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Leading Edge, The

Entry updated 8 October 2018. Tagged: Publication.

US Semiprozine produced by students at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. It began in April 1981 and has generally appeared twice yearly; occasionally (as in 1987 and 2015) there were three issues, and in several other years only a single issue. The Leading Edge is published in a perfect-bound Digest format. It is edited by the students, usually an individual or group for an academic year at a time, and therefore the magazine has almost as many editors as issues. The first editorial team, covering issues #1-#3, was Michael W Reed, Rayda Reed and Dave Doering, all of whom would remain involved with the magazine for another year or two, Doering editing issues #5-#8. Other editors of note include Jonathan D Langford (#9-#11), Scott R Parkin (#22-#23), Steve Setzer (#26), Lee Ann Setzer (#29-#30) and Brandon Sanderson (#41-#42).

The origins of the magazine began in 1980 when the English professor, Marion Smith, ran a course in science fiction and fantasy writing, after Orson Scott Card had been unable to fulfil the assignment. The students were keen to see their efforts published and that first issue, typewritten and photocopied, appeared the following April. The leading light in that issue, and for many more to come, was M Shayne Bell. He appeared in each of the first fifteen issues and his story "Jacob's Ladder" (Fall 1985 #10), about the unveiling of the first Space Elevator, won the Writers of the Future Contest. He was soon selling professionally, becoming an inspiration to other students. Much the same applied to Dave Wolverton, who though not a regular contributor was of significant support behind the scenes as Editing Director. Wolverton also won a prize in the Writers of the Future Contest, and his story "The Sky is an Open Highway" (Fall 1985 #10) was reprinted in Asimov's (July 1988).

Not all contributors were as successful as Bell and Wolverton but their achievements encouraged others and that sense of purpose become evident as The Leading Edge developed over the next few years, with production values improving and a greater proportion of contributions from external writers, eventually shifting to semi-professional status, paying one cent a word. Production improved so much that James C Christiansen's cover on issue #41 (April 2001) won the Chesley Award.

Although the editors were prepared to publish material expressing views that were not shared by the University or by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they would not accept stories with excessive Sex, violence, profanity or which belittled Religion and family values. In issue #39 Jeffrey Creer considered how much sf itself had become a religion in "The Church of Sci-fi" (March 2000).

The magazine was soon able to encourage work from major writers and artists, many of whom donated stories or provided time for interviews. In fact the regular interview each issue has become something of a feature angled, as most of them are, from the perspective of a writer's experiences. The first interview was with Ben Bova in issue #3 (Winter 1982); Bova's encouragement put the magazine on a firm and regular basis. Others who have been interviewed include Frederik Pohl (#8), Gregory Benford (#11), Ray Bradbury (#17), Algis Budrys (#20/21), Orson Scott Card (#23), Roger Zelazny (#29), L E Modesitt Jr (#33), Kevin J Anderson (#38) and Harry Turtledove (#42). For the special 30th anniversary issue in 2011, #61, the magazine was able to print contributions by its past alumni Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells and Dave Wolverton.

The magazine had one embarrassment in 2000 when it published a plagiarism of Geoffrey A Landis's "The Singular Habits of Wasps" (March 2000 #39) attributed to Phillip S Barcia, a prison inmate who had copied the story from the April 1994 Analog. The threat of plagiarism is a fear of all magazine editors, but is more likely to be spotted by regular professionals than less seasoned students. Nevertheless, the magazine is a triumph of achievement and is the longest running and most prestigious of all student sf magazines. [MA]


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