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July 2008 F&SF

(72 posts)
  • Started 6 years ago by Gordon Van Gelder
  • Latest reply from MattHughes

  1. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

  2. Hi, this is Eric Rosenfield, the blogger from Wet Asphalt.

    Some things I'll point out. My position on Speculative Fiction in general can be found here: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=node/134

    I do think there are a lot of really great authors who are self-identified SF writers, among them Kelly Link, China Meiville, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Michael Moorcock, Karen Joy Fowler (in her short fiction), and a number of others. I do think average SF writer is churning out crap, but I also think the average Literary Fiction writer is churning out crap, and my message to them is the same: write better. Indeed, the average SF writer and the average LF writer have, I think, a lot to teach each other. The LF writer can teach the SF writer about depth of characterization and attention to prose style and line, and the SF writer can teach the LF writer how to craft a plot and how to hold the reader's interest. This, I think, has a lot to do with why what I really want to see is the genre labels abolished completely, and things return to the way they were in the 19th century when Henry James and HG Wells corresponded as equals and Edgar Allen Poe could write detective and horror stories and then sit at the Algonquin round table. The "SF" label has done far more harm than good in my estimation.

    On the subject of The Magazine of F&SF particularly, I do think it comes off as a doddering old man, but I said that in my piece. Someone commented here that I'd be more suited to reading anthologies, and it's true, I do often wonder why I should invest my time in a magazine like this when I could get a much higher signal-to-noise ratio from a best-of anthology. The Van Der Meer's recent Best Fantasy of the Year anthology was uneven, for instance, but there were still enough really great stories in there to make it worthwhile, which sadly I can't say for the July F&SF. And from what I understand, the sales numbers for F&SF aren't so great these days. Perhaps what the magazine needs is a radical overhaul ala Weird Tales. Then again, if you folks are content with the way things are going, maybe I should just shrug my shoulders and continue looking elsewhere. But if you want to expand your readership at all, perhaps you should seriously consider what you might be doing wrong.

    Which is all to say, publish better.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  3. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Thanks for posting, Eric.

    I think my attitudes were a lot like yours back when I was 19 or 20. But my feelings changed shortly after I started working in book publishing. I don't have time today to go into the whole process of my changing attitudes (it would probably take a 10,000-word essay to document it all), but one thing I learned is that while I'm completely entitled to my tastes, my likes, my dislikes, it's a mistake to think that everyone else shares them. So while I might think that John Doe or Jane Bestseller is an awful writer---and I'm completely entitled to think that, and even to write an essay like Damon Knight's evisceration of A. E. van Vogt showing how John and Jane are dreadful writers---it's a mistake to think that other people are somehow *wrong* for liking stuff I consider crap. They're entitled to their tastes as much as I am to mine.

    Regarding genre labels, I think I stopped believing that they should be abolished when I was on a panel at Readercon with Mike Bishop, Kit Reed, and Barry Malzberg (probably around '92 or '93). I said something along those lines, only to set off Barry Malzberg on a ten-minute diatribe about how he thought the same thing, he wrote about it in 1976, and he was WRONG (his emphasis, not mine), the genre is bigger than all of us, it's why we're here today, and more power to it.

    My feelings toward genre have always been complicated, but since that moment, I don't think they've ever been the same.

    If, by any chance, you'll be at Readercon (http://www.readercon.org/) this summer, I'm scheduled to discuss subjects like this with Jonathan Lethem. I proposed the discussion because I feel like Jonathan and I started out with similar attitudes towards genre, but we've gone in different directions over the last two decades.

    Two last points in your post:

    1) I've got no problem with F&SF seeming like an old man---its format is basically unchanged for nearly 60 years---but what about it is doddering? To my mind, I think it's as strong as ever. In fact, I thought 2006-2007 was probably my best stretch thus far as editor.

    2) Our sales numbers aren't as good as I'd like (they never are), but we're doing well. It's sort of a beginner's mistake to think that there's a direct relationship between a publication's sales and the quality of its contents. In an ideal world, that's how it *should* be, but as I implied above in my mention of Jane Bestseller, that's not usually how it works.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  4. To your first point: I fully accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and in fact think that's a wonderful thing and encourage people to disagree with me. At the same time, as a critic, you can't tread too far into relativistic territory; you're edging too close to saying everything's good if somebody somewhere likes it. And that's death for criticism. The critic takes a personal aesthetic and wields it like a scalpel, to pick work apart and judge it on perceived merits. I may not agree with James Wood when he calls Infinite Jest "Hysterical Realism" but I respect where he's coming from. By the same token I'm perfectly in my right to call "The Roberts" God-awful crap (presuming I back that up with some sort reasoning, which I think I did). If your interested in what, exactly, my personal aesthetic is like, you can read this: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=node/15
    or this: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=node/79
    I think I've always been pretty clear about what kind of criteria I use.

    To your second point: I would be very interested to hear Barry Malzberg's ten minute diatribe. As it stands, you haven't said anything that makes me change my opinion.

    The likelihood I'll be at Readercon is slim, not the least because I don't own a car and have a day job, and all that makes traveling to the middle of Massachusetts for a weekend difficult. I would be interested in your panel, though. Will the net-savvy skiffy folk be filming it and putting it online?

    Last two points: I called it doddering because I think the fiction by-and-large could have been published twenty or thirty years ago without it seeming too out-of-place. The most "now"-ish thing I think I've read in the magazine recently was the Bruce Sterling story about the bodega that could print matter, and that was a terribly written story. (I could go on about Bruce Sterling, but that would be a digression.) Compare this to what Kelly Link is doing (and yes, I know she's been published by F&SF, she's an exception) which isn't like anything I've ever read in SF before.

    I'll say this more plainly: F&SF seems to traffic in unoriginal, derivative work. That is why it is doddering.

    Second point, I think it's far too jaded and defeatist to think that quality and sales have nothing to do with each other. It's true that there's a lot of bestselling crap out there, that can't be denied. But at the same time a number of authors without much going for them except the sheer quality of their work have been very successful. Kelly Link is again one example, comics creator Jeff Smith is another, whose once self-published Bone series has become an international phenomenon. That said I believe with all my heart that if F&SF started publishing better stories, its sales would go up. I believe this because if I found really high-quality, original stories in its pages, I would subscribe to it. And I would tell me friends to. And I would be very happy about it.

    So get on that.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  5. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Yes, I agree you're completely within your rights to dump on "The Roberts" and I think your comments on the story are interesting.

    But I don't think you're getting my main point, so let me approach it a different way:

    You keep saying, "Publish better stories." And that's a great sentiment. I think everyone agrees we should publish better stories.

    But your definition of better stories is not the same as Dark Wolf's (who thought "Poison Victory" was the best story in the July issue), nor is it Bosswriter's (she thought "The Roberts" was best in issue), and then there's will-couvillier who gave "Reader's Guide" the highest marks in the issue.

    So should I decide that Dark Wolf and will-couvillier are wrong if it turns out they favor stories that are happy with genre labels? Because it seems to me that's essentially what you're suggesting.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  6. I do want to say that I understand how being the editor of a science fiction magazine could be a thankless job and how people might want to jump up and down on you for what you publish (or in the case of rejected writers, what you didn't publish), and kudos to you for putting up with it.

    Ultimately, the criteria for what would make for better stories in F&SF is not up to me, or Dark Wolf, or will-couviller, or Bosswriter. It's up to you, the fiction editor. I can only hope to sway you with the relative merits of my arguments. To that end, I want you to ask yourself the next time you're pouring over that slush pile: if I took this story I'm considering and published it in F&SF 30 years ago, would it seem out of place? If it wouldn't, maybe it's not actually that interesting a story, whatever its other merits. Because the world has changed in the last thirty years. Fiction has changed. And what we need now is not another Ray Bradbury or even another William Gibson. What we need now is work that stands out on its own, and is not like anybody else at all.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  7. And I want to add that you're well within your rights to say "No, Eric, I'm publishing the kind of stories I like and my readers seem to like it to and this is my magazine and my editorial vision, and it's not the same as yours." That's fine, you have your readers and I'm not one of them, just like lots of people like to listen to music I don't care for or watch movies I don't care for etc. But I think if anything I'm saying makes any sense to you at all, maybe your editorial vision might shift a little bit, and maybe it'll help F&SF become a much better magazine, and appeal to more people.

    Maybe.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  8. Greg
    Member

    I doubt if stories like Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners, Geoff Ryman's Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter, or John Langan's Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers--to name just a few F&SF titles that come to mind--turn up with predictable regularity in the F&SF slush pile. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Even exceptional writers can't be expected to pull a prize white rabbit out every time they reach into their magical hats. Yet a monthly magazine must be pulled out of a hat on a regular monthly basis.

    It's all too easy to read anthologies, select stories to suit one's own taste, and imagine from that what a perfect monthly publication should be like. I'm not sure such an imaginary creation can be used as a standard, however. What standard are we measuring F&SF against?

    Posted 6 years ago #
  9. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    I appreciate your feedback, Eric, and I wish I had more time to discuss the subject and particular authors you mention. Pity you won't be at Readercon (I don't know if they'll be making the programming available). Your comments keep reminding me of a joke I made seven years ago that refuses to die: I threatened to launch a magazine called SLIPSTREAM. The joke part was that I'd take bets on how much money I'd lose and how long it would take before the magazine put me out of business.

    As I said before, I do think (from all your posts I've read) that anthologies serve your reading interests better than periodicals do. Which is fine---I like both media myself. In fact, I'm trying to sell a book publisher on an anthology right now, but I'm not going to let it detract from the magazine I'm publishing.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  10. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Another blogger checks in: http://j-d-finch.livejournal.com/72774.html?mode=reply

    Posted 6 years ago #
  11. JohnWThiel
    Member

    If a book can be judged by its cover, I'd say this is a very good issue of F&SF. The cover is awesome. Though, I'd like it better if I knew what the artist's name was. I started in reading Matt Hughes' story--Matt, I don't quite follow "as the foremost freelance discriminator of Old Earth in our ancient planet's penultimate age." I suppose if I read on, I can find out what it means--like the TV space series shows, you find out where you're at and what's happening as the story progresses--or I could google the first Hengis Hapthorn story. But what about the naked now, the existential present? I often get the feeling like I just walked in on someone else's party when reading through some sf prozine. I see there's a lot of humor in the story, anyway--that will put me in better spirits.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  12. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Mondolithic Studios is Kenn Brown and Chris Wren: http://www.mondolithic.com/

    My own copies of the July issue arrived yesterday.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  13. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

  14. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Sam Tomiano's review at SFRevu.com is up: http://www.sfrevu.com/php/Review-id.php?id=7469

    Posted 6 years ago #
  15. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Looks like I neglected to post the link to this one previously: http://fantasyscifibookreview.blogspot.com/2008/05/magazine-review-f-sf-july-2008.html

    Posted 6 years ago #
  16. JohnArkwright
    Member

    My blog is http://thearchoftime.blogspot.com

    I like to give my readers plenty of variety, so I have been dribbling out reviews of stories from the issue. I have not yet reviewed Dinosaur Train, my favorite. I thought Dinosaur Train was a well written and well thought out look at the practical problems of a Jurassic Park where not all the dinosaurs are reptiles.

    My brief review of Fullbrim's Finding is here

    http://thearchoftime.blogspot.com/2008/05/fullbrims-finding.html

    My review of Poison Victory is here

    http://thearchoftime.blogspot.com/2008/05/poison-victory.html

    My review of Enfant Terrible is here

    http://thearchoftime.blogspot.com/2008/05/you.html

    --------------
    Apologies if I post multiple times. My first time on these boards has been fraught with browser errors.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  17. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Another blog entry about this issue: http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/488380.html

    Posted 6 years ago #
  18. ScottDalrymple
    Member

    Thanks for that last review-- I hadn't yet read the classifieds in the issue, and didn't see that the last one refers to "Enfant Terrible." You wacky F&SF guys!

    Posted 6 years ago #
  19. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Just remember: You too are not special.

    (We've been putting a fake classified ad into every issue for a few years now.)

    Posted 6 years ago #
  20. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Here's another blog: http://julieandrews.livejournal.com/25947.html

    Posted 6 years ago #
  21. C.C. Finlay
    Charles Coleman Finlay

    The July issue arrived in the downtown inurbs of Ohio's capital city today.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  22. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Issue reviewed by Lois Tilton at IROSF.com: http://irosf.com/q/zine/article/10427#fsf07

    Posted 6 years ago #
  23. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

  24. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Another blog entry about the issue: http://joesherry.blogspot.com/2008/06/fantasy-science-fiction-july-2008.html

    Posted 6 years ago #
  25. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    And here's a review of the issue from THE FIX: http://thefix-online.com/reviews/fsf-july-2008/

    Posted 6 years ago #
  26. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    Another blog: http://emjay-dee.livejournal.com/29066.html

    Posted 6 years ago #
  27. Anonymous

    As a longtime student of Frankenstein, I’m amazed that so few reviewers seem to get the point of “The Roberts.” The only relationships portrayed here between Robert and real women are the first two, failed relationships. Yes, both these women seem to have loved Robert while he made himself appealing to them, but not enough to stick with him while he ignored them. On the other hand, Robert loved both of them, or thought he did: what Robert loves in a woman is not the real woman but the generic, chauvinistic, rosy, image he has of her--a personification of his mother “who adored him.” The point of view in the story is Robert’s, despite its being told in third-person.

    Grace, whom Robert has made to order, is not a real woman; she’s his unfortunate ideal made flesh. Naturally she acts and thinks like a character from a 1950s magazine. That’s what Robert wants. Robert 2, we may infer, is just like the original--not perhaps as he sees himself, but as the creator of these artificial people perceives him. No wonder he and Robert 2 don’t much like each other. Robert 3, on the other hand, is Robert as Grace (the sentimental embodiment of his idea of femininity) wishes he were. Of course Robert 3 would like to have been a woman. And of course Robert 2 and Robert 3 find each other attractive: the relationship between them makes exactly the same kind of sense as the relationship between Robert 2 and the original Robert.

    Isn’t “The Roberts” about what Frankenstein is about? What do we make when the things we make reflect us--not who we think we are but who we really are? Because the story is specifically concerned with romantic relationships, it seems to make reviewers uneasy (just as Frankenstein made its first reviewers uneasy), as their almost entirely negative reactions bear out. Why else do they assume that Blumlein’s point of view and Robert’s are indistinguishable? Why do they make absolutely nothing of Robert’s two-week-overdue birth, his missing eye, the link (which should be obvious even to the dullest reader) between his skin condition and that of his disastrous Pakki-flex? Why in the world would a reader who admires the stories in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology complain that “The Roberts” isn’t realistic, doesn’t address the issues of what the artificial Roberts do all day and how society reacts to the possibility of artificial people? Why does almost every reviewer blithely call the artificial people “clones,” when they’re not that at all?

    I suspect this negativity and apparent misreading are in part because of a distinct tension in our 21st-century culture between current ideals regarding male-female relationships and long-held cultural notions about masculinity and femininity. This tension may be unfortunate, but it exists and it can’t be resolved by proclaiming that the old notions are dead and the new ideals have now, as if by magic, replaced them. If anyone doubts this, let him (or her) take a look at the recently ended campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    Maybe “The Roberts” deserves more than one uncomfortable and impatient skimming.

    Posted 6 years ago #
  28. Gordon Van Gelder
    Editor/Publisher

    I have to say, I'm extremely pleased with the kind of discussion that we've had thus far concerning the July issue. I think this sort of discussion is terrific---even though I'm going to resist commenting on "The Roberts" (for now, anyway).

    Posted 6 years ago #
  29. galaxie500
    Member

    Yeah, this discussion reminds me of now deceased Croatian SF magazine Futura. The then editor was compiling the best stories from F&SF, Asimov's, anthologies and awarded stories, and there were people complaining that the most of the published stories are crap, that magazine sucks, that they want more of this and that.
    I agree that July issue wasn't the best one this year, but as GVG said, F&SFs greatest years with him at the helm were from 2005-2007.
    I can say that because I've been subscribed to the magazine for the last 12 years, and read it occasionally even before that (during K.K.Rusch and E. Ferman).

    Posted 6 years ago #
  30. C.C. Finlay
    Charles Coleman Finlay

    That's the thing about magazines (or anthologies or even collections) that publish a diverse range of stories: there's always something for everyone to hate.

    January and June have been my favorite issues of F&SF so far this year, but July struck me as a fairly typical month for the magazine. I've already got my subscription's worth of good stories and there's still five issues worth of fiction to go.

    Posted 6 years ago #

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