The Short Stuff

Short story ideas wriggle about in my head like seductive caterpillars, tempting me to try and catch them and turn them into butterflies. More often than not, when I’ve attempted that transformative trick in the past, I’ve ended up with … well, not butterflies. Still, the siren call of those caterpillars is persistent. It reminded me that I’m a bit out of touch with the world of UK sf/f/h magazines, so I had a mini spending spree.

Interzone is an old acquaintance, but it’s still pretty much the gold standard for this kind of thing, and has now reached its 25th anniversary. That’s an immensely advanced age as sf magazines go, and well deserved given the quality of its design, fiction and non-fiction.

There are some newer mags around these days that tickle my fancy too, though. Postscripts has been going for a little while, and seems pretty well thought of. Judging by the one issue I’ve now read, it’s a class act: good, varied stories, a clean and clear layout and really nice covers. It’s the most expensive of the magazines, but then it is a bit chunkier than the others. The next issue, #10, looks to be a giant-sized cornucopia of dark fiction.

Hub is the really new kid on the block, with only one issue out so far. It’s got a distinctive design and layout – which maybe needs a little tweaking – but there’s some decent stories there, and a ton of potential. Definitely deserves the chance to establish itself. Dark Tales and Forgotten Worlds are rather more basic productions, though Dark Tales in particular is quite nicely put together. Both of them quite appeal to me, for their enthusiasm as much as anything.

I haven’t managed to get hold of a copy of Farthing yet (I did try, honestly), so all I can say about it is that I love the covers. Gorgeousness. And the magazine I most want to buy, I can’t, because it doesn’t exist yet: Black Static, the much-anticipated reincarnation of The Third Alternative, which was arguably the best UK short fiction magazine of any kind in the 1990s.

My main, earth-shattering conclusion: I like sf/f/h short story magazines. I like them as objects, I like their enthusiasm, I like the whole idea of them. There’s a lot of people putting in a lot of effort to produce these things (much of it for minimal, or negative, financial reward, I imagine) and it warms the cockles of me heart it does. Short fiction is the fertile humus of the genre (certainly for sf, somewhat less so for fantasy maybe) where many of its innovations and quite a few of its novelists germinate.

What the long term future for print magazines is, who knows (see this for one view), but personally I’m a fan of the whole paper and ink thing. As Cory Doctorow has pointed out, there’s reader resistance to e-books, and in my case that resistance extends to e-zines. I’m happy to read all kinds of stuff from a computer screen, but not, it turns out, fiction. I think I find the whole exercise of reading fiction on a monitor too cold and non-immersive. The technology seems to have a distancing effect that a good old-fashioned book or magazine doesn’t for me. It’s irrational in many ways, but a physical magazine somehow feels to me less disposable, more deserving and more demanding of my attention. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur, but if so I’m happy in my dinosaurhood, for now at least.

Anyway, there’s 42 stories in the magazines pictured, each one of them a different world and different voice. You might not like all of them – in fact it’d be downright odd if you did – but somewhere in there is stuff you’d love: go on, give one or two of them a test drive.

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