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I always prowled around the edges of science fiction. When I was fourteen years old, or thereabouts, I used up my fannishness on Isaac Asimov, which has left me with an all-too-encyclopædic knowledge of the whole Robot/Empire/Foundation business — the sort of story which they’ll never make into a movie, and which offers no opportunities to dress up as anybody. Now, I don’t have any passionate adoration left to spare for the stories which drive people mad, the ones which breed sub-sub-cultures and squirm like botflies in the brain. Taking film-studies classes to round out my humanities curriculum requirement left me watching Ghost in the Shell like a scholar.

(Or, worse yet, a poet.)

When I had time for fiction, I usually ended up among the authors who, you suspected, escaped the SF ghetto because they were more marketable outside than in. Late at night, in good company, the arguments would unfold over what exactly Kurt Vonnegut and Lois Lowry and Thomas Pynchon meant for the definition of SF, since the interesting problems with a definition always manifest at the edges. For a couple years, I had a subscription to Asimov’s, which I let lapse for the utterly humdrum reason that the stories in it never seemed to demand I make the time to read them. I felt episodically guilty about it — being such a nerd that I actually was seeking a career in science, shouldn’t I be keeping up with SF much better?

A beautiful and musical and cold-hearted young woman introduced me to Transmetropolitan, to illustrate what the graphic-novel format was capable of doing (Cosma Shalizi suggests, “[I]magine Hunter Thompson and John Brunner collaborating on the script for a movie to be filmed by Fritz Lang, Capra and John Carpenter, rendered by a Hogarth who has seen the future and loathes it”). This was my introduction to all things Warren Ellis, who — to make a long story much shorter — now argues that the numbers foretell doom for SF print magazines:

Cases are always made that in fact these magazines are on strong — or at least survivable — financial ground. Even ignoring the fact that the money they offer for fiction is pitiful, I think that matters less than that they are reaching massively fewer people every year. [...] I live in hope that WEIRD TALES is preparing to post truly wonderful year-on-year figures. But, for the four magazines with available numbers (unless some communications failure has hidden a resurgence in INTERZONE numbers from the redoubtable Dozois)… it’s pretty much over.

As was stated over and over last year, any number of things could be done to help these magazines. But, naturally enough, the magazines’ various teams appear not to consider anything to be wrong. They’ll provide what their remaining audience would seem to want, until they all finally die of old age, and then they’ll turn out the lights. And that’ll be it for the short-fiction sf print magazine as we know it.

Time to focus on the online magazines, he suggests, instead of the “walking dead.” How do you make an online rag profitable? (I let my subscription to Baen’s Universe lapse, too, so I’m the wrong guy to ask.) More fundamentally, how do you make such a site anything more than a “fanzine by any other name”?

8 Comments

  1. I assumed this post would be about The Walking Dead.

    • gg
    • Posted Monday, 4 August 2008 at 10:47 am
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    “…and squirm like botflies in the brain.”

    Eeew; that wasn’t the image I needed to start my Monday off right!

    I would be sorry to see Weird Tales go away (I almost got a story published there once, as I was asked to do a revision), but then again, it has gone away a number of times, and has dragged itself from the grave each time.

    Oh, and I second Flavin’s mistaken assumption!

  2. We aim to disappoint.

    And hey, I have to talk about parasites now and then — who knows, Carl Zimmer might be reading.

    • Jared
    • Posted Monday, 4 August 2008 at 12:18 pm
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    Speaking of Sci-Fi, Blake, I’ve finally finished watching The Prisoner, having Netflixified the last episode on Friday night. And, since you mentioned it during our VICTORIOUS turn at Skeptic(al trivia)s in the Pub, I have to admit (with no undue shame) that my reaction to that final episode can be summed up thusly: SRLSY. WTF?

    • manigen
    • Posted Monday, 4 August 2008 at 16:39 pm
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    “I have to admit (with no undue shame) that my reaction to that final episode can be summed up thusly: SRLSY. WTF?”

    You and everybody else who’s ever seen it. It doesn’t make any sense, there is no underlying meaning, it’s just some crazy stuff they filmed because it was the sixties and you could get away with that sort of thing back then.

    Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I quite liked it.

  3. What impresses me about the last episode of The Prisoner is that it has just enough order and rhythm to fool you into thinking, “There’s a meaning in here.” You know, “Though this be madness. . . .”

    • Jared
    • Posted Tuesday, 5 August 2008 at 12:40 pm
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    All I know is that the next time I plan to revolt against an oppressive system, I will do so by incessantly singing “Dem bones.” It’s really the only way that makes sense.

  4. Alas, Blake, I fear you’re right. But then again, one never knows what may happen: the print magazines may find a way to resurrect themselves. I hope so. As much as I love the internet, there’s just something so satisfying about the feel of real dead trees in my hands.