Goodbye Realms of Fantasy — Again?
Reports have surfaced that Realms of Fantasy publisher Warren Lapine has written to subscribers of the magazine, telling them that if they don’t renew their subscriptions he’s going to shut it down.
Warren rescued Realms just last year, when his Tir Na Nog Press purchased it with much fanfare from Sovereign Media, who had announced that April 2009 would be the final issue. Tir Na Nog’s first issue was July 2009, and the magazine has continued with renewed vigor ever since — publishing new fiction from Euan Harvey, Bruce Holland Rogers, Richard Parks, Harlan Ellison, Carrie Vaughn, and many more.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Warren’s complaints stem from his obvious disappointment that so many fans were highly vocal about the pending loss of the magazine last year, and yet so few are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
However, as author and subscriber Mishell Baker so eloquently puts it, “Why should I send my money to a guy who’s telling me there may not be a magazine by the time he cashes my check?”
Warren clarified his position to Baker in a follow up post at The Dreaded Sword:
I think your missing the point of the letter. The magazine isn’t quite making enough money to go on as things stand right now. It was close down the magazine now, or send the letter. So saying that I shouldn’t have sent the letter suggests that I should have just shut down the magazine and not given it’s readers a heads up before closing it. Fortunately, your reaction to our letter is not the norm. Many people have a larger sense of community than you are displaying here and I expect this to save the magazine.
Realms of Fantasy is one of the few remaining professional fantasy magazines, and well worth your support. You can purchase a subscription here.
This article hit me, and so I did some soul-searching…
Why hadn’t I bought an issue of the magazine in years, and can’t remember when I had a subscription? The production values and price were pretty decent. And, I firmly believe in “Voting with my dollars”. I donate to ‘independent’ artists, I buy stuff I like, preferring a method that supports the artist or justifies their publication. And with the recession and most “Popular Culture” being really NOT to my tastes, that’s not too expensive.
So, why haven’t I bought any issues? I actually do buy and keep periodicals. I have most of my WIREDs since back to 96, I have lots of ‘zines of various degrees of fame, the most notable is bOINGbOING, I have other deceased even in good times fantasy magazines, like “Sword and Sorcery”… But few if any “Realms of Fantasy”…
Now, do I read it in the coffeehouse/bookshop and not buy it? No, that doesn’t stop me from picking up anything and without that option I’d buy even less these days.
The answer is, and this is just one man’s opinion, it’s too “Mainstream” for a “Niche” interest like myself.
1. I’ve tried to read the stories. Maybe it’s bad luck, but I’m choked at by pure “Political Correctness”. One still sticks in my mind like various internet shocker sites, like a one with “Goat” in the title or an alternative Japanese romance film using a “Girl” (over 18) in a “tub”… Had a boy who was being scared by a boogeyman/troll under his bed on top of all the RL bullies, so he gets some balls and gives the troll a right beating, but then he feels horrible about it… “So sweet and adorable and politikwally korrect you wants to fwow up!” Literally gagged me. It seemed the only stories with any “Fantasy heroes” were macho women and I thought I was reading that MZB stuff…
2. There were some other “Articles”, such as a spotlight on this or that artist. These were all way too short. Frankly, in the days of the net we don’t necessarily need a picture in a magazine to get an image we like to stick on a notebook, we can find and print it out, but still too little of that, too much “Steven King’s man eating Twinkies” stories…
3. Last, but certainly least, and please correct me if I am wrong, it was “Allumni Only” for almost all of the 00s at least. You had to be in the crowd, a published writer to get anything considered. Now, almost all fantasy fans hope their personal “Thud and Blunder” attempts get published (apologies to Poul Anderson for using the term) and doubtless all magazine editors are swamped as a result, but it’s still not that sporting to just say “No”.
Now, again, maybe I’m wrong, but around 03 I made a story and going the rounds of places to submit it to I’m sure I read “Alumni Only” essentially in that periodical’s guidelines. I’m not “Vengeful” to those that reviewed my story and decided they couldn’t publish it, some said it made them vomit (cyberfang story, and being a one time wanna be “Biologist” I tied it to some RL stuff I know about) but I proudly kept those notes in my scrapbooks:-)
Now, I won’t say this as a “Suggestion”. I’m just saying “If a periodical was like this, I’d buy every single issue (or subscribe proudly) and promo it on my websites and make an a– of myself to get my local retailers to stock it, even and I sh-t thee not, ponying up $ and doing a consignment.” (Yes, I have done this, over one of said ‘obscure in my boonies area’ periodicals when Mr. Manager gives me the $ talk. “Here’s $20, if they sell give that back to me, you’ve had no risk and some profit, if not I bought the issues!”)
1. Make it kind of like Heavy Metal, kind of a combination of stories with more “oomph” but better writing. Consider commissioning some of those artists.
2. DEATH, DEATH, DEATH to “Political Correctness”.
I like “pulp” and “Sword and Sorcery” in all its gory, sexist, glory. Big, awesome barbarians, though an occasional wizard or rouge can slip in. Women are to be barmaids, princesses, slave girls, dancers, victims to be rescued, etc. Blacks and MezoAmerican like peoples are either rare “Noble Savages” or hideous cannibals with filed teeth. Orientals are sinister characters, though their women look hot but unless they are “Rescued sacrifice victim” also very sinister. Of course, awesome “Noble Savages” think Kubotai from “Conan the Barbarian”! Mix in lovecraft, westerns, maybe some not too queer Burroughs like stuff…
Really, do women, blacks, orientals, Mexicans, etc. buy “Heroic Fantasy/Sci-Fi” enough that the damage of not sucking sucking sucking up to them will be less than the damage of alienating your base customer market?
And for Sci-Fi, well that young crybaby from Evangelion should be spanked silly then dragged off to the jungles of Venus with Buck Rogers or some such to fight in intense laser battles with the hideous native aliens. He’ll be wearing an asbestos space suit so a few hits will be ok till the stress gives him his voice. Likewise, more “Genetic Supermen” and other stuff most won’t touch with a 100foot pole used to move fuel rods.
3. Make any ‘articles’ long and thoughtful. Get some SCA guys going over rediscovered fighting techniques, modern blacksmiths on making stuff, artists showing techniques. Have long detailed ones on “Pulp Detectives”, various writers, etc. Like have an issue on Clark Ashton Smith, but with illustrations, maybe a story or two (Corben’s done some) in comic form. I’d LOVE to see “Necromancy in Naat” finished, or “Isle of the Torturers” and for the latter use the Asian American protests to promote it! As I said in #2, PC doesn’t “Sell”, the people who cry for it don’t buy the tripe, they just want the tripe to choke other people. I’ve been pestered in da bookstore by a lady over Frazetta’s work being “Sexist” but she had a pile of Cosmo mags and Diet books, not one MZB “Rag” and I mean “Rag” as in…well this is a public forum…
BTW-I devoured like a starving shark who’s encountered a shipwreck carrying thousands of French Poodles every issue of “Fantasy Illustrated”…and I hunger again! I could almost cry typing this…
I apologize for the length of this post. And I don’t expect you to bend to “My” will, but I just thought I’d explain and suggest.
While I agree with some of your comments, Green, I can’t get past your desire for sexist, racist, and depending on your defenition of “queer,” homophobic sword and sorcery. It may be that those are elements that popped up in a big portion of the history of the genre, but like any genre worth its salt, S&S has evolved. Some of its greatest works have transcended these genre stereotypes. “Black God’s Kiss” by C.L. Moore, Imaro by Charles Saunders, and The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan each move past the troublesome -isms I mentioned above, in the order I mentioned them. The Moore is without a doubt a classic of the genre, the Saunders is flirting with that status (and should have it, in my opinion), and the Morgan, while very new, is making a rather good name for itself.
While I am sure there are some among us here at the site who aren’t huge Howard fans, most of us are, and his tales do have a certain bit of what you are talking about. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t see the flaws in the work, and work to create a genre that embraces its past while also engaging in trend that brings us to new and even greater boundaires. Growth is what keeps the genre fresh, what brings us great new authors, what fosters and growing readership, and what strips down the overused negative stereotypes associated with S&S.
Do I like the tales of a hulking, sword-wielding behemoth of a man who cracks skulls and runs rampant across the country? Without a doubt. But I also like Moore, Saunders, and Morgan. They may not have invented the genre, but they have contributed to its growth and health, and have ushered the genre I love into the future.
I did not even know this magazine existed but as I love fantasy fiction and I’m always on the lookout for more, I’ll subscribe to keep it going.
Thanks for the heads up about this.
Traditionally, REALMS OF FANTASY has focused mostly on “mainstream” fantasy. That is, fantasy that will appeal to the widest margin of fantasy readers. And, too, it seems to have been aimed at the 13-year-old girl audience for most of its existence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that age group–but there are certain places fiction “can’t go” when that is the case. While I do not agree that Sword and Sorcery is by its very nature racist, misogynist, or what-have-you, I do see that RoF has always maintained a certain “flavor”…and it was NOT a market for Sword and Sorcery–although occasionally a brilliant story by Tanith Lee or Darrell Schweitzer would appear in the mag–stories that could be considered S&S. The point is that RoF was never a Sword and Sorcery mag. It was a “general fantasy” magazine. Perhaps they cast too broad a net in their preferences? Perhaps if it were open to more styles, flavors, and experimentations within the extremely broad “fantasy genre”, it would appeal to a wider base of readers? Perhaps if it struck a balance between “adventure” fiction and “mainstream fantasy” that would have served it better. It’s hard to say.
However, it does appear that that “mainstream fantasy” market that RoF has long catered to has disappeared, or gone elsewhere for their fantasy. WEIRD TALES survived by making a radical shift from the kind of dark fantasy it used to thrive on…and it did lose a lot of readers, just as it gained new ones. Now it’s more of a steampunk/New Weird mag without much in the way of classic fantasy. If REALMS OF FANTASY wishes to survive, it may need to reinvent itself along the lines of WT has…which means changing the focus. In other words, no longer trying to pack “mainstream appeal” into every issue, but instead adopting a more precise niche in the genre market and celebrating the glitch gloriously–just as BLACK GATE gloriously celebrates its embracing of “fantasy adventure” and is doing quite well.
In short, if the readers for RoF aren’t there anymore…perhaps it’s the content that needs to change to draw in those readers? Magazines in the modern world THRIVE on caterign to NICHE MARKETS. The days of a “general fantasy” magazine may be over for good.
Personally, I’d like to see more adventure-style fantasy, more dark fantasy, more “weird” fantasy, and yes more sword-and-sorcery in REALMS. If the mag wants to survive, it should re-brand itself and refocus its content. Also, I’d suggest getting rid of the media tie-in articles–and sticking to good, rollicking fantasy tales.
But that’s just me… 🙂
Well said, Luke. I doubt I could have said it any better.
I have a great fondness for exactly the kind of classic pulp fantasy Green talks about – as sexist and racist as much of it is. But anything with that kind of content today has no place in Black Gate — and, I might argue, in any modern fiction magazine.
Pulp fiction used to be written, published and purchased exclusively by privileged white males. That’s not true anymore, and when overt racism and sexism appear in a story, they overshadow everything else.
It’s not a matter of political correctness, or at least political correctness as an editorial policy driven out of fear or other commercial reasons. I simply can’t enjoy that kind of fiction any more, and I believe most of my readers don’t either.
Nice job bringing up Saunders and Morgan, by the way. They’re doing exactly the kind of work that I think is the future of Sword & Sorcery.
>The days of a “general fantasy” magazine may be over for good.
Interesting take, John. I can’t help but think that you’re right, even while I struggle with the idea. Fantasy used to BE a niche market! How can a magazine survive by catering to a niche within a small niche?
Black Gate has survived by claiming what I think is a fairly popular subgenre — and if novels are considered, doubtless the MOST popular: adventure fantasy. Also, we’re a small press magazine, with far lower costs of production than RoF (we don’t have any full time staff, for example), so comparing our success to theirs probably isn’t very useful.
Perhaps you’re right that RoF never claimed a niche for itself, and fantasy has become too broad a field today for it to survive without a more focused identity. Something to think about.
Thanks so much for posting about this. It’s most appreciated. If I might, I’d like to correct to address two things Green said in the comments section, both of a factual nature:
1) I’ve read every single story RoF has ever published. I have no recollection of us ever publishing a story with a “boy who was being scared by a boogeyman/troll under his bed on top of all the RL bullies, so he gets some balls and gives the troll a right beating, but then he feels horrible about it.” I was curious enough about this that I also took the time to check the personal story I keep of all the stories we’ve published. I didn’t see anything here that matches up with this description either. So I’m fairly certain the story you’re thinking of was published elsewhere.
2) Realms of Fantasy does indeed publish new writers. We are not an “insider only” magazine. I can’t speak to the time before I joined the magazine, but I’ve been with RoF since May ’05. The first new issue they put out after I joined them was the August 2005 issue. With our forthcoming August 2010 issue, in total we’ll have published 174 original stories. Of those, 29 are stories I’ve pulled out of the slush. When you break it down, that works out to 1 of every 6 stories we publish coming from new writers. So while we publish plenty of pros, we are quite open to work from new writers.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. People are more than entitled to their opinions about RoF, be they good or bad, but I did want to address the factual stuff. Also, a blog post recently went up on the RoF site regarding our situation. Please read if interested: http://www.rofmag.com/2010/06/03/rof-state-of-the-union/
Good luck to Black Gate going forward.
Sorry, left out one key word in point # 1: “personal story I keep” should read as “personal story log I keep.”
Right, that’s it for me.
Sorry, left out one key word in point # 1: “personal story I keep” is missing the word “log” after “story”
Right, that’s it for me.
To Douglas Cohen,
I wish to respond to you first, and thank you for your input. I am going on memory from years ago and I’ve been pretty busy and distracted, but I wouldn’t have said what I did if I wasn’t very sure.
1. I distinctly remember that story, but it could have been back in 00 even. However, I didn’t buy the magazine. It was one of those bookstores you can sit down and have coffee and I ended up reading that story, then I hated it so much I nearly ripped apart the magazine…
2. I submitted my story in 03 roundabouts over a period of six months. To various potential publishers, at least 6 I mailed physically and more I e-mailed. Was rejected for a few reasons, length, induced vomiting due to content, etc. But I did see some “Alumni Only” on a lot of the magazines, made me feel I was dealing with a “Closed Shop” that would have kept out the “Greats and legends” if it had been around for them. I was pretty PO’d and more or less went “Internet only” to inflict my frustrations on the world.
I could have been mistaken since there were more active “Fantasy” magazines. Furthermore I’m not saying this out of malice, I’m trying to give good criticism. Sometimes a person can do something bad and it hurts those like him because of how it gets others to react…
In any event I did not say what I said out of any desire to deceive. That is exactly as I remember it. Frankly, I expected any challenge to my reasons to be my “PC” issue, my hating how “PC” the stories were, which has instead been defended and supported…
I’m actually relieved if anything to be wrong about #1 and #2, regardless of my PC gripes…
So, I should perhaps withdraw or put ‘strikethrough’ on the first two reasons. I was pretty sure, but it’s the “PC” issue that really arouses my ire.
On that note, I hear the name “Warren”… Uh, is it by any chance the same “Warren” who used to publish Creepy, Vampirella, etc.? The last great “Pulp” holdout? Or one of his kin?
Really, that classic “Creepy” which I discovered as it was dying, is what got me liking this stuff. That and lots of “Cheap” books at the used bookstore, so I got the cool Ace/Lancer “Conan”, “Gor” by the bucketload, etc. all on a latchkey kid’s allowance.
To Luke and John, thank you for your comments.
I, sadly, just love all that “Anti-PC” stuff with a passion. Maybe it was watching “Conan the Barbarian” in the theaters when I was in grade school. Or, around that time getting one of the last episodes of “Creepy”, the “Resurrection” issue. On my small allowance buying from the “Used book store” and really hitting the jackpot getting the Ace/Lancer “Conan” books, a bucketful of “Gor”, lots of odd pulps nobody’s probably heard about “The Time Mercenaries” for example…
Also, as a kid, this sounds a bit anachronistic, but a lot of old “African Explorer” movies got shown in my area, living in a small Midwestern town. The stuff the “Panthers” politely asked them not to show anymore in the big cities. So I got to see cool filed teeth cannibals eating people alive, and I can’t even find those movies anymore, due to “PC”. I suppose now though, not just not moving to DVD from reel to reel, the various companies will deny ever even making them, kind of like how Disney avoids mentioning it made “Song of the South”…or various other old things like a cute negroid centauress in “Fantasia”…
When I went from that period and was able to afford “new” books, I found they’d all changed. Cyberpunk was OK, but most fantasy had to me sucked donkey—- well… There was too much “PC” in it. Later I’d found out it had almost started as I was reading the “used” stuff.
Now, if I’m right and I want to be careful not to say something that might be untrue, didn’t this change happen with the head of a major publishing house dying of a heart attack and his “Feminist” daughter taking over? Didn’t that cause the end, despite “OK” at worst sales of “Gor” and start the MZB era? With of course Lin Carter dying earlier so no real competition from him?
My strong opinion is that “PC” was indeed rammed in America as part of some corporate agenda, at least a ‘financial’ conspiracy to make everything bland and vapid so it was most marketable and to ruin any originality or personality of any truly great authors/artists so they couldn’t demand high wages. Over the years, all the “PC” really has just been boiling up in my head with anger. It’s just forcing a fake smile on everyone’s lips and if anything building up pressure to explode if it’s not released. I’ve even argued that “PC” is a deliberate “Conspiracy” to bring about a wave of real racism and make it socially acceptable again. Just look at “South Park” for example, how it gets away with so much stuff…
Frankly, I’m just hoping somebody can start publishing “Anti-PC” while it’s still a “Controversial Safety Valve” before it degenerates into open racism and becomes “Standard”.
Combine sword and sorcery, Heavy Metal, Early sci/fi and detective a dash of Burroughs… Oh, yeah, if you think FHM/Maxim are bad, look at the “magazines for sexist males” of yesteryear, like “Men Today!”;-)
So I’d fill it with mighty barbarians, savage cannibals, “Wenches” of various undress and abusement, swords slicing through all sorts of tentacle and human flesh…all for the sake of fun. Sinister orientals, cannibal natives…
Then some articles, but on rather extreme subjects, like urban geurilla tactics, brutal fighting techniques, rundowns of drug experimenters, “Tours” of “Gentelman’s Tour” spots in Asia and others. I’d fill it with ads of all sort of shaky background, various “Botanicals/Legal Highs”, foreign ‘dating’ services, let any crazy cult advertize…
I’d be “Rabidly Non-PC but not necessarily racist” so like on the “Mexico” issue there’d be tons of stories/articles of brutal (and macho!) drug dealers, foreign chiquitas smuggled in as sex slaves, “Cults of DEATH!”, calls for “Patriotic Americans” to go on jury duty and make sure “Border Vigilantes” are set free, etc… But I’d also put in “Luchador” stories/articles, graphic depictions of “Bullfighting” all the gore of the bull, that matador that got his jaw poked, but it’d be “One of the last true Man’s sports!”
Again, please forgive the length.
This post really socked me in the gut.
I want to “Vote with my dollars” for the entertainment media I like, but there’s not much out there that I do like. I’ve even heard the name “Warren” and I’m thinking “oh, no, not THAT Warren” since that warren PUBLISHED a good number of the things I liked that got me that warped…I thought he was retired/dead, he can’t have published the PC sh-t I hate so much…
And what I’ve described is what I really wish I could buy. Something I’d be so enthusiastic for, it’d be like a starving shark that’s found a shipwreck that’s unleashed thousands of French Toy poodles dog-paddling on the ocean surface… If there was something like this published I’d buy every issue/subscribe. I’d use every social trick I know, not the least of it is “Here, $, buy some issues, if they sell, they bought the next batch and you’ve made a profit, if not I’ve bought them”. I did that with two periodicals to keep them in a local Hastings, btw, Sword and Sorcery magazine and Dark Realms, though it seemed they’d already been closing down when I discovered them… And even as I bought them or politely showed them to a friend and some idealistic college girl went “You are a dinosaur and you’ll go extinct like the dinosaur because your heart will burst from dragging your GENITALS!” I’d just smile and continue the conversation;-)
One final note, Burroughs is one of my favorite writers. I just, sadly due to some girls I’ve known, am 100% straight. But, despite being straight and not a junkie, I like his works for the dark paranoid vision.
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I’d like to link to your editorial on the RoF website from the Black Gate blog, to make sure our readers see it.
Sadly, I think you’re getting Warren Publishing, who did indeed publish many (non-PC) horror comics in the 70s, mistaken for Warren Lapine, the publisher of Realms of Fantasy. The two are not related to my knowledge.
Thanks, John. That’s very gracious of you.
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