If you’re interested in reading science fiction or fantasy, there are some great magazines with plenty of excellent short stories. As a writer, I’ve often submitted stories to magazines like these, and if you’re interested in submitting stories as well, its a good idea to read a few of them to see what the editors there like. I decided to start with the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several reasons. First, it's well-established--it's been around since 1949, and over the years it's had plenty of short stories nominated for prestigious awards, including the Nebula and the Hugo awards. Second, and perhaps equally important, I've found them to be a great magazine for writers. The submission process is easy, and I get a very quick response from their editor, C.C. Finlay. Though I've not yet had a story accepted there, Mr. Finlay has always offered me a short critique of the rejected story, as well as encouragement to send more. That's helped me keep going even when I've gotten tons of rejections.
I found F&SF at my local bookstore, though it's also easy to buy on their website and on Amazon, and you can often find tons of old issues at used bookstores. Considering the prices of most books (and it's pretty much the length of a short book), it's very affordable. I started with the 2015 Nov/Dec issue, and I was very impressed with the overall quality of the stories. My favorite ones were "Dreampet" and the novelette "Tomorrow is a Lovely Day." "Dreampet" begins like a fairy tale of the future, where pets are genetically customized. Kittens stay kittens forever, and they grow pink and purple fur with a child's name written in it. The narrator works for the Dreampet company, and he appears deeply enthusiastic about his products, having given Dreampets to each member of his family. Yet, his family's indifference and neglect of their splendid pets introduces a creepy, discomfiting note to the story that builds to a disturbing conclusion.
"Tomorrow is a Lovely Day" is a hard to describe--it's the story of a man stuck reliving a terrible day over and over, stuck in a nightmare that he hates. As the story unfolds, he slides deeper into the horror of his situation. Can he figure out a machine's mysterious last riddle, or will he be doomed to relive the same bitter moments again and again?
I enjoyed many of the other stories in the magazine as well, including the tragic and haunting "Gypsy" and the thoughtful meditation on war in "Thirteen Mercies." The only one that didn't work for me was the first story, "The Winter Wraith." While the story was atmospheric, it lacked a strong climax, and the ending felt too ambiguous. The other story with a subtle, ambiguous ending, "Cleanout," had a stronger emotional core and more interesting characters. F&SF has non-fiction articles as well, including book and movie reviews, and these were interesting and turned me on to books and movies I'd like to check out.
Since I enjoyed reading the 2015 Nov/Dec issue so much, I decided to get the issue from Jan/Feb 2016 as well. Like the previous issue, the Jan/Feb magazine contained plenty of brilliant and engaging stories, each as different in tone as the authors themselves. The issue is themed around the planet Mars, and the first three stories are set there, yet each of them has such a unique vision of the planet it hardly seems to be the same place each time. Gregory Benford's "Vortex," which opens the 'zine, is my favorite of these. The author's conception of the Marsmat, a completely alien, possibly intelligent life-form, intrigued me completely. On the other hand, Mary Robinette Kowal's "Rockets Red," also set on Mars, is a sweet, heart-warming tale of community and teamwork. The last Mars tale, Alex Irvine's "Number Nine Moon," is more of a survival story set during the evacuation of the first and last human colony on the red planet.
The rest of the stories in the magazine were quite good as well, with a few that stand out as exceptional. Albert Cowdry's haunting and creepy tale "The Visionaries" stayed with me more than some of the others. If the first couple of paragraphs didn't initially grab me, Cowdry certainly built up tension from there, until the final horrifying reveal. What's more, his characters are lovable and fascinating, down-to-earth Jim and sensitive Morrie playing off each other in great ways. Their gentle conflict, as well as Cowdry's subtle references to current political events, make the story feel real, which deepens its frightening, unsettling finale. Likewise, E. Lily Yu's "Braid of Days and Wake of Nights" alternates between brutal reality and a surreal, lovely vision of an alternative world. Its ending was as ambiguous as it was heart-rending. I loved it so much!
Overall, I'd highly recommend The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to anyone who loves, well, fantasy and science fiction. I've enjoyed the stories in it so much I'm considering getting a subscription, which is more affordable than buying it in Barnes and Noble every couple of months. One last thing--I loved the science article "Welcome to Pleistocene Park," which contained such fantastic and interesting ideas about ecology and woolly Mammoths I've been mulling it over ever since.
After reading the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as listening to podcasts like EscapePod and Podcastle, I decided to try reading Asimov's for the first time with the June 2016 issue. Asimov’s is easy to find at Barnes and Noble, though you can also get copies from Asimov's website or via Amazon. Like most of the scifi/fantasy magazines I've found, it's very affordable, only $4.99 at B&N, and older issues are often available at used bookstore as well.
I enjoyed most of the stories in this issue of Asimov's, and surprisingly, I loved the poetry. I don't usually associate poetry and scifi, but I found the ones here quite interesting, especially Geoffrey Landis' "A Robot Grows Old." Even the short-form poems had vivid images I liked. Among the short stories, Sarah Pinsker's "Clearance" was a fascinating example of slipstream, one that moved between parallel worlds yet felt so grounded in mundane reality that she still managed to tell a powerful story of love and estrangement. I loved Rick Wilbur's "Rambunctious" as well. The relationships between the characters felt beautifully warm and well-developed, and the setting as lush as the Florida Keys themselves.
If I felt that Rivera's "Unreeled" covered similar plot points as many other works of scifi, I do think he did a good job of creating tension and unsettling dread. "Rats Dream of the Future" had a fascinating premise, but somehow the story felt rushed--I think it would have worked better if the main character had delved more deeply into her rival's experiments, perhaps even seen one in action. Instead, it felt like the major plot points occurred "off-camera."
"What We Hold Onto" is this issue's novella, and it was an interesting story. I liked the world the author created and the characters he developed. The idea of "Nomads," the ultimate freelancers, felt fascinating and perhaps even prescient. Yet, for me the story's pacing felt inconsistent, while the author did a good job of making the romance feel passionate, I had a hard time believing the two characters knew each other well enough for the ending to quite make sense. Likewise, "Project Symmetry," the novelette, had a great main character and a good premise, but the ending didn't feel earned--it kind of came out of nowhere. I felt the story could have used more foreshadowing and groundwork before the ultimate confrontation between the main character and her family.
Overall, I'd highly recommend Asimov's to anyone who likes science fiction. The stories were fascinating and unique, and the small size of the magazine made it easy for me to carry it around (even inside my purse) to read whenever I felt like it. The wide variety of stories made each one feel unique and reflected the breadth and depth of modern science fiction writing. I’m going to continue to read more science fiction and fantasy magazines.
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