Jan. 3rd, 2009

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On a certain and insecure yet petty level, I'll always want to be in Fantasy & Science Fiction. I have never subscribed even though I've bought at least a hundred copies in the course of my lifetime. Worse, because I have been cursed with the strange amalgamation of tendencies that make one into a hoarder, I still lug these through life. I remember buying a complete run of an SF zine from the 1971 because it was the year I was born and thinking it would be nice to get a sense of what was going on in the "tentacles on the ground" sense back then. All thirteen or so issues (it was most likely Analog) sit in a pile balanced into a decidedly overstuffed bookcase in my parents' basement. They might be wrapped in plastic. If they are, I doubt I've ever opened them. Some of the F&SF's are probably unread too. An author I'd meant to read gets mentioned on the cover, it ends up in a pile, my off-kilter and roving imagination moves on. It's not how I deal with my booksihness anymore; I'm at least somewhat free of the obsession -- but I'd also guesstimate that another dozen or so of the F&SF's I own I merely looked through for (oh I don't know) Elizabeth Hand, Lucius Shepherd, James Sallis or Paul Di Fillipo or a funny comic, the Charles De Lint book reviews and threw that into a pile thinking I'd get to the fiction when I wasn't in the middle of three or four books at once.

I can think of only a few stories that I found in there that rocked my socks enough to remember that I read them in F&SF. To give a glimpse into my eccentricities, the two that come to mind at the moment I'm typing this are: that one about the unicorn in space called something like "Bringer of the Right Equation" (don't worry, some googling couldn't get it, the pat yet quirky ending makes me think of Silverberg for some reason) and that Alan Arkin one about Jesus on an airplane where Jesus wins. These stand out because they were cute and I don't do cute so I never read them again somewhere else. (I don't believe in writing defenses of Jesus, at all, but it was funny and I read it on an airplane and, who knows? Am I really required to embrace the tyranny of sensemaking in my own blog? I thought not. Next someone will mention that it's obnoxious that my paragraphs are about to star ending in parenthesized self-commentary as if Duncan Shriek has crawled to the surface and is writing in my margins when I go pee.)

I think I just gave a peek into how my mind works. Here's the thing. I hear somebody's doing amazing work (Link, Barron, Rosenbaum, Bacigalupi - there have been many more than that), I buy the issue, read it or don't and then put them on some grand internal list of people to check out when they get a collection. Reading the collection, I'll tie the story to that in my head. I realize this is complicated, but what I'm saying is that I read stories in F&SF (or I don't but I mean to) and then I track those authors down, read their collections and (ideally) eventually fall in love with their stories and read them over and over. This isn't some ideal or honed system. It's just that I adore contemporary short stories and find that the atmospheric and garbled story motifs and structures that I like most are more likely to occur in short fiction. And, because I am not normal, I keep these magazines forever. (Oh, I know I'm not the only one. Yes, I'm looking at you.) You name a horror mag or horror author of the past twenty years and I've got something in my disorganized "collection," even if I don't recognize the name. In trading with other collectors, my library has never let me down.

Where am I going? I, personally, need short fiction to be published so that my desperate and batty radar gets put to use. It would be foolish to have devoted my life to reading if people stopped publishing what I like.  I worked in one of the larger bookstores in Massachusetts for seven years, have taught college, go to a convention or two a year and troll the internet trying to find short fiction writers who are spooky. (Not the people. If you, personally, are a creep and you can't write your way out of a biohazard bag, I don't want you to email me about how you're the next Stephen King but no one will give you a chance until you've read over one hundred books on writing. Even then, you might suck, but enough will accidentally leak into your head that when you talk about writing, you'll sound like you know what you're talking about. I was a crappy musician for many years and I was always astounded when someone could talk a ton of music theory and not be able to play. It was quite rare. Being able to seem really good and not know anything, conversely, was more common. (There are ways to learn to play guitar, drums and keyboards that are more about moving your hands than knowing what things are called. It's how major talents can say that they can't read music and mean it.)

So I need the heat check. The chill check?  I need places that get a slew of submissions and winnow through them quickly, buying from people who are really good and on the rise. I wade through a ton to get my fix and I can't process anymore low-end material unless people pay me more than a little and dental to do it. I give what I can to the cause and I try to rep big for the writers who blow my doors off. *koff* Joel Lane. So I need F&SF to exist. Viscerally. It provides sustenance even if all it does is bring a few more playmates to the playground every year. They're not going to publish the extra-weird that I like (Simon Logan's stories in IO, as one random example, but I confess to not reading every issue and skimming the fiction if it looks even semi-skimmable, so he could've been in there, though I'd be surprised.)

And I'm no schill for them. I take issue with any consistent day in and day out publishing endeavor that doesn't generally aim for equal distributions on gender and a few other variables. Accurately representing the percentages of the submissions, to me, is the beginning, not the end. I don't want to hear dominant voices. They make me yawn. Beyond that, I've chatted with Gordon Van Gelder like twice at ReaderCon and watched him on some panels. I slept in his bedroom when I crashed Clarion for a night once and he wasn't there. (Dear rumor mill, please have this spiral out of control in an extremely funny way or remain friendslocked, thanks!)

Have I burbled my way through this effectively? I want them to buy a story from me because they are a pillar of the skiffy community and they've published many of my idols and favorite stories. I skim it and rarely find it that memorable, partially because I remember the stories as being wherever they are when they turn up in books. Despite my practiced incompentence as a reader, F&SF brings buckets of joy to my life. They function as an indicator species for the speculative genres and they're a voice in the field that, though flawed, tries quite hard not to suck. I, even though I am one person and it's clear that I'm not good at making sense when I have a bunch of other things that I should be writing instead and I'm typing fast and I'd rather be singing along to Suzanne Vega's "Left off Center" but I got tagged and I have decided that this beginning of 2009 is a time to go on and on a bit for no apparent reason, need the words to be burbling through the atmosphere because I don't want to miss a thing, just like that song Diane Warren wrote for Celine Dion but that got recorded by Aerosmith.

Cut me some slack. I'd rather be listening to Joy Division with all my attention rather than typing to the beat and I have like three other things due right now. And finally, I don't love everything that F&SF stands for, but I'm enough of a bookseller and a lover of the genre that I want people to be able to go to a large chain bookstore and buy some fiction in a magazine that has stories that are sometimes awesome. No magazine is going to meet all my needs as a reader unless they let me write it and that would be remarkably boring for me to read, so...

Reason number 4: I am happy that Fantasy & Science Fiction is going to 6 issues a year instead of going under. No, this is never a good sign for a magazine but (if memory serves) Gordon Van Gelder funds enough of it himself that he wouldn't make this call unless he fully understood the money side of this change. I am not saying that they get enough right compared to some others to be special or sacred. I am not saying that I'm pretending to like them because I want to be published in there because then people will love me. (I've only sent them two stories, I think. Three at most.) I'm saying that it's statistically likely that they will publish two or three stories in the next year or two that are great enough, by my personal and highly subjective standards, to encourage some future talents to keep going who would otherwise move on to something potentially lucrative that does more good for the world like furniture repair or selling stuff on eBay.


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