To Asimov’s or not to Asimov’s?

A couple of weeks ago, Jeff took Asimov’s Magazine to task over on the Sofanauts podcast. So in thinking of writing a blog post as a guest here this month, I thought I’d write something in defence of Asimov’s, just to take a devil’s advocate role. I was going to write about how Asimov’s, being a Dell Magazines legacy, has its hands tied in terms of design or paper quality or pretty much everything else. How it has to keep providing the sort of stuff loyal readers expect – the loyal readers being the core group of consumers for the magazine, and therefore can’t take undue risks in terms of content. I was going to say how it still makes an attempt to publish new writers, like Sara Genge or Aliette de Bodard, despite not taking electronic submissions and making it difficult for overseas writers to send stories (both the writers mentioned live in Europe). I was going to say that while, on the one hand, its non-fiction content seems old, another way of looking at it is to see a continuity from the golden age of science fiction, and continuity is a good thing. I was going to say all this and more, only something happened, and I’m still feeling a little guilty about it.

I just got back from a few days in Bangkok. People go to Bangkok for a lot of reasons, mine are food and bookshops. So I was delighted to discover, in one branch of Kinokuniya (for Americans: this is sort of an Asian version of Borders), they had a sale on.

Sale! I love a book sale. I picked up about eight paperbacks (and a handful more in a nearby second hand shop), and then discovered they also had a sale table for magazines.

And it had an issue of Asimov’s.

For 50 baht. (approx. $1.30 US).

And this is the thing, and I still feel a little embarrassed about it, several days later.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

50 baht!

I don’t know what it was. Was it the cover? The grey pulp paper inside? Was it something else?

I wanted to buy it. I honestly did. I never get to see SF magazines any more, not where I live. I don’t get to see books, most of the time.

I should have bought it.

And yet… I couldn’t bring myself to it. It looked so… forlorn, sitting there, with a sort of pinkish cover over grey, like the sort of thing you buy from the butcher’s and is a little past its sell by date. It looked kind of sad.

And I bought a copy of Wizard magazine instead, and it had full colour throughout and the first five pages of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen story and an interview with Art Spiegelman.

But I still feel sort of bad about it.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.

6 comments on “To Asimov’s or not to Asimov’s?

  1. Jim Henry says:

    Asimov’s is one of three fiction magazines I subscribe to, along with F&SF, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Electric Velocipede. It has the most annoying layout/formatting of any of the three, and yet the average quality of the fiction quality is nearly the highest — roughly tied with F&SF, or a bit below it. I think it’s also more consistent in quality than the small press zines, having fewer unusually good stories and fewer bad stories than say Electric Velocipede, though not as consistently good as F&SF.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing all of the above magazines drop their nonfiction features in favor of more fiction, but the one I feel that way most strongly about is Asimov’s; the only nonfiction there I really enjoy is Norman Spinrad’s book reviews (he reviews about a third of the time, Paul Di Fillipo and Peter Heck more often) and about half of Robert Silverberg’s essays. Most of F&SF’s book reviews and science columns are good, but not as good as the fiction; similarly the small press zines have fun nonfiction, but not as good IMO as their fiction.

  2. Sheila Williams says:

    I notice you leave out a lot of other new writers–Nick Wolven, Benjamin Crowell, Derek Zumsteg, Ian McHugh, Ferrett Steinmetz, E. Salih, Heather Lindsley, Lesli Robyn, and some fairly new ones Ted Kosmatka, Ian Creasey, Matthew Johnson, Will McIntosh, or new to the magazine Sandra McDonald, Christopher Barzak, Elizabeth Bear. These are all authors from 2009. Did you overlook them?

  3. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Sheila:

    I read him as picking out Genge and de Bodard specifically because they aren’t American and so it can be harder for them to access American markets. (Some of the authors you list may be international, too? I know Heather is in the UK, although she’s an American.)

  4. Sheila Williams says:

    Rachel,

    I hadn’t read it that way, but in the list above I know that in addition to Heather, Ian McHugh, E. Salih, Lesli Robyn, Ian Creasey, and Matthew Johnson do not live in the US. Except for Heather, I don’t believe that any of them are American.

  5. Sheila & Rachel:

    Placing this in context with Lavie’s activism for World SF, I would hazard that the reason he picked both Sara and me out of the (numerous) new writers that Asimov’s publishes or is going to publish is that neither of us has English as a first language and/or that neither of us lives in an Anglophone country. In spite of the phrasing, it read to me more like a comment on diversity than on new writers per se (at least, it made sense to me that way).

    I confess that I don’t pay enough attention to Asimov’s bios to know which of the writers on your list would meet those criteria, so I don’t know how much of that is true.

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