Sixteen of your US dollars. That’s what the latest (monster) issue of Black Gate has cost you in these days of fear and crumbling factories. It’s strange, isn’t it? You’ll spend all that money on a collection of fiction and game reviews when the internet is bursting with so much free content. If you go looking right now, you can find a million Sword & Sorcery stories out there that you wouldn’t even need to pirate: the authors, overcome in a delirium of generosity, are only too thrilled to supply them for free.
And it doesn’t stop with short-stories! There are more novels waiting for you online than any dozen people could read in a lifetime, along with plays, movie scripts, poetry…
Oh God. The poetry.
So, what’s stopping you? I’ll tell you what’s stopping me: I don’t want to be a slush reader. It is mind-rotting, eye-burning work that actually becomes worse the more of it you do. Like some sort of cumulative poison. And for every great story we read in the pages of Black Gate, there have been several hundred at least that would have had any sane person thinking more and more about drinking that bottle of bleach under the sink. Oh yes.
Now, this is not to say that good stories don’t slip through the editorial net from time to time. Maybe it’s late on a Friday night and Andrew or John just isn’t in the right mood to appreciate the latest Rebecca Silverhorn Adventure. Or they might have bought three unicorn stories already that month. Or it could be that the erotic subtext is a bad fit for the magazine…
But the fact remains, if I have to read even five awful stories — let alone a hundred — before I find something fun, well, I don’t know about you, but these days there are plenty of other media that can entertain me far more efficiently than that.
You see, there simply has to be a way to filter turds out of the pool. That’s what editors do, among other things. As the publishing industry collapses and ye olde gatekeepers — publishing houses, agents, book-stores — go to the wall, we’re all going to be in big trouble unless something comes along to take their place. The role of any new gatekeepers won’t be in deciding who gets into the store: everybody gets into the store, you can put your own book up on amazon right now if you want to.
No, the ranks of the new gatekeepers will be filled with men and women like John O’Neill and Ellen Datlow: people whose taste will appeal to particular groups of readers and who will determine, just as they do now, not “who gets published”, but “who gets noticed”, “who gets read”.
Their opinions will be worth something — say, sixteen US dollars — that people like me will pay over with a sigh of gratitude and relief. These slush-wading heroes, along with a number of automatic, crowd-sourced systems, will keep story-lovers happy long into the digital age.
And thank goodness!