Who is Sam Bellotto? What is “Hard” SF? What’s Perihelion?

Yes, Sam is that Crossword Puzzle guy whose work has been in the New York Times and other newspapers for years. He’s so famous, my mom knew who he was before I did–she doesn’t even read much!– but she loves newspaper puzzles.

.crossdownlogo600[1]  Sam-Bellotto-150x150[1] sam-and-rana

Sam has published a slew of puzzle books and games for Simon and Schuster, worked many illustrious years in New York City, retired to Rochester, NY, and resurrected Perihelion–no, not the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is closest to the sun, but Perihelion, the science fiction magazine he started in college in the 1960s. These days, his essays include anecdotes about his canine companions (a black Lab, always), and assorted adventures with modern technology. “Delete the Messenger” is one of his best-ever satirical editorials at Perihelion.

issue 6 Issue No. 6, January 1969, Cover By Vaughn Bode

Thanks to Erin Lale, acquisitions editor of both Eternal Press and Damnation Books, I began reviewing books for the revived ezine in 2012. Sam is a savvy, competent, enterprising and astute editor, the kind that’s so hard to find these days, just as writers of competent prose seem to face extinction ever since the new teaching methods of the late 21st Century took over America’s schools. Sam is a one-man publishing industry, though he’s quick to credit his staff, free-lance writers and artists, and readers for putting him back in business. I’m impressed at his ability to attract top-notch professionals and assemble a professional magazine issue, fresh, free and original, live on the twelfth of every month. (Free, yes, but donations welcomed; those artists and writers need to be paid.)

Back in the day, Sam published stories by Dean Koontz and David R. Bunch and artwork by Vaughn Bode long before they were anywhere near famous. Joseph Green writes for Perihelion today, and Hugo- and Nebula-winning authors sell short stories here, along with new talent awaiting discovery by the masses. The first two issues were published under the title “Seldon Seen,” while Volumes 3 through 6 are titled Perihelion.

I’ll say more about Sam in future posts, and Vaughan, contributing editor Eric Jones, and Joseph Green. Better yet, I’ll get Sam to talk about them. John McCormick, Adam Paul, the staff artists, all are worth noting. For now, the best way to learn more about them is to read their labor of love, Sam’s baby, Perihelion. From the cover artwork to the cartoons, the short stories and nonfiction articles, movie, game and book reviews, it all comes together into an award-winning package each month. Perihelion came in second in the 2013 Preditor’s & Editor’s Poll. Sam was voted on of the top three ezine editors.  Perihelion was also in the Top 10 for best artwork, cover art, and other categories.

Though Sam tells me he’d rather be remembered for Perihelion than for his own fiction, I have to let the world know that Sam can write funny Sci-Fi with the best of them. See my review of Yellow Glad Days. I kid Sam that among book covers, this is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, in terms of aesthetics, but it does capture the hippie feel of the first phase of the novel, along with the BLISS-ed feel of the latter phase.

 April 23, 2013
The Moralist Party has taken over the political reins of the country. A powerful coalition of minorities is demanding they be allowed to move to Alabama and secede from the United States. Former inmates of Oklahoma Federal Penitentiary are believed to possess the Bomb. Awakening from a nine year alternate reality, Astin W. Wench discovers that nothing has changed. With his two best friends, he attempts to get to the bottom of everything, put the nation back to rights, and find a really good cup of coffee. Part science fiction, part political satire, “Yellow Glad Days” dissects the meaning of happiness in an illogical world.

Sci-Fi lovers, note Sam’s March 2014 editorial on how he defines “hard” science fiction. No steampunk, fantasy, or YA submissions, please. As the resident book critic, I sift through a dozen novels a month submitted by authors or publishers hoping to score a review. Most of them fall short of the definition of Sci-Fi, or being “recent” enough. Some have been so engaging, it doesn’t matter what genre they fit best. And now, here’s Sam:

samnew1

SINCE THIS MAGAZINE WAS RESURRECTED a little over one year ago, one of our primary criterion for fiction has been “hard” science fiction. I believed there was a lack of these kinds of tales–good writing with a nod to the wondrous visions that fueled the pulp magazines of the ’60s and ’70s–and that “Perihelion” could successfully fill that void. The increasing popularity of this website over the months seems to indicate that my judgment was correct.

But exactly what do we mean by “hard” science fiction? There are apparently as many definitions as there are readers. Many take the word “hard” literally, insisting that stories in this vein incorporate robots, spaceships, and other kinds of futuristic hardware. Certainly subject matter that we welcome. We like to expand the definition, however. My personal explanation of “hard” science fiction is “honking good stories” served up with a strong dose of real science. The story must be compelling and the science must be integral to the story.

Sadly, I find that too many stories passing themselves off as science fiction these days are little more than character sketches, or vignettes, with the emphasis on artistic, nearly poetic, writing. The tendency for these stories to wander off into the realm of purple prose is often too great. Take an alien, or a human from thousands of years in the future, place that character in a simple setting, preparing for a ceremony, or in peril, and describe the scenario with a writing style that almost eclipses fine art, and you have a formidable exercise for discussion in creative writing class or workshops. But is it a publishable story? Some would say yes.

I prefer an intriguing first act, followed by an absorbing second act, leading to a satisfying third act. I want something to happen, preferably the protagonist being changed in some way, not necessarily for the good, or happily ever after. Above all, I want the impact on the characters to be driven by science. The change can come from something as simple as first contact with an extraterrestrial species, to something as complex as World War III. A lab experiment gone wrong is always great fiction fodder, as are accidents in space.

I’m also hugely fond of humor. Granted, humor is hard to pull off. Why so many markets appear to eschew funny science fiction is way beyond my understanding. I’ve never equated gloomy with the genre. This might have something to do with a mistaken notion that funny isn’t quality? Really? I’ve actually seen some markets discourage comedy. To them all I can reply is get off your high horse; you go to the toilet the same as the rest of us peons.

With this in mind, every issue of “Perihelion” we try to serve up the gamut of “hard” science fiction. This month we offer “honking good stories” dealing with alien cultures, clones, mad science, robots, and humor, plenty of gasping-for-air, fall-off-your-chair, rollicking humor.

http://www.perihelionsf.com/1403/editorial.htm

***

Physical copies of the 1960s issues are almost impossible to find, but most of the contents are listed at The FictionMags Index  http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/t2227.htm

Perihelion [No. 3, November-December 1967] ed. Sam Bellotto, Jr. & Eric M. Jones

Perihelion [No. 4, February-March 1968] ed. Sam Bellotto, Jr. & Eric M. Jones

Perihelion [No. 5, May-June 1968] ed. Sam Bellotto, Jr. & Eric M. Jones

Perihelion [No. 6, January-February 1969] ed. Sam Bellotto, Jr. & Eric M. Jones

Now, to see if we can get Sam to reprint some of those stories in an anthology, or on occasion in the ezine!

issue 1
Issue No. 1 (as Seldon Seen), April 1967, cover by Cabell Hatfield, mimeo, 10 pg.

issue 2
Issue No. 2 (as Seldon Seen), August 1967, cover by Eric M. Jones, offset/mimeo, 26 pg.

issue 3
Issue No. 3, November 1967, cover by Eric M. Jones, offset, saddle-stitched, 40 pg.

issue 4
Issue No. 4, February 1968, cover by William Stillwell, offset, saddle-stitched, 40 pg.

issue 5
Issue No. 5, June 1968, cover by William Stillwell, offset, saddle-stitched, 40 pg.

issue 6
Issue No. 6, January 1969, cover by Vaughn Bode, offset, saddle-stitched, 40 pg.

issue 7
Issue No. 7, Summer 1969, offset, saddle-stitched, 40 pg. Final print issue. 

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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