After my disillusionment with slick magazines, I tried reading pulps again, some time in the early 90s. I even subscribed to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one of the magazines that’s always had a little corner in my heart. It wasn’t the same. For one thing, F&SF at that point went pretty far away from the fantasy and science fiction that I was expecting. It leaned much more toward contemporary, urban, magical realism-types of stories than the big pulp action that I wanted. It may have been good stuff, but it didn’t have the magic it was supposed to.
It seems strange, given that magazines kick-started my SFF reading, but I wasn’t much of a magazine reader. When I was young, our house was full of books, and I read a lot of those. Pretty soon, I bought a lot of my own, and that didn’t stop (still hasn’t). I felt I did pretty well picking them out, and that my limited funds were better spent buying books I selected personally than relying on the judgment of an editor. My 90s experiment with F&SF confirmed that, and after a little while, I let the subscription go. I didn’t really miss it.
Of course, one of the great things about magazines, as with anthologies, is exactly the unexpected, the little surprises, the unknowns whose work thrills you – the excitement you feel on realizing that this new author has either a long future, or a long back catalog for you to dig up and be thrilled by.
With the advent of the internet, magazines have regained some ground. I still buy a lot of books, but I read some magazines, too. Not regularly, but I dip in from time to time. As a writer, now, I suppose I look at them differently now. I’m more conscious now of the editorial vision – there’s one magazine that publishes just a few, excellent stories, for example, but after a year of reading it with pleasure, I found all the stories started to seem the same. There’s another that’s much more varied in tone – but so is the quality; I’m more critical now, thinking would I want my story in the same issue with that? (So far, the editors seem to have felt the same, but not in my favor, which seems fair enough.)
The good thing is that these days there are a lot of good magazines out there, they’re easy to get to, and many of them are even free. No need to read fast from borrowed copy, or to race to the mailbox to get your own. You’re just one click away from great writing and reading. And if you tire of one editorial vision, there are always new magazines popping up – as specialized or unusual as you could possibly want. Just to give one example – check out The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. A whole magazine dedicated to SF bugs – that’s the internet for you, though I can’t help feeling that Racoona Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.’s “The Screwfly Solution” would have fit right in.
What are your favorite magazines these days (aside from Amazing)? What are some of your unusual finds?