In the introductions to issue 2 (I didn’t see Issue 1) Editorial Director James A. Owen states that Argosy Magazine ‘is a cross-genre literary magazine targeted at adults’ and Senior Editor Lou Anders states it is ‘a magazine that publishes folk who contribute to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine alongside those who contribute to the New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire and Tin House’. Anders also states that the magazine is ‘ready to take on the world’.
Well, presentation-wise, the magazine is top-notch. The two-volume slipcased version is so attractive you’ll find yourself leaving it on the coffee-table in the living room in the hope that someone will pop in and notice it. This in contrast to your usual behaviour when visitors arrive – stuffing copies of Asimovs and Analog behind the cushions of the settee so that they don’t see the cheesy spaceman and alien covers.
The standard of production is high, the artwork is way beyond what you normally see in genre magazines – from the cover art to the full colour artwork inside (this month featuring work by Dr Seuss). The mock-Elizabethan frontispiece and typesetting adds a certain charm.
So what of the content? The slipcase boasts Carol Emshwiller, Jeff Vandermeer and Mike Resnick, names familiar to those on the SF tributary that feeds the slipstream/nongenre/new weird etc. river that we are being told from various sources is becoming more powerful. And the second volume contains a double dose of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.
Content-wise the magazine itself comes across as a step up the evolutionary literary ladder from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Not a new ladder – an evolution, not a revolution. O’Neil de Noux in his ‘Cruelty the Human Heart’ provides a chilling perspective on a New Orleans policeman who follows the criminal career of a particularly unpleasant kid who family background suggests he should know better. Carol Emshwiller in ‘My General’ provides a thoughtful take on the effect of war on those left behind, with a mother struggling to make ends meet with POW labour. Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘How Benjobi Song Came to Rule Iphagenia’ is a short story with a lyrical/mythological bent, which features a man struggling up an erupting volcano, followed by inexorable creatures bent on his distruction. Mike Resnick’s ‘El Presidente’ features Lucifer Jones, an erstwhile anti-hero from previous stories, who finds himself in South America, keeping his head down when the pace of political change gets a little too hot. Mike Baron is a writer with a comic book background, which comes across in both the content and the style of his story (you can almost see the story board graphics for the story) in which an eager businessman has to go the whole nine yards to gain a contract, which he finds hard to swallow. Finally Martin Meyers’ ‘Mr. Quincy’s Different Drummer’ finds an accountant getting more than he bargained for whilst his wife is away.
The stories for the most part meet the cross-genre literary target, although being a bit pernickety, you could argue that several are not genre but mainstream, and for me, I’m not entirely sure how a mainstream short story magazine would differ from Argosy?
As stated above, the second volume meets the genre target head on. The volume starts with ‘Jury Service’, written by Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow and which appeared in SCI FICTION. I won’t repeat my full review of that story (which you can find here), although I will repeat that it is notable for featuring a ‘fractional-dimensional parasitic turd-gobbler from outer space’, of which you don’t get many in SF.
This is followed by a sequel to that story, orgininal to Argosy, entitled ‘The Rapture of the Nerds’. In this story, which follows straight on, the hapless hero Huw, finds himself pitched into a USofA struggling under the absence of the majority of the population (uplifted as per Stross’ technical wont), the stay-behind religious right, and a hypercolony of ants. There are some high points in this sequel, although I feel the story does suffer a bit from ‘sequelitis’ in putting the character through an increasing number of difficult situations, and, worse still, and passing strange for a Stross story – there are often whole paragaphs which you can read without scratching your head and wondering what the hell he is talking about.
On this final point I would note the Partial Glossary of Terms, which attempts to clarify some of the techno-jargon. Whilst I can see the benefit of an description of ‘photovoltaic’, do we really need a description of ‘marie celeste’?
Anyhow, I’m off downstairs to polish my coffee table and position this handsome publication on it, Frasier Crane style. If you want to be equally smug about your reading matter, head off to the Argosy Magazine website.
review copyright Mark Watson 2004