With this, the third issue, we should start to be getting a feel for how this new UK magazine is shaping up. This is not quite as easy as you might expect as this issue is a mix of ‘more of the same’ and ‘less of the same’.
It is ‘more of the same’ in that this issue contains the third and final part of Keith Robert’s serialized novel ‘Drek Yarman’, and stories by Charles Stross, Eric Brown and Jack Deighton, each of whom has previously appeared in Spectrum SF. Brown has appeared in all three issues to date, (one wonders what has happened to Keith Brooke, who appeared in the first two issues – is he out of favour?)
Editor Paul Fraser discusses the matter in the letters page, which is introduced with this issue. One letter writer chides Paul for not accepting unsolicited manuscripts and Paul points out that due to the magazine being a part-time venture, there is no time for this at present. I can sympathise with Paul here, and I can imagine that editors receive a huge amount of dross when taking unsolicited submissions, but I fear that the hard reality is that there will not be a long-term market for Spectrum SF unless the ‘stable’ of writers is increased. But I am doubtless teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, so I will press on.
The ‘less of the same’ to which I referred is the fact that other than the novel serialisation, which runs to fifty eight pages, there are only three other stories, which is, to my mind, a bare minimum – particularly if you don’t particularly like the serialized novel (which is the case for me). The previous issue had six other stories, from which you would hope to be able to offer something for most people – three is cutting it a bit too close for comfort.
All of which makes the quality of the three stories in this issue of crucial importance.
Charles Stross appeared in issue 2 with the enjoyable ‘Bear Trap’, and returns with ‘A Colder War’, which I found equally readable. One issue I have with it is that it is too short. I could have read this in one sitting, but wanted to stretch out the pleasure and consequently gave the story ‘lavatory status’. This esteemed honour enables stories to be read over several sittings and the enjoyment suitably prolonged. The story gradually unfolds (the editor’s use of the word ‘eldritch’ in the intro perhaps in danger of giving away too much) as a Pandora’s box is opened and creeping terrors let loose to stalk the Earth. It is an Alternate History (down to the evidently compulsory reference to President Kennedy), a sub-genre of which I am not particularly fond, although I am not entirely sure whether the story absolutely needs to be AH.
Jack Deighton follows with ‘Shift’ which takes inspiration from the closing of the shipyards to posit a far future analogue in which a shipwright laments the launching of the last deep space liner, a mode of transport made obsolescent by the next technological leap. Well written, and paints a vivid picture, although perhaps too insubstantial for those seeking some action with their SF.
Eric Brown’s ‘The Miracle at Kallithea’ describes an alcoholic artist who has not come to terms with the death of his daughter. In an alternate world, where Spectrum is a horror magazine, a monkey’s paw, or a Strange Visitor, would enable the artist to be re-united with his daughter. But as this is SF it is a scientist who appears with the technical wizardry to provide a portal to an Alternate World in which the daughter is still alive. The story progresses pretty much as you would expect from such a well-established storyline. Brown describes the languid pace of Greece effectively, to the extent that we can forgive him for starting the story with someone with a hangover.
So, for this issue of Spectrum SF we have three stories, which I would categorize in turn as ‘enjoyable’, ‘OK’, and ‘so-so’. I tried the novel serialization with a previous instalment and didn’t engage with it at all quickly – certainly not enough to read 150+ pages when I have a pile of unread current short stories by the likes of Robert Reed, Stephen Baxter, Jack Williamson, and a pile of Year’s Best and Nebula books on the bookcase eyeing me with a come-hither gaze.
The issue includes for the first time a letters section. I’m not too sure how a quarterly magazine can maintain an effective dialogue with readers when e-mail, newsgroups, web-boards, and even monthly magazines offer greater currency.
Similarly with the pages devoted to reviews of books and other magazines – ‘Interzone’ offers more lengthier, more erudite, and more timely reviews of books: I’m not convinced that these pages really add much to the magazine. I would rather see the space taken up by the letters and reviews devoted to another short story or two. I presume the tradition is that a magazine has such sections, and therefore they must be present.
I started this review by indicating that three issues into Spectrum SF we should be getting a feel for how the magazine is shaping up. As you may guess from this review I am still undecided. The ‘next issue’ and ‘forthcoming’ section promises more Eric Brown and yet more Keith Roberts and a novel serialisation from John Christopher. It’s a great tempation to suggest that the novel serialisations could be categorised by being ‘Novels from British SF writers Past Their Peak’, but this would be too hurtful, and I will give the John Christopher novel the benefit of the doubt for the moment, due to the *extremely* fond memories I have of his ‘Tripod’ series which I read in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Paul Fraser states in this section that he hopes to squeeze in a short story or two – I hope so too! And hopefully his request for previously published authors to get in touch reaps some reward soon. I fear that Spectrum SF will fail to achieve credibility and maintain sales unless the range of authors appearing between the pages increases.