Sunday, July 25, 2004

I like Chance's message over here a lot.  It's inspired me to say a few things myself.  Some of what I say may sound like it's contradicting Chance's thoughts, but I understand and agree with what she's saying in the essence of laundry lists of sundry publications as proof of your ability.  This isn't necessarily a clincher for me to assume you're a good writer.  But on the other hand, a laundry list of "professional" sales isn't a clincher for me either.  So, with that qualification in mind, here I go:

I started out in the zines and they served me well.  I do think, though, that you need to read the zines and get to know them.  Some of them are worthwhile, the editors are serious about presenting good fiction even if they cannot pay professional rates or print the publication in a professional manner.  But in a publishing realm with only a few professional markets, it's almost necessarily true that good stories are going to not get published, and what determines that is completely random.

I had a friend who thought it was "cute" when I published my first story ever in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet.  LCRW had only been on issue 5 at that time.  But I had a credit to list on cover letters afterwards, and several editors read the story and liked it, and when I submitted my next story to Strange Horizons, I got my first "professional" sale.  That story then went on to be selected for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.  My next story was then published in Nerve's sex and science fiction special edition.  I continue to publish stories in zines occasionally, because I believe in what they do, what they stand for, and what they offer:  an alternative market for stories that got passed over by four other editors, in most cases.  Which doesn't mean a thing.  There have been stories in zines selected for the Nebula ballot, reprinted in the various Year's Best anthologies, and discussed in earnest by readers of the zines.  I think what all that adds up to is a neon sign, of sorts, a radioactive message.  There are good stories not being published, and here is where many of them gather.

One of the interesting things to note is how the editors of the print science fiction and fantasy magazines often say that their subscriptions are dwindling.  They wonder why.  Some have tried to remedy this by attempting to "go back to genre roots" so to speak, by publishing stories that are "center of the genre", with voices that harken back to not only a decade ago, but perhaps several decades previous.  I will be a bit of an ass here and publicly wonder if perhaps numbers in subscriptions dwindle because so often the stories being printed are speaking to a generation of readers who are dead.

And yet the zines somehow manage.  Their numbers in readership are small, but I believe that's due to the lack of funding to create large print runs and to distribute the materials.  I think magazines like McSweeneys is one big zine that had a whole lotta money pushing it into existence to make it what it is today.  And if some of our fine zine editors out there working hard right now, like Christopher Rowe and Gwenda Bond, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw, John Klima and Steve Pasechnick, and others I'm sure I'm leaving out as I write this, forgive me, if they had the resources to invest in their publications, I believe there is an audience already out there waiting to read them.  The audience just doesn't always know these zines exist.

You can, but perhaps shouldn't, have a notion of quality or professionalism based on cash flow.  Stories, like people, are not numbers.  As they say in the Fight Club, you are not your Gap Jeans.  Your stories are not validated as "good" simply because you've been paid 5 cents a word or whatever the arbitrary amount is set to at the time due to various economic circumstances.  Authors are not always paid for writing good stories.  But we can make sure that good stories are still read and appreciated.  In the end, the money you make off a "professionally" published story is helpful to your life in some ways, yes, but not to your stories.  So many "professionally" published stories are nothing but lost in the ether of storyland.  A friend of mine says that good stories out in the end.  Over time the ones that need remembering rise to the surface.  And I think this is true, and I also think those that rise through time aren't always necessarily published professionally.  Or in some cases, hello Kafka and Ms. Dickinson, not published at all.



Blogger chance said...

Hee hee. I totally agree - I almost added in my post "Chris is always telling me to stop trunking stuff and send them out to 'zines."

But there is also the truth of the company you keep - if you publish in a 'zine like LCRW that prints lots of boffo stuff, then I think that's a bonus. It's when you print in the noname 'zines where the editors seem to have no concept of what makes a good story that I get dismissive.

(And to be fair, I get some pretty disparaging thoughts about some people who publish solely in a big name (at least in the genre) magazine.

Quality isn't determined by buys something, or if it is ever bought. However, if you are publishing in a sea of swill, I generally find it not worth my effort to wade through it to find the rare gem. If 99% of the stuff published in a 'zine is what I consider crap, and your one story is the exception, I have no motivation to find out.

But if you are published in a magazine (of whatever pay rate) with an editor I have respect for and I think makes interesting choices, I am far more likely to hunt down your work.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with this post, as I find myself finding more and more zines that are out there (primarily with the help of Ralan's Webstravaganza). Of course it depends on the quality of the zine, but I agree with you overall--I had a 1/2 cent per word e-zine of my own once upon a time, and worked on a non-paying print litmag that usually topped out around 300 subscribers, but both had some really quality stuff.

Of course I'd be thrilled to see my story in F&SF. I was thrilled to have a poem in Strange Horizons. And I was thrilled last week to get a story in Not One Of Us, even though it's not consider a "major" credit by SFWA. I just love seeing my stuff in print, and love even more when I get feedback (even criticism, if it's well thought out). The main reason I might prefer something like F&SF is because I would prefer to be a full-time writer someday...but until that happens (if it does), I'm still enjoying the ride.

Danny Adams

(P.S. Found your journal by way of Chance's LJ)

2:37 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

That's my attitude too, Danny. Thanks for posting!

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Chance's main point, about tailoring your resume, so to speak, is an important one. You should control your own destiny as much as possible, and part of the way you do that is by controlling how readers and editors perceive you.

Sometimes, for example, I stress my SF/F credentials for PR purposes. Sometimes I leave all that stuff out and go with other information. I always give a lot of thought to what publication credits I mention in cover letters, etc. If I'd been in LCRW, there would times I'd mention it and times I wouldn't--with it being no reflection on LCRW when I didn't mention it.

I do think it's important that people realize that there are several "small press" magazines as good as the supposed large circulation magazines. This point is perhaps even more obvious when it comes to anthologies and anthology series.


4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, on tailoring the credits/resume. Keeping it short and readable is also a good idea. As satisfying as it may be to lay it all out, anything more than a few lines is unlikely to be read.

The library at ancient Alexandria was organized on the rule of three: three examples of each thing. I think it's a good rule. If there are a lot of magazine credits, maybe the three most important or the three most recent/forthcoming. The same for books. And for awards and accomplishments.

The aim is to attract interest. Once that's done, indexes and bibliographies exist online. That's also one thing a homepage is for.

Rick Bowes

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen to that Rick Bowes, I agree with him. No matter how great your credit list is, if it's too long, it becomes absurd and humorous and doesn't help you.

One of the other things that the best zines offer in my opinion is a place for writers to be published alongside writers they wouldn't otherwise at that point in their careers, because that's good for everybody involved. Also, they offer new writers a chance to get published at all, and for experimental or not-quite-mainstream-genre enough (mainstream genre: did I just make Dave Truesdale's head explode?) stories to be read.

We started Say... with a few goals. Have fun. Sell as many copies as possible, make the magazine as good-looking as possible (we're getting there) and get review copies in hands and promote the writers. Publish as many new writers as we could, but publish interesting stuff by old hands, too. Publish more people that are not middle-aged white men (not that there's anything wrong with that) and more women, because if you look at the table of contents of the big genre mags in terms of slots, there do not seem to be as many slots for women or people of color and I don't think that's because there just aren't worthwhile stories by those people out there. Publish poetry that expanded the definition of good, genre poetry, or just plain good poetry and that, of course, we accomplished by Alan's largesse in agreeing to be poetry editor. Anyway, I think we're increasingly doing all those things with each issue. It's what makes us keep going in an enterprise that is never going to make us wealthy. We haven't yet not sold out a print run and eventually we're gonna have to have a real website and all that stuff so we can afford to increase the print run.

The thing to remember, too, is that it isn't necessarily the size of the readership that counts, it's the quality of the readership. And I'd put LCRW or Flytrap or Say...'s readers up against any readers in the world. They are actively seeking new stuff and they rock.

In short: Preach it, Mr. Barzak. Get ready to send us a piece on Japan for the spring issue!

Gwenda who couldn't get the blogger comments log-in to work

9:41 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Wow, I love all this discussion. I completely agree in the tailoring of credits for a submission letter. I don't disagree with that at all. I think my main point was more oriented in the value of the zine world in as a place that does important publishing, with a huge potential that is sometimes devalued by economic circumstances. And I don't think publishing in just any old zine is the way to go either. That's why I mentioned to get to know them and see which ones have the editors working that have vision and are aesthetically minded people. So in that way it's tailoring too. But the main point is that there are zines with great potential that shouldn't be immediately brushed off to the side categorically and summarily *because* they are zines. In the end, I like projects that try to open new spaces in *any* realm, not just publishing, projects that question the validity of "authorities". Maybe I am just juvenile that way. ;-)

11:14 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

I found this article a few months back from Pseudopodium, called “Antebellum Literary Culture and the Evolution of American Magazines”'s interesting to read in light of a discussion of zine culture, what we consider a "magazine" is a received form that was only slowly institutionalized, which is still pretty much with us today:

Read in particular the consternation about pay rates. Part of recent zine culture in SF hearkens back to the "miscellany" form... resists accreditation in some ways almost as a default. Maybe it's just the physical act of saddle stapling, I don't know. They're not apples and oranges, but maybe apple juice and cranapple juice. Think about indie music labels--does Kill Rock Stars or Matador really care whether they win Grammy's? And those are the large indies...

LCRW always had ads and reviews for zines like Urban Pantheist, which don't have a whole heck of a lot to do, really, with SF/F. But damn good writing, and coming from a unique perspective. For like 2 or 3 dollars.

So when we talk about zines, we have to talk about more than the fiction, or else part of the context is being missed.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Good idea, Alan. Go ahead and start. heheh :-)

3:03 AM  
Blogger The Editor said...

I add my support to this long list of comments. One of your comments struck quite the resonant chord with me. I quote: "I will be a bit of an ass here and publicly wonder if perhaps numbers in subscriptions dwindle because so often the stories being printed are speaking to a generation of readers who are dead" This is a thought and idea I've had since I entered the field as an intern for Jim Frenkel some dozen years ago. I'm sure anyone who's spent any time around me had heard me lament the lack of the next generation of writers. It was one of my biggest problems with working at Tor: I can't publish new writers because they have no track record, and I can't publish established writers becuase I have no track record.

Since I've left Tor, we've had a growing swell of talented young/new writers like Alex Irvine, Jeff VanderMeer, China Mieville, Alan DeNiro, William Shunn, Christopher Rowe, Jeffrey Ford, Liz Williams, KJ Bishop, Chris Barzak, Scott Westerfield, etc. etc. etc. (I know I left people off the list, it wasn't intentional) Here is my next generation of writers I've been looking for. And most of them are publishing in zines and small press just as readily in the newsstand mags and NY pubs. And publishing that way by choice.

We are in the midst of a Small Press Renaisance, or perhaps a Golden Age...the Golden Small Press era? Nonetheless, there are many, many, many small outfits that are publishing work that is considered as seriously as the big publishers: Small Beer Press, Ministry of Whimsy Press, Night Shade Books, Prime Books, Subterranean Press, and so on. These publishers, as our astute host points out, have stories nominated for--and winning--the field's awards, have stories selected for best-of anthologies, and have the respect of the elder editorial consortium. From talks I've had with long-standing editors at certain houses and magazines, they are impressed with what we kids are doing (my words, not theirs).

I wonder if they feel that they can hand the reins over to us now? Now, do they feel that the field won't fall to shambles due to a lack of expertise? I think they do.


8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting also that -- at least from my perspective -- the surge in zine-whuffie is such a new phenomenon. Five years ago, the pay rate of a given magazine in SF/F was a pretty good proxy for its readership, prestige, and status (I'll leave "quality" alone!). Gavin and Kelly seem to have changed all that -- not singlehandedly, of course, but they seem to have spearheaded it. (As, in the other direction, have well-funded Bad Ideas like subscription-based PDF-email magazines, some of which have tried to pay well, but which I for one would never read).

Now, a lot of authors who can publish at the top of the pro market publish willingly in zines paying a pittance. Concrete example: I don't expect he'll say one way or the other, but I'll eat my shoe if Ted Chiang's story for "Say..." was rejected from the "pro" magazines. (Despite being puzzled by this phenomenon, I exemplify it as well, having sent stories to zines first, e.g. "Night Waking" in the next Flytrap).

So we're not even just talking about quality stories that are "too weird" for the pro mags being snapped up by the zines (indeed, Gordon published possibly my weirdest story to date, "Red Leather Tassels".) We're talking about stories going to the zines first.

Now what non-monetary compensation is bumping zines to the top of the submission food chain?

I think the main thing is that the zine crowd is small and intimate, and thus fun to play with. It's a literary-salon phenomenon -- "our gang of folks reads and writes for this zine." The pro mags, even if you know their editors, are more formal, official, spaces. Publishing in the zines (the newer and more ragtag the better, really) is like hanging out with the posse. The smallness of the space produces effects that cannot be replicated in the large.

McSweeney's, in this sense, is not a zine at all. LCRW is almost post-zine, frankly. Though both of these mags have accrued a status, and in particular an interstitial/cross-genre&lit status, that replaces pay in terms of incentive.


However, Chris, there is one thing I have to differ with you about. I'm really tired of the various camps within the genre pointing incessantly to the declining circulations of the digest magazines and saying, "if you only published more of what *I* like, you'd be booming."

Neither the "publish more old-fashioned-adventure-SF" nor the "publish more hard-science-optimistic-futurismic-SF" nor the "publish more experimental-literary-slipstream-sf" strategy has broken *any* magazine out of the curve of declining circulation, and they've all been tried.

That's because (as Charlie decisively demonstrated a few years ago on the tangent ng) it's all due to exterior mechanisms of distribution. The magazines are not on the newsstands, they're not in chain bookstores, they're not in the megastores except in a few places, and even there they're not shelved with sf/f books.

It doesn't particularly matter what flavor of spec fic (or lit fic) you stick inside the magazine. It isn't going to magically break out into the slicks without an appropriately tailored marketing and publishing-sales strategy, and the glory days of the pulps are over.

And actually this is partly why it's the zines historical moment. The zines flourish because they don't have the overhead of the digests. Go compare the masthead of Asimov's with the masthead of LCRW or Say. Not just the number of names, but the formality of the positions. How many full-timed, salary positions versus freelance versus volunteer. The zines are adapted perfectly for serving small, passionate niche markets. They can sell 1,000 copies and break even. The digests cannot do that.

Another way out of this print-publishing dilemma is to do what Argosy is trying, to break into the slicks through a concerted marketing effort and by designing your magazine to fit the modern newsstand (which is one place they ran into immediate trouble, since they chose the wrong format). I really hope they succeed, but I'm not too sanguine. There's a lot of vicious competition for space on those newsstands, and making a beautiful magazine with very high production costs forces you to go head-to-head with Vogue and Maxim.

And another way is to go to the distribution channel which works for SF&F, which is books; which is why more and more semipro mags are becoming anthology series.

Anyway, I hope I'm wrong and the pulp trends reverse. But I submit to you that the reason you pick up certain zines and go "yes! Hallelujah! you're speaking to me brother!" and you pick up a digest mag and go "well, I really like a few of these, and some are pretty good, but some are just okay, and a lot of them suck" is BECAUSE the former is aimed at a niche market and the latter, to keep afloat with its high costs, *has* to aim for a broader section of readers by offering a mix.


10:35 AM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Just a tiny correction to Ben's comment. We've never been lucky enough to get an original Ted Chiang story for Say... He did favor Christopher with a nonfiction essay about an identity disorder for " this a cat?" (the proto-Say...)

I think everybody's making really good points that don't conflict with each other all that much. Frankly, it seems to me that what the SF magazines need is a sugardaddy or mommy to fund them. Think about it: of the most successful and attractive lit magazines that are on the newstands, most of them have a backer that can offset the overhead. McSweeney's and The Believer (not a lit mag, but I would argue the penultimate zine) and Zoetrope All-Story being the ones that come immediately to mind and many of the others having foundations and universities backing them up. And I still suspect that the genre mags have wider circulations than 98 percent of other magazines that publish short fiction; anyone know if that's true? (I know that it seems me the field honors short fiction a lot more and pays more attention to it, in terms of reading and buzzing about good short stories and _reviewing_ them.)

The genre mags -- save Realms -- are just not glossy and so they feel more like zines than not to me sometimes, even though they're not. And there are exciting stories there but it feels like there's some stagnation too (SciFiction and F & SF being big exceptions and there are others), in that it doesn't feel like the editors are throwing me curveballs often enough. I think there's a tendency by ANY magazine to publish more things like what it's published successfully in the past, when, as a reader, what I want is quality and variety.

Take all that with a grain of salt.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Ben, I think we're in agreement on most things, and that maybe you've misapprehended what I meant by the "stories that are being written for dead people" comment. When I say that, I don't mean necessarily more stories that *I* would like personally, because there are a lot of stories that are fresh and new being published in the world that I *still* don't connect with, and yet they're still written for a living, breathing audience, and know what they're doing. So when I say I would like fresher stories, I still might not like them. I *do* think it would help sell the magazines more if the editors realized that they are leaving out a huge faction of would be buyers, teenagers and young twenty-somethings, by printing fantasy and scifi stories that feel like they were written for a 1940s or 50s crowd of readers. I mean, talk them needing to publish a broad spectrum of stories. I agree! I think they're not doing that actually. Most of what they publish feels like it's intended for various small niches actually, generational categories in particular. It's definitely a different ball game than the zine market, and yet I think certain things that zines do can teach the professional mags a thing or two that can apply in any market. There is a lot of discontent with the people who read zines religiously towards what's published in the top tier genre magazines. Why aren't these readers considered important to the health of the top tier's circulation? Couldn't they be considered possible subscribers to such magazines, as they subscribe to the zines? There's a disconnect somewhere. It'd be nice if something useful comes of the discussion. But maybe I'm being unrealistic.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Also, not only do I think teens and twenty-somethings aren't really considered in the selection of the stories. I also think there is a crowd of readers with a certain bent sensibility in reading that is often ignored by the top tier genre mags. Even the New Yorker tries to include stories on occasion for these readers. I think that's why several of the stories they publish each year are weird and offbeat and non what you would have called your father's New Yorker story.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a point of fact that might be missing here--zines have been around for a long time. All you have to do is consult back issues of Factsheet Five to see that. The concept of a "zine" as opposed to a "magazine" is perhaps the difference between punk in its infancy (or samizdat in other parts of the world) and more "refined" (which I don't mean to equate with "better") instances of publishing that are either larger circulation magazines or mags at the indie press level that mimic the production values of the large circulation magazines.

But my point is, it seems that what's happened recently is the idea of "zines" and "zines" being legitimate has been brought over to SF/F. It was always considered legitimate in the mainstream with little poetry journals, poetry chapbook series, and other types of zines that grew as much out of alternative music as out of anything else, but also published fiction. In SF/F, it seems to me (I could be wrong--I often am) that until recently you couldn't have a photocopied publication produced on a shoestring that would be considered legitimate. That that's happening now in SF/F is a triumph of content over form. It's a good thing on one level. On other, I wouldn't want to see too many more zines with the same kind of format, regardless of differences in content, because it begins to seem homogenous, and it also becomes harder and harder to tell the good ones from the bad ones. I think it's actually now time for someone to break the mold that's being used so frequently and use a different model--a magazine model--at the indie level.


3:20 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

I think so too, Jeff. They're all suspiciously similar in design. heheh.

It would be cool to see an indie magazine model spring up. Does anyone know of any that are already in existence, in any form, not just genre oriented?

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Ben that the 'zines and digest fiction magazines appeal to different bases. I think of the one as a small, well defined special interest group and the other as a coalition.

And I agree with Gwenda that only a sugar daddy can allow a fiction magazine to pay top rates as McSweeney's Zoetrope and Argosy do. The Daddy for the New Yorker is the advertisers, for it's the SciFi Channel.

What the 'zines can give new writers is incredible exposure within a small but important community.

Something that's changed a great deal in the genre over the twelve or so years is the amount of attention in the form of reviews that short fiction can get. The first story I published appeared in May of 1992 in F&SF. It was anthologized a couple of times but did not, so far as I know, get a single review in its' initial magazine appearance. Few stories did get at that point.

A story I co-wrote with Mark Rich which appeared in the second issue of Mr. Klima's excellent 'zine, a year or two ago got, I believe, eight reviews. And that, I think, is not unusual.

Rick Bowes

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm not really following you on what you mean by the digests publishing only things for dead people -- or even for thirtysomethings-and-up. It seems to me, firstly, that you're conflating youth-oriented and slipstream/experimental, and I'm not really feeling that.

What characterizes the digest magazines as opposed to the slipstreamy zines is:
1) positivist epistemology -- there's a world out there, we all can measure and describe it, and agree on it, and act accordingly, to affect things in a predictable fashion if we do it right
2) non-irony: sentiments expressed by the characters are intended typically to either evoke like sentiments in the reader, or (more rarely) explicit condemnation by the reader
3) presence of sympathetic characters
4) plot, in the form of dramatic events and external risk

I assume this is what you think of as the old-fogeyish fiction? But this rebellion into surrealism, irony, alienation, and plotlessness (or rather, interior-plottiness) is nothing new -- there's nothing distinctively Gen-Y about it. It dates easily back to the 1920s, and was all the rage in the science fiction of the early 1970s.

There is just a hard core of old-skool-sf activists who are appalled at how surrealist, ironical, alienated, and plotless the digests have become, and plenty of them are under 20.

I cannot recall being in any kind of gathering of writers -- a con, my Clarion class, Blue Heaven -- where there was any correlation between age, and slipstreaminess vs. genre-plottiness.

It's sort of like saying political conservatives are old and political liberals are young. It doesn't actually hold up to examination. Reagan swept under-30-year-olds.

Sure, moving to the "left" and publishing (yet) more surrealist, ironical, alienated, and plotless stories might capture a few zine readers -- just as moving further "right" might capture some of the Speculon/Black Gate/Fantastic/Dragonlance/Analog crowds (I know I'm conflating pulp and hard sf, which are as different from each other as either is from slipstream -- but you get the idea).

F&SF in particular has plenty of stories with nonrealist epistemology and irony/satire (consider "Ant King", "Red Leather Tassels", "Superhero Saves the World", "Glinky", "Something By the Sea"...), as well as nongenre stories, and Asimov's is well known for epiphany/revelation/character stories. And SCIFI.COM publishes loads of the stuff.

It's not the majority of any of these mags, mind you. But we can demonstrate, what, how many readers of the slipstream zines -- 5000? Compared to 50,000 for the digests even in their current beleaguered state.

Shifting a little "left" toward slipstream or a little "right" towards hard sf or pulp is not going to save the digests. It's a sucker's game.

A magazine with a readership of 2000 is just about right if you want to feel a deep connection with every story in there. Bigger than that, as Rick says, you're lookign at a coalition. These numbers aren't written in stone -- they just seem to be the current numbers for short-form sf/f.


4:18 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...


Points all well taken, but I wasn't necessarily talking about surrealism or slipstream work, although I do like that work a lot. And of course it's been around for a while. I don't associate it with youth at all. Obviously surrealism is decades old. So I'm not talking about a certain style of writing as associated with a younger generation of readers. I'm speaking more about a voice and narrative concerns, more than stylistic difference, which cuts across all generations.

One thing I would like to remark on is this:

If you are able to break down the features of the stories that generally show up in the magazines like you did, and are able to break them down into such specific qualities, I think that's a problem in and of itself. That's static and stagnant. And two or three stories that don't fall into those categories printed each year isn't enough, in my opinion, to make up for the sameness.

So I'm not conflating style and generation, so much as concerns and voice. I think those are bound up sometimes in style, but not a necessary factor. For example, I'm reading a collection of realist stories by Adam Haslett and the techniques he uses to tell the story are very old school realist, very Chekhovian. But the concerns in the stories, to me, are very young and exciting.

So I think you assumed a conflation rather than me stating an actual one.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Possibly we can swipe the age question and generational question off the table altogether, because now I'm thinking your post clarified something for me. The homegenity, I think, is my real turnoff in the digests.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I indeed assumed a conflation. I was just listing what I see as distinct about the zines -- what characteristics the zines have that the digests don't.

I'm not buying the "if you can describe the digests analytically, they're too stagnant" argument. That's not a feature of the digests -- it's a feature of the way my brain works. I can describe the zines too -- I just did -- they tend to be more nonrealist, etc.

Certainly the digests have just as many (or more) stories with young protagonists, and publish plenty of younger authors. Okay, okay, you told me to drop the age thing, I know.

It's kind of funny -- chance is arguing that, regardless of her individual taste, the writing in the top-tier magazines is just *better* than the writing in (most) zines. You are arguing that, regardless of your individual taste, the writing in the zines is just *fresher* than the writing in the digests.

I am skeptical of either of you separating your personal taste from your judgement of "better" or "fresher".

How did you read Charles Stross's Manfred Macx stories in Asimov's, the ones beginning with "Lobsters"? I read them as incredibly "fresh" -- full of technological-social speculations that had never occurred to me, dozens per paragraph. I have a suspicion, though, that your "fresh" is different from my "fresh".

Well, we may be arguing about semantics -- I suspect I just have a bee in my bonnet about blanket, nonrelativistic aesthetic judgements. I don't want to devolve into some kind of caricature of a Brown University dorm counselor of the late eighties, frantically insisting everyone add "for me" to every sentence ("I feel... when you... because....")

I'll certainly accept the digests aren't fresh in a way that interests you.

I guess what I'm getting at here is, it seems like a microcosm of the misunderstandings between SF and lit fic (Dave Truesale's vision of lit fic as boring recountings of mundane reality, or Atwood's vision of SF as non-ironic rockets-and-robots adventures), or, I don't know, rock-and-roll and punk.

Different genres and subgenres are going after different effects. It's easy to say, "that junk all sounds the same". It's easy for the Sex Pistols to call Pink Floyd stagant sell-outs, or for Pink Floyd to call the Sex Pistols meaningless garbage. I like both "Anarchy in the UK" and "Wish You Were Here" -- I like them for different reasons. It doesn't seem like a valid critique of "Wish You Were Here" to say that it doesn't have enough raw primal rebellion, or of "Anarchy in the UK" to say that it's melodically moronic and that the band can't play (meaning, can't achieve complex effects on) their instruments.

I don't like a lot of the humor in the digests. I abhor almost all of the poetry. I like the stories on SCIFI.COM when I can force myself to read it (I hate the user interface). I can't relate to much of Analog. I get tired of a lot of the Asimov's and F&SF stories that rely on cutesiness or genre self-referentiality. And a lot of the stories just don't interest me. I keep flirting with the idea of giving up reading the digests, and then I hit something totally mind-blowing, like "Lobsters" or "The Chambered Fruit" or "We Come Not to Praise Washington".

But I think a lot of the stories I don't like are actually successful on their own terms, and the readers who like them may be more numerous than the readers who are like me. Like rhinestone country or bossa nova, they're just grooves I can't get into.


10:56 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

I think I agree with you on almost everything you said here, Ben. One of the things I've been frustrated with the debate mine and Chance's little posts started is that it's less about Zines over Digests that I was thinking about. I wasn't initially saying they were better. I was saying they were as good as. And in the interest of various posts that read it differently, I've felt compelled to defend interests that I'm not sure I even have! haha. But seriously, my original thoughts I stick with. I think zines are as valuable as what "professional" magazines offer, and when I said "professional" originally, I didn't mean just the genre digests, though I'm sure that's what most people who read my blog assume, since most of them are genre readers and writers. I also meant pro magazines of any genre. And my original impetus for writing this post was because Chance seemed to be summarily executing the validity of quality appearing zines categorically. (Then she revised and made it that this isn't so, but it's too much work for her to wade through to find the good stuff, which I think is true of any magazine, hence the as good as quality I think zines have to the pros).

I any case, I do find amazing stuff like you mentioned in the digests too. I just think there is as good stuff to be found in the zines as well. And though I do speculate still as to why the digests have less and less readers, I'll leave it up to the economic strategists to figure out why. Apparently it's all business oriented things that have nothing to do with what actually appears in the damned things. Hard for me to bite on, but I won't pretend to know about *those* things.

11:16 AM  

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