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Science Fiction Age

Entry updated 18 May 2020. Tagged: Publication.

US Slick letter-size magazine, saddle-stapled, published bimonthly by Sovereign Media, Herndon, Virginia, 46 issues, November 1992 to May 2000. Publisher Mark Hintz, edited by Scott Edelman. A bold and extremely welcome magazine that strove to achieve what many had tried before and failed, being a genuine Slick science fiction magazine. Science Fiction Age was the most impressive professional sf magazine launched in the 1990s. With a cover price of $2.95, only a fraction above that then charged for Analog, Asimov's and F&SF ($2.50), it managed to hit sales of over 60,000 in its first two years, higher than The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, lower than Asimov's and Analog. Moreover, the magazine presented a complete package, all heavily illustrated. There were the standard features of book reviews (initially by Eric T Baker, John Kessel and Michael Bishop) and movie reviews (by Jim Steranko), but newer features such as Games (by A C Crispin) and an artist's gallery starting with Ray Bradbury's delight in the works of Robert McCall. There was also a regular science feature, starting with a discussion with Arlan Andrews, Geoffrey A Landis and Charles Sheffield about the logistics of Time Travel, and a science essay by Jerry Pournelle. Later reviewers and columnists included Edelman himself, Terry Bisson, John Brunner and Robert Silverberg. Around these fixtures was built the fiction, starting with the poignant tale of "The Last Robot" (November 1992) by Adam-Troy Castro, a tribute to Isaac Asimov who had died just a few months before the magazine's launch and to whom the magazine was dedicated. Other contributors to the first issue included Paul Di Filippo, Barry Malzberg and Don Webb: an eclectic mix and a reminder that only ten years before, Scott Edelman had published Last Wave, where he bemoaned the lack of a market for radical, cutting-edge sf. Now he was buying for a major, commercial magazine and needed to merge his desire for the experimental in with the need to publish "the most intelligent, adult, science fiction being written today," as he stated in his opening editorial, adding that these stories needed to be "exciting and thought-provoking." It was these last two requirements that melded Edelman's demands and allowed him to follow his ideals but remain commercial.

It may be that tension that led to only a few stories in the magazine being nominated for awards and only two, "A Defense of the Social Contracts" (September 1993) by Martha Soukup and "Mars is no Place for Children" (May 1999) by Mary A Turzillo both winning the Nebula. For although the fiction is not generally experimental, it is by no means all conservative either. Edelman succeeded in offering both thought-provoking and fascinating fiction which would have appealed to both traditionalists and the new generation of readers. Fiction contributors included Stephen Baxter, Ben Bova, David Brin, Greg Costikyan, Paul Di Filippo, Thomas M Disch, David Garnett, Geoffrey A Landis, David Langford, Barry N Malzberg, Robert Reed, Mike Resnick, Brian Stableford, Allen Steele, and Jack Williamson, a creditable range of experience, talent and innovation.

However it is the liveliness of the layout, the artwork, and the nonfiction pieces that probably accounted for most of Science Fiction Age's success. Artists covered in the "Gallery" feature included Wayne Barlowe, John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, Jim Burns, Vincent Di Fate, Bob Eggleton, James Gurney, Steve Hickman, Tom Kidd, David Mattingly, Syd Mead, Chris Moore, Richard Powers, Barclay Shaw and Michael Whelan amongst others – a genuine feast of visual wonder. A companion magazine, Realms of Fantasy, was first distributed at the 1994 Worldcon in October 1994, and offered the same visual and imaginative stimulation.

Unfortunately, as sales gradually declined some corners were cut – the quality of the paper for some of the fiction was reduced, though not at the cost of the artwork – and an emphasis was placed on movies and other media. March 1997 saw a special Star Wars issue, flaunted on the cover, though this did not intrude on the fiction. Increasingly more covers and features were given over to Television series: Babylon 5 in September 1997, Star Trek in May 1998, The X-Files in November 1998. These were marketing strategies, but it had already been demonstrated a decade earlier – when the movie sf magazines established themselves – that the crossover between television and textual sf was minimal. The strategies failed, perhaps because Edelman and others would not compromise on the quality of the fiction and other features within the magazine, which remained excellent to the end. Science Fiction Age remained profitable but the publisher's desire to introduce a potentially even more profitable magazine meant that SF Age was cut. It remains the most visually attractive commercial magazine yet produced and, more rewardingly, one of the most interesting. [MA/PN]


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