Launched at ConVergence, the 41st Australian National Science Fiction Convention, amidst the sort of hoopla normally associated with the arrival on our shores of boy bands of dubious sexuality, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (henceforth known as ASIM to save typing blisters) was lauded by all involved as a major new entry in Australian SF magazines. It was a big claim: the people behind the magazine intend it to be issued bi-monthly, so if the first issue failed to live up to the hype they could find themselves without an audience base for the second. Did the first issue manage to live up to the hype? Read on:
The magazine looks promising enough when first held in your hand. It is a professional looking package: the vaguely Moebius-like cover art by Les Petersen is bright and colourful and holds enough mystery within the image to prompt you to open the cover. Once opened, the quality of presentation continues. It may seem a silly thing to concentrate on in a review (get to the stories, damn it…) but bear with me: the paper is clean, crisp, and white which is a pleasure to look at if, like me, you’re actively turned off by the remainder-bin look of some of the major print SF magazines out there (some of which may even have the name of one of the all-time great SF authors in the title, ahem).
And while we’re on the subject of those major magazines, ASIM #1 has 11, count them 11, stories in its 128 pages, plus an interview, plus poetry, plus reviews. So what? So, a recent copy of Analog had 3 stories in it beside the reviews and a non-fiction article. What’s your value for money choice here?
So quantity is fine. What’s the quality like?
Things start off fine. “Boarding Pass” by Chuck McKenzie, a humorous set of rules for Andromeda Spaceways passengers (it should be pointed out that the magazine presents itself as if it were the inflight magazine for the fictional Spaceways flight, rather than just being a long title to give reviewers typing blisters) raises chuckles. The first ‘real’ story, Dave Luckett’s “Trade Barrier” is a good, solid piece of fiction. Luckett’s touch with Young Adult fiction is shown to best light in this story, a tale of both a young girl and the society in which she lives undergoing a rite of passage into maturity. The prose is clear, the idea strong, and the story rattles along at a comfortable pace, never slowing into drudgery while giving the reader ample opportunity to digest the details of the future setting of the story, so important for the resolution of this tale.
Stories by Lyn McConchie, Trent Jamieson, and a first sale from Stanislaw Wiatrowski follow before the next standout story, a fall-about funny tale of Fairy Godmothers gone screamingly wrong by Tansy Rayner Roberts called “Fairy Godmother Express”. Roberts, co-editor with the above-mentioned McKenzie of the recent anthology of speculative humour AustrAlien Absurdities goes full-throttle for the funny bone, and hits it square on with a brilliant lampooning of fairy tale conventions. Two further highlights follow within the fiction section: “The Ghoul Goes West” by Stephen Dedman is a wittily dark tale set in The Old West, and showcases Dedman’s enjoyment of reinventing literary and real-life figures from the past and showing them in a vastly different light. The final story, “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, one of too few stories I’ve seen from Ian Nichols runs a nice twist on messages from space, the media shark-pool, and good old fashioned rock and roll. Simply structured in comparison to some of the issue’s earlier stories, it fits perfectly as the end-piece here, the linear structure and muscular writing providing a perfect dash toward the finish line.
The Regular Features section follows the last of the fiction and contains what, these days, are the expected areas: a science column, reviews, and the bonus of an interview with author Josephine Pennicott regarding her first novel Circle of Nine. Unfortunately, the interview provided the only real cringe moment of the magazine. Placed only a page from a fairly critical review of the book, I had to wonder if it would not have been better to hold one or the other over to the next issue. The science column by Jeff Harris tackles the subject of Faster Than Light Drives, both an appropriate subject for a magazine you’re allegedly reading on an FTL spaceship and an entertaining look at the way different writers have handled FTL through history. As a complete science illiterate even I understood it, and without pictures that’s a pretty neat feat, kids.
So was the hype worth it? Does ASIM stand up to its older, more established counterparts? Well, apart from a couple of stories that weren’t up to the quality of the others (And that’s always a personal reaction, and always likely to happen in any anthology, so I’m not telling which ones: you can make up your own mind) yes it does. A professionally presented magazine, with plenty of fiction, good science, an entertaining central premise, and a range of forms expressed within (I didn’t mention the poetry already, did I?) that make the cover price of AU$6.95 better value for money than many of the bigger name magazines in the market. This first issue does the job remarkably well, and points the way to a strong run for future installments.