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 â€” or at least survivable â€” 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)â€¦ 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”?