private Time and is perturbed about what he has seen. The rest of the story works up to the reveal and along the way provides a thought provoking look at both sides of religious belief.
The third of the stories I liked is Confidence Game by Laurie Tom. This is labelled as a ‘Sargasso Containment’, story, which initially made my heart sink as I thought I was in for a sub-standard space opera and one that was mid-series to boot.
The story concerns Darren Nishimura, a con-artist working as a magician on Dubai Outpost, a colony planet. He is detained by security, but they are less interested in his previous crimes than getting him to pose as a Blockade pilot to steal a piece of alien ‘Caretaker’ tech from one of the cartels. The device is a probe from the Sargasso Grid, a containment area set up by aliens for humanity….
While this is fairly standard stuff, it is an entertaining enough page-turner and has an ending that suggests the author has sequels in mind.

And now to the other side of the coin. There were a number of stories in this issue that I didn’t particularly care for and a few that I really disliked. The first of the latter is by Hugo and Nebula winner Robert J. Sawyer. Wiping Out (Guardsmen of Tomorrow ed. by Larry Segriff & Marty Greenberg, 2000) is a reprint that is set five hundred years in the future. Three spaceships arrive at the Altarian alien home planet to drop a massive bomb on it. After their arrival there is a space battle, populated with one dimensional characters using makey-up science that makes Star Trek seem the height of sophistication:

Now, victory was at hand. That was the only thing I could think about today.
The captains of the Rhamphorhynchus and Quet-zalcoatlus were both good soldiers, too, but only one of our names would be immortalized by history—the one of us who actually got through the defenses surrounding the Altairian homeworld, and—
And that one was going to be me, Ambrose Donner, Star Guard. A thousand years from now, nay, ten thousand years hence, humans would know who their savior had been. They would—
“Incoming ships,” said Kalsi. “Three—no, four—Nidichar-class attack cruisers.”
I didn’t have to look where Kalsi was pointing; the holographic sphere instantly changed orientation, the ships appearing directly in front of me. “Force screens to maximum,” I said.
“Done,” said Nguyen, my tactical officer.
In addition to my six bridge officers, I could see two other faces: small holograms floating in front of me. One was Heidi Davinski, captain of the Quet-zalcoatlus, the other, Peter Chin, captain of the Rhamphorhynchus. “I’ll take the nearest ship,” Heidi said.
Peter looked like he was going to object; his ship was closer to the nearest Nidichar than Heidi’s was. But then he seemed to realize the same thing I did: there would be plenty to go around. Heidi had lost her husband Craig in an Altairian attack on Epsilon IndiII; she was itching for a kill.

Eventually, this wends its way through several other space battle cliches to drop a bomb called the Annihilator on the alien planet—but only after a singularly unconvincing info-dump:

But our special cargo, the Annihilator, was more—much more. It was a planet killer, a destroyer of whole worlds. We’d said when Garo Alexanian in­vented the technology that we’d never, ever use it.
But, of course, we were going to. We were going to use it right now.
It could have gone either way. Humans certainly weren’t more clever than Altairians; the technology we’d recovered from wrecked ships proved that. But sometimes you get a lucky break.
Our scientists were always working to develop new weapons; there was no reason to think that Altairian scientists weren’t doing the same thing. Atomic nuclei are held together by the strong nuclear force; without it, the positively charged protons would re­pel each other, preventing atoms from forming. The Annihilator translates the strong nuclear force into electromagnetism for a fraction of a second, causing atoms to instantly fling apart. p.19

It is painfully obvious to me that this is a trunk story that was palmed off on the editors of the original anthology. Why this magazine’s editor thought it worth reprinting is entirely beyond me.
Another one that I really didn’t like was Thundergod in Therapy by Effie Seiberg. This fantasy starts with the god Zeus banished to Earth and in therapy/anger management. After a session the story moves on to his decision to disconnect himself from the grid because of a huge electricity bill. Enter Tekhno, the god of Technology, to destroy Zeus’s jerry-built battery system, which he had been charging with his own lightning bolts. Zeus subsequently challenges Tekhno to a duel as he can’t be bothered filling in the complicated complaint paperwork. Tekhno chooses the internet as a venue.
This is as bad as it sounds, and is not improved by Zeus repeatedly using various suspension-of-disbelief busting colloquialisms such as ‘bitches’, ‘assholes’, etc., to describe other people or gods.
The third story that manages to squeeze into this dismal group is Coward by Todd McCaffrey (2011). A lieutenant waits for a General to disembark a dropship on a colony world. The general is to be arrested for his supposed cowardice in surrendering a wormhole to the Imperial Army after a short battle. It is full of passages like this:

The honor guard marched clear of the ramp, ex­ecuted a textbook rear-march and halted, bagpipes still skirling, colors raised high as another troop formed up and marched out of the dropship.
“Are they disembarking by platoons?” Monet cried; the words surprised out of him.
“By battalions,” the Imperial general behind him growled. Contempt for Monet was evident in his tone.
The Star Ranger division consisted of three inde­pendent brigades, each composed of three battalions. A spaceforce battalion numbered between six hun­dred and seven hundred and fifty combatants. p.67

It is a slight piece and reads like something out of a dreary 1940 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

As for the rest of the short fiction there are a couple that are OK, but the majority are stories that you don’t hate, you just don’t care for them. The Press of the Infinite Black by Rene Sears is about a daughter and her father who live on an alien planet. Both provide bioware modifications for organised crime as well as the locals. The story then jumps forward in time to her being held hostage on a spaceship. A number of things happen during this section, such as the ship being intercepted by a police patrol and questioned. Also, the captain’s hibernation pod starts malfunctioning and she has to revive him. The conclusion involves characters from the initial segment.
This is a pleasant enough read but at the end the plot doesn’t convince as you are left with too many questions: (spoiler) why didn’t the crime boss kill her father quickly if they wanted rid of him, why didn’t she tell the police she was kidnapped when her ship was intercepted, etc.
The second of the OK stories is Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead (Asimov’s SF, June 2006). This story is set on an Earth that has been all but destroyed by aliens arriving from another dimension through a rift. The exception to this is the city of Seattle, which is encased in a preservation sphere that continuously loops a single day in 2004. A young woman penetrates the sphere with a locator and a bomb. Her mission is to destroy the preservation sphere. Shortly after arriving she becomes involved with a young man who helps her escape the alien ‘Tourists’. The rest of the story is pretty much a girl meets boy piece with an open-ended finish.

The final three are the stories by Lou J. Berger, Janis Ian and Dantzel Cherry. Full Skies, No Water by Lou J. Berger is a notional short-short about a rain projection system on a terraformed planet. A technician is dismantling the system because the colony hasn’t paid its bill when a kid invites him over for dinner. After a meal at the house he looks out on a field of apple trees that have been cut down and (spoiler) he has a change of heart. Apart from the slightness of this, I don’t understand why he changes his mind: presumably the trees died when the water projector system was still in operation?
Second Person Unmasked by Janis Ian (Stars: Original Stories based on the Songs of Janis Ian, edited by Janis Ian & Mike Resnick, 2003) appears to be about an off-world serial killer who is sent to a slave planet before (spoiler) ending up back where he was captured as bait for people like his previous self. I was not convinced.
Finally, Love, Your Wolpertinger by Dantzel Cherry is about an imaginary German creature (flying bunny, antlers, sharp teeth) writing letters to a man who observed it on holiday. The letters come sporadically and complain about how the recipient’s lack of belief is causing its demise. There is a Harlan Ellison story that did this a lot better.

The last piece of fiction is the first part of Leigh Brackett’s novel The Long Tomorrow. I question the wisdom of serialising a 1955 novel in a current day magazine, especially in what looks like six bimonthly parts. This novel is set in a future post-holocaust America where the thirtieth amendment states ‘No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America’.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Len Colter, a teenager in a rural New Mennonite (an Anabaptist group like the Amish) community. In the first chapter his friend Esau is trying to get him to go to a preaching, something that his father has prohibited. The next chapter details their night-time adventure and the barbaric stoning they witness when they attend the meeting. The third chapter has Len’s grandmother telling him what life was like in the cities before the war. His father angrily interrupts her and takes Len away for a beating. He later changes his mind but implores Len to forget about cities and the idea of them, for practical if not for religious reasons. After their talk Len goes into the woods for peace but hears a sound that leads him to his friend Esau, who has the object causing the noise in his hands….
This is promising stuff, as one would expect of a 1956 Hugo finalist, and its rural American setting and characters reminded me of Zenna Henderson’s ‘The People’ stories—material that would have been at home in that period’s The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

There are also a handful of non-fiction pieces. The Editor’s Word by Mike Resnick has a short section about the magazine’s third anniversary before going on to give a list of classic SF book recommendations of which, demoralisingly, I think I’ve read only a couple (this part of the editorial is a reprint of Forgotten Treasures, F&SF October-November 1997). Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye contribute half a dozen Book Reviews—it would be nice if they stated the length of the books covered so I can ignore the doorstops. Scandals: Being True to Our Own Imaginations by Gregory Benford (Jim Baen’s Universe, June 2007) is about why the Big Bang theory took so long to succeed the Steady State one, and also discusses cultural, political and intellectual bias in the conduct of scientific research. From the Heart’s Basement: Fifty Miles of Bad Road by Barry N. Malzberg is an interesting retrospective about the fiftieth anniversary of his first fiction sale, and keeping the faith. Finally, The Galaxy’s Edge Interview: Joe Haldeman by Joy Ward didn’t really tell me anything about Joe Haldeman I didn’t know already, but it may be useful to any newcomers.

In conclusion, I didn’t really know what to make of this magazine as it is a very mixed bag in more ways than one. My first observation would be about the uneven quality of the fiction: it is not enough to have three or more worthwhile stories in an issue—ideally, you also have a minimum quality level as well. The good stories are soon forgotten if your readers strongly dislike a substantial amount of the other material. Secondly, reprints can be a good thing but most of the ones used here drag down the quality level. Also, why would you also reprint a 2006 story from Asimov’s SF, or a 2007 essay from Jim Baen’s Universe? I’ve already mentioned Leigh Brackett’s 1955 novel. I can see the point of these if you think a large part of your readership is brand new to the field, e.g. if you had just launched Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but it is more than likely that Galaxy’s Edge’ readers are long-time core SF fans, so why bother presenting material they may have already read?
I’ll be interested to see what the next six issues bring.

  1. The cost of the print issue was £5.99 from Amazon. The cost of my 6-issue electronic PDF subscription was $14.99 (which even at post-Brexit exchange rates gives a competitive per issue cost of just under a couple of quid). I was going to also get an electronic copy of this issue (my sub started too late for #18) from Weightless Books for ease of reviewing. However, the single e-issue cost is $4.99, twice that of the subscription e-issues. By comparison, a subscription e-issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is £1.99 and a single e-issue £2.49, if I recall correctly. I think the single issue price will put off potential readers and/or casual buyers.
  2. This is what I mean about material running continuously (this is from issue #19, to save me the trouble of scanning something from this one):GE#18pgx600
  3. A lovely Stephen Fabian cover sprayed with Letraset:fan197608x600b

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