A New Direction

Saturday, 02 October 2010 09:08 Dave Truesdale

A New Direction

 altAfter nearly seventeen years with the same basic format Tangent Online has now added several new features.

The first of the new sections we've titled Classic SF/F. In this section we hope to bring to light outright classics of science fiction and fantasy of which newer readers and writers may not be aware—and sorely need to be, in our estimation—or those works of enduring popularity not necessarily regarded as “classics” in the traditional sense of the word.



The other new feature we've added is titled The Pulp Magazines. For unbridled adventure, excitement, plot-driven stories with colorful heroes and dastardly villains of all stripe, stories set in darkest Africa, the mysterious Orient, the crime-ridden streets of any large city on the planet, or stories set in the farthest reaches of the cosmos, nothing comes close to the thrill and downright fun of reading stories from the pages of the pulp magazines that flourished from the 1880s until most of them closed shop around 1954. We'll be showcasing collections and novels culled from various pulp genres, from pulp magazines running all kinds of stories within their pages, including proto-science fiction (before the advent of Amazing Stories in 1926), adventure pulps, weird stories pulps, horror pulps, detective, mystery, and crime pulps, and maybe even hair-raising stories from the pages of the pulps devoted to early airplane flight such as Flying Aces and others of its kind. Tales of mystery and intrigue, murder and mayhem, menaces, magic, and misfits, danger and derring-do in unexplored regions of our own planet—all kept audiences thrilled for more than half a century. Read today, they are, in many ways, historical time capsules into the world of the past and I think the writers among you would find them invaluable research tools.

"Steampunk," for example, is the popular fad of the moment. It has its roots in the late Victorian era (1837-1901), and into the Edwardian era (roughly 1901-1910), though stories following this latter period also abound. All were first published in a variety of the early pulps. Steampunk--dare we state the obvious--is SF (a traditionally forward-looking genre) looking backward (with  semi-updated sensibilities--at its best: witness the popularly received--not necessarily the first--revival with one of the forms recent pioneers {Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, et al, from the 1980s, with their The Difference Engine}). Those enthralled by this new incarnation of "steampunk" might do well to read the stuff of its origins--the original templates from which it was birthed, and now revived to some popularity en masse. To understand its fascination with a knowledge of its roots is paramount--and to thereby realize who, among the new Bright Lights new readers so admire--is contributing Something New to fiction penned a century or more ago, or who may simply be regurgitating Old Ideas and superficial furniture in a more polished manner. We will offer, over time, many of the originals for your comparison. Stories from both eras are grand entertainments to be sure, but lest there be any doubt, the so-called "steampunk" designation is not only a crass, somewhat cheap marketing misnomer, at its heart it is nothing demonstratively new. Fun, entertaining reads, yes, and there's nothing wrong with this at all, but nothing--at its deepest imaginative core, quaint prose and all--that wasn't written a century or more ago. Consider this: while it wasn't known as "steampunk" back in the day, the writers of such stories were looking forward. Looking forward as best as they were able given the technology of the time, their imaginations, and their writing skills. I can't help but find the irony in today's Steampunk, where writers obviously write in a much more polished manner, but hearken to the past to kindle their imagination.

Many of science fiction and fantasy's early practitioners first saw print in the pulp magazines, honed their craft there while writing stories in many genres not related to SF or Fantasy. We'll be showcasing examples of their early (and sometimes classic) work for your enjoyment—and for those so inclined, to fill in early gaps in your study of the science-fiction field.

Along with launching these two new features, we are once again reviewing the electronic science fiction and fantasy magazines, the e-zine sections we had placed on hold until the reviewing staff was again at the numbers required to handle the load.

There is, however, one important change to both the print and electronic publications we will now review. We will now review only those print and electronic publications meeting SFWA's professional pay rate of 5c per word. In other words (and with a few exceptions at my discretion) only professionally paying markets will be reviewed. I realize the import of this to those editors, writers, and readers who have looked to us over these many years as a venue (for many years the only venue) where they could faithfully be reviewed. I have agonized over this decision. I asked the review staff (those on board before the staff doubled) for their thoughts on this major change in policy some months ago. With one exception, and with only two who could see both sides of the issue but who held no strong opinion, the vast majority of the staff was positive to this change. Several were even ecstatic and welcomed the change enthusiastically.

Still with some regret and guilt I decided we would review only pro-paying print and e-markets. My reasons? As I type this I am two days from my 60th birthday. Time stretches farther behind than it does ahead. While I've read extensively and primarily short SF and fantasy for the past seventeen years (and have been reading SF and fantasy in general for some 50+ years), I'm not nearly as excited about what I'm reading in the vast majority of cases these days. The genre is going in directions that don't move me—intellectually, or with a sense of wonder, or both—like it used to. Frankly, it bores me. It bores me while at the same time frustrating me. New writers writing the same old (supposedly cutting-edge) stuff from 25, 30, even 40 years ago, with not a new idea or take to be had. Aren't they aware that it's been done many times before? I could write a long article on all of the reasons I've grown increasingly bored with much of (not all) current SF and Fantasy, some of which have nothing directly to do with the actual stories. I'll boil it down to the fact that I'm weary of a genre infested with politically correct thinking—at all levels. Where editors (for but one example) are bullied (or willingly acquiesce) into making sure there are exactly the same number of female and male authors listed on the covers of their magazines or collections. Where far too much SF/F is about trivial, mundane, quotidian affairs, and where emotional trauma and angst take precedence over any Idea or Story. Where far too much SF/F is about the small and the relatively unimportant (but my, how that author can write!), or the SF/F element is used merely as background or in an obligatory, perfunctory manner—as window dressing if you will. Hardly anyone would argue with the premise that SF is an all-encompassing genre, that it is open to all kinds of stories--from the pure adventure tale to the Important Message tale and everything in between. Some of it looks to the future while some is set in the past. Variety is good as a general proposition. The devil is always in the details, however, and I find, for my own personal taste, that too much of what is being produced these days (and for some years) just doesn't move me in any meaningful fashion.

As many have opined over the years, the promise SF once held for those who really understood its importance as a new form of 20th century literature—a revolutionary way of understanding humankind and its place in the universe in a dynamic, technological age—in opposition to the traditional literary mainstream and it emphasis on the here-and-now, and with Character as the end-all and be-all of Literature, much of this promise has long been cast by the wayside. For various reasons, unique to the individuals espousing them, many have either left SF entirely, or merely visit it from time to time and at a distance, both as readers and writers. Barry Malzberg has been waving the red flag for decades. Richard Lupoff, who once was much more involved and prolific in the 1970s, has said that science fiction moved away from him, and not the other way around. Robert Weinberg, long-involved in the SF scene as publisher, editor, and now pulp art collector, has found that much of current SF doesn't interest or excite him like it used to. Norman Spinrad, in several of his Asimov's book review columns, has presented his own reasons why some are turning away from SF. Reasons are varied and sometimes overlap, but the fact remains that for whatever reason many are turning away from SF. Some feel SF has lost its way, some that it doesn't hold the excitement it once did, some that its language has become too inbred and therefore inaccessible to the average reader. And the list goes on.

Taken as a gestalt—the “smallness” and relative unimportance of many of the stories, the tired, lazy thinking on the part of many of the writers (primarily the new), the politically correct element (editorially, and in individual stories), and the fact that while I still love the good short story but I now desire the time to read more of what excites me (which I find in Classic SF/F and the Pulp Magazines), I decided to eschew reviewing the less than pro-paying markets to free up my reading time. My time is increasingly valuable. And here's a truth I was reminded of recently:  there is (99% of the time) a clear and readily apparent qualitative difference between a professionally crafted story and a semi-professional (or less than semi-professional) story. Never doubt it. I've found, over the years, that while a few semi-pro magazines are quite good, the vast majority of them (and I hate to be so blunt) are akin to reading published slush. While new writers need a place to cut their teeth and make their bones, and the small markets serve a valuable purpose, I felt I had to spend my time reading and reviewing what I knew I liked, or was at least of professional quality (and most of the review staff echoed this feeling to one degree or another; after all, they are the ones doing the reviewing). The time I would have spent reading the vast majority of the smaller magazines I can now devote to catching up on the authors and novels I've missed over the years, stories and novels that promise the intellectual stimulation and sense of wonder I find lacking in far too much of today's current crop of SF and fantasy offerings. There is some really well-crafted SF being written today and I intend to spend my time reading what I began reading SF for in the first place, some half-century ago. I need to rekindle the spark of intellectual excitement and wonder I now rarely find in much of today's cookie-cutter, politically correct (numerous "enlightened" themes) and, in general and to put it in terms everyone can understand--Mankind sucks and we're in for nothing but a depressing future, fiction. I'm a firm believer that the free and open marketplace eventually decides what is published and what is not. The marketplace has lost one reader for much of what it publishes today and has gained another in what it publishes too little of. The time I spend reading--and most importantly my money--is now going in another direction.

It might be just the right time for some enterprising, energetic soul to take up the small market slack we're leaving behind, and start a review magazine devoted entirely to the semi-pro, and all of the lesser-paying start up fiction magazines, those who offer anything from contributor copies, to royalty percentages, to ¼ cent per word and up.

In summary, we will no longer review markets paying less than SFWA pro-rates (again, with a few exceptions). We are once again reviewing professional e-markets, and have added two new features: Classic SF/F and The Pulp Magazines.

I hope you find the magazine as useful, and interesting, as always.

Comments on the above (or anything else) are welcomed.


October 2, 2010