Dave Truesdale, editor of Tangent Online, has caused a bit of stir recently by announcing a new direction for his reviews. On the one hand, I strongly disagree with some of his claims, particularly that SF&F is “a genre infested with politically correct thinking”. Truesdale seems to think that part of the “decline” is down to some magazines allegedly having a rigid policy of including as many female authors as male, i.e. the fiction written by women is poorer quality and only chosen for PC reasons. Frankly this attitude beggars belief, and only serves to show up the level of sexism that still pervades some areas of the genre – science fiction in particular. That same sexism, or at least a distinctly male aesthetic, also appears reflected in Truesdale’s distaste for stories that focus on characters’ emotional lives rather than cool ideas.
On the other hand I have to say that short SF&F does sometimes leave me very disappointed. I’ve recently been dipping into short fiction in order to research markets for my own work, and a depressing percentage leave me feeling ‘meh’. I won’t name names – I don’t want to bite the hands that might feed me one day! – but when I read “stories” that lack either narrative arc or good writing, I begin to wonder whether the editor in question knows his or her stuff.
Not every piece of short fiction has to have a beginning, middle and end, or tension and high stakes, but if it hasn’t got any of those, it had better be either the most stupendously cool idea I’ve read in ages, or such gorgeous prose that reading it is still time well spent. I come to speculative fiction for that wow factor that I mentioned in an earlier blog post, and when I don’t get it, I’m unlikely to come back for more.
So, I’m going to carry on writing the occasional story that is really a story, and hope that there are still readers out there that feel the way I do – and markets to feed both sides.