TT: The Magazine of Your Dreams

The Magic Box

JANE: Over the last several weeks, Alan, we’ve been discussing your encounters with various magazines.  Even though you met these through the “magic box,” you rapidly found those you preferred.

These days, as people feel they have less and less time to read,  seems like a perfect time for magazines to once again achieve dominance with the reading public.

So, I’d like to ask you – and our readers – to tell me what you’d be looking for in a magazine.

ALAN: That’s a hard question for me to answer directly. My encounters with SF magazines were so intermittent and so haphazard that I never really developed the habit of reading them. I was always pleased when I stumbled across one, of course, and I quickly learned which ones I liked. It did become clear to me that each magazine reflected the interests of its editor and, of course, the ones I liked had editors whose tastes matched my own.

When I started taking books out of the library, and buying books of my own, I found a lot of short story collections and anthologies on the shelves. It seemed to me then (and it still seems to me now) that an anthology and a magazine are really very similar things – each has an editor and each reflects the personal tastes of the editor. So it wasn’t long before I consciously started looking for anthologies that had been put together by people whose tastes I trusted.

JANE: That makes sense!  So, who were the first editors you sought out?

ALAN: Back in the day, I would deliberately seek out anthologies edited by Judith Merril, and by Terry Carr. There was an excellent anthology series called Full Spectrum that was edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy. And of course there was Harlan Ellison’s ground-breaking Dangerous Visions.

These days I look for anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois.  (I’ll buy anything edited by him sight unseen.) I’m also rather fond of Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran as well. And Jonathan Strahan has recently attracted my attention…

JANE: Whoa!  Back up a moment there…  At least three of those editors were also associated with magazines.  Gardner Dozois edited Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine from 1984-2004.  Ellen Datlow edited Omni from 1981-1998.

Did you ever feel tempted to subscribe to either of these magazines because of your respect for their editors?  After all, magazines would come out more frequently than anthologies.

ALAN: I’ve never subscribed to a magazine – in the days of often unreliable snail mail and vast distances across the world, it always seemed a bit too financially risky.

I vaguely knew that Gardner Dozois had been an editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of it. Maybe I have, but if I did, it made no impression on me.

JANE: That’s fascinating.  During Dozois’s decades at the helm of Asimov’s, I’d guess that most American SF/F fans knew him for that first, for his anthology editing second.  Of course, I’m a writer, so my point of view may be skewed.

How about Omni?

ALAN: I did read a few copies of Omni but I never liked it much – the fiction was generally first class of course (as witness the large number of award-winning stories the magazine published) but the stories were spread far too thinly and were quite overwhelmed by far too many dumbed-down articles about science and cranky parapsychological nonsense. I found the mixture quite unpalatable.

JANE: What about Jonathan Strahan?  He co-founded and co-edited Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy between 1990 and 1999.  That’s closer to home.

ALAN: Much closer to home – Robin has known Johnathan forever. (Quote: “He’s a lovely person”). They both belonged to the same SF crowd in Perth, Western Australia. I’m pretty sure that she has many copies of Eidolon in a box somewhere.  Jonathan and Eidolon also spawned a small publishing company called Eidolon Press. One of the books it published was Howard Waldrop’s Going Home Again (1997), and an autographed copy of that sits very proudly on our bookshelves.

Consequently it’s a rule – I’m required to like Jonathan Strahan and, by extension, anything he produces. Fortunately I do, so it’s a very easy rule to obey.

JANE: Lucky for you!  Robin might get very upset with you otherwise.

ALAN: So I think what I’m saying is that, whether we are talking about magazines or about anthologies, the thing that I look for every time is that rather nebulous thing called the taste of the editor. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

And when I find an editor whose tastes overlap with mine I will deliberately continue to look for and buy their books.

JANE:  That makes perfect sense.

Once again I invite our readers to tell us what they’d like to see in a magazine.   Do you like when stories are serialized between issues?   Repeating characters or settings?  Stories set in a writer’s “known” universe?  Non-fiction?  Review columns?  How important are illustrations?  Would you consider graphic storytelling – such as a one panel comic or an on-going series – to be a bonus?

In the first installment of this discussion, one of how readers talked about how, for him, the magazines gave him a sense of belonging to a community of shared ideals.  To quote his last closing question: “Does anyone think a magazine can also foster a sense of community, hope, and possibilities?”

Do any of the magazines currently publishing have a strong, dynamic identity that makes you want to recommend them?  Absolutely include those that primarily publish in electronic form.  Who knows?  Electrons just may be the new pulp!

9 Responses to “TT: The Magazine of Your Dreams”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    The reason I fell away from magazines was that I started looking at the incoming magazine as a chore to slog through, hoping for something shiny, rather than something I was excited to get. That’s also the reason I stopped reading most comic books.

    Even with themed anthologies, I’m careful these days. Unless the topic is one I will buy no matter what (F&SF about dogs? IT MUST BE MINE!), I’ll check out the back cover and the author bios in the back to see what else they’ve done. If there are story introductions, I might check a few of those for the tone of the anthology. There’s so much grimdark these days, and I hate grimdark.

    To answer one of the many questions asked, I do like stories in the same universe with the same characters, but because such stories are almost always sequential from the author’s point of view, and sold in many different places, it’s jarring to read a story which references earlier events you haven’t read, because it was published in a small magazine you never heard of.

    As for community, the magazine itself can be the basis of the community but with the demise of letters columns, a magazine would have to be willing to commit to an online forum for its readers to build such a community. When SyFy was still the Sci Fi Channel, they had an online forum with spaces for people to talk about particular shows (Farscape and The Invisible Man had a strong cast presence on those forums, which boosted fan interest in the shows) but also a forum space for its Sci Fiction page, where they were publishing original and reprint F&SF stories each month. They eventually a) decided the viewers outnumbered the readers and dropped Sci Fiction and b) the channel’s president at the time was quoted as saying she hated shows with cult followings so they became SyFy and eliminated the online forums. End of community. Can such a thing come back again? Only with a determined effort by the magazine publisher already dealing with razor thin margins and not enough time. I am not optimistic.

    • janelindskold Says:

      The question of sequencing short stories in the same universe is an issue, I agree. When I’ve done some, I’ve tried to make sure the story stood on its own.

      But sometimes a universe or a character cries out to be used more than once.

  2. CBI Says:

    I pretty much agree with Alan re Omni magazine. I had a subscription for about a year (the mag was quite over-hyped), but just wasn’t worth it.

    The main problem for me with magazines is akin to what James M. wrote, but more general: time. Lack of time. I had subscriptions to both Analog and Asimov for several years–and stopped when I realized that I had well over a year of each in my “to read” pile. (I think I still have a box filled with them somewhere.) While I can no longer sit still for hours at a time, one reason I value my wife’s and my camping trips is that I have some time to read and finish usually two books in a weekend.

    Then again, “lack of time” really means “having different priorities.” Work, our business, volunteer work at church and elsewhere (our state Destination ImagiNation tournament is this Saturday!), and Mount Todolist often win the competition for my attention.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Help me with this. You say you can no longer “sit still for hours,” but your preference remains novels which require being able to sit still for hours.

      Since I know you from Bubonicon, I know I can ask you to explain this apparent contradiction without you talking offense.

      As I said in my opening statement, readers having less time would seem to be a perfect reason for magazines to blossom again.

      Can you help me out?

      • CBI Says:

        Sorry for the late replay: just read this today. And no offense taken–ever!

        I can at times “sit still” for moderate periods of time–an hour even–but usually have to get up and walk around. (Poor circulation in part.) Plane trips tend to be miserable, even with intentional in-seat leg exercises and the like. As you may’ve noticed at Bubonicon, I tend to be antsy and fidgeting a lot: it’s not (necessarily) boredom. I’ve found that my sit-stand desk at work helps a lot.

        So . . . I tend to read a bit, get up, read some more, get up, etc. For example, for the most recent novel I’ve read (Alan Bradley’s /The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place/) I suspect the longest I sat was about 30 minutes. Hope that helps explain.

      • janelindskold Says:

        Thank you, James! It does explain. I’m glad you’ve found ways to manage reading time!

  3. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    My dad had a subscription to Omni. In the 80s I was too busy being a teenager trying to have a social life to do much reading so I honestly can’t say I ever read the magazine. The only magazine I’ve ever had a subscription for was Rolling Stone.
    For short stories I usually grab an anthology. Most of my books come from the library because I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I read. I’ve never paid much attention to who the editors are. I’ll grab an anthology book if one or more of the authors I like are included or if it’s been recommended.
    I honestly don’t think I’d be interested in a SF/F magazine. There’s just too much extra stuff that doesn’t interest me in a magazine. I like serial stories and have purchased self-published installments of e-books.
    I’m not a *hardcore* SF/F reader. I read just about everything, including graphic novels, except the “bodice ripper” genre, so I really wouldn’t be in a SF/F magazine’s targeted group anyway. My opinion isn’t worth much on this topic.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Your opinion is worth a lot because it reflects what I think of as the later generation SF/F reader, those who (like you, like me) came of age when you could find it in the library and widely distributed.

      The days when the magazines seemed strongest also seem to parallel when SF/F was considered too lowbrow for the libraries to carry.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        I’m not sure the issue at the libraries was low-brownity, as much as it was availability.Looking back – and I can’t pin down the period beyond ~1965, since I can’t recall exactly when I started hiking up to the Central branch on my own – in the heyday of the magazines only a fairly small portion of SF made it into hardcover. In large part because the market for HC was collectors and libraries, making for small and therefore costly print runs [remember that now HC runs 3x the cost of MMPB, but back then it could be 20x] MMPB definitely was beneath notice in those days [as well as being uneconomical due to durability issues] but acquisition budgets were no more generous then than now, so most libraries couldn’t afford large SF holdings.

        By 1970, this was already changing: libraries would haapily buy MMPB [and sometimes rebind particularly popular or significant titles so they’d last] and the hardcover market was starting – just – to expand enough that prices didn’t go up in line with inflation, making it easier for librarians to acquire them. Better availability, when combined with the rise in the number of adults asking for the SF/F they’d grown accustomed to as kids and university students, is what lead to the major expansion in the SF sections that you’re likely remembering. They had proven demand, and wouldn’t swallow half the budget.

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