Futurismic, Science Fiction

Short Fiction’s Future

February 3, 2009

You know it’s a bad month for genre short fiction when Realms of Fantasy shuts down, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction goes from monthly to bi-monthly, and Warren Lapine announces his return to magazine publishing. (Oops, pardon my cheap-shot, but I just can’t muster much hope this time around…if it succeeds, more power to him.)

Things are tough all over, of course, but I think I’m noticing the continued slow death of the magazines (as opposed to, you know, the fast and utter collapse of banks — go figure) because short fiction was such a major focus of my career ambition for so long. I’m noticing it, and yet it’s not hitting me as hard as I feel like it should, maybe because I haven’t been writing that many short stories lately…which somehow feels like part of the problem. Do we only care about fiction magazines when we’re worried about marketing our stories?

Of course, there’s been talk of the slow death of the science fiction magazines for as long as I’ve been reading in the field — we’re going back to the mid-eighties, here, and I’m sure it started well before then. The latest bad news may just be more of the same , the slow gradual decline continuing. But the thing about attrition…well, it can’t last forever, can it? How much more life can our “core” magazines have in this brutal economic climate?

For our part in the short fiction scheme of things, Futurismic continues on its merry, modest little way, and so far we’re still looking to publish a story per month for the forseeable future. I’ve noticed a marked increase in submissions since we reopened in January, which I originally figured was a time-of-year thing, but maybe writers are simply running out of markets.

I get the impression short genre fiction’s webward migration will continue — it may be the only liferaft left for the form. And I do still think the short form is a valuable early stomping ground for writers, so it will probably survive, even if it continues to be more and more of a niche thing. So I’m not sure what the point of this post is…I guess I’m just waxing nostalgic. Watching the field’s “big” magazines struggle is like watching a dream die…the 12-year-old kid in me who wanted nothing more than to publish in the digests next to his heroes…in glorious print, maybe even with my name on the cover (lol)…it reminds me of a different version of myself, a different time.

On the other hand, I feel like I should be more futurismic about this — change isn’t inherently bad, is not equal to death. Short fiction will survive, and if it doesn’t, some other form of individual story-telling will arise to take its place and fill that need. Meanwhile, publishing (along with music, and film, and TV, and just about every other form of art these days — I mean, can you believe we still use the Nielsen ratings?) is going to have to figure out a new economic model. Maybe the current economic meltdown will really get people thinking about some new solutions.

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