No. No, they don’t. And here’s why they should…
… yes, yes, I can see the pitchforks in the air and I can hear you yelling: “But of course we do! We have already submitted to Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed, and Asimov’s, and F&SF… but they just won’t pick us from the slush, because they can’t see true value!”
And that, my friends, is exactly the problem. We submit to all those zines because they are BIG, and being published there might leave a trace of BIG over here, and there you go, true value confirmed!
Well, no. That’s not how scifi really works. In a local state of constant bickering and whining, we seem to have forgotten the genre’s genuine values. They’re are not even hidden, you know: all we have to do is look at the best zines out there and take them as a model. They are readily available online and easy to read (for free!): just google Lightspeed and Clarkesworld. Do it now. Read the stories. Read the authors’ biographies. Read Neil Clarke’s and John Joseph Adams’s editorials about what they are trying to accomplish.
Try to rise over our horrible past still clogging our minds. The 80s are gone, people. Dead. Writing national(ist) scifi as good as the masters’ (whoever they might be, from Asimov to Strugatski and Lem) is a struggle lost then and pointless today, when people looking around at the NOW problems, editors like Neil Clarke and JJ Adams, tackle very different beasts (not at all new, but different nonetheless). They worked hard and did great – so we should watch them, learn from them and join the future. Stop gazing backwards and start looking around for peers. Join the huge, wonderful world of scifi & fantasy still blooming out there, on the orbit of the scifi perennial values.
1. Of which the first is just that: the future. Scifi is a literary genre defined by the future; we all know that, but don’t always realize it’s not just about the future in the story, but also about the future of the story– that of scifi and, eventually, of us. We here (myself guilty most of all, perhaps) tend to write and enjoy what Neil Clarke politely called “vintage”. Our future in the past.
As nations, we here have issues that require closure not yet earned, and that angers us. We have become obsessed by ourselves and must break that cycle to evolve. The solution learned from Clarkesworld and Lightspeed? Good scifi must be about new, original ideas AND new, original styles. New voices. New trends. New points of view. New subjects. They did that by prioritizing originality and often presenting unheard-of authors, from unheard-of countries with, and here comes the catch, unheard-of tales. We’ll try to do that here at G42, too: open up the world in translation – and hopefully in time the world will eventually open up to us, too.
2. Speaking of discovering new voices: scifi is also very much about diversity. We do love a thousand thousands species in our space operas, countless alien planets and alien voices and alien struggles. But they better be written in our language, by authors of our nationality, with characters bearing our names and defeating local foes in local places from our oh, so great a country (yeah, I know you are still the majority).
Ah, okay, they may also be Americans, since cinema made us all somewhat American, but God forbid they were aliens! Well, nothing against actual aliens, but God forbid they were foreigners writing about foreign dreams and terrors! Guess what: those Americans we love have already gone past that and learned to enjoy a more international cast. Both Neil Clarke and JJ Adams have chosen that path, quite against commercial common-sense… and on the long run that made their magazines the winners in the race.
3. Literary diversity is a great goal to strive for, but what about the people? Those real – the authors, and those imaginary – the characters. Should they always be men and (sometimes) women exactly like us? Shouldn’t we learn to read (and care) for people who are of a different color or social background (mkay…) or old (really? Old people can be interesting?), or gay (God protect us from the sinners and their surprisingly good stories!) or from neighboring countries (in Eastern Europe everybody hates all “thy neighbors”, so just pick your choice)?
Could that enrich the way we experience the world? Isn’t that, experiencing the “out there” in new ways, exactly the goal of scifi? So perhaps inclusiveness might actually enrich the genre itself? Just saying. Too many around us here yell angrily against diversity, but none of them reads scifi, so it’s their loss. We’ll take a lead from what JJ Adams and Neil Clarke had done out there, and try it here, too. Everybody is welcomed to G42 – as long as they can write (really good) …
4. … and surely nobody writes as amazingly as us, this great nation’s great writers. Each, individually, and the nation as a whole, we are already soooo good (Romanians, Serbs, Ukrainians, Russians, Hungarians and so on – it doesn’t even matter, each nation here just knows they are the best in everything). Well, let me tell you the bad news. Remember all the submitting and rejecting we started from? You’d be amazed, but it is not because the Evil Imperialists are envious on our great countries.
Both Lightspeed and Clarkesworld took to heart another core scifi value: always strive for the best. Do the best. Aim for the best. Write the best. Scifi is about “going where no (wo)man has gone before”, be it the future, the stars or just our minds and souls, and that has never been an easy task. The world of scifi is no different from the Universe – there’s a lot of better authors out there. Some of them are, amazingly, better even than the gods of scifi, the Americans. Neil Clarke and JJ Adams acknowledged that and opened up their American zines for the best. They connected the world – and that truly is an example to follow: don’t praise your conationals just based on that (or friendship). Maintain high literary standards and don’t go soft on them. Reject what is not written well enough yet. A (perhaps too) difficult lesson to learn, indeed…
5. … so, I’ll close the list with a much easier one – yet still surprisingly not grasped by many. Including big, senior names in the US scifi magazines, let alone in this (let’s admit it) poorer part of the world. And that is the value of innovation. Scifi IS about innovation – and yet not so all the magazines. I don’t mean only literary, but also technically. How can scifi zines survive in the world of Netflix and gaming? Only by adapting their form: turning electronic (online), becoming more visual, going audio (podcasts and audiobooks), going mobile … all the decisions Clarkesworld and Lightspeed took ahead of others (some of which are still trapped in paper).
We need to get smart, people*. Fast. Open-minded. Optimist again. We need to get out into the world and bring it to us. We must leave the past behind and try new things, new styles, new approaches.
We must understand what made Lightspeed and Clarkesworld so good – an inner core of forward striving values: diversity, inclusiveness, innovation, internationalism, but also rigorous selection and a high level of professionalism. Learn that, and we’ll have a good zine.
*Note: this article is addressed to the creative community (the authors and zines editors). The readers and publishing houses have very different sins, and perhaps I will address those in a different article.
I would like to thank Neil Clarke and John Joseph Adams for their (past and, hopefully, future) advices and very interesting conversations. You can read an interview with Neil Clarke here – link.
I must point out that the opinions expressed above belong only to me and not to the entire G42 team – well, at least anything you might (and I’m sure some will) find controversial belongs just to me (the nice things are shared, of course).
Ah, what about the sheep in the title, you say? Well, except the obvious allusion to my favorite writer and the insider jokes only us Romanians get, I had in mind a story which you will read here very soon (published before in Asimov’s and Clarkesworld) about nothing else except a woman, her sheep and a (somewhat) dog, yet still one of the most haunting and heart-breaking SF I have ever read – talking about different perspectives, diversity and inclusiveness (the author is a woman, the shepherd is a woman – and the dog character not necessarily a canine per se. The sheep are just sheep, though).