Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Essay: Online Fiction Magazines

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Filipino fantasy/science fiction fans compared to their American counterparts is that we were never really weaned on magazines like Weird Tales or Asimov's. I don't know whether it's because I'm young but those publications never made it to our shores short of catching back issues in used bookstores like Book Sale (and for the record, among all the local fantasy/science fiction fans that I know, only Kenneth Yu claims to have found them in the bargain bins). So for most of the 80's and the early 90's, if one were to claim that they were fantasy/science fiction fans, that entailed being a fan of fantasy/science fiction novels because our bookstores back then (in actuality, only two bookstore chains mattered, Goodwill Bookstore and National Bookstore, and their selection was limited) mostly stocked novels. I remember being a fan of Terry Brooks and David Eddings because they were the only fantasy books on the bookstore shelves (don't even get me started at how difficult it was back then to acquire the Lord of the Rings trilogy--a stark contrast to the post-Peter Jackson era where every bookstore has a shelf dedicated to Tolkien).

Thankfully, it's now the 21st century, and things have improved. Fans are now not limited to a de facto bookstore and there is a wider selection of books to choose from (although here's a plea from a fan to the book buyers of local bookstores: please stock more books from independent publishers like Prime Books, Night Shade Books, and PS Publishing!). What hasn't changed however are the fiction magazines: no one's distributing them locally. I think this is also why there's really not a lot of Filipino fantasy/science fiction fans who are familiar with modern short story writers unless they happen to be Neil Gaiman or Ursula K. le Guin. Don't get me wrong, my present circle of friends are familiar with a lot of short story writers (especially with Dean critiquing one short story after another twice a month), but I'm starting to think that we're the minority among a minority rather than the norm. (As for the state of short story collections and anthologies, bookstores tend to stock them only if you're popular; as it is, I'm already hard-pressed [i.e. the bookstore only has one or two copies] to even find respected names like Aimee Bender or Kelly Link in local bookstores, with the young adult/children's section being the exception.)

The Internet however has partially alleviated that problem. Sites like Strange Horizons, Jim Baen's Universe, and Clarkesworld (in addition of course to the semi-pro and fan publications out there) give full access of their stories to online readers. Other publications such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and Asimov's provide limited access to their content (either specific stories or excerpts) while others require you to subscribe. Now I'm not espousing that fiction magazines give their content away for free but for someone like me living in the Philippines, it's the magazines that have online content that are more accessible. (On a side note, one question in line with this that I want to ask is whether a work that is accessible online has a significant bearing on awards that require votes from a huge pool of members/participants such as the Hugo or the Nebula.) Similarly, Filipino writers will also most likely submit to publications that have a) guidelines on their web page and b) allow email submissions.

Having said that, when I tackle an online magazine, I need to be prepared. For example, if you post a long feature article or novelette on your blog, I'll most likely not read it. That's not to say I won't ever read it, I just won't read it now. I need to set aside time to read and appreciate the publication.

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