It’s been a rough twelve months for The Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin.
Early last year, issue #200 drew complaints for some generally tasteless remarks on female editors from columnists Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg (and a cover that did nothing to allay concerns that SFWA was still presided over by an Old Guard unwelcoming to women). The problems compounded in later issues as Resnick and Malzberg mocked and trivialized those who raised the issue, and C.J. Henderson praised Barbie for maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.” In June, editor Jean Rabe stepped down and the Bulletin went on hiatus.
Compounding the problem, the recent petition to protect the magazine from perceived censorship and the evils of political correctness put the spotlight back on the missing Bulletin. (And, naturally, in the midst of a fierce debate on whether sexism inside SFWA was a real issue, a member used the SFWA boards at SFF.Net to launch a sexist attack on ex-SWFA officer Mary Robinette Kowal.)
Now SFWA reports that the long-delayed issue 203 has gone to the printer. Guest-edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts, who was ably assisted by Production Editor Jaym Gates, this issue is described as “an outreach tool for conventions and other events.”
While Resnick and Malzberg are noticeably absent, the issue does contain interviews with Eileen Gunn, Adam Rakunas and 2013′s Norton winner E.C. Myers, and contributions from Sheila Finch, Richard Dansky, James Patrick Kelly, Cat Rambo, Ari Asercion, Michael Capobianco, Russell Davis, M.C.A. Hogarth, Nancy Holder, and Erin Underwood, and many others.
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Well, it’s that time again, and here I am with another batch of new heroic fantasy and S&S short fiction reviews.
Nothing outside of Swords and Sorcery Magazine and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly caught my eye this past month and the stories they offered are the usual mixed bag, varying in quality from mid-range to very good. In a perfect world, some of these writers could make a living just writing short stories.
I love short stories. Growing up, a large part of my genre reading was made up of anthologies from brilliant editors like Lin Carter and Terry Carr. Their short (by contemporary standards) volumes introduced me to dozens of great authors, established and new.
In Lin Carter’s The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 2, for example, the authors ranged from Tanith Lee and Fritz Leiber to Caradoc Cador and Paul Spenser. If one story stunk, there was a very good chance the next one wouldn’t. It was a rare anthology that had nothing to offer.
I’m not saying anything new when I say a ten- or fifteen-page story can be as powerful as a novel. I’d recommend Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” to anyone doubting that. As for excitement, how many five pound books can match the urgency and ferocity of Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”? Sure, there are times I enjoy being swept up in a six- or seven-hundred page book, but I’d mostly rather read twenty or thirty good individual tales. When the rare new heroic fiction story collection comes along, like Strahan and Anders’ Swords & Dark Magic or Davis and Saunders’ Griots, I don’t hesitate to toss it in my Amazon cart.
And that’s why I love the various magazines (and the work their editors do each issue). Just counting Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Swords and Sorcery Magazine, I’m guaranteed at least six new stories a month. In the months Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is published, that’s an additional four or more.
Over the course of a year, that’s a lot more stories than even Lin Carter edited together in the same amount of time. Which makes me a very happy fan.
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This is the third installment in a series of posts highlighting fantasy short fiction (here are Part I and Part II).
Over the course of the last eight years, I’ve read or listened to a lot of short fiction and the variety out there is astonishing. And I love to try to introduce new readers to some of the stuff that impressed me. This week, the three stories I picked were by Garth Nix, Nancy Hightower, and Daniel Abraham.
“Hereward and Mr Fitz Go To War Again,” by Garth Nix, appeared originally in Jim Baen’s Universe, then in Podcastle (where I heard it), and then in a collection by Subterranean Press (ebook available here). This is one of three Hereward and Mr Fitz stories I heard and I absolutely fell in love with the weird swashbuckling world Nix created.
Hereward is a knight, artillerist, and swordsman, as able with gunpowder as with the blade. Fitz is an animated wooden puppet and dangerous sorcerer, whose sorcery is structured around sewing and knitting, with his accouterments being needles, thread, and sometimes a portable sewing desk. Their job is to enforce a treaty against rogue gods that is so old that some of the nations to the treaty no longer exist.
This is pure buddy picture story, a grand adventures against old gods. Loads of fun and the Hereward and Mr Fitz stories are now available as an ebook, so no reason not to check it out.
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When the last game shop in town went out of business six years ago, I lost the ability to easily browse the latest new releases, and keep up with what’s going on in the industry. Sure, Games Plus in Mount Prospect– one of the finest game shops on the planet — is still in business and thriving, but it’s a good hour away, and I don’t get there more than two or three times a year (although I never miss their semi-annual auction).
One of the things I miss the most is the magazine section. Nothing makes you feel your hobby is vibrant and alive quite like a healthy ecosystem of periodicals. I really enjoyed standing in front of the magazine rack and pulling out the latest issue of Knights of the Dinner Table, Kobold Quarterly, the excellent KnockSpell, Games Workshop’s White Dwarf, or Troll Lord’s The Crusader.
The loss of so many local game shops has really hurt gaming magazines — we lost Kobold Quarterly in 2012 and Mythmere has announced the future of Knockspell is in doubt. That’s one of the reasons I was so delighted to hear about the launch of the very promising Gygax Magazine last year.
I reviewed the first issue last March and I was very impressed. Issue #2 was released in time for Gen Con, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the third issue for some time… and wondering how I was going to find a copy.
My wait finally ended last week, compliments of a Priority Mail package from our San Diego correspondent and ace blogger Scott Taylor — who late last year was hired as the new Art Director for the magazine. Inside was a beautiful copy of Gygax Magazine #3, the first issue with his name on the masthead.
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Sometimes when I look at the table of contents for Galaxy, I can almost hear Horace Gold chuckling. In the August, 1951 issue, for example, there are stories from both Lester del Rey and Ray Bradbury. But every issue is full of talented authors, though some became more famous with the passage of time. I think it would be a struggle to compete against such a formidable magazine.
“Beyond Bedlam” by Wyman Guin — Everyone in society has Multiple Personality Disorder with two strong personalities. The treatment is to allow each personality to live on its own for five days at a time, and the rules of society forbid interacting with the worlds of one’s own alternate personality. Each personality has its own name, its own job, its own spouse. Yet in the case of Bill and Conrad, who share a single body, their wives are within the same physical body. Bill’s curiosity leads him into an interaction with Conrad’s wife, and over time, it develops into an affair — something that the Medicorps would deal with severely if they found out.
Guin mistakenly uses the term schizophrenia throughout the piece, but there has been confusion between that and Multiple Personality Disorder for decades, so it’s easily ignored. This is really an amazing story — highly imaginative and suspenseful. It pulled me along quickly and I couldn’t tell where it would go; I just knew I wanted to find out. This was my favorite piece in the issue.
“Operation Distress” by Lester del Rey — During his return trip from Mars, Bill Adams notices a rash on his hands. It quickly spreads, and he’s denied clearance to land on Earth. Instead, he’s ordered to land on the moon, where a dedicated, risk-taking physician will assess his health. If Bill’s carrying a new disease, it will likely kill both men.
One curiosity beyond the story: the byline had a typo of Lester del Ray. Oops. The logistics within the story felt very realistic. It’s well-written with a nice pace. And it’s interesting that a story with such a dire plot can have a genuine, light-hearted ending.
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Recently I’ve found myself thoroughly captivated by early fanzines. I’m not doing a study by any means… I’m just surfing eBay, picking up bargains here and there. And I have to say I’ve been lucky enough to stumble on some marvelous finds.
Each of the fanzines I’ve found has its own unique identity, but there are things they all seem to have in common. For one thing, they are suffused with a marvelous optimism. Science fiction of the 1930s and 40s wasn’t dominated by grim dystopias like The Hunger Games and The Matrix; often it idealized the future, as in Things To Come (1936), or gave us heroes like Buck Rogers. It’s hard to be gloomy when the future is whispering promises of ray guns and a personal jet pack.
But it was more than just that. Immerse yourself in early fandom long enough, and you’ll come to see that interest in science fiction was viewed unquestionably as a virtue, like temperance and personal hygiene. Never mind that society viewed SF as perhaps the lowest form of literature, low-grade children’s entertainment at best; early fans were convinced otherwise, and by the late 40s there was actually evidence to support that line of thinking. SF prepared you for the future, and in a world still startled and horrified by the rapid advances of World War II — and thrown headlong into the Atomic Age by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — preparation of any kind offered a psychological edge, even if just an illusory one, and fans relished the vindication.
Now, I have no doubt that readers of the day were drawn to the pulp magazines by the same things that drew me, decades later: bright covers featuring monsters, dinosaurs, space ships and beautiful women. But the pages of early fanzines are filled with earnest young fans patting each other on the back for their enlightened choice in literature, as if reading science fiction was the vocation of a select elite who took on the task as a social imperative, like early socialists. All while simultaneously expressing giddy excitement at the latest installment of their favorite space opera. It’s funny, and oddly charming, and it doesn’t hurt that many of the fans filling the pages of these slender proto-magazines are fine writers in their own right — and many of them are insightful critics, as well.
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I sometimes give writing workshops in the Ottawa area and mentor local writers. One piece of advice that I feel comes off as a broken record is that there is *so much* good short fiction out there, for readers to taste and for writers to learn from.
Not everyone is into short fiction. My formative reading experiences were novels and comic books, two media that lend themselves to very long arcs with exploratory digressions. Only after largely failing at two novels (consuming ten years of writing time), did I finally take the old science fiction advice: work my writing career up to novels through short fiction.
Although I didn’t appreciate it then, short stories really are their own medium, with conventions and beat structures that take a lot of time to internalize. I forced myself to read a lot of short fiction, from Year’s Best collections to Hemingway and other Nobel winners. I didn’t enjoy the form for about two years, until I stumbled upon an editorial taste that worked for me, and that happened to be Escapepod, and then Podcastle.
Consistently listening to several stories a week gave me such a broad view of the kinds of writing out there and what I liked and how the different forms connected to each other and what rules each played in, or broke, as the case may be. So, I’m a late convert to short fiction and I feel the missionary need at times to show people just how much range and quality is out there. I picked three stories I wanted to recommend to the world.
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How does Subterranean magazine get such gorgeous covers, issue after issue? Editor Bill Schafer must keep a host of talented artists chained up in the basement. I wish I’d thought of that.
The Winter Issue isn’t just a pretty face – it’s got personality, too. Have a look at the spectacular table of contents:
“The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason
“Bit Players” by Greg Egan
“The Prelate’s Commission” by Jeffrey Ford
“Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story” by Karen Joy Fowler
“Hayfever” by Frances Hardinge
“Caligo Lane” by Ellen Klages
“I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There” by K J Parker
“Pilgrims of the Round World” by Bruce Sterling
We published Jeffrey Ford’s “Exo-Skeleton Town” back in Black Gate 1. It won the 2006 Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the French national speculative fiction award, and has been reprinted many times — including in the anthology Alien Contact, where editor Marty Halpern said:
This is probably the quirkiest story in the anthology. And it remains one of the more unique story concepts I’ve ever read. In fact, even though I’m the editor, I’m almost tempted to ask Jeff: “Where the hell did this idea come from?”…
You can read the complete story here. We published Ellen Klages wonderful fantasy “A Taste of Summer” in Black Gate 3; she has since been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and World Fantasy Awards for her short fiction.
Subterranean is edited by William Schafer and published quarterly. The Winter 2014 issue is completely free and available here; see their complete back issue catalog here. We last covered Subterranean magazine with their previous issue, Fall 2013.
I suppose it’s only natural that I’d consider the decade of my formative years – the 1970s – to have been the “perfect” one in which to grow up. I have little doubt that those whose childhoods encompassed the ’80s or even (Merritt forfend!) the ’90s may feel the same way. They’re wrong, of course, at least if you were the kind of kid who enjoyed hearing tales of the weird, the strange, and the occult. The 1970s were alive with such nonsense, from Bigfoot to ancient astronauts to the Loch Ness Monster, not to mention The Exorcist, In Search Of, and The Night Stalker. And let us not forget that the decade also saw the popularization, through books and movies and television, of the watered-down Theosophy of the New Age movement. In retrospect, it all makes sense if you look at the ’70s as a ten-year hangover in the aftermath of the various counterculture movements that spread like wildfire during the 1960s.
For a lot of adults living at the time, it probably wasn’t pretty, but, for me, as a child with a sense that there was more to the universe than what we saw everyday, it sure was fun. Though far more skeptical today, I still retain a keen interest in such oddities, as well as the sense – or is it merely the hope? – that I was not wrong in my youthful intuition that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Like Fox Mulder, “I want to believe,” even if I find it increasingly hard to summon up the credulity necessary to do so. Perhaps that’s why, even as I scoff, I nevertheless retain a more-than-grudging admiration for men and women who do believe, often in the face not merely of seemingly contradictory facts, but also of social ridicule, ostracism, and abuse.
That probably explains why I’ve long been intrigued by “the Shaver Mystery,” which first burst upon the world in the form of the story “I Remember Lemuria,” published in the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories. The story purports to be an ancient, first-person account (preserved in “thought records”) of an advanced subterranean civilization that once existed on Earth and whose remnants continue to have intermittent – and often unpleasant – contact with the surface.
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This past December, new short stories in heroic fiction were almost as scarce as good Conan pastiches. Not that it’s been a bad month for heavier fantasy fiction, as both the Milton Davis/Charles Saunders-edited Griots: Sisters of the Spear and John R. Fultz’s trilogy-ending Seven Sorcerers came out. It’s just short fiction that wasn’t happening.
In the past three issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I found only a single story that fits the S&S bill (sort of). It’s like the editors have decided they will not satisfy my need for more/new/good tales of S&S adventure. I feel like they’ve read my short story roundups and are looking to spite me for being disappointed in their emphasis on almost everything but heroic fiction lately. Fortunately, Swords and Sorcery Magazine came through with its regular monthly pair of stories.
Swords and Sorcery Magzine #23′s first story (even though it’s referred to as the second in the editor’s preface) is “I Think Therefore I Die” by Fraser Sherman. Sherman, whose earlier work has appeared in Allegory and on Drabblecast, presents a Renaissance France where the key to what most of the world considers magic is really only the application of mathematical principles uncovered by Rene Descartes. Utilizing the techniques of advanced geometry, practitioners of Cartesian mathematics can travel between distant geographical points instantaneously. They can also affect minor healing on themselves. For the story’s roguish hero, Hugh of Essex, a skirt-chasing Cartesian prone to dueling, the ability to staunch his wounds is a valuable one.
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