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Absolute Magnitude

Entry updated 3 June 2023. Tagged: Publication.


US Semiprozine, which began in Spring/Summer 1993, under the title Harsh Mistress; but that name – intended to echo Robert A Heinlein's novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (December 1965-April 1966 If; 1966) – sounded like a bondage magazine to distributors, and the magazine was retitled (its numbering resuming with #1) with its third issue, Fall/Winter 1994, though it retained both titles and numbering sequence in the indicia. It was edited and published by Warren Lapine from Greenfield, Massachusetts under his DNA Publications imprint, and issued in letter-size format, with varying page count. Subtitled "The Magazine of Science Fiction Adventures", Absolute Magnitude sought to publish what Lapine called "character-driven action/adventure-based technical science fiction", meaning he was after Hard-SF adventures with a strong human element. It achieved this to a large degree, running stories by several writers who had established themselves in Analog and Asimov's, notably Hal Clement, Daniel Hatch, Barry Longyear and Allen Steele – the latter also contributing a science column. Other major contributors included Terry Bisson, Ben Bova, Chris Bunch, C J Cherryh, Harlan Ellison and Robert Reed. Lapine secured a new "Legion" story by Jack Williamson and ran several stories in the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Lapine also encouraged new writers with a featured "Newcomer" slot in most issues, the best known being Rajnar Vajra.

Despite being planned as a quarterly, a schedule it rarely achieved, Absolute Magnitude nevertheless attempted to run several serials, including a sequence of stories by Hal Clement that became the novel Half Life (fixup 1999) and Barry Longyear's "Kill All the Lawyers" (Fall 1995-Winter 1996) later incorporated in Infinity Hold³ (coll 2002). For much of its run the magazine featured longer stories to allow development of the adventure angle, but an increasing number of shorter stories appeared in its later issues, especially after it absorbed Aboriginal Science Fiction from Spring 2002.

This being DNA's first magazine, the production values were initially little more than adequate but increased dramatically by issue #9 (Spring 1998), from which issue the magazine was also available on computer disk. From issue #18 (Spring 2002), Lapine experimented with all Slick paper and had full colour interior illustrations in issue #19 (Summer/Fall 2002). Artists who provided the visually beautiful covers, frequently depicting space scenes or Alien worlds, included Bob Eggleton, Dominic Harman, Tim Mullins and Kevin Murphy.

Lapine's enthusiasm and determination, which included not only improved production values but paying professional wordage rates, frequently overextended DNA's financial abilities. The magazine, and its growing number of companions, rarely kept to schedule and steadily reduced in pagecount. Paid circulation never exceeded 10,000 (it peaked at 8,000 in 2001) and there was never sufficient advertising revenue to support it. Despite promises of further issues, the magazine ceased with #21 (#23 counting from Harsh Mistress #1) in Spring 2005. A selection of stories from the first seven issues was published as Absolute Magnitude (anth 1997) edited by Warren Lapine and Stephen Pagel. [MA/GF]

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