He will be missed.
Damn it, enough dying already. I’m getting tired of posting obituaries.
He will be missed.
Damn it, enough dying already. I’m getting tired of posting obituaries.
Specifically, my suggestion to cut back on the nonfiction in the magazine and focus more on the fiction. If you read his announcement, that’s what Adams is doing with the two magazines. He’s cut the nonfiction back considerably, while leaving the amount of fiction the same. Actually that’s only true if you read the magazine online. If you subscribe, there’s an exclusive novella with each issue.
In other words, here’s a publisher who realizes people read his magazine primarily for the fiction, and furthermore he’s taking steps to ensure they get what they want. I said this was the smart way to run a fiction magazine when I reviewed the last issue of RoF. Now that someone with the credentials of John Joseph Adams thinks the same thing and is willing to act on that idea, I’m going to say “I told you so.”
I wish Mr. Adams and his magazine the greatest success. Oh, and I told you so.
Well, I had hoped it would never come to this. While Realms of Fantasy hasn’t exactly been my favorite magazine, I’m very sorry that it has ceased publication and this will be my final review. For the time being, at least. It’s come back twice before, so we can always hope.
This issue wasn’t planned as a final issue, so I don’t know if there were any stories still in inventory. I imagine if there were, the authors were paid a kill fee and hopefully some of them will see publication elsewhere.
Publisher William Gilchrist said in his farewell post on the magazine’s website that the October issue would appear in print and would be late. He indicated that the issue should be available by November 15. I haven’t seen it, but it might not have arrived yet. B&N tends to be late getting the print copies. I bought the PDF version from the website.
Anyway, let’s look at the fiction.
First out of the gate is “Return to Paraiso” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. I’ve not read anything by Ms. Loenen-Ruiz before. This was a well written piece about a girl who is brought back to her village by the army in an unnamed Central American country. She’s pregnant and kept in a cage. She may also be the consort of a god and carrying his child. This story falls into the nature mother’s passivity defeats the evil of masculine machines, a type of story that really doesn’t appeal much to me. However, this one was better written than most things in this vein, and I rather liked it.
“The Man Who Made No Mistakes” by Scott William Carter is by far the most ambitious and morally complex story in this issue and arguably in any issue of the magazine since its last resurrection. It concerns a young man with the ability to go back in time and change the course of events. The only catch is he can’t go further back than the most recent change, whether that’s five minutes ago or five years. He’s in something of a quandary because he’s committed a horrible crime and the way a certain person is affected by that crime is the only thing that keeps civilization from collapsing. Every attempt he makes to undo the crime ends in major disaster. It’s one of the strongest stories I’ve read in months, and I expect to see it on the awards ballots and in some of the Years’ Best anthologies next year.
“Second Childhood” by Jerry Oltion is a ghost story of a sorts. Oltion is a writer that doesn’t always connect with me, in part because I find his work too preachy at times. This particular story isn’t as bad as some, but not a lot happens in it beyond the narrator’s mother comes back from the dead and various discussions the narrator has with her husband about the implications of that event. While some men might find the situation to be a horror story, I couldn’t get too excited about it.
The cover story, “Sweeping the Hearthstone” by Betsy James, is what I think of as a typical RoF story. It’s about a girl who comes to work in an inn, only to discover there’s a spirit inhabiting the hearthstone in the main hall. A spirit who is romantically interested in her, an interest that turns out to be mutual. This one is about emotions. While competently executed, it’s not the sort of thing I prefer to read.
The final story is “Barbie Marries the Jolly Fat Baker” by Nick DiChario, in which the toy knight runs away from home because Princess Barbie is getting it on with the baker toy. Given the author, I expected this one to be competently executed (in this I wasn’t disappointed) and something more original (in this I was disappointed). The ending gave me the impression the author got bored with his scenario and didn’t know where to take it, and so just stopped.
So that’s an overview of the stories in the October 2011 issue of Realms of Fantasy. This is (for now) the last issue. With the exception of the Carter, and to a lesser degree, the Loenen-Ruiz, there isn’t a lot here to recommend it. I realize your mileage may vary.
I hope RoF returns. It’s happened twice before. Maybe it will again. If it does, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions to any potential buyers/publishers.
First, go digital. Several prominent magazines began as print and are now electronic only, including but not limited to Fantasy, Something Wicked, and Apex, while others such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly started out electronically and seem to be doing just fine. I can’t imagine all the color illustrations are cheap to print. You can get the same quality of illustration electronically. You also don’t have warehousing, shipping, returns, paper, or printing costs.
Second, stop trying to be the one stop shop for all things fantasy. This issue contained 84 pages. By my count, 26.5 of them were fiction, with words from the story on the page. Each story had a full page illustration (not included in the previous page count), plus there were several pages of ads scattered among the fiction. There was more nonfiction relating to fantasy in this issue than there was fantasy itself. I can’t speak for most readers, but I never bought RoF for the reviews or columns. I bought it for the fiction. With less than half of the contents being fiction, even taking ads into account, it doesn’t seem like a good buy for the money. The nonfiction columns, such as “Folkroots” or art features, are fine, but really, do we need 15 pages reviewing games, books (3 columns: general fantasy, urban fantasy, and YA), plus graphic novels? This issue was typical of most I’ve seen. Decide what you want the magazine to focus on, fiction or reviews, then do that better than your competition. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Finally, get a new editorial team. Shawna McCarthy has been the editor of the magazine since its inception. Every time the publication has been sold, the new owners have kept her on. While I don’t question her credentials, I have reservations about her taste in fantasy. The stories all seem to be about the same. One of the commentators on the Black Gate post about the closing of the magazine called it chick-lit fantasy. I’d have to agree. The primary content seems to be about the emotional lives of women, with fantasy elements thrown in.
I realize there are a number of people who like that type of fantasy, not all of them women. But it doesn’t seem to be a successful formula commercially. If it were, why does it keep failing. I have no problem with one of the stories in each issue being in this vein, and while it’s not my preferred subgenre of fantasy, I do read widely enough that I would read, and possibly enjoy, something along these lines if there were plenty of variety to go along with it. There’s virtually no sword and sorcery in RoF, and what little I’ve seen this past year has been marginally S&S. And while I don’t think each issue should be only S&S either, I do think there should be a great deal more adventure oriented fantasy in the magazine.
To sum up, the final issue, with the exception of the Carter story, was nothing particularly outstanding. Writing that sentence gives me no pleasure, nor does the fact that the magazine has failed again. I do hope someone will bring it back. I think it could survive, given a change of emphasis and direction, especially if published as an e-mag.
|John Joseph Adams|
Prime Books announced today that it is selling both Lightspeed and Fantasy magazines to current editor John Joseph Adams. The sale is part of the expansion of Prime Books. Publisher Sean Wallace stated that the book publishing side of his job was taking more and more time. Adams is a highly respected editor not only of the magazine but of numerous anthologies as well. Adams issued the following statement: “It’s an exciting time to be involved in publishing. Models are changing and so is the readership, and online magazines have a better shot at sustainability than ever have before. I believe the possibilities for growth are tremendous, and I look forward to staying in the vanguard of this new frontier.”
With the announcement last week that Realms of Fantasy was closing again, it’s been an eventful week in sff periodical publishing. As I promised when I posted about RoF I’ll have more to say about these changes in a post later this week.
I’ve been distracted by things the last few days, including but not limited to NaNoWriMo, so I only saw the announcement this morning. While I wasn’t greatly impressed with what I’ve seen of the magazine lately, I hate to see it go and hope someone picks up the torch. I’ll post further thoughts sometime in the next few days, once I’ve gotten some family obligations off my plate.
I was out of town on Monday for a job interview. Since I had some time between the interview and having to return to the very small airport I was flying out of, I decided to visit some of the local bookstores. Without adult supervision, of course. (My suitcase was noticeably heavier on the return flight.) One of the things I picked up was a copy of the August issue of Realms of Fantasy, which wasn’t yet on the stands where I live.
I read part of it on the plane, and then finished it after I got home. I was rather disappointed. Approximately half of the magazine was devoted to fiction. No huge surprise there. RoF is a publication dedicated to all aspects of the genre, so the columns and reviews don’t bother me. Not all of them interest me, but I don’t begrudge others the chance to read them. And the art feature is usually worth a look and frequently a second look. But these things alone are not why I pick up the magazine. I buy it for the fiction.
There were five stories. I have to admit by and large they were a let down. Only one of them completely worked for me, and it was really more science fiction than fantasy. (Any story that opens by trashing It’s a Wonderful Life is one I’m going to be predisposed to like.) W. R. Thompson, whose work I’ve enjoyed in Analog for years, had a deal-with-the-devil story that started out promising, with wit and humor, but ultimately left me unsatisfied. I found the mechanism by which the narrator got out of the deal to be a cop-out. The story following it, a retelling of the Biblical story of Lot, with Lilith thrown in for good measure, contained many of the ideas and themes the Thompson story did. Since these two pieces together constituted almost half the fiction, I thought this was a bit too much of the same thing, a feeling not dissimilar to the one I’ve gotten at the movies after I’ve gone back for the free refill on the large buttered popcorn. I should’ve stopped after the first.
So rather than give a breakdown of the contents and what I thought of each individual story, what worked and what didn’t, like in my two previous reviews, I’ll just pass this time. None the stories were poorly written. In fact, the way the words were put together in this issue constituted some of the best writing I’ve seen in the magazine, from a technical perspective. For the most part, there was better emphasis on characters and story rather than pretty words than in the previous issue. It’s just that most of the stories really weren’t the type of thing I’m interested in reading. Only the riff on Lot could really be considered adventure fantasy, and I didn’t care that much for some of the themes, in part because they were so similar to the previous story. And while I like other kinds of fantasy besides sword and sorcery and adventure fantasy, most of the selections in this issue really didn’t work for me. Well written pieces, but not my cup of tea. Which is why I decided not to review the issue. I don’t see any point in doing what would essentially be trashing the magazine because the stories weren’t to my taste. If they had been poorly written or had protagonists who weren’t believable as characters, I would have a different attitude.
I write these reviews in part to recommend things I think my readers will like. That’s tough to do when I didn’t care for most of the stories solely on the grounds of personal taste.
On the positive side, the price has come down without any decrease in production values, a move that is appreciated. I suspect this is a move to increase sales. I hope it works. Now if I could just get an electronic version in epub format. There was an ad saying it was available, but the website only shows pdf versions of the current issues.
Realms of Fantasy, June 2011
$6.99 print, $3.99 pdf
I’m not sure why, but I can’t seem to find copies of this magazine until the month after the one printed on the cover. With all other publications of a monthly or less frequent nature, the date on the cover is always in advance of the month it hits the stands. Which is all besides the point.
What is the point is the fiction. But before I get to that, I do want to thank the publisher for going to a different cover stock. Unlike the previous issue, the ink on this one didn’t rub off on my hands. (Now to start lobbying for an epub format…)
This is the one-hundredth issue, which makes it something special, especially since it’s been canceled twice in the last few years. To celebrate, this issue has one hundred pages. (One hundred two actually, but why quibble?)
There are the usual columns: Folkroots, Gaming Reviews, Movies, Artists Gallery (a gorgeous spread featuring Petar Meselkzija, with whom I was not familiar), Graphic Novels, and three book review columns, with one devoted to general fantasy, one to YA, and one to paranormal romance and urban fantasy. There’s also a letters column devoted to the anniversary, a list of facts about the magazine, and an editorial by Shawna McCarthy, which I’ll comment on later. A new feature, of which I heartily approve, is the poetry. The inaugural poems were by Ursula K. LeGuin, who will be hard act to follow for whoever has the poetry in the next issue.
Well over half the magazine (54 pages if my arithmetic is correct) is fiction. So how does it stack up?
There are seven stories of varying length. Leah Bobet leads off with “The Ground Whereon She Stands”, in which a park ranger in Idaho wakes up one morning to discover plants growing from wherever she puts her feet. I’m not spoiling anything when I say the hedge witch she goes to for help turns out to be the cause of the problem. Josh Rountree and Samantha Henderson gives us a protagonist who survives in a post-apocalyptic world by hunting dust angels in “Escaping Salvation”, which is a place, not a spiritual condition. This one could almost have been science fiction, but the authors do give enough information about the apocalypse to set it firmly in fantasy territory. Sharon Mock’s poignant fairy tale is the cover story, “The Economy of Powerful Emotion”, which in a way reminded me of the story of the King Midas and his golden touch. Thea Hutcheson describes “The Good Husband”. Patrick Samphire’s “The Equation” pits those who use science against those who feel the magic. Euan Harvey goes to ancient China to tell a tale within a tale within a tale, all wrapped up in a nasty little knot at the end that’s “Wreathed in Wisteria, Draped in Ivy”. Wrapping up the issue, David D. Levine tells of a woman plumber who must free an undine trapped in a condemned house before it’s destroyed.
That’s a quick synopsis of the contents. Here’s my take on them.
“The Ground” was the most literary of the contents, with lots of lush description, bordering at times on being overwritten. One thing I found annoying was the never-ending litany of different plants growing from the protagonist’s feet. It was almost as though the author were showing off her botanical knowledge. Not being familiar with many of them, I had no idea what they should look like or if there was any particular symbolism associated with them. I also found the way the characters responded to the situation to be a bit casual and relaxed.
“Escaping Salvation” was the longest and also the most violent story. Dust angels are hostile and form during sandstorms. If you can kill them (before they kill you) and cut them up before they fall apart, their limbs have commercial value since they can be grafted onto human flesh. The story moved at a good pace, balancing action and character development, with a nasty human villain. I found the ending to be a bit bleak for my taste, but it was one of the more enjoyable stories for me.
“Economy” was brief and consisted of 38 chapters, most only a few paragraphs. RoF is known for being fairy-tale centric, and while that can become wearing, this was one of the better fairy tale treatments I’ve seen in a while. Not based on any fairy tale I’m aware of, the story starts off with the curse being laid on a princess, that her tears will always be diamonds. Much of the story concerns the prince who saves her.
“The Good Husband” contained some effective writing, which is probably why I finished it. The viewpoint character is a female land spirit with human form who needs a man to husband her, and in doing so, husband the land. She finds him in a drifter who is sent to the farm by the neighboring women. (They know the score; if the spirit’s farm prospers, so does everyone else’s.) Too much of the story was about the spirit pining for the dirfter to take and ravish her and was concerned mostly with her emotions. This sort of thing might appeal to some readers (I suspect mainly women), but it didn’t do much for me.
“The Equation” was a first person narrative which consisted of mostly dialogue or the protagonist’s thoughts. It used the old trope of science versus magic, but it didn’t really break any new ground. According to the brief bio included, the author’s work is available on his website. I might check it out because he isn’t bad as far as style and construction goes and has been published in some professional markets.
Euan Harvey’s “Wisteria” was the highlight of the issue for me, and not just for the great illustration. It was the closest thing to sword and sorcery in the magazine, and one of the few where the action wasn’t solely emotional or internal. The structure of the story, with nested narratives, will require attention, so I don’t recommend this one right before turning out the light at bedtime. Harvey had a story in the previous issue, and I have to wonder if he’s going to go for a hat trick and get one in the next issue. I hope so, because his stories seem to be more to my taste than most of the other stories in the two issues he’s been in.
“The Tides of the Heart” was entirely predictable and somewhat contrived, with the conclusion wrapping up all the problems so neatly. Two of the three columns on the first page really didn’t have anything to do with the main plot, just served to introduce the character, which probably could have been done more concisely. I’ve enjoyed some of Levine’s other work, so this one was a bit of a disappointment for me.
So of the seven stories in this issue, I liked three of them, which is less than 50%. Unfortunately the contents of this issue were very much what I think of when I think of a typical issue of RoF. A lot of stories which deal with emotion, usually from a feminine perspective, or stories where the style of the writing is emphasized as much as the story itself, or a combination of both. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but I look for other things when I read fantasy. I don’t really care if the viewpoint is male or female, but tales of action, adventure, and the threat of physical danger appeal to me more than stories that are mostly in-depth looks at the emotional lives of the characters.
I realize that an editor does two things when she or he selects the contents of an issue of a fiction magazine. First, editors choose stories they think will appeal to as many readers as possible. Second, to a greater or lesser degree, they choose stories they like and that resonate with their own personal tastes and biases. Both of these things are done with the goal of attracting new readers, thereby increasing circulation and the accompanying revenue. If an editor has been at a publication long enough, and there are enough readers whose tastes are compatible with the editor’s, then the second item (the editor choosing stories he/she likes) will often set a tone for the publication which would be different from the tone if the magazine hadn’t yet attracted a core audience. And that tone and the associated content won’t be to every potential reader’s taste. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.
Shawna McCarthy edited Asimov’s back when I was in high school. As a courtesy to Ms. McCarthy, I won’t say how many
decades years ago that was. I realized back then that her tastes and mine would probably diverge more than they converged. Again, nothing wrong with that. I’m sure there are some reviewers who will absolutely love this issue and think it’s one of the best, and I’m sure a number of the people who read it (and this review) would agree with that assessment. I’m not of that opinion. There just wasn’t that much here for me. I prefer the previous issue to this one.
In her editorial, Shawna McCarthy asked what the readers wanted to see more of, but then followed the question with “Don’t say sword-and-sorcery – we would publish more of it [if] we received better submissions in this vein, believe us.” For now I will believe her, although I have to wonder if her idea of better submissions and mine would have much in common.
Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough. My purpose is not to bash RoF or Ms. McCarthy, but to provide enough of a description of what did and didn’t work for me and why that someone reading this review will have a good idea as to whether he/she would enjoy the issue. Let me make the Small Suggestion alluded to in the title. If Ms. McCarthy wants to see better sword-and-sorcery, let’s give it to her. From the way she worded her statement, I suspect she gets a lot of requests for more S&S or has been catching flak for not including enough. I’d like to see RoF succeed with the new publisher, but if I’m going to continue buying it, I want to see more issues like the previous and fewer like the current at the very least. Even that won’t guarantee I’ll keep reading. More heroic adventure fantasy, sword and sorcery, call it what you will, that will guarantee my paying my money to read it. So let’s see if we can send her some so good she’ll have to buy it.
Realms of Fantasy, April 2011 Issue
81 p., $6.99
I don’t know if this issue was late or if the distributor at the local chain box store simply drug its feet, but I just saw this issue a couple of days ago. I know it wasn’t in the store a week prior to that.
It doesn’t really matter, either. The important thing is that the issue is there. After last year’s cancellation of the magazine, it’s good to see it back on the stands. The usual slew of columns are basically intact: book reviews, movie reviews, a special in-depth look at the Addams Family on Broadway. Theodora Goss devotes her Folkroots column to vampires, something we’ve examined a time or two here in the last few weeks. The Artist Gallery, always one of the high points of the magazine, looks at Brom this month.
Which brings me to a negative point. The cover stock used by the new publisher is of a lower quality than what was used in the past. I was halfway through reading the issue when I noticed that the ink was coming off on my fingers. Now I prefer my reading material to melt in my mind, not in my hands. I understand the need to economize and that the new publisher, Damnation Books, is in business to make a profit. But at seven bucks a pop, it wouldn’t hurt to invest in the cover a little more.
Since this issue is a special dark fantasy issue, I was doubtful there would be much pure sword and sorcery to be found. I was right in that assumption, but that’s okay. Realms of Fantasy has never been strong on S&S, and seeing how the editor is the same, I don’t really expect that to change. There are five pieces of fiction of varying length, by names both new and familiar to me. I’ll take them in order.
“A Witch’s Heart” by Randy Henderson: This is a feminist deconstruction of Hansel and Gretel. Instead of trying to eat both children, the witch convinces Gretel to become her apprentice (although that word isn’t used), telling her that women have power and all men, including her father and her brother, are jealous of that power and so try to oppress women. This type of thing is nothing new; we’ve seen this sort of approach a number of times before, most notably in the Datlow and Windling fairy tale anthologies that began in the 90s. Although the story is well written, it really doesn’t break any new ground. I suspect if you like this kind of thing, you’ll like the story; if you don’t, you won’t. That said, the story was well written enough that I would probably read something else by this author.
“The Sacrifice” by Michelle M. Welch: One of the longer stories in the magazine, this one concerns two law clerks and a mysterious woman, alleged victim of a crime, who rises to become a feared military leader. The emphasis here is on the changing relationship between the clerks and the role the woman plays in that change, with little to no focus on the several battles that take place. It also looks at sacrifice and the cost of achieving your goals.
“Little Vampires” by Lisa Goldstein: A layered and complex take on family, commitment, sacrifice, and vampires, this is one of the shortest items in the fiction, but powerful and moving nonetheless. There are stories within stories in this one, and Goldstein’s handling of them shows why she’s one of the more critically acclaimed authors of the past few decades. And that bit with the candles was truly creepy.
“By Shackle and Lash” by Euan Harvey: A disgraced soldier is demoted to assistant gaoler and given the task of emptying the slop buckets of the prisoners. It turns out there’s a cell that isn’t always there, and its occupant has been imprisoned a really long time. Those to whom she chooses to appear are changed. The author implies the story takes place in the far future, when oceans are mostly gone and the population has moved into the sea bottoms because the formerly occupied land areas are no longer inhabitable. This, along with “The Sacrifice”, is one of the two longest tales in the issue, and my favorite. It is the closest to sword and sorcery that’s to be found here.
“The Strange Case of Madeleine H. Marsh (Age 14 1/2)” by Von Carr: A tongue-in-cheek look at what happens when a young teenage girl discovers the C’thulhu Mythos has manifested in the basement when her parents are away on an extended trip. I really enjoyed the humor in this one, and what kept it from being my favorite of the issue is the apparent breakdown of chronology at the end. The girl’s friends come over one evening and from what I could tell, Madeleine starts calling exterminators after they leave, which would be fairly late at night. Other than the author not making the timeline clear, this was a superior piece of fiction. Humor is hard to do well, and Carr, a writer new to me, does it well.
And that’s it for the fiction. Nothing really outstanding, but all of the stories were well written with four out of five stories enjoyable to a greater or lesser degree. At least for me. Your mileage may vary. In all, a solid issue with a decent variety of dark fantasy. The stories varied in their level of darkness, in my opinion, with only the humor piece being questionable as far as whether it should be considered dark fantasy. There should be something here for most readers, although I’m hoping the sword and sorcery content increases in the future. Oh, and that they go to a different cover stock.
Whether Realms of Fantasy will succeed in this incarnation remains to be seen. I hope it does, but given the price is now $6.99, they can’t afford to have too many mediocre stories. The June issue will be the 100th issue, with 100 pages. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll do with that one.