Monday, March 30, 2009

The Evolution of Print

A little over 30 years ago, I received a treasured copy of THE VISUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION from my parents (it still sits on my bookshelf). This history of science fiction introduced me to the concept of the pulp science fiction magazine, jammed full of short stories, novelets and novellas by the top names in SF. The book implied that these periodicals were still being published; yet I had never seen any displayed in the drug store or supermarket newsstands I frequented. One day I knelt and examined the tiny shelf just above floor-level on the stand, where the Readers Digests and crossword magazines were kept; and lo and behold, there were the SF magazines (and the mystery magazines). Just as the dinosaurs had evolved into birds and lizards, the 8 1/2 by 11" pulp magazines evolved into smaller, digest-sized publications.

Now the remaining published SF magazines are having to evolve further. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, now in its 60th year of publication, has changed its publication status from 10 issues a year to bimonthly; and has doubled the size of each issue, so that each resembles a fat paperback anthology.
Ít will therefore publish about the same amount of material each year, but in fewer editions -- presumably a more economically viable publication model.

The cover of the first new-format issue -- reproduced above -- is telling: A rusty old robot in a sleazy robot bar, swilling motor oil and WD-40 with a melancholy expression on its dialed face. In an era where fewer and fewer folks are reading magazines of any kind -- and genre magazines are practically the last surviving traces of the once-thriving story magazine -- F & SF's only choice is to avoid emulating the rusted-out bot relegated to dreaming electronic dreams of old glories as it slowly winds down to obsolescence.

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