Short Fiction (April/May 06)

Apr 24, 16:57 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of April's short fiction.

The reviews are here.
Apr 25, 04:43 by Mario Guslandi
Do people really want to be told in detail what a story is about before actually having the opportunity to find out themselves? Don't you think you're giving away too much about the reviewed stories? Who wants to go buy those magazines once almost every aspect of the plot is revealed beforehand?
Apr 25, 05:04 by Lois Tilton
This is the balancing act always facing the reviewer: how to say anything meaningful about a story without saying too much.

I do think it's important to suggest what a story is about in a review. I think in general a reader wants to know two things: what is the story about? and is it any good?

I also think that there is much more to a story, particularly one worth reading, than the plot.

The question of how much and too much to reveal tends to be subjective. Some readers are so sensitive to the possibility of plot spoilers that they avoid all discussion of a work they are planning to read. However, this is hardly possible for someone reviewing the work.

I'm sorry if you feel that I have revealed too much. Is there any particular piece where you think this revelation has gone too far?

Apr 26, 10:16 by twosheds
I like to read the stories first and then read the reviews to see if I agree with the reviewer. (OK, I'm weird). I think that leads to more interesting discussion. I don't think Lois reveals any more than the reviewers in Locus.
Apr 26, 12:46 by Lois Tilton
Twosheds, I'm with you. I prefer to read the reviews after I've read the story, and I'd much prefer to write for readers who can be assumed to have read the story.

But convention seems to dictate the contrary practice, and accordingly I do make a point of trying to avoid what people call spoilers. IF there is a strong reader preference for less revelation, I would try to accomodate it.
Apr 29, 06:17 by Gregory Feeley
Lois posts much data in support of the thesis (though she does not come out and state it) that Analog is increasingly a magazine of nostalgia, casting backward glances -- with regret, defiance, or wishful-thinking denial -- upon the loves and preferences of its middle-aged readers' (and contributors') youth. (Story titles that riff of old Asimov or Heinlein works -- such as "Farmer in the Sky," the example from this month -- are a conspicuous symptom.)

For the magazine that has for decades prided itself on the idea that it presents bold forward vistas, it's a touchingly deluded self-image.
Apr 29, 08:05 by Lois Tilton
Yesterday's futures?

I think it is the relentless optimism that often makes Analog's futures seem out of date and irrelevant. The insistence that humans can indeed solve the world's problems, preferably in space.

Apr 29, 12:44 by Carl Frederick
Re: Analog:
Many Analog readers and contributers are working scientists and engineers--people engaged in the hunt. Scientists are, in general, an optimistic lot. Many of them (us), perpetually imbued with youthful (regardless of actual age) optimism, hope to make lasting contributions to the body of scientific knowledge. Science (at least my speciality, theoretical physics) is bewilderingly exciting. I like my speculative fiction to echo this excitement. It is not surprising that Analog is my magazine of choice.

I, for one, don't like to see SF that has given up on the future, that denigrates the values of scientific inquiry (or for that matter any kind of inquiry). For that matter, I don't like to see _people_ who have so given up. It's a common problem: science & engineering have become complicated of late. It's a frequent human response for a person to regard something he/she can't understood as unimportant.

Optimism is irrelevant? Gosh, what a jaded sentiment!
And if humans can't solve our problems, who can?
Apr 29, 13:39 by Lois Tilton
I think the optimism in Analog may seem outdated because the proposed solutions don't seem to change much. If science is becoming more complicated, shouldn't science fiction reflect this?
Apr 30, 09:25 by Bluejack
I find Analog to be a frustrating but special case. As Carl knows, my own reviews of the magazine were often discouraged. However, each year, a number of my top picks from the year came from Analog.

A few observations:

I find a lot of second rate writing in Analog. This is not too surprising when you observe that many of the contributors are not really writers or even interested in become professional fiction writers: they are scientists, writing fiction that is foremost about being scientists, and in particular the wish-fulfillment fantasy of scientists: they guy gets the girl; the girl is gorgeous; the girl is rich; the scientist saves the day, etc. etc.

I find a lot of the ideas in Analog to be ho-hum. As Lois observes: science is become more complicated, but the Science Fiction in Analog tends to be rather simplistic. Of course defining categories is always an exercise in futility, but the "hard" sci fi of Analog tends to feel pretty soft to me: fantasy science, space opera, and single-idea stories that work from a single scientific discipline.

Analog seems to hammer away at a lot of the same story themes. Time travel and alien contact alone feel like they probably constitute more than 50% of the fiction in Analog, and it just gets boring. Not to mention, questionable science (at best) -- and that's without even touching FTL!

Another peculiar thing, Analog often feels like it is published for a young adult audience -- which would be great: I would love to see a young adult science fiction publication that had a chance of bringing younger readers into the field. But then... sometimes it's not. The mixture of adult themes with juvenile stories just doesn't seem to make any sense to me.

But despite all of these gripes, every few issues there's a standout story that's a standout not just among the other Analog fare, but across the whole field.

I'd have a hard time saying I like Analog, but I believe it remains one of the most important publications.
Apr 30, 11:35 by Lois Tilton
I think Analog probably satisfies the core Analog readership, but this is because they are satisfied to get the same sort of thing over and over again. Indeed, they probably demand this.

But I have a hard time supposing they are likely to attract a lot of new readers with this approach, not when other zines are delivering more innovation in science fiction. "Gardening at Midnight" in one of the recent F&SF issues strikes me as an example of the sort of thing a zine like Analog ought to be printing - sciencey science fiction that isn't just the same old.
May 2, 09:41 by Jim Van Pelt
Besides appearing every so often in Analog, and discovering it first among the magazines when I first started reading, I think Analog is valuable for numerous reasons.

Maybe its most important function is as a gateway to science fiction for many people. I agree with Bluejack when he says that the magazine sometimes reads like it is written for young adults, young adults who are not already deeply read in science fiction and who are attracted to accessible, often idea-driven stories. There are a lot of adults who like that publishing philosophy too (as is reflected in Analog's subscription numbers). Because of that philosophy, Analog is the only science fiction magazine the high school library, where I teach, subscribes to. Not only are Asimov's and F&SF both inappropriate for a public high school's audience because of the adult nature of some of the work, but they also are difficult to read for a beginning SF reader. Their stories often require a much deeper background in SF than a newer reader can bring to the task.

Analog is the home of "appropriate" science fiction. For non-SF folks and traditionalists, Analog is where they can find the stuff they're looking for when they go science fiction hunting. Asimov's and F&SF are edgier in both their ideas and their approach, and sometimes not as accessible.

Lois suggested that Analog might have a hard time attracting new readers with this approach, but I think it's more likely to attract the "new" readers than the other two. When high school students who are interested in SF for the first time ask for a suggestion of what to read, I send them to Analog first. Of course I talk about Asimov's and F&SF too, both whom I love, but I've had too many new readers come back from those magazines baffled.

[MAJOR DISCLAIMER--I get nervous when I make anything that looks like an overarching description of the magazines. All three surprise me by what they will print. Great stuff appears in them constantly, along with work that doesn't catch my attention as well. But that's why I read them. Every new story, potentially, is going to rattle my day.]
May 2, 11:20 by Lois Tilton
You make an interesting point, Jim.

I think when I speak of new readers I am thinking of those with more advanced skills in reading fiction, for whom many of the stories in Analog might seem clumsy. For high school students, particularly those from the less literary end of the culture, this might indeed not be a problem.

Of course when I was that age, Analog [or Astounding, under Campbell] was THE science fiction magazine, the only one I read, the only one I knew of. The one to which I sent my dreadful early attempts at fiction - modeled, alas, after the Analog template.

I do suspect that this was more common then than now. But I will always retain a nostalgic affection for the zine, even if I think that science fiction is leaving it behind.


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