The Newsletter of
Listening to [Semi] Prozinesby Faye Ringel
Copyright © 1996, Faye Ringel
In the current explosion of periodicals, who is to decide what constitutes a "prozine"? Does it matter? Certainly it matters to the publisher (who may or may not hope to make a living or a profit from the work). And it matters to the writer, not so much because of the size of the pay-off, always small in relation to the number of hours worked, but because whether the reward is copies, 1 cent a word, or 10 cents a word, for some writers what matters is seeing their words in print.
But the status of the zine does play a role in determining the status of the writer: for example, some zines are eligible for Hugo or Nebula nominations--most are not. Some "count" toward SFWA or HWA membership--more do not. Some are likely to catch the eye of anthologists and reprinters--more are not. And what about the reader? Does the "professional" zine that meets SFWA and Hugo criteria automatically mean a better-reading product for the selling price than the "semi-prozine" that does not meet those criteria?
Judging from a (by necessity) non-exhaustive survey of zines submitted for CLF review, the answer is "not always." In this league, as used to be the case in the National Football League, we can find great performances from every team. On any given Sunday, any zine can beat any other. Be warned, therefore, that the comments that follow apply only to the issue or issues reviewed.
To change the metaphor, perhaps what we need to give order to chaos is something like minor league baseball's relation to "the Show"--the major leagues. At one time, there were thousands of baseball teams, categorized from the semi-pro leagues through "D" "C" and "B" farm teams, up to minor league heaven, the "A" leagues. This was the situation in the 1940s and 50s, when any major league club might have a hundred feeder teams in their "farm system." Today, minor league ball is itself big business, and in keeping with an era of grade inflation, it has discarded the pejorative "B"-"D" labels, merging those into the "Rookie League." Now the only designations are "A" "AA" and "AAA," all of which are, according to a spokesman for the Norwich Navigators, a "AA" Yankee franchise, "one step from the majors."
Even with this change in nomenclature (akin to "large" and "jumbo" olives or shrimp, I suppose), consumers know what to expect: the product is labeled. No one walking into the Navigators' ballpark would think they were in Yankee Stadium Not so in the world of LF publishing: at one time, self-publishers were called "fans" and their products "fanzines" or "fan fiction." Such zines were produced on ditto or mimeo: they could never have been mistaken for the big time.
Today, though, it seems like almost everything looks like prozines. Glossy covers, slick paper, or innovative graphics no longer signify a professional publisher. Even the line-up of players is not a sure identification: some heavy hitters like Paul DiFilippo, Charles de Lint, Mike Resnick--even Daniel Pearlman --can be found in the "little magazines" reviewed here. Even the least professional magazines may be bar-coded and available for sale in Barnes & Noble or Borders megastores.
The baseball analogy breaks down, too, when we ask who is to apply the labels "fan" and "pro" to the publications. In the libertarian anarchy that is LF publishing, there is no farm system: F&SF does not have "feeder teams," nor would any self-publisher accept labels placed upon that publication by anyone else. The following league rating recommendations, therefore, are personal and unofficial. [Nor do they reflect the judgments of the CLF board.]
Worlds of Fantasy & Horror
[#2 Spring 1995] Major League
As the cover typography reveals, this is the latest incarnation of Weird Tales, the magazine that refuses to die. Published by the fannish Owlswick Press, it links the golden Age pulps with modern horror and SF fandom. The reviews, editorial columns, and letters at times make this seem like a personalzine featuring Schweitzer and S.T. Joshi. The fiction, however, is strictly pro, as is Patricia Caven's interview with Charles de Lint.
One de Lint story, "Where Desert Spirits Crowd the Night," expands his range from his invented Canadian Newford into the Southwest, with an original vision of the Trickster. As in the old days of Weird Tales, there is a reprint--here one of Lord Dunsany's lesser efforts--and the emphasis overall is on supernatural horror and fantasy.
Worlds of Fantasy & Horror is not a "little magazine"--physically or stylistically.
Deathrealm[#23 Spring 1995]
Very professional presentation in this glossy-covered horror zine. The only sign of its origins: a tendency to in-group references. This issue is particularly self-referential, including the last column by Karl Edward Wagner and a "posthumous publication" by Manly Wade Wellman, his "last known previously unpublished work." Ironically, the issue also contains a postmodern metafiction by Ian McDowell, "Posthumous Publication," which refers to Wagner and the Carcosa scene. Even the three poems by Don Webb are metafictional--monologues by the characters of Lovecraft's "Dunwich Horror." The review columns and interviews are informative and chatty.
Dark Regions/The Year's Best Fantastic Fiction[Vol. 3,
Issue 1; 1995] Major League
An Ace Double of zines! [For those who may not remember, these paperbacks printed two novellas with two color covers. You turned the book upside down to read the second one.] This zine fulfills the editor's claim of "more entertainment for your hard earned dollar." The Year's Bestside reprints LF from other, even more ephemeral markets. While I didn't love every selection, I admire the editor's taste and applaud his plan to save these selections from the literary "twilight zone."
The Dark Regionsside, a "Special Mike Resnick Issue" includes an enlightening interview with the author and two creation tales, one funny, one serious. There is also one of his uchronic "alternate Teddy Roosevelt" stories [uchronias are like utopias, but based on an alternative outcome of a real historical event]. The other stories are primarily dark fantasy; there is also a beautifully laid-out group of poems by Bruce Boston. If I seem to be slighting the poetry sections of these zines, it is because on the whole I have found them less skillful than the narratives, (but I have trouble evaluating modern poetry). Boston's traditional verses are more to my taste, though many readers would find them too conservative.
Gaslight: Tales of the Unsane[Winter 1995 "Special
Popcorn Issue"] AA
Entertaining assortment of movie-related fiction, poetry, and criticism. Emphasis on LF, but also includes other genres. The artwork is less movie-related, except for R. Dahlstrom's backcover redrawing (uncredited) of the "Night on Bald Mountain" scene of Fantasia.
Criticism ranges from the purely academic (a Frankenstein research paper that never deals with the cinema tradition) to a fannish filmography of John Carpenter ("Dances with Boogeymen") to a long, detailed plot summary of "Bram Stoker's Dracula," demonstrating how very much unlike Stoker's was Coppola's (and Gary Oldman's) Dracula. The fiction is clever if not profound, especially the John Wayne homage "Angel is the Badman" by Kent Robinson and the hilarious "Monster Island" by Richard Slay. In this alternate world, the Japanese monster films are consensus reality. There are a few less successful vampire stories.
Riverside Quarterly[9.2; whole number 34; August 1993]
This is an old-style personalzine that has grown, as the editor notes, "to look like a semi-pro magazine," while retaining its down-home physical presentation. The type is still tiny, and the layout still looks like it was done on mimeo stencils (though the reproduction of artwork is much crisper).
Content bears the strong impress of the editor's personality, but there are also review columns by other hands (some in fannish, some in academic style), fiction, poetry, and art.
TransVersions[1.20 August 1994] AAA
This debut issue of a Canadian little magazine is almost ready for the majors. The content, fiction and poetry, is uniformly excellent. Several authors with major followings, Charles de Lint and Michael Coney, appear to good advantage. The Coney story, "The Bucca," is set in a dystopic future quite different from his usual "funny fantasy" worlds. De Lint's poem, "Tower & Bear," reflects his novels' preoccupations with Canadian landscape, Native myth, and the role of the artist.
In every case, I felt the stories were too short--I wanted them to continue. One of the longer ones, "Lost in Translation" by Edward Willett, builds a more credible space opera universe in 18 pages than some 300-page novels have achieved.
The out-of-focus slick paper cover is the zine's only real flaw, and that has been corrected in more recent issues.
Space & Time[#86 Fall 1995] AAA
True to its title, this zine publishes LF that plays with time (Paul DiFilippo's humorous yet disturbing uchronia "Shake It to the West"; Gene KoKayKo's less classifiable "Taste the Sky") and space (Norman Hartman's apologia for Space Opera). The rest of the fiction and poetry leans toward historical or mythic fantasy in simple narrative as well as experimental styles. Very professional presentation outside (digest format, perfect bound,
WBM:Writer's Block Magazine
This little Canadian zine (from Edmonton, Alberta) has some well-known contributors: prolific horror and romance writer Nancy Kilpatrick appears in both, and Daniel Pearlman leads Vol. 2, No. 1 with "The Ground Under Man," a near-future satirical look at the Death Biz. While these were the stars of the enterprise, some of the other stories and poems were entertaining as well.
With all the editor's skill in attracting contributors, there are some surprising editing lapses: funny "spell-checker errors" (synonyms the computer misses) such as "broaches" for "brooches"; "in person" for "in prison." The mixture of genres (mostly LF, but also mystery and western) is not always an easy one. The second volume abandons the attempt of the earlier issue to include an arts calendar and local maps. Presentation is slickly professional: there are even full color interior ads.
The Thirteenth Moon[March 1994; June 1995] AA
While this zine has the look of a college literary annual, it cannot be judged by its covers. The are an interesting combination of primarily LF poetry and fiction, with book reviews not limited to genre fiction, and a strange assortment of record reviews. The March 1994 issue also featured a beautifully written article on the influence of the Romantic movement on children's literature: if this was the work of a college student, may God send me such students! Because of the large print and open format, there are not many stories in each issue, but several are outstanding--Wayne Wightman's "The Age of Wonder" and Brian Skinner's "A Beast of One's Own."
Dead of Night[Spring 1995 #12] AA
This horror zine puts itself (according to columnist J.N Williamson) in the same league as Cemetery Danceand Deathrealm(reviewed above), but I cannot agree. There are resemblances in physical format and--columns by professional horror writers, prose, a bit of poetry. Yet some of the stories and poems and many of the reviews--despite the professional credits of their authors--were not as skillfully executed as those in Deathrealm. By an unlucky coincidence, the print of my review copy was light and blurred, contributing to the shadowy effect.
We Also Received (Brief Notices: Not rated):
Phase[Vol.4 #1; Issue 13]
An ambitious-looking zine (full-color slick cover, multiple fonts, fancy graphics). Happily, several of the pieces do rise to the fine level of the presentation. Fiction, poetry, environmental non-fiction.
Paper Radio[Spring/Summer 1995]
Another beautifully-printed zine; emphasis on experimental fiction and poetry, at the boundaries of the fantastic.
Grasslands Review[Issues 8,10,11]
Contributors are not confined to students at the University. In typical little literary magazine format, publishes a wide variety of fiction and poetry, with one or two definitely LF pieces in each issue.
Dreams International Quarterly: DIQ[Fall/Winter 1994;
Large format collection of nearly 200 pages of narrative and poetry, with the emphasis on dreams and their interpretation.
ADDRESSES OF REVIEWED ZINES:
Worlds of Fantasy & Horror [1998 update: title
is "Weird Tales" again!]
Dark Regions/The Year's Best Fantastic Fiction [1998 update:
Gaslight: Tales of the Unsane
Space & Time
WBM:Writer's Block Magazine
The Thirteenth Moon
Dead of Night
|The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.|
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