Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Essay: Support Our 'Zines Day

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

My review copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology (ed. Gordon van Gelder) just arrived and it's this massive tome of both familiar and unfamiliar stories. When it comes to short fiction, in the past, I encountered them in books rather then magazines. And the reason for this is that I come from the Philippines, and most fiction magazines (be it Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Asimov's) aren't available here save for rare, used copies in secondhand bookstores. The field is currently shifting, especially with certain technologies (the audio book for example isn't really anything new--the business and self-help section of the bookstore had lots of those in the 80's and 90's--but podcasts are making them accessible and fashionable to a new audience) becoming popular and providing alternate venues for short fiction. But that doesn't change the fact that we need a ‘Support our ‘Zines Day’, be they in the form of magazines or websites.

I wasn't really a fiction reader when I was young and perhaps part of that was because I never encountered the fiction magazines. If you want to imagine a world where such publications virtually don't exist, feel free to drop by the Philippines (or other third-world countries). The only time I encountered short fiction was either in anthologies (not the most enticing package for a non-reader) or in the academe, where short stories were ideal because they were short enough to be given as assignments and cheaply photocopied (this copyright infringement dates back to an old policy by Martial Law president Ferdinand Marcos). (Ironically enough, one of my first encounters with "classic" science fiction was the short story "Flowers for Algernon" assigned to us by my English teacher during junior year high school, and is included in The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology.) I can't help but wonder whether I would have gotten into speculative fiction sooner if 'zines were available during my time.

These days, 'zines come in different forms. On one hand, you have the web magazines, such as Subterranean, Clarkesworld and Fantasy Magazine. Then there are those distributed through PDFs (and print!) such as GUD and M-Brane SF. (And let's not forget the existing print 'zines, whether it's indie publications like Sybil's Garage, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Electric Velocipede, and Shimmer, to icons like Asimov's, Analog, and Weird Tales) But on the other end of the spectrum, we have unconventional fiction magazines like StarShipSofa and the "Pod" family (EscapePod, PodCastle, PseudoPod). That's not even taking into consideration the numerous blogs (this site included) which provide news and nonfiction. Speculative poetry also deserves a mention with dedicated publications like Mythic Delirium (print) and Goblin Fruit (web), or those that feature a mix of both such as Ideomancer and Strange Horizons. Then there are the magazines that also cater to what was considered a minority audience, such as Icarus and Expanded Horizons. It's not rocket science to claim that the stories included in my favorite format--anthologies and short story collections--are culled from these publications.

Unfortunately, not all of these publications are as financially successful as they ought to be and why they need our support. Let's face it, as far as mainstream publishing is concerned, novels are the cash-cows in the industry (relatively speaking). The 'zines which are potentially the gateway drugs to a new generation, and encourage writers to continue writing short stories (or simply having a cool byline).

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