fiction / science fiction / Short Story

Gentlemen, You have no Idea why People Read…

This is a guest post by a friend and very articulate man, who posted this letter he sent to the editors of Analog, explaining why he felt compelled to cancel his subscription and end a three-decade relationship with that venerable SF institution. I will add to it that he touches on a theme you have seen here before, and will see many more times: fiction ought to be fun, enjoyable to read, and possess hope. Nihilism is never fun. 

 

Hated to do it – well, mildly regret really – but I’ve cancelled my subscription to Asimov’s SF Magazine. And here’s the email I sent them about it. (Warning – spoiler for one story in the magazine… and it’s a fairly long rant.)

—-

It’s been a pretty good run, guys. I’ve subscribed on and off since your first issue in the ‘70s, and usually gotten my money’s worth.

But lately (like the last 5, 10 years) It’s been getting harder and harder to find your magazine (along with Analog) at the newsstand. Over the last three or four years I’ve been checking the two local Barnes and Noble bookstores for the print edition – and never see it or Analog. So I was pretty glad when you started offering it as a Kindle subscription.

I’ve subscribed since 2010, more out of nostalgia than anything else.

Then I noticed I’d read a story or two, get distracted by something else, and then never bother coming back to the ebook. Your stories, whether SF or Fantasy, weren’t grabbing me.

It could be my tastes changing, it could be your story choices and editing, but we were failing to connect.

Which brings me to your current edition, the double issue for October-November 2014 … I actually read this one cover to cover, more out of boredom one day than anything else.

‘Prodigal Son’? Quite good, but you expect that from Allan Steele.

‘Stars Fell on Alabama’? Eh. Kinda slow, but pretty decent. ‘Pinono Deep’? Pretty decent, again. Not… memorable, not fleshed out enough (so to speak) but pretty good. ‘Minutes To The End Of The World’? Again, not bad… but kind of depressing. ‘Witch of Truckee’ was pretty good, but it felt incomplete. ‘Diary of A Pod Person’? Interesting take – but again, something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

‘Decaying Orbit’… that was good. Quite good, until you got to the ending, and I realized what the problem was with pretty much every other story in the magazine, and has been for a long time.

The writers almost never allow a solid win. There’s always ambiguity, there’s always doubt and uncertainty. ‘Decaying Orbit’ – the Author engenders doubt about whether the side that the protagonists were on were actually the ‘good guys’. The ‘hero’ ends up having to kill his fiancée. ‘Prodigal Son’ was the only story where you really felt like there was a ‘win’.

And then there’s ‘Troop 9’.

Oh, holy hell. Feral Girl Scouts? Really? And the end, where the FATHER kills his daughter?

That takes the whole ‘We can’t have a ‘win’ of any real value’ concept up a couple of notches. It’s a compelling story all right. Grim, depressing – and memorable in a way you DON’T want.

So let’s get to the point here. I like optimistic SF. I like SF and Fantasy where there’s a WIN, not a ‘Oh, we didn’t lose as badly as we thought we would’. I like fleshed out worlds, not little vignettes where we’re shown, but nothing is ever really explained. (I guess that’s bad literary form any more in the SF world.) I like sweeping vistas and intriguing ideas, I like a sense of wonder and optimism, of a future that will be BETTER than we’ve got now. (And the present that we have NOW would have been counted as one hell of a win in the ‘80s, even if we’re a bit behind on the space travel part.)

But perhaps that’s not what wins Nebulas and Hugo Awards. I don’t know.

I’m a reader – a disappointed one. If you’re basing success on awards won, then I guess you’re doing pretty well. I can see, however, that your subscription numbers aren’t quite what they were a decade or two ago – and in most businesses a decline like that would indicate you’re doing something badly wrong.

What else it might be, I couldn’t say. Perhaps not being able to find it on the newsstand, maybe not putting out stories people like reading, maybe lacking a sense of ‘fun’ and optimism might have something to do with it. Maybe optimism and hope are passé, maybe I’m just out of step with the current acceptable literary SF and Fantasy forms.

Not that it really matters at this point. I’m afraid ‘Troop 9’ was pretty much it for me as far as Asimov’s goes.

I’m voting with my feet, and my money. Thanks for the last 30+ years – it’s been great fun at times, and hopefully will be so again sometime in the future. I certainly hope so, for the sake of SF in general.

—–

In the comments on the query post I put up asking if this were appropriate, Brad Torgersen remarked that the current editor of Asimov’s is trying hard to turn it into a literary magazine. Well, if you’re going for prestige, then I guess it’s better to be read by a small group of the ‘right’ people and lose money hand over fist, than be read by vast numbers of the great unwashed and rake in piles of money.

 

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13 thoughts on “Gentlemen, You have no Idea why People Read…

  1. Reblogged this on The Worlds of Tarien Cole and commented:
    I have to admit, I was never a big fan of Asimov. Mainly because I felt like it was catering to boring sci-fi for a LOOONG time. In fact, it’s pretty hard for me to name a single Spec-fic dead-tree magazine that I can endorse these days. They ALL want to be ‘literary.’

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  2. …I guess it’s better to be read by a small group of the ‘right’ people and lose money hand over fist, than be read by vast numbers of the great unwashed and rake in piles of money.

    And that seems to be it, in a nutshell. However, when the old guard has collapsed enough, it will pave the way for those who would rather entertain people than receive empty accolades from the elites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to guess, however, that the New Guard will not look like the old guard, all papery and everything 🙂 Fun to speculate about it. Personally, I see that my short stories sell very little, so I use them as free teasers from time to time.

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  3. Is it bad that I would prefer the scorn of “the ‘right’ people” than their approval? After all, so many writers I think of as friends of been scorned by them, I not only don’t want to be left out, but that they scorn the very things I love about good fiction.

    Scorn me, baby!

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  4. This is why I long ago gave up on reading short stories. Too many had grim endings where nobody ‘won’. In some cases nobody the reader cared about survived. This can be an acceptable story option once in a great while. But for the most part I want stories with a hint of hope in them.

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  5. @Nissa Annakindt– And sometimes, you can’t tell what happened AT ALL. And… that’s the point! I HATE those stories. I mean, it’s bad enough you can’t tell what’s going on because the writer doesn’t know what he or she is doing. It’s worse when the writer does it on purpose. WHY bother? Confusing people is EASY. Entertaining clarity is a challenge.

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  6. “Torgersen remarked that the current editor of Asimov’s is trying hard to turn it into a literary magazine.” This word ‘literary’ has always irked me. I think they’re trying to push it into a mainstream that doesn’t exist, which is unfortunate.

    I’m sure they have their reasons though.

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    • I think they’re more catering towards a tiny audience of eclectic people who can be trusted to vote in each year’s Hugo and Nebula awards – for them.

      I noticed a long time ago that the Nebula award collections usually weren’t terribly good stories. But they won awards, so in the time honored tradition of ‘you get more of what you reward’, that’s the way the editors drifted in time. And we’ve seen the subscription base of Analog go from 180k+ in the ’80s to under 20k today.

      The question becomes whether they want to drift back, or continue to please that small, eclectic audience that gets smaller every year.

      Time will tell.

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      • Jerry, the print mags hardly get Nebula nominated any more. It’s the digital mags that get the nominations (this year in the short fiction categories, only =three= of the sixteen stories on the ballot were from print mags: all from ASIMOV’s, none from F&SF and ANALOG).

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