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Stella Matutina
books and stories and musings, oh my!
28th-Feb-2012 10:36 am
I first encountered THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION (which has since been renamed simply FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, or F&SF) in my parents’ basement. My father subscribed way back in the 1970s, and my younger self thought she’d inhale some vintage SFF culture by reading through his back issues.

That was ‘round about fifteen years ago, and I’ve only finished two.


I’ve done much better with F&SF’s modern incarnation. They sent me a review copy during one of their blogger outreaches, and I fell instantly in love with the magazine under Gordon van Gelder’s editorship. I considered a subscription, but soon realized that their international rates made it more feasible for me to just buy each new issue at McNally Robinson so’s I could support a great magazine and an indie bookstore with one blow. Hey!

I missed one (McNally only stocks a few copies per issue), then bought one, then missed one, then moved to New Zealand--where F&SF costs $16 an issue.

For serious. It’s one of the lower-priced foreign mags, too. VANITY FAIR and the like were $30 a pop.

I have no idea how New Zealand’s many internationally-focused magazine stores stay in business. Who pays that much for a magazine??? They must get by on domestic sales.

Anyways, that put a blip in things, but I started buying the journal again when I returned to Canada and have been a devoted reader ever since. And last month, armed with my new e-reader and the Kindle For Android app, I finally became a subscriber. Yay!

I love F&SF because they publish great commentary and diverse fiction. Their books columns (two per issue: one by Charles de Lint, one by another of the review staff) have placed many a title on my radar, including THE MAGICIANS. While I believe most, if not all, issues contain more American fiction than not, they often print stories that look outside the standard American box. It’s not all American scientists finding American ways to solve problems when the aliens come to America (though yes, there’s a certain amount of that). Their Earth-based stories are set all over the world, and feature characters of many different nationalities. A number of them are people of colour and/or LGBT folks.

As I read the November/December 2011 issue, I began to think specifically about the kind of science fiction they publish. I realized that a lot of it is what I think of as baroque SF; that is, SF set in the distant future and/or on other worlds where the social structure has led to a distinct class system that promotes decadence and drives much of the conflict. The advanced technology may resemble magic in some respects, too, though everyone in the story is quite clear that it’s scientific, not mystical.

There’s probably a standard term for this sort of thing, but I don’t know it. Anyone?

I like this sort of SF ever so much, probably because it feels fantastical as well as technological. I love that F&SF publishes it on a semi-regular basis. Mathew Hughes’s “Quartet and Triptych” from the Nov/Dec issue was a most enjoyable example of the mode. “The Ice Owl” by Carol Hughes (which has since been nominated for a Nebula) also hit many of the same notes, albeit with a vastly different plot.

With the January/February 2012 issue, I got to thinking about the comedic stories they run. There are exceptions, of course, but in the main, I’m not a fan of comedic fantasy or science fiction. I find it awkward, unfunny and difficult to engage with. Whenever I encounter a short story that’s obviously aiming for comedy, I groan and pray it doesn’t hurt too much going down.

F&SF’s comedic stories aren’t like that. I mean, I still groan (because I’ve been groaning for years and it’s gonna take a while to break the habit), but the stories themselves almost always force me to quit groaning and start nodding knowingly. F&SF publishes a lot of short fiction that begins in the standard comedic vein but soon proves to be deep and poignant. The stories are always about something. They only look like they’re going to be light, fluffy and inconsequential.

This makes me absurdly happy.

F&SF publishes a lot more than baroque science fiction and comedic stuff, of course. They put out their fair share of contemporary and historical fantasy, near-future and contemporary SF, horror and gothic fiction, and the odd piece of secondary world stuff. They’re probably my favourite magazine, and I’m so glad my new e-reader’s capabilities let me subscribe to the Kindle edition.

A few words on that, before we go: while I’m thrilled to have an electronic option (horray for not having to find shelf space for back issues!), especially at such a good price, I much prefer the layout in the print edition. The Kindle edition is organized by type of content, so all the novelettes are together, all the short stories are together, all the poems are together, and and all the articles are together. If you read the magazine straight through, you end up with a lot of stories of similar length in a row, then a lot of nonfiction at the very end. It’s possible to jump around, sure, but it’s a tad awkward.

Still: if you like fantasy and science fiction, you ought to grab a sample issue or two to see if Gordon van Gelder’s tastes match yours as well as they match mine. If you take the Kindle route, you’ll even get a trial period to decide whether or not you like the magazine before you pay anything for it. Good deal, yes?

Back In the Day:
28th-Feb-2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
30 dollars for a magazine... That's nuts! I am thinking I might have to look into this magazine.
28th-Feb-2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
The foreign magazine prices were totally crazy. At least domestic mags were a decent price. They often came with freebies, too. I bought one that included a fairly nice dress, of all things.

F&SF is definitely worth seeking out. It's usually $7.50 on newsstands, though my local bookstore always discounts it to $5 to put it at the same price point as ASIMOV'S and ANALOG.
28th-Feb-2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
I occasionally read F&SF although I'm more of an Asimov man myself. I enjoyed Ken Liu's story, The Paper Menagerie which has been nominated for a nebula...http://sf-fantasy.suvudu.com/2011/07/new-story-from-fantasy-science-fiction-magazine-2.html
28th-Feb-2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
I've only just discovered ASIMOV'S; I'll discuss it in a few days. :) So far, I'm really impressed with the magazine.
29th-Feb-2012 03:24 am (UTC)
Maybe they make money off of candy you buy while you stand in the store reading their magazines. :P
29th-Feb-2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
The weird thing is, they're all pretty classy joints. Most of them aren't like newsstands here, where there's lots of other stuff on hand. They sell expensive magazines and high-end stationery, and that's it. And they're all over the show, as my flatmate would've said.
21st-Mar-2012 05:41 am (UTC)
Your definition of baroque scifi is very interesting. There are three authors that I can think of that would fit into this genre: Frank Herbert (Dune), Jack Vance (The Dying Earth) and especially Gene Wolfe (The Book of the New Sun). I think you'll especially enjoy Gene Wolfe if you haven't read him. His Book of the New Sun is a very poetic work that is set in a future where civilization has decayed, and technology has become indistinguishable from magic.
24th-Mar-2012 12:31 am (UTC)
I've read Herbert, and both Vance and Wolfe have been on my radar for a while now. I've read a little of Wolfe's short fiction, but none of his novels. He sounds fantastic, so I hope to get to him in the next couple of months.
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