Over at Slashdot.org they posted a news announcement with comments, “Difficult Times for SF Magazines” that is very worth reading if you’re worried about the fate of SF magazines. The main announcement was Realms of Fantasy will cease publication with the April issue and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has dropped it’s schedule from monthly to bi-monthly. The folks leaving comments make some interesting points about the state of SF, with many writers lamenting that SF isn’t what it used to be.
Here’s a comment from Moridineas that I particularly liked:
The difference between then and now–imho–is that the Asimovs, Heinleins, de Camps, etc etc etc are gone, and they haven’t really been replaced. My other opinion is that s.f. was largely a product of the zeitgeist of the what, roughly 50 years that it roughly flourished (1920-1970 or so?). We’ve got HDTVs, the Internet, Star Trek and Star Wars on TV, rovers on Mars, decoding DNA, etc etc. The sense of wonder in s.f. is largely gone because we take so much for granted that was virtually unimaginable back then.
Here’s another worthy comment to consider and was echoed by others from Steeleye Brad:
Ugh, agreeing with this. I ended my subscription to Analog around a year and a half ago, when I realized that the story quality had really gone down the shitter. I found myself starting to read a story, but then quitting 1-2 pages in because they were just so terrible. When I would get an issue and go through every story like this, I gave up. Stories with neat concepts completely ruined by confusing writing and indecipherable plots, lame tales where it was screamingly obvious the main character was an author’s self-insert, and vomit-inducing non-stories that served only to let the author express their political views (normally this is ok, except when the author’s soap-boxing completely drowns out and overwhelms the story).
Ultimately the topic degenerates into the pros and cons of publishing on the Internet and sidestepping the issue of content and whether or not the decline of the SF magazines represents a loss of interest in SF or if its an issue of declining story quality. I brought up this topic in two online SF book clubs and the common comment is they don’t find the stories very engaging. Second to that is many people have busy lives and let all their magazines go unread.
I started subscribing to the SF magazines back in the 1960s and kept subscribing until very recently. I was most faithful to F&SF over the decades. Currently I get F&SF and Asimov’s, but both are up for renewal and I’m not sure I want to renew, at least the paper edition. I might subscribe to digital editions at Fictionwise.com.
To be honest I don’t read them. I try every once in awhile. I have a tremendous nostalgia that makes me want to keep reading these old friends, but when I try I seldom find stories that grab me. And it’s not the ideas, but the characterization. I think when I was young I loved the stories just for the ideas and I wasn’t savvy enough about story telling to know the stories were badly told. Now, after decades of reading great stories I can’t overlook this.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of far out stories out there, it’s just a matter of finding them. 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. Tie the publication to a web 2.0 site where readers can discuss the stories and vote on them and interact with the writers. Also get Audible.com to do an unabridged audio edition of the book each quarter, as well as publishing it in the Kindle, Sony and all the Fictionwise ebook editions.
I think we need a modern day Hugo Gernsback or John W. Campbell to reinvent the field of science fiction. The number one goal should be to eliminate fantasy stories from the mix and develop real science fiction stories. The next goal should be to find well written engaging stories that focus on good characterization. Publish stories that grab people and make them keep reading, and not stories that you have to struggle to the end for a payoff.
Science fiction has reinvented itself many times. I lament the passing of every genre magazine and worry about F&SF, Asimov’s and Analog, the old big three that now have circulations that are a tiny fraction of their glory days. I can’t tell if this trend means science fiction itself is dying. It does feel like we’re on the downward slope of the right hand side of the bell curve.
I’m a member of two online SF book clubs that focus on the classics of science fiction, and like many of the folk who left comments on Slashdot, feel SF golden age was really from 1950-1970, the Heinlein-Asimov-Clarke era. I think there was another bulge of SF fans with a generation that grew up with writers like Vernor Vinge, Dan Simmons, Neil Stephenson, David Brin, Greg Bear, John Varley, etc. And currently there’s a ripple bulge with writers like John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds and others.
Whether SF will ever have another golden age with over hundred thousand people subscribing to its top SF magazine is hard to predict. Like I said, with a new Campbell or Gernsback discovering a new team of Heinlein-Asimov-Clarke level writers it could happen.
JWH – 2/1/9