Altair

Tagged: Publication

Australian Small Press Print Magazine which paid professional rates but had a print run of only 1,000 copies, classifying it as a Semiprozine or "little" magazine. It was published twice yearly, in February and August, by Altair Press, Blackwood, South Australia run by Robert N Stephenson and saw six issues from February 1998 to August 2000, the last a double issue, #6/#7. It was in A5 format, perfect bound, with usually 144 or 156 pages.

Besides being the name of a star, the title was a conflation of "ALTernative AIRings of Speculative Fiction", which became the magazine's sub-heading. Although rather contrived this related to Stephenson's chief purpose with Altair, which was to remove barriers and consider all Speculative Fiction from a broader perspective. Despite being an Australian magazine, with inevitable leanings towards publishing Australian writers, Stephenson declared in his first editorial that he wanted to remove "the borders of national and political division and [open] up a single market place for all writers." In effect Altair became a world magazine. Stephenson continued: "We have aimed to select a good spread of stories while keeping our focus on cultural differences and views of the world." To emphasize his point every by-line in the magazine included the nationality or country of residence of the writer or artist. The first issue included Denmark, France and Israel in addition to the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Altair sustained this cosmopolitanism throughout its short run, including articles about French sf in issue #4 and Danish sf in the final issue. Later contributors included Ashok Banker (India), Roberto de Sousa Causo (Brazil), Bent Lorentzen (Denmark) and Gerd Maximovic (Germany). Altair also published the first English translation of Stanisław Lem's "Ijon Tichy's Last Journey to Earth" (August 1999 #4; "Ostatnia Podroz Ijona Tichego" 1996) in its special issue for the Worldcon held in Melbourne in 1999. In the years before the Internet became fully established, Altair was the most international of all English-language magazines.

Having disposed of national barriers Altair considered literary ones. The first issue featured an article by Simon Brown and Sean Williams, "No Axis, No Boundary" (February 1998) which sought to eradicate the limitations of previous definitions of science fiction and liberate the genre. This may seem a repetition of the New Wave and other literary rebellions, but Australia had not gone through this revolution and, to some degree, Altair was recognizing a coming-of-age in Australian sf. One consequence was that the magazine published almost as much fantasy and horror fiction as sf, with Deborah Biancotti's "The First and Final Game" (August 2000 #6/#7) winning the Aurealis award for best horror short story in 2000.

Nevertheless Altair published a good selection of mature and creative science fiction, much of which had a sense of dislocation. "Prozac Crusade" (February 1998 #1) by Brendan Carson, was a clever twist on alternative futures, "Depth of Field" (August 1998 #2) by Stephen Dedman considered satirically how Hollywood in the 1950s would have dealt with real alien abductions, and "Evermore" (August 1999 #4) by Sean Williams considered the conscious minds of two humans converted into engrams and lost in space whilst on a journey to a distant star. Stephenson also managed to attract several major US and UK writers, some with essays, including Ben Bova, Arthur C Clarke, Joe Haldeman, Norman Spinrad, Ian Watson and Canada's Robert J Sawyer. It also published the first artwork by Frank Wu (Spring 2000 #5) and Alan Deniro's debut story "If I Leap I Shall Fall into my Hands" (August 2000 #6/#7).

Altair was neatly packaged and produced but this proved costly. Stephenson later admitted he had absorbed A$40,000 in losses and was seeking to have the magazine published in the USA rather than Australia to reach a wider audience but in the end this failed due to a printer's dispute. [MA]

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