The Year's Best Science Fiction
Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection
By Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
The publishing world proved not to be immune to the deepening recession, and the genre suffered several major losses in 2008. About the best spin that can be put on it is to say that things could have been worse. (And things may yet still get worse, of course. The rumored possible bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain, which has been buzzed about for months now, would, if it happens, likely have an adverse effect on many publishers.)
Much of 2008's bad news was delivered on December 3, what has come to be called Black Wednesday in the publishing industry, when Random House announced major restructuring and layoffs, making Bantam Dell part of Random House instead of an independent operation; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt saw resignations and firings even at the highest levels of the company (and caused a furor by announcing a "buying freeze" on new titles); and Simon & Schuster also announced significant staff cuts. Earlier, many people had been let go by Doubleday, and later there were huge layoffs at Macmillian, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and elsewhere. Random House, the largest publisher in the United States, was the most strongly affected, undergoing sweeping changes, with many divisions being consolidated. The Random House Publishing Group swallowed the adult imprints of the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, including Bantam Spectra and Del Rey. The Knopf Publishing Group will absorb Doubleday as well as imprint Nan A. Talese. Senior Bantam Spectra editor Juliet Ulman was let go, as was Bantam Dell publisher Irwyn Applebaum and Doubleday publisher Steve Rubin; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher and senior vice-president Rebecca Saletan resigned and executive editor Ann Patty was fired; Simon & Schuster Children's president Rick Richter and senior vice-president and publisher Rubin Pfeffer; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux lost publisher Linda Rosenberg, the heads of production and sub rights, a senior editor, and several assistants — and scores of people in lesser positions lost their jobs throughout the industry. The slaughter continued into the early months of 2009, with Del Rey editor Liz Scheier and Ballantine editor Anika Streitfeld being fired, along with Pantheon Books publisher Janice Goldklang.
German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which had bought BookSpan, publisher of numerous book clubs, including the Science Fiction Book Club, just last year, turned around and sold their Direct Group North America in 2008, including BookSpan, to private investment firm Najafi Companies. What effect this will ultimately have on the Science Fiction Book Club is as yet uncertain, although at the moment they seem to be continuing to function pretty much as normal. Small press Wheatland Press went on "hiatus," usually a bad sign, as far as issuing new titles is concerned, and may or may not be back, although they're continuing to make already-released titles available for order. Several other small presses are rumored to be teetering on the edge (while others seem to be doing okay).
Horrendous as all this is, it could have been worse. It was possible to see much of the restructuring of Random House coming a year or so back, even before the economic downturn had really taken hold, as a result of corporate mergers, and to date the party line is that Del Rey and Spectra will be kept as separate imprints. Most of the major SF lines are still in business, and a few, like the Hachette Book Group, which includes Orbit, even registered modest gains.
Of course, as the recession continues to deepen, there may be — and probably will be — lots of hard times left ahead.
Historically, books, magazines, and movies do well during recessions, as hard economic times make people search for cheap entertainment to distract themselves from their financial woes. The question for this particular recession is, Do books, magazines, and movies qualify as "cheap" entertainment anymore? These days, many hardcover books are in the $25 to $30 range, even a mass-market paperback can cost eight bucks, and in many places a single movie ticket can cost over $13 (for a family of five, once you throw in the eight-bucks-a-shot boxes of stale popcorn, you're edging perilously close to having had to spend $100 to go to the movies). Even adjusting for inflation, it seems to me that this doesn't really qualify as "cheap." Ironically, the one form of entertainment in the genre that is still reasonably cheap, the digest-sized SF magazines, are being put out of business because they can no longer easily reach the customers; most people, even most regular SF readers, may go for years without ever laying eyes on an SF magazine, many don't even know they exist, and even those who do may not be able to find one even if they go to a newsstand specifically searching for it. Perhaps the Kindle and the iPod and other similar text readers (and there are new and improved generations of them coming along all the time) will save the magazines by making them easily accessible to readers once again.
Considering the problems that have lately plagued Borders and other brick-and-mortar bookstores, they may save the publishing industry too, if anything can. Certainly everything in the publishing world is going to look very different ten years from now, and in twenty years it may be completely unrecognizable. Even today, many people are as likely or more likely to read a book on their iPod while commuting to work as they are to walk into a bookstore and buy a book. It's worth noting that online bookseller Amazon was one of the very few businesses in the entire country to actually turn a profit in the fourth quarter of 2008.
The print magazines had a good year creatively, in terms of the quality of the material published, although circulation continued its slow decline. Asimov's and Analog changed their trim size, getting larger although dropping pages, losing about 4,000 words' worth of content in the process, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction changed from their decades-long monthly format to a bimonthly format of larger but fewer issues, losing about 10 percent of their overall content in the process. Opinion among industry insiders was divided as to whether these were sensible moneysaving measures that will help the magazines survive or bad ideas, risky last-ditch attempts to save the magazines that could backfire; time will tell, I guess. With another big postal hike looming on the horizon in 2009, rising printing costs, and some major magazine distributors (including two of the nation's biggest) beginning to charge a seven-cent-per-copy surcharge for all the magazines they distribute, a surcharge many magazines just can't afford, things are looking precarious, and if the cost-cutting moves that Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF are taking turn out to be ineffective in offsetting rising costs, all of these magazines could be in serious trouble. (Just as I was finishing work on this Summation, word came in that Anderson News, the huge magazine wholesaler and distributor who had been one of the distributors demanding a seven-cent-per-copy surcharge for every copy of the magazines they handle had been forced to suspend operations because many publishers had balked at paying the surcharge and stopped shipping them product. The CEO there says that the company is working "toward an amicable solution" with the publishers, and it remains to be seen how this situation will ultimately play out.)
Realms of Fantasy magazine threw in the towel early in 2009, citing disasterously plummeting newsstand sales (although the declining advertising revenue due to the recession — ROF was always heavily dependent on advertising — may also have been a factor). The magazine would die after the April 2009 issue, a sad loss to the field.
The good news, such as it is, for the so-called Big Three magazines is that sales were nearly flat this year, with only minuscule declines from 2007. Asimov's Science Fiction registered only a 2.7 percent loss in overall circulation, from 17,581 to 17,102, not bad when compared to last year's 5.2 percent loss, 2006's 13.6 percent loss, or 2005's disasterous 23.0 percent; it seems that declines in circulation here are at least beginning to slow, even if they haven't yet turned around. Subscriptions dropped from 14,084 to 13,842, and newsstand sales dropped from 3,497 to 3,260; sell-through rose from 30 percent to 31 percent. One encouraging note is that digital sales of the magazine through Fictionwise and Kindle were on the rise, although that rise is not yet reflected in these circulation figures. Asimov's published good stories this year by James Alan Gardner, Mary Rosenblum, Michael Swanwick, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Stephen Baxter, and others. Sheila Williams completed her fourth year as Asimov's editor. Analog Science Fiction & Fact registered a 5.1 percent loss in overall circulation, from 27,399 to 25,999, with subscriptions dropping from 22,972 to 21,880, and newsstand sales dropping from 4,427 to 4,119; sell-through remained steady at 34 percent. Analog published good work this year by Dean McLaughlin, Geoffrey A. Landis, Michael F. Flynn, Robert R. Chase, Ben Bova, and others. Stanley Schmidt has been editor there for twenty-nine years. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction registered a small 2.7 percent loss in overall circulation, from 16,489 to 16,044, with subscriptions dropping from 12,831 to 12,374 but newstand sales actually rising slightly from 3,658 to 3,670; sell-through rose from 33 percent to 35 percent. F&SF published good work this year by Charles Coleman Finlay, Ted Kostmatka, Albert E. Cowdrey, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Michael Swanwick, Steven Utley, John Kessel, and others. Gordon Van Gelder is in his twelfth year as editor and eighth year as owner and publisher. In its last full year, Realms of Fantasy published good stuff by Liz Williams, Carrie Vaughn, Greg Frost, Richard Parks, Tanith Lee, Eugie Foster, Aliette de Bodard, and others. Shawna McCarthy was the editor of the magazine from its launch in 1994 to its death in 2009.
Interzone doesn't really qualify as a professional magazine by the definition of The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) because of its low rates and circulation — in the 2,000 to 3,000 copy range — but it's thoroughly professional in the caliber of writers that it attracts and in the quality of the fiction it produces, so we're going to list it with the other professional magazines anyway. Interzone had another strong year creatively, in 2008 publishing good stories by Greg Egan, Hannu Rajaniemi, Paul McAuley, Aliette de Bodard, Mercurio D. Rivera, Jamie Barras, Jason Sanford, and others. The ever-shifting editorial staff includes publisher Andy Cox, assisted by Peter Tennant. TTA Press, Interzone's publisher, also publishes straight horror or dark suspense magazine Black Static.
The survival of these magazines is essential if you'd like to see lots of good SF and fantasy published every year — and you can help them survive by subscribing to them! It's never been easier to subscribe to most of the genre magazines, since you can now do it electronically online with the click of a few buttons, without even a trip to the mailbox. In the Internet age, you can also subscribe from overseas just as easily as you can from the United States, something formerly difficult-to-impossible. Furthermore, Internet sites such as Fictionwise (fictionwise.com), magaz!nes.com (magazines.com), and even Amazon.com sell subscriptions online, as well as electronic downloadable versions of many of the magazines to be read on your Kindle or PDA or home computer, something becoming increasingly popular with the computer-savvy set. And, of course, you can still subscribe the old-fashioned way, by mail.
So I'm going to list both the Internet sites where you can subscribe online and the street addresses where you can subscribe by mail for each magazine: Asimov's site is at asimovs.com; its subscription address is Asimov's Science Fiction, Dell Magazines, 6 Prowitt Street, Norwalk, CT 06855 — $55.90 for annual subscription in the U.S. Analog's site is at analogsf.com; its subscription address is Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dell Magazines, 6 Prowitt Street, Norwalk, CT 06855 — $55.90 for annual subscription in the U.S. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction's site is atsfsite.com/fsf; its subscription address is The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Spilogale, Inc., P.O. Box 3447, Hoboken, NJ 07030, annual subscription — $50.99 in the U.S. Interzone and Black Static can be subscribed to online atttapress.com/onlinestore1.html; the subscription address for both is TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, England, UK, 21 pounds each for a six-issue subscription, or there is a reduced rate dual subscription offer of 40 pounds for both magazines for six issues; make checks payable to TTA Press.
The print semi-prozine market is subject to the same pressures in terms of rising postage rates and production costs as the professional magazines are, and such pressures have already driven two of the most prominent fiction semi-prozines, Subterranean and Fantasy Magazine, from print into electronic-only online formats, with Apex following this year (see a review of the Apex site in the online section below), and I suspect that more will eventually follow. Print semi-prozines such as Argosy Magazine, Absolute Magnitude, The Magazine of Science Fiction Adventures, Dreams of Decadence, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Artemis Magazine: Science and Fiction for a Space-Faring Society, Century, Orb, Altair, Terra Incognita, Eidolon, Spectrum SF, All Possible Worlds, Farthing, Yog's Notebook, and the newszine Chronicle have died in the last couple of years, and I won't be listing subscription addresses for any of them anymore. Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw's Flytrap, "a little 'zine with teeth," produced two issues in 2008 and then died as well. It looks like Say ... and Full Unit Hookup may also be dead, or at least on hiatus, since I haven't seen them for a couple of years. Weird Tales survives in a new incarnation from a different publisher, and thanks at least in part to some clever promotional ploys, seems even to be thriving. Another refuge from the collapse of Warren Lapine's DNA Publishing empire, Mythic Delirium, also still survives, publishing mostly poetry. Neither H. P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror nor the revived Thrilling Wonder Stories published an issue, but considering the erratic schedule on which most semi-prozines get published, with some supposed "quarterlies" unable to manage even one issue per year, it may be premature to declare them dead. Saw two issues of Fictitious Force, but since they're not dated, it's hard to tell when they were published, and since no address or subscription information is given anywhere, it's hard to tell you how to order it; try website sciffy.com/dnw.
Warren Lapine and DNA Publications may be returning to the fray this year, with a newly relaunched version of Fantastic Stories, due to hit the stands in mid-2009.
Of the surviving print fiction semi-prozines, by far the most professional and the one that publishes the highest percentage of stories of professional quality, is the British magazine Postscripts, edited by Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers. They published a huge more-than-double-length issue this year, Postscripts 15, which is most usefully considered to be an anthology and which is discussed in the anthology section below, but there was additional good stuff in Postscripts 14, Postscripts 16, and Postscripts 17 by Ian R. MacLeod, John Grant, Sarah Monette, Lisa Tuttle, Robert Reed, Vaughn Stanger, Marly Youmans, and others. Postscripts has announced that they'll be changing from a magazine to an "anthology" format, mostly by changing the format from two column to full width and upping the word count from 60,000 to about 70,000–75,000 per issue. Electric Velocipede, edited by John Kilma, seems to be publishing more science fiction these days, although they also continue to run slipstream and fantasy; they managed two issues in 2008, one of them a double issue, and published good stuff by William Shunn, Aliette de Bodard, Patrick O'Leary, Jennifer Pelland, Sandra McDonald, Elissa Malcohn, and others.
One of the longest-running of the fiction semi-prozines is the Canadian On Spec, edited by a collective under general editor Diane L. Walton, which once again kept reliably to its publishing schedule in 2008, bringing out all four scheduled quarterly issues; unfortunately, I don't usually find their fiction to be terribly compelling; best work here was probably by Marissa K. Lingen, Kate Riedel, and Claude Lalumiere. The fiction in Australia's Andromeda Spaceways In-flight Magazine, another collective-run magazine, one with a rotating editorial staff, which published its full six issues this year, tends to be somewhat livelier, and there were worthwhile stories there this year by Sarah Totton, Dirk Flinthart, Geoffrey Maloney, Aliette de Bodard, Lyn Battersby, and others. Another Australian magazine Aurealis, once thought to be dead, managed one issue this year under new editor Stuart Mayne, with worthwhile work by Stephen Dedman and Lee Battersby. Talebones, an SF/horror 'zine edited by Patrick Swenson, after surviving a rough patch last year, managed two issues in 2008, with good work by James Van Pelt, Paul Melko, Edd Vick, and others. Paradox, edited by Christopher M. Cevasco, an Alternate History magazine, only managed one issue this year. Neo-opsis, a Canadian magazine, edited by Karl Johanson, managed only two out of four scheduled issues in 2008. Jupiter, a small British magazine edited by Ian Redman, managed all four of its scheduled issues in 2008; it's devoted exclusively to science fiction, a big plus in my book, but it's a poorly produced and amateuristic-looking magazine, and the fiction to date is not yet of reliable professional quality. Shimmer, Ireland's Albedo One, and Greatest Common Denominator managed two issues this year, Tales of the Unexpected, Sybil's Garage, and the long-running Space & Time, back from a close brush with death, one each. Turning to fantasy semi-prozines, Sword & Sorcery magazine Black Gate managed one issue this year, and there were three issues apiece of glossy fantasy magazines Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, and Aoife's Kiss. (Continues...)
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