Absolute Magnitude/Aboriginal Science Fiction, #19, Summer/Fall 2002

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"Anthem" by Carolyn Clowes
"Veil of the Dancer" by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
"The Luck of the Legion" by Jack Williamson
"The Only Thing That Mattered" by Scott Edelman
"No Heroes In Inner Space" by Chris Bunch

The Summer/Fall issue of Absolute Magnitude shares its title with the recently deceased Aboriginal SF, whose inventory was absorbed by this magazine; the dual title makes for a rather clumsy-looking cover. While it's nice to see a full slick genre magazine, this issue generally leaves something to be desired in terms of production qualities. The layout and typeface aren't terribly attractive, there are far too many copy-editing problems, and the whole thing feels kind of slapped together, an impression strengthened by the mysterious invasion of a "bonus page" from SF Chronicle on page twenty-five. But on to the fiction:

The issue opens with a novella by Carolyn Clowes, "Anthem." Legendary singer Ari and her lyricist Pen are approached on the utopian planet of Isle by a man from the war-torn, brutal planet Enlor, who entreats their aid in helping bring peace to his world. Ari, whose allegedly magical voice has apparently saved lives and nations, reluctantly agrees to try and help, despite Pen's misgivings and her own certainty that her singing will do no good. After a clumsy beginning the piece develops an entertaining enough rhythm, although it feels more like outright fantasy than believable SF. The story is fairly simplistic, with characters that are broadly drawn, black-and-white issues, and a plot that moves in mostly expected directions. Fortunately, in the end the author does not opt for the easiest of resolutions, so that while generally I wasn't all that impressed by the story, I was at least somewhat surprised by the turn of events and able to appreciate it sincere message.

"The Veil of the Dancer" by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, while more sophisticated than the Clowes novella, also has the feel of fantasy despite its ostensibly science fictional setting. (It takes place in the authors' Liaden universe, a milieu with which I'm unfamiliar.) The protagonist is Inas, the youngest of a scholar's three daughters, who lives in a conservative, patriarchal society. She finds herself somewhat at odds with this environment, a sensibility strengthened by her acquisition of a seven-volume diary that reveals a vast, different universe beyond her repressive world. Her possession of this material leads to conflict and inspires her to action in a tale that feels very much like prologue to a larger story. The prose is solid and the story moves along well, but ultimately this one feels like a fantasy tale dressed up in science fictional clothes. The only indication of technological advancement in this society doesn't occur until deep into the story, but even then the props–keycards, computers, guns, et cetera–feel more contemporary than futuristic. So I'm left to speculate that its only real claim to SF is its relationship to the vaster Liaden universe of which it is a part. Again like the Clowes, this one has its charms, but ultimately it didn't deliver for me.

The venerable Jack Williamson is up next with "The Luck of the Legion." If the last story felt like prologue, this one feels like epilogue, to another series with which I'm unfamiliar. It takes place in the aftermath of a war in which humankind was rescued from a hive-mind alien species by the Goodfellows, who have since subjugated humanity toward their own purposes–a cure worse than the disease, it quickly becomes apparent. After a nostalgic opening, wherein three veterans of the Legion fill in backstory and establish their bleak plight, one of them–Legion commander Jay Kalam–entreats his two companions to join him in a last-ditch attempt to escape from the Goodfellows. This one is straight-forward SF adventure, quite old fashioned and nothing spectacular.

Another View…

"The Luck of the Legion" by Jack Williamson

by Dave Truesdale

Jack Williamson has been writing his famous Legion of Space space opera adventures since 1934. They are considered early classics of the form. Though not anything of importance when it comes to serious collector items, I am nevertheless proud to own a signed Pyramid paperback edition, from 1967, of Jack's "novel" One Against The Legion. If I remember correctly, "One Against The Legion" was published in 1937, or thereabouts. My 1967 paperback also adds an original novelette titled "Nowhere Near." While "The Luck of the Legion," published in this year of 2002, may not be the greatest story ever told (at only five pages), and can't begin to encompass the cosmic, adventure-laden scope of the lengthier earlier works, it nevertheless tries to capture—after 68 years!—the energy, and the optimism of that place in time, via a small slice of the legendary Legion stories from the pulp era, and perhaps to add another small brick in the Great Wall of Untold Legion Stories. I wholeheartedly applaud editor Warren Lapine for securing it, and the venerable Jack Williamson for going back–way back–and giving us old timers a nostalgic nod for days gone by.


Another novella is served up next. "The Only Thing That Mattered" by Scott Edelman is also quite traditional SF, but I found it considerably more sophisticated than the rest of the issue's fiction. Tully is an explorer, something of a galactic archaeologist, who has arrived at the ruins of a long-dead alien civilization, only to find himself at a loss as to what to do next. The death of his long-time love, Sal–with whom he shared the quest to explore these alien ruins–has left him mired in his past, directionless. The arrival of a lone female alien, who has followed him to this place on a similar mission, stirs him from his feelings of loss as the two of them work together to unravel the mysteries of the alien civilization and of each others' pasts. Although it frequently felt a bit too melodramatic, generally I think this one combined its familiar SF elements well; deep space exploration, dead civilizations, alien artifacts, and first contact all come together effectively in a well written tale that has just enough surprises to keep the reader involved.

The issue's final story is "No Heroes In Inner Space" by Chris Bunch. First Lieutenant David Katz is on a simple mission to retrieve a dead satellite from Earth's orbit when he unexpectedly comes across an old Soviet warhead, which he deduces is active and targeted at New York City. Realizing he is the only person in a position to stop it, he, well, stops it. This is a simple, quick action tale that didn't really succeed for me; the humor missed my funny bone, the action was standard, and the payoff was minimal.

With the exception of the Edelman novella, this issue of Absolute Magnitude/Aboriginal SF doesn't have much to recommend it. It might appeal to people who enjoy pulp era adventure SF, but I found its SF sensibility a bit outdated and uninteresting.

Christopher East is a regular reviewer for Tangent Online. His fiction has appeared in a number of pro and semi-pro genre magazines. He lives in Iowa.

Another View… on "Luck of the Legion" by Jack Williamson is offered as extraneous commentary by the editor.