Future of the Fantastic

Fantasy and Science Fiction and the state of Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction recently made a marketing push, sending out copies of their latest (July) issue to any blogger who asked for one. I have mixed feelings about The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. On the one hand, everything about it from the covers to the editorial position seems generally rooted in 60s and 70s New Wave (strange how a magazine of a genre that thinks constantly about the future can dwell so much in the past). On the other hand, the stories in F&SF are generally better than those of its rival publication Analog (which is not just SF, but Hard SF, the most tired and irrelevant type of that genre), and more over, I'd much rather read F&SF than Glimmer Train or The Paris Review or any of the other publications running the MFA meat grinder for what passes for literary short fiction these days. At least I can read F&SF without falling asleep. Still, compared to quite edgier magazines like A Public Space, Weird Tales or Strange Horizons, any given issue of F&SF seems like a relic from another age.

The Future of the Fantastic: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 1

In this space I was going to review, as promised, the book ParaSpheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction: Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist Stories. This anthology turned out to not be very good for a number of reasons I won't bother to enumerate; with stuff from very small presses, a bad review just seems egregious and unnecessary—no one's reading the book anyway. Instead I'll be reviewing The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 1, edited by Jonathan Strahan, which turned out to be excellent, and easily the best of the anthologies I've reviewed so far in this series.

The Future of the Fantastic: Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists

After being thoroughly blown away by Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, it was with great anticipation that I picked up Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists, it's corollary across the aisles, as it were. And indeed, The New Wave Fabulists should be the more notable effort, since Feeling Very Strange pleas for SF's legitimacy from within the SF section of the bookstore itself, which strikes one as preaching to the choir, while Conjunctions places SF writers in the "Literary Fiction" category and tries to get the attention of those people not already reading it, people who might have never heard of Gene Wolfe or Neil Gaiman. This is the harder sell, and the work presented needs to be really compelling. Some of it is, but a distressing amount of it is not, is in fact not even particularly well written, especially compared to the stellar level of work presented in Feeling Very Strange.

The Future of the Fantastic: Feeling Very Strange

Unevenness is a problem endemic to anthologies. With most of them, when I come to each new story, even one by a name I know and enjoy, I often feel like I'm rolling the dice, and I turn the page with my fingers crossed praying I don't get snake eyes. Thankfully, in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology even the worst of the stories are merely an entertaining sort of mediocre, and the best are truly astonishing. I found myself actually getting excited at the prospect of the next tale, which is, I think, the mark of a really good collection.

Kelly Link Responds to The Future of the Fantastic

I contacted Kelly Link both about my various articles about her work and the first Future of the Fantastic article. Here is the correspondence that followed.

The Future of the Fantastic: Dangerous Visions

Dangerous Visions
Edited By Harlan Ellison, iBooks, inc, 544pp, $14.95

Note added 2012:

In retrospect, there are two things I'd like to change about this essay. One is the line accusing Ellison of putting Pohl and Knight in there because of sf-family nepotism. This completely ignores the fact that they were much lauded and well established authors at the time, and so might have been included on the strength of their reputations. Which exposes my ignorance: at the time I wrote this, I'd never heard of Pohl or Knight.

Second, I completely ignore Samuel Delany's story "Aye, and Gomorrah". In retrospect, this story is quite good, and it's whole meditation on sexual perversion was really novel and interesting for the time.

One of the things that comes across clearly in the various introductions to the stories in Dangerous Visions, the anthology that defined the "New Wave" of speculative fiction in the 1960's, is that these aren't just writers to Harlan Ellison, but to a large degree they are friends. Even those writers Ellison isn't close to seem part of an extended family, and Ellison admits at one point that he only accepted two stories for the anthology from people he'd never heard of (submissions that were sent to him by agents). On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the sort of collegiality that existed in sf at the time (and in all probability still exists). On the other hand, it makes for an anthology that reads exactly like someone getting stuff from all his friends together whether or not that stuff is actually particularly good.

John Kessel Responds to the Future of the Fantastic

After I published the first Future of the Fantastic article about the relationship between SF and Literary Fiction, I sent an email to John Kessel, co-editor of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology and longtime SF writer, telling him about it. What followed was an in depth exchange on the subject of the article, reprinted here.

The Future of the Fantastic: New Wave Slipstream Fabulism

It isn't so surprising that I didn't know what was going on in Science Fiction, as I'm the type of guy who generally reads "Literary Fiction," and like many readers of a particular type of writing, I didn't stray outside my aisles in the bookstore much. Sure I used to pick up a Philip K. Dick book now and again, maybe a Neil Gaimen novel, but hell, those guys are cool. And reading them made me feel like I was open minded and hip to what's going on, even if I wasn't.