oward the midpoint of the 21st Century, Acker 4SJ received the summer issue of his favorite magazine, Analog Sci Fi and Sci Fax.
Since there were no newsstand sales any longer, and the only other subscriber had succumbed to a heart attack three months ago, the editor had just typed up this issue’s editorial in the form of a letter and added the manuscript of Richard Lovett’s 537th contribution to the magazine, a short story with an accompanying fact article in the form of footnotes.
The editorial was over 15,000 words long but the gist of it was simple: the magazine was folding.
One by one the science fiction magazines had died.
Asimov’s, in its last years retitled Asimov-Bradbury-Heinlein-Clarke’s Science Fiction and Crossword Puzzles Magazine, had lain moldering in 4sJ’s memory for low these many months.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction lasted just a bit longer by combining itself with Sports Illustrated, but the idea of using only extra-terrestrial models for the Swimsuit Issue had proven fatal.
4SJ had been reading science fiction magazines since Amazing Stories in 1926, and he found that the loss of this last remaining one sent a pang through his artificial heart and might have caused a tear or two except that his brain and other vital organs were now encased in a metal body and tears were just a sentimental memory.
It was not that science fiction was no longer popular.
It was more popular than ever, in this scientifically advanced age.
In fact, most entertainment these days was science fiction, even theatre.
This very week in New York, the Metropolitan Space Opera was beginning its performance of the entire Lensman Cycle, music by Brad Wedge and libretto by J.M. Straczynski, and featuring as lead singers Ryan Smith and Sarah Taylor.
At the legendary 75-acre downtown Atlanta Ritch-Wilbanks Art Center, the Mostly Retro Academy Performers was about to celebrate the 1000th performance of the epic pageant “Captain Shivers and the Space Barbarians,” starring Fiona Leonard as Captain Shivers, Daniel Kiernan as Nadir McGuirk, Tamara Morton as Captain Shiver’s niece Jillian, and Clair Kiernan as Urgus.
Revival theatres were doing great business with such classic films as “Metropolis,” “The Stars My Destination,” “Slan” and “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.”
It was only the magazines that were doing poorly. And only the printed magazines, at that.
Famous websites like Aberrant Dreams and Planetary Stories were boasting five and six million hits a day with readers eager for stories by such masters as Ron Butler, Rob Shelsky, Eugie Foster and Wendy Webb.
But to 4SJ a magazine wasn’t a magazine unless it had wire staples and smelled of paper.
There were no readers, for one thing. Not for printed magazines on actual paper. Readers now turned to the internet. Actually having to pick up something in order to read it, having to actually turn the pages, was something they seemed no longer interested in doing.
Even the printing presses were being melted down and their components salvaged in order to produce more computers for more web storage. Even to someone as romantic as 4SJ it was obvious that the day of the magazine was dead.
Might there be a way? What if? After all, what if was what science fiction was all about. So 4SJ applied his mind to the problem and asked himself, “What if?”
What if there was still a printing press somewhere out there that worked?
It was worth a try, he thought, so he sat down at his computer and tried a search.
Sure enough he found a printing press that was not scheduled to be torn down for another six weeks. He sent off e-mail and learned that it was available for one last job – no one else wanted to use it.
So he could do it.
He had discovered science fiction with the very first science fiction magazine, but he had always regretted that it was Hugo Gernsback, not him, who had the distinction of publishing the first magazine.
If he couldn’t publish the first one, here at least was the opportunity to publish the last.
Furthermore, he had just the people available to turn out exactly the issue he wanted that very last one to be.
His science fiction collection was widely known, of course. Books, magazines, movie props and memorabilia, artwork – many one of a kind items. But there was more than just actual science fiction.
In recent years he had employed the services of some of the best psychiatric cyberneticists on the planet to build virtual brains of some of the greatest stars in the sf firmament.
He therefore had the writers available he wanted for the magazine – Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein for the lead novels, David H. Keller, Stanley Weinbaum and Homer Eon Flint for the short stories. He had the artists – Frank R. Paul for the front cover, Hannes Bok for the back cover, and Virgil Finlay for the interiors. And he had the editorial staff he wanted, too: Hugo Gernsback, T. O’Conor Sloan of Amazing, Sam Merwin of Thrilling Wonder, Ray Palmer of Other Worlds, F. Orlin Tremaine of Astounding Stories and John W. Campbell of Astounding Science Fiction.
From unsolicited submissions, they would select the shorter stories he would need to fill out the magazine in addition to those by Smith, Heinlein, Keller, Weinbaum and Flint. Though his would be the final decision of course.
He was a very happy man.
He started the project at once.
Almost at once stories began to come in. Most of them were not good enough, of course. Many contained blatant scientific errors. Some of them merely rehashed familiar ideas. But the virtual brains that made up 4SJ’s editorial staff carefully read each one, and made their selections carefully.
There were two exceptions. Neither the virtual John W. Campbell Jr. nor the virtual Raymond A. Palmer seemed to be paying much
attention to the stories that were being submitted to the magazine. They seemed to be spending most of their time in some kind of discussion.
At last the magazine was published and 4SJ opened his copy immediately and read it. It was wonderful. At least one of his dreams was fulfilled.
he other dream, of course, was impossible to fulfill, because how could he possibly publish the very first science fiction magazine?
Then it was that the virtual Ray Palmer and the virtual John Campbell came to him with their announcement.
“The reason we didn’t read many of the stories submitted to the issue,” said Ray Palmer, “is that we were working on something else.”
“An idea,” John W. Campbell, Jr., said. “And what an idea it is. We have invented time travel.”
4SJ looked at them with astonishment. “But everyone knows that time travel is possible. General relativity permits it. The only problem is that it requires so much energy it’s, excuse me for the word, virtually impossible.”
“Not for every virtual,” John Campbell, Jr. said proudly.
“And our method,” added Ray Palmer, “is really, really cheap.”
Then they explained their method. It was brilliant; a breakthrough, if ever there was one. And, by golly, it was cheap.
So 4SJ forked over ten dollars and they built him a time machine.
And he went back to 1925 and started a publishing company and fulfilled his last remaining dream of publishing the very first science fiction magazine.
It was simply amazing.