Postscripts #1, Spring 2004
(PS Publishing, £6, 170 pages, paperback quarterly magazine,
So, here we are: according to Mike Ashley's typically detailed and
entertaining look at the evolution of SF magazines (one of the few non-fiction
is the 300th new magazine in the history of the genre. A landmark, then,
but it's not this that makes it one of the more eagerly anticipated
publications in a long time (in my household, at least) -- it's the
outstanding reputation of the publisher in producing high quality fiction
from a host of outstanding names: now that they're doing it in magazine
form we should all be queuing up to see what they can achieve.
in the title under review) PS Publishing's new venture,
As one might expect, PS have adopted a slightly different publishing
model to the norm. Less frequent (quarterly), more costly (£6 a
copy) than you might normally expect for a professional genre magazine,
and with more content (13 stories plus non-fiction in some 170 pages),
not to mention an ISBN rather than an ISSN, might make it more of a
frequent anthology series than an infrequent magazine. But that would
be to quibble over detail: Ashley says it's a magazine, and that's good
enough for me.
Oddly, for the first edition of a new magazine, Postcripts features
a guest editorial. This could be seen as a statement of intent, a non-egotistical,
business-as-usual approach from the off. A statement of understatement,
if you like. Christopher Fowler's guest editorial takes the form of
a rather lengthy pat on the back for those of us with the discernment
to enjoy daring fiction, rather than the comfort food that consitutes
so much publishing output. The piece is worth it for the conclusion,
though, which I hope the author will forgive me for reproducing here:
"If there is one piece of advice I would give every writer, it's that
the old maxim, 'write what you know', is bullshit. Write what
you feel, what you connect, what you guess, what you chance, what you
dare, what you dream, what you don't know. Then see if there's
someone brave enough to publish it." Maybe there was a reason
for starting with a guest editorial. Maybe Postcripts does
have a manifesto, after all.
One thing editor and publisher Peter Crowther is brave enough to do
with this maganthology is publish good fiction, across a range of genres:
crime, horror, SF, fantasy. The size of Postcripts allows room
for variety, and plenty of room so that everyone will find something
to thrill them, something to connect with, something to feel strongly
about ... along with a few that do nothing for them.
There were several fiction highlights for me. Adam Roberts' "Roads
Were Burning" does what the title says, and extrapolates this into a
bad-dream-logic tale that builds to an inevitable conclusion which somehow
manages to be transcendent, too -- either a gloriously extended metaphor
or simply a plain, hard-to-categorise story. Ed Gorman's "Riff" is a
brilliant piece about an old jazz cat on the cancer ward: punchy and
evocative and line-by-line authentic. Allen Ashley's "The Overwhelm"
is a brilliant parable of stress and breakdown -- one of those hard
to categorise stories that could appear in almost any genre (or non-genre)
magazine, but probably wouldn't. James Lovegrove's superb "Seventeen
Syllables" is a wonderfully wry extrapolative tale: could life be as
simple as the seventeen syllables of a haiku? Dr Matthewson determines
to find out. Eric Brown's "A Choice of Eternities" is one I had already
seen in an earlier draft, and it was good to see it again: one of his
best Kethani stories, at last pushing the idea of aliens who abolish
mortality further, giving us a post-death protagonist. In the Buddhist
octagenarian Mrs Emmett, Brown gives us one of his most resonatingly
vivid characters yet. I've worked closely with this author, so perhaps
that undermines my critique, but I was a fan before I was a friend,
and this is a beautifully-formed gem of a story. Ramsey Campbell gives
us a consummately chilling and oppressive story of a stuffy, struggling
teacher's encounter with technology.
Other pieces here didn't do so much for me. Some high calibre contributors
on half-throttle: Brian Aldiss offering a pleasing enough little whimsy;
Peter Hamilton a clever enough satire on relationships -- separated
Jannette and Colin, the UK and Europe, the UK and the planet of New
Suffolk -- but which relies too much on talking heads to move things
along; Ray Bradbury gives us a poem inspired by his Mars stories, which
I suppose would be okay for all those of you wanting to read a poem
inspired by his Mars stories; Gene Wolfe provides a nicely-crafted short
about mysterious happening on a captured alien ship which never really
amounts to all that much... Most of these were still well worth the
time to read, with only one tale that I really didn't like.
As already mentioned, there's non-fiction here, too, although not,
perhaps, as much as other magazines might include. In addition to the
editorial, there's an author interview with James Blaylock and the aforementioned
look at the history of genre magazines. For me, it's hard for an author
interview to be done badly, as such: give an author space to talk and
I'll be engrossed. Having said that, it's possible for some to be better
than others (it's a shame, for instance, that Postcripts' Assistant
Editor Nick Gevers doesn't do as many interviews these days as he once
did). John Berlyne's depth of Blaylock knowledge made this interview
one of the more classy ones. It would, though, have been nice to see
some fiction from Blaylock in this issue, too, with one's appetite whetted.
And Mike Ashley's look at genre magazines is well-researched and entertainingly
told: he knows his stuff like almost no-one else, and when he tells
us to take his word that Postcripts is the 300th magazine according
to his well-thought-out yardstick, we should probably just take his
word for it, rather than debating his exclusions of Omni (a science
mag that also featured fiction, not a fiction magazine) or Terror
Tales (weird menace, apparently, not weird fiction).
One thing does let this landmark volume down, however, and while it
might seem unreasonably niggling to complain about typos and inconsistencies,
the standard of proofing really does fall short of what you would expect.
It almost became a sport: hoping that eventually this would be
the one story free of errors. But no, not one could make that claim.
"Manufacturers warranty", "a extreme clarity", hyphens instead of em
or en dashes (particularly distracting when there's no space around
the hyphen, so it appears that two words are hyphenated), curly quotes
that curl the wrong way (even in prominent positions, such as right
at the start of a story intro), missing spaces, scatterings of stray
hyp-hens appearing mid-line ... I gave up noting them down. It really
was a shame that this fine volume didn't get just one more proof-read.
Quibbles aside, Postcripts lived up to my high expectations:
an excellent magazine/anthology with some knockout stories and fine
non-fiction. A debut that holds a lot of promise for the future of the
300th English language, SF, if-you-accept-Mike-Ashley's-reasoning, magazine.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: