So this week I settled on something different for my next read, a classic slice of Victorian Science Fiction: Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Actually, I started reading this on the train journey from Prague to Vienna last December, as a substitute for David Isaak’s bulky book (just didn’t have enough room in the backpack, and a paperback can slip neatly into your coat pocket!). As a writer of fantastic fiction, Jules Verne is up there with Wells and Poe. It’s also one of those books that slipped through my net as a child – either because they weren’t offered by my teachers or no one bothered to warn me that they existed. There are other books that have done that – many Roald Dahl stories, the Narnia books, and John Wyndham too. Yet teachers quite happily force-fed us underwhelming nonsense from authors that I’d be hard-pressed to remember now.
That’s British education for you.
This week I started writing three short stories. Yes, that’s right, three. It’s heartening to see that my problem with writing short fiction is simply a microcosm of my novel writing, i.e. thinking up new stories while I write the current one. In this case, my breeding stories are growing out of control. I’ve had to axe one (The Dog Tree), suspend Splinters (which was turning into a novella – I had to rein it in) and still find time to write A Problem of Rats, What it Means to be Human, and To the Scent of Lemons (which is a direct reference to a wonderful short story by Steve Harris called Harry’s Black and Decker). Yes, time is my enemy at the moment.
But then so is my over-active imagination.
At least no one can accuse me of being a lazy writer, though.
The most important discovery for me this week, and probably the month so far, is a genre magazine called Death Ray. It’s a title that’s been bandied about on blogs and the BFS website, but I had no compulsion to try it out until now.
Since the death of FEAR (mmm… sounds like a good name for a book…) I’ve been hankering for a quality magazine that doesn’t dumb down the genre, play the fool so much, but is entertaining and above all, not disposable. In the past I bought SFX thinking it would fill that hole, and yet sadly it’s the poorer cousin. To illustrate the point, I’ve kept every single copy of FEAR magazine – all 34 issues. I’ve probably bought twice as many issues of SFX over its long print run, yet of these I’ve kept only the last two. I guess I find SFX just a little too disposable and apart from the fantastic David Langford column, it seems at times a little too trite, or as Hub’s editor Lee Harris has stated, “ felt like the writers are allowing the readers to watch them having a good time, rather than writing specifically for the readers”.
So I looked up Death Ray and gave it a go instead. And I’m glad I did. The journalism is sharp but not trivial, and the ratio of column-inches to visuals seems proportionate for a change (i.e. we’re not talking MTV-production-values here; the magazine’s concentration span seems to be above the norm). It focuses more on the backbone of the genres too, i.e. books, and while there’s also the “fan-boy” stuff, it’s given as much elbow-room as anything else, rubbing shoulders with celluloid, comic-books, novels and art.
Okay, the magazine’s title might not be the best (it’s too reminiscent of James Bond or Austin Powers), but Death Ray is certainly shaping up to be the top newsstand-mag for Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. And you know, if it starts publishing a couple of short stories each month, hell, I would say it was even perfect…
Which leads me to the other “good find” of the week: Hub. With a dearth of short story publications due to rising costs, short-editorial life-spans and a shrinking readership, it’s good to see that one publication appears to be sitting pretty in the literati life-raft and having a damn fine time of it too.
Hub is a weekly e-zine that publishes genre commentary and a short-story each week. I’ve had a gander at Issue 40 and I’m hooked. It’s professionally produced, is backed by the Arts Council and publishers Orbit, and so far the stories are high quality (I loved Tony Ballantyne’s “Why Are Rocks?”).
Fingers-crossed it keeps going when other e-zines have disappeared into oblivion… Oh, and I’ve put links to both Hub and Death Ray on the right just in case you’re curious…