Altair: Alternative Airings in Speculative Fiction
Issues 1 and 2
From the outside, Altair is a handsome beast, especially with the first issue cover. According to comments from the magazine's editors, they pride themselves on being an international magazine and have cast their net as wide as possible for good fiction. It's pleasing to see, then, that two of the strongest stories in the first issue are by Australians. Even more pleasing is that these are the first published stories for both writers. While not as strong, the second issue has some fine work as well.
Brendan Carson's "Prozac Crusade" from Altair 1 is a neat little piece about time travel and the alternative futures created by one man playing havoc with the past. Hard to say much more about the plot without giving away the whole game, but Carson pulls off the story with considerable dash and a solid ending that is entirely logical without at all being predictable.
Less accomplished, perhaps, but more original, is Carson's story in Altair's second issue, "The Book of Eluhaz". Written in the style of the Old Testament (including chapter and verse numbers), it doesn't work as pastiche, which may not have been one of Carson's objective, or as irony, which may have been. What it does do, though, is tell a nicely chilling story about alien visitation in a very few words, and with just the right amount of pathos, as Eluhaz, Judge over "Resen and all the people of Naphtuhim", plays knight errant to Shelepha, daughter of Cuz the Midianite, with tragic consequences.
Carson has made a solid start with these works, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
The second new author published in Altair's first issue was Michael Morgan. "Eat Your Greens" is both original and idiosyncratic, and concerns a group of students who teach their new headmaster a lesson he'll never forget - as long as he lives. The story is a wonderful example of the kind of science fiction that hooked me on the genre all those decades ago, the kind of story that opens your eyes to what it might mean to live in a culture and society truly alien from our own. The language is terse, and the necessary infodumping (the clues to the society's "alien-ness") cleverly arranged as observation and within dialogue and internal monologue. I want to read more stories set in this world. A nicely paced and intriguing yarn.
Stephen Dedman's "Depth Of Field", from Altair's second issue, has some of the best opening paragraphs I've read in a long time. The chief protagonist is one of our genre's favourite directors from the 1950s, Ed Wood Jr, but from an alternative past to our own. The government of the time, unable to dismiss a recent flurry of alien abductions (mainly of Californian females - young, beautiful blonde and busty), establishes a committee of SF screenwriters, directors, producers and actors to assist in its investigations. The idea is ludicrously madcap, as madcap as the idea behind the real Wood's own 1956 film Plan 9 from Outer Space, and also works as a poke in the eye for Niven and Pournelle's similar conceit in the overweight Footfall. For all the cleverness, however, and Dedman's usual fine touch with character and narrative, the story doesn't meet expectations because the explanation behind the abductions is disappointing and, it seems to me, nowhere near as original and outrageous as the premise. For all that, "Depth Of Field" is worth reading for the first few hundred words alone, and a gruesome twist at the very end makes up a lot of ground.
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©1998 Simon Brown.
Altair is edited by Rpbert N. Stephenson. The magazine debuted in 1998, and has published two issues to date.