Sunday, December 5, 2010

M-Brane #23 due around the 15th; Some slush-pile thoughts

The new issue will be out around the 15th. I'm still reading for it, and remain rather behind on things. I'm still in the final push toward completion of far too many projects, but the end is near. I've decided it's good enough if I get it out sometime this month and not worry over much about the exact date. As I continue reading for it, I may make a number of short posts on some problems that I am seeing in the slush pile and some thoughts about what I'd like to see more of in this zine. I was reading a few stories out of a collection of stuff published by Amazing Stories back in the late 1920s and 1930s, and I was reminded of a huge problem that blights perhaps as much as a third of all submissions to M-Brane SF. I call it "Professors Talking About Shit." Here, read the following passage:

'It is remarkable.' said Dr. Manners, 'how the scope of our pharmacopoeia has been widened by interplanetary exploration. In the past thirty years, hundreds of hitherto unknown substances, employable as drugs or medical agents, have been found in the other worlds of our own system. It will be interesting to see what the Allan Farquar expedition will bring back from the planets of Alpha Centauri when -- or if — it succeeds in reaching then and returning to earth. I doubt, though, if anything more valuable than selenine will be discovered. Selenine, derived from a fossil lichen found by the first rocket-expedition to the moon in 1975, has, as you know, practically wiped out the old-time curse of cancer. In solution, it forms the base of an infallible serum, equally useful for cure or prevention.'

'I fear I haven't kept up on a lot of the new discoveries,' said Rupert Balcoth the sculptor, Manners' guest, a little apologetically. 'Of course, everyone has heard of selenine. And I've seen frequent mention, recently, of a mineral water from Ganymede whose effects are like those of the mythical Fountain of Youth.'

That is not from the M-Brane slush, but rather the opening paragraphs of a story called "The Plutonian Drug" by none other than Clark Ashton Smith (shown here in the pic at age eighteen or nineteen, rather   attractive if melancholy-looking as a young man) published by Amazing in 1934. In its day, this may have evoked some "sense of wonder" and been really interesting to readers of the earliest sf, but it's well nigh unreadable now and such an opening passage certainly would get a story bounced at M-Brane. Indeed, a lot of stories do open like this and get bounced. And the passage above is actually a lot better than much of what I usually get in the slush, probably because Smith was a talented writer even when he was writing such tedious material as "The Plutonian Drug." But it doesn't let up after those first two paragraphs. It goes on for at least fifteen hundred words in this fashion. Eventually, the story itself starts, which is about Dr. Manners's guest sampling some of the drug from Pluto and having a trippy experience where he sees his own (very short) future. That part's actually pretty decent, but one must first slog through pages of these dudes blathering to each other about stuff that they both know already (selenine, "as you know," practically wiped out cancer). I see story after story after story where various kinds of scientists, doctors, and academics sit for the first few pages and discuss at length whatever the sciencey business of the story is. Instead, I'd rather open with an event happening to the characters that is perhaps based in whatever they are talking about, but bypassing altogether the long discussion of it. Also, characters in very narrow and elite professions, like "nuclear physicist" or "professor emeritus of biology," are especially hard to relate to or care about unless some kind of human action is happening to them right away. They need to be more than their job title.

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