I often find I have my best ideas walking around the house wearing only my underwear. These usually involve my wife and various kitchen appliances. But if the mood is not on me to make beef cobbler or an apple pie, I think about what’s missing from the world. Very occasionally, I wonder about the market for magazines. There are as many possible models for magazines as there are people prepared to put their money into the venture of producing one. The only real criterion for success is whether they find enough people to pay the price and so cover their production costs. Few have the deep pockets and commitment to continue producing a magazine at a loss. Then there’s the question of time. Until they’re making enough to pay living costs, the editor(s) and other staff can’t give up their day jobs. It’s a hobby no matter how professional the resulting magazine. This additional constraint puts more pressure on the dedicated people. Over time, people get tired. The lack of financial success undermines motivation. The magazine withers away. Yet there’s no lack of people like this editorial team coming forward with their best hopes to the fore. As always, we welcome new warriors to the fray and wish them well.
The Speculative Edge launches this August. In writing this review of the first issue, it’s not my job to make any kind of prediction as to whether the venture will be a success. That’s a judgement the market will make. My only task is to describe the concept and say a little about the content. As the title suggests, it features science fiction, fantasy and horror. The issue has four elements: interviews with two new authors and excerpts from their work, four short stories (two of which are reprints), some poetry, and non-fiction with both reviews and a brief discussion of the relative merits of literary as opposed to genre fiction.
There’s something refreshing about putting the spotlight on new authors. Too often magazines trot out interviews with the same headline authors. In part this gives the magazine a certain credibility. That Stephen King was prepared to vouchsafe ten minutes of his time impresses some potential buyers. It also goes with the flow and produces a self-fulfilling prophesy in the book trade about which authors in the magic circle will appear in self-promotional venues to reinforce their brand image, sell shed-loads of books, have their names on the NYT Bestseller List, and so on. I always try to give support and encouragement to the so-often-ignored midlist authors. In this case, we have two self-published authors. This is more of a risk for two reasons. First, there may be a very good reason why a publisher has not picked up the titles. And it can be an example of cronyism, i.e. the magazine gets a reputation for promoting the work of the editor’s friends. I’m all for bringing talent to the attention of the wider market. Having read the two excerpts, I’m not convinced either author is so spectacularly good to have been preferred over the several thousand midlist authors who are largely unknown to the mass market. This is not to say that the interviews are uninteresting or the fiction is bad. I simply find the editorial choice of these two authors slightly odd.
Similarly, with thousands of perfectly competent people producing original short stories, it’s a little strange to find two of the four stories are reprints. Even allowing for the lack of payment for rights, there should be enough content of publishable quality coming through the electronic door with proper editorial standards being maintained over what appears in the final issue. That said, “The Cosmic Stringbusters” by D L Chance is a very good take on the social problems likely to be encountered in a generation starship. It elegantly questions whether the psychological pressures of the journey will be better faced by abandoning the past and only looking forward, or whether censorship of those things reminding people of the past would, in its own right, cause more problems than it would solve. “Of All the Gin Joints” by C T Hart is a nice joke about androids and the games they play. Except, if one android is following another based on an electronic signature, why does the switch work? “Gravity 101” by Christian Riley is a routine alien invasion story with somewhat judgmental aliens who decide they’ve had enough of us as a species and would rather we were no longer around, polluting the place and generally making too much noise. So, rather like teens, we’re to be grounded. “They Call Her Miss Hood” by Matthew Sideman is a fairy story reinvented as a noirish PI episode. It’s too long to sustain the conceit, but makes a brave shot at a difficult target. I regret to say I’m not competent to judge the quality of the poetry. Although I learned all about scansion at school and can read iambic pentameter aloud with flair, I’ve never actually been interested in verse of any kind so, regretfully, will pass over this section without comment.
As to the reviews, the films selected are contemporary which is as it should be. The two books selected are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008) and The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009). No matter what the quality of the reviews, I’m not sure of the value to the readers in discussing books published three or four years ago. The essay at the end follows a well-worn path, but doesn’t really say anything new. When the word “edge” appears in the name of the magazine, I would hope for something more original and challenging.
You only get a feel for a magazine when you can detect trends so this is a wait-and-see moment. Fortunately with The Speculative Edge, it won’t cost you much to find out how things develop. The subscription rates are low and represent good value for money — https://sites.google.com/site/thespeculativeedge/subscriptions. All I hope is that the editorial policies turn to original fiction, contemporary reviews (more of them and shorter might be better), and edgier articles and essays. Indeed, edgier all round would be good rather than the slightly “safe” middle-of-the-road feel to much of the first issue’s contents. So, all in all, this is worth a look and support. Hopefully it will grow in stature and join the ranks of the great magazines of the day.
A copy of this magazine was sent to me for review.