Monday, 2 February 2009

Dumb Idea of the Week

Various genre magazines are suffering in these credit-crunched times - Realms of Fantasy has ceased publication, F&SF has gone bimonthly, and both Asimov's and Analog have reduced page counts. It looks very gloomy...

There have been several calls for action, but the dumbest solution to this situation I've heard so far is this one:

"Maybe what’s needed is for the genre to get down to one magazine. Refocus the field of science fiction. And since the magazine publishing and distribution industry is so screwed, maybe the short story market should move to a different format. I’d suggest a trade or mass market paperback series published quarterly to start with edited by team of editors to get the very best and diverse kind of story."


If you search for science fiction markets on Duotrope, a writers' resource web site, you get 342 hits - ranging from the professional magazines, such as the aforementioned Analog and F&SF, to the amateur online zines which don't pay contributors. For a reader, there's a wide range of fiction of varying quality available there. For a writer, there's ample opportunity to get into print.

But James Wallace Harris thinks we should chuck all that. Instead, the only outlet for science fiction short stories should be a single quarterly paperback anthology. About 100 published stories a year, then. It'll make picking a shortlist for the Hugo and Nebula Awards easier. That's about the only good thing I can say for the plan. But it will also make it impossible for anyone except an established name to get a story into print.

It will kill science fiction.

The genre needs a constant input of new talent. That's how it grows and evolves. Choke off that talent, and science fiction will stagnate and die. There'll be no books by new writers, just more tired old crap by the old guard. And when they're gone it'll be... reprint after reprint after reprint. The sf shelves of your local book shop will start to resemble the Penguin Classics shelves - full of multiple editions of the same canon of books by long-dead authors.

So what if a few magazines go to the wall? It's happened before, and it'll no doubt happen again.

And science fiction is still here, still growing and still evolving.

I have to wonder if the same can be said for some of its fans...


Cliff Burns said...

Dum de dum DUMB. That's right, let's whittle down SF to the bare minimum and I'm sure that will help with the diversity and scope of a genre that is already too in-bred and sub-literate. We need MORE good SF markets and, above all, smarter, literate, more discerning editors. Some of those twats haven't read anything beyond Charlie Stross and think he's the be all and end all of litch-a-cher. Now, I like Charlie's work
just fine but if you read literary fiction you quickly come to realize that thematically and stylistically he's not exactly cutting edge.

If the SF marketplace is pared down any more we'll see the same, recurring, tired names on the Table of Contents page.

At that point, I will abandon the genre altogether, leave it to rot in its self-perpetuating offal...

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's a great idea. Then everyone could just buy a copy of the 'Year's Best..', and that would save them having to shell out for the quarterly anthology. Oh, wait a minute...

neil williamson said...

I guess the question I'd have is: how do you maintain your quality control? How do you stop people publishing whatever the hell they want to publish?

Even if you, say, limit the number of editors that can run an "approved" project by making them get a degree in anthologising or whatever, rogue underground anthologies by unaccredited editors will abound, I tell you!