Sunday, July 25, 2010

Right-wing submissions

I got a snarky email the other day which seemed to allege that I am something of a hypocrite because I "act all liberal" and yet won't publish anything in M-Brane SF that is of a right-wing bent. In fact, I have published a few stories related to economic and climate issues that come from an obviously right-wing point-of-view, and I am about to publish a story in M-Brane #19 that is obviously political but which is also uncomfortably ambiguous as to where it sits on the political spectrum, and it may raise some eyebrows because of that. 

But the fact that I "act all liberal" should actually be a clue that I don't generally want conservative politics in my zine. I don't see the fact that I reject, as a matter of policy, items that seem to advocate for religious fanaticism, sexism, homophobia or Glenn Beck as being inconsistent with how I represent myself. Being a "liberal" (which I am) does not mean I have to be liberal about putting up with bigotry and irrationality. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Indeed, to put a finer point on it, it means that there is an actively enforced (if unwritten) policy of not accepting such material for publication. So the emailer, or any other submitters, should not be surprised if I pass on so-called "Christian" material or items which advocate by implication the assassination of President Obama. Indeed, it should be assumed that I would be repelled by such. And it's not "censorship" that I reject expressions of such deranged ideologies, since most of the rest of the media seem very open to them. It's a "free market" in general. But this particular one happens to be closed to such nonsense.

It's like they think they have "caught" me in something: "Ah ha!  He says is open-minded, yet he rejects the 700 Club!" As if that's an inconsistency.

Back to the slush.

Friday, July 23, 2010

M-BRANE #19 ToC announced; change planned for print schedule

Finally, over a week later than planned, I have a table of contents for the August 1 issue of M-Brane SF. Most of the writers were notified just last night that I'd selected their stories, but they were all quick about returning their publication agreements, so I can make it official now:

Shawn Scarber: "Burnt Benediction"
Bart Leib: "Flip the Switch"
Ian Sales: "Through the Eye of a Needle"
Jacques Barbéri (tr. Michael Shreve): "Isanve"
Jason S. Ridler: "4x40 Killers"
Regan Wolfrom: "A Step Beyond the Rain"

All of this month's authors are first-timers in the pages of M-Brane SF. Shawn Scarber, a Clarion West grad and lover of weird fiction, offers a vision of a future or alternate-world priest and his strange mission for the Church; Bart Leib, known to many of you as co-editor of Crossed Genres, delivers a terrific reimagining of humanity's first step off this world; British writer Ian Sales opens a window into a possible post-climate-catastrophe dystopia in the politically-charged "Through the Eye of a Needle"; Michael Shreve brings us the translation from the French of writer and musician Jacques Barbéri's "Isanve," a lush tale of strange intelligent automata and someone's literal soul. Shreve is a writer and translator living in Paris, and Barbéri is the author of over fifteen novels and many short stories; Jason S. Ridler's bizarre and creepily erotic "4x40 Killers" delves into long-simmering resentment between two friends and its incredible resolution; Regan Wolfrom's somber and thoughtful tale of two sisters in a colony on Titan concludes the collection. Wolfrom will also appear with "Birth of Hellas"in the forthcoming The Aether Age.

With the new issue comes a major change in the schedule for the print-on-demand editions of M-Brane SF. The monthly editions, offered by way of our Lulu store, ended with issue #18. Henceforth, the print version will be a quarterly omnibus consisting of the stories from three issues of the monthly electronic versions. In other words, the August stories will be featured in M-Brane SF #19 (electronic) on August 1, and in M-Brane Quarterly #1 (print) in October, along with the items from the September and October electronic editions. Also, we'll probably have some bonus content for these print quarterlies that will not appear in the electronic monthlies. The goal is to produce a somewhat fancier book with better distribution than the Lulu monthlies have had. This new version will be available in more places, such as Amazon, and at a cheaper price per volume as compared to buying three issues the old way, so I think it will be a win for the readers as well as the writers.

Enhancements to the electronic offerings are in the works as well, such as a new epub edition, which iPad and Nook users have been wanting for a while. We stopped putting new issues in the Amazon Kindle store a few months ago for various reasons, but we may resume that as well in the near future.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writers guidelines updated

A slight change has been made to the last guidelines update (from January). M-Brane SF no longer considers reprints. While I haven't (knowingly) published very many, I used to be open to them. But, alas, no more. Also, we now acquire First World English Rights rather than First North American Serial Rights, and we are serious about the "First" part of that phrase. Evidently some writers (or at least one that I know of so far) find it acceptable to shop the same story around to different zines and actually contract for "First" rights more than once, without ever mentioning previous publication. Here this is frowned upon, and is actually downright dangerous to one's prospects of getting published anywhere else since I am an email away from about 1000 other genre press editors nearly all of whom would take a similarly dim view of such chicanery. Other than the fact that I now consider previously published work dead to me unless you are the Second Coming of Samuel Delany (or Delany himself), I am as easy to work with and writer-friendly as ever.  The guidelines now read as follows:

UPDATED 7/19/10
to change advice on REPRINTS from "Maybe. Query." to "No."

First, the bullet points. I'll elaborate on them somewhat below.

GENRE: Science fiction (any variety)
NOT: Horror and fantasy unless it has a strong science fictional underpinning; not into paranormal/occult; In Search Of...type myths-and-monsters stuff, UFOs, ghosts, Big Foots, Loch Ness Monsters, Yetis, chupacabras, etc.
WORD COUNT: no lower or upper limit, though be advised that I'm not the biggest fan of "flash" fiction
SIMUL-SUBS: Yeah, sure, who cares? Just let me know that it is one.
E-SUBS: Only. I'll not look at paper mail (and won't even give out an address for such).
SUBMISSION FORMAT: Standard mss format is just great, though I don't really care so long as it's readable. All submissions should be sent to as anattachment in .doc or .docx or .rtf form.

If you want to know more about my biases before dashing off your mss, continue reading below....

Genre: I've been getting a lot of straight-up horror and dark fantasy submissions lately. While I may welcome elements of these genres, the stories still need to be somehow science fictional. In other words, the speculative or weird elements should be grounded in some kind of development of science, technology, or society that has (at least within the context of the story) a rational basis. No magic or wizardry or supernatural evil, please. As for specifically what sorts of sf I like best, it's hard to pin down. My mood changes over time. Lately, I am not as excited as I once was about space opera and epic galactic empire stories. On the other hand, small-scale character-focused stories set in such a milieu might work. I have seen scores of stories during the past year focused on the shenanigans of university professors and their students (usually involving time travel or some other secret lab project). I'd like to not see so many of those in 2010, thanks. And time travel in general, even without professors, is wearing me out.

Nowadays, I like hard sf with strong characters and softer sf with a literary bent. Weirdness is great if not supernatural in its origin. I like most of the "punk" subgenres fairly well as long as there's a story supporting the aesthetic. M-Brane has been characterized by at least a couple of readers as dystopian. If true, it's not deliberate; hopeful, positive-outlook tales are welcome, too, and I am personally very technophilic. M-Brane SF is open to fiction with queer/LGBT content. Also, this zine is not aimed at children, so adult language and erotic content is not excluded when it makes sense in a story.

Payment is still a paltry $10.00 flat per story paid on publication, with an option of taking instead a subscription to the PDF edition of the zine. For this meager fee, I ask for First World English Rights with all remaining rights reverting to the writer upon publication. Payments are made exclusively by Pay Pal.

Reprints: Consideration of reprints has been ruined for everyone.

I'm not offering any payment for art at this time. But I'll look at it and consider publishing it. I can offer some fairly good exposure for it on the blog as well.

I have not yet published much of this, but I would still like to see some. I am interested in thoughtful pieces about sf authors and books, interviews and scholarly criticism. I am not currently offering payment for non-fiction, but any that I take for the magazine will also get published on the M-Braneblog.

A note on manuscript format:
I run a "green" operation. I don't print anything. No paper or ink are killed in reading stories for M-Brane. I do all of my slush reading on my screen, and every submission I receive ends up getting reformatted into a style that suits me best for this, which is why I don't care much about manuscript format. If I accept your story for publication, however, I may ask you to repair your document if it's formatted in web style with no indents and double spaces between paragraphs and if it resists for some reason easy reformatting on my end. I've been getting docs lately that have been causing me a lot of work in manually removing formatting weirdnesses. M-Brane looks like a traditional book with paragraph indentations, and with double spaces between paragraphs used only when there is a scene break.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FANTASTIQUE UNFETTERED opens to submissions

It's a big day in the M-Brane Press world as our new zine, Brandon Bell's Fantastique Unfettered, opens for submissions. Visit the Fantastique Unfettered site and click the Guidelines tab if you are a fantasy writer with some great new stuff to present. This quarterly zine will appear in print and electronic formats on a quarterly basis starting later this year. We're very excited about it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Ruins of Earth

I haven't been reporting on personal reading or making book recommendations a lot in recent months. My reading time has been so scattered among so many different things, including reading lots of unpublished stuff for projects that I am editing, that it's been hard to keep track of it all. I have, however, been taking in a good deal of short fiction that I have had sitting on the home library shelves for a long, long time but never made it to previously. I recently noticed this gem, sitting long-ignored on a lower shelf, The Ruins of Earth, "an anthology of stories of the immediate future" edited by Thomas Disch back in 1970.

Considering that within a month or two, M-Brane Press will probably be announcing the publication date and table of contents for Rick Novy's 2020 Visions (also an anthology of stories of the immediate future), I thought it would be interesting to see what another editor had pulled together forty years ago around a similar concept. But while our forthcoming book is intended to present an array of possibilities about a very specific year, Disch's book is themed very much around ecological catastrophe and the assumption that such is coming in one form or another (a concern familiar to people now, and which perhaps feels more imminent). He organized the book into four sections titled, "The Way it Is," ""Why the Way it Is," "How it Could Get Worse," and finally, most pessimistically, "Unfortunate Solutions."

I have not read all of the stories in the book yet, so I won't comment on them, but what makes me consider this book something of a gem is its remarkable table of contents. Lesser-known works such as Kurt Vonnegut's "Deer in the Works" and Fritz Leiber's "America the Beautiful" and Gene Wolfe's "Three Million Square Miles" are combined with well-known items like Daphne du Maurier's "The Birds" (the basis for the eponymous film by Hitchcock) and Harry Harrison's "Roommates" (the seed for his novel Make Room! Make Room! which was the basis for the film Soylent Green) and Philip K. Dick's "Autofac." I chose as the first item to read (last night, as I fell inevitably asleep on the couch), J.G. Ballard's "The Cage of Sand." Though I haven't finished it yet (sleep, you know), as I started reading it I felt myself settle comfortably into one of Ballard's uncomfortable worlds. This one starts with someone in a hotel building which is evidently getting overtaken floor-by-floor by drifting sand, and it has the flavor of one of his 1960s catastrophe stories, The Drowned World or The Wind From Nowhere, both of which I like a lot.

A book like this is the answer that I wish I could give to the various people over the years (looking at you, Jeff!) who sigh and wonder why it is that I ever need to buy another book and why we must move from home to home cases and cases of books that I may never read again and which I may never have read in the first place. I bought The Ruins of Earth as one of a thick stack of books that I lucked into at a thrift shop about 12 years ago. It still has a fifty-cent Goodwill price tag on its cover. Did I need it right then? Probably not. And it did sit for over a decade, and moved to several new homes, untouched except to pack it into a box and then unpack it to put it back on its shelf. Until last night, when I was looking for just the right thing to read before sleep time, and I saw it on the shelf and said, "Hmm. What's this one about anyway?" And that's why I bought it all those years ago.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


This recent post from Jason Sanford gets to the heart of something that has bugged me for years, and he gives a great example of it by pointing to a micro-press lit mag which says in its writer's guidelines: "Unsolicited submissions must be accompanied by a receipt for a hardcover or paperback from a real-life bookstore." The rationale for this piece of douchebaggery is: "We believe that there are more people who want to be published in literary magazines and small presses than there are people buying these magazines and books. This program is not meant as the solution. There is no one solution."

There's a lot that's wrong with this. Sanford, in his concise rebuttal, points out that not everyone lives near a brick-and-mortar bookstore. This is not only true, but getting truer by the day. A couple weeks ago, I needed new glasses and I had an eye appointment and bought new glasses at the Lenscrafters store in the St. Louis Galleria, the biggest fanciest shopping mall in the St. Louis metro area. While I could give a fuck about 99% of the contents of the mall, I figured I could at least pass the hour while I waited for my new glasses to be made browsing in the bookstore (or, at the very least, wander into Abercrombie & Fitch and gaze at wall-sized photos of comely half-naked youths). I vaguely remembered that they once had two bookstores in that mall. I figured that wasn't true anymore, but I thought the crappier one of the two still existed. But no. This gigantic "upscale" shopping aneurysm that is the Galleria has ZERO bookstores in it nowadays. Not a fucking book or magazine to be found anywhere in all its square mileage of retail valhalla. Oh, and there's not even an Abercrombie & Fitch either! And this in a mall that has north AND south locations of Sunglass Hut AND Sunny Shades (not even counting their in-store kiosks within the anchor stores). I was so freakin' bored, I made phone calls. Phone calls! I couldn't even go browse in the Apple Store because it was iPhone pre-order day and the whole place was under the control of Imperial Stormtroopers.

But I digress. The real point is that times, as usual, are changing. A lot of people never lived near a bookstore in the first place. A lot of people have seen their nearby bookshops vanish. And a lot of people (like me, for example) who do have some bookstores nearby (though not in the Galleria) often prefer the convenience and selection of the online retailers. People can piss on Amazon and B&N and the ebook publishers all they want, but the existence of these things has made more authors' work more available to more people than what was ever possible in earlier decades. People who live in the backwoods of Idaho or Manitoba can read the same stuff that someone in New York City or London can nowadays, and that was absolutely not true years ago without a lot of work and expense on the part of the person living in a remote area.

But this is all a sort of side issue. The real problem is that there are simply not enough readers of any kind anymore. In the US, the percentage of the population who buys and reads book is tiny (single digits). And of that tiny wedge of the population, the percentage that reads fiction of any genre is incredibly small. And of those who read fiction, the number who are reading "literary fiction" in "literary" journals is smaller still. Smaller to the point of being virtually non-existent outside of the literary and scholarly types who themselves would like to write and publish such fiction. This probably sounds familiar to any genre editors who wish more people would buy their zines. Ever wonder if we're doing it for anyone other than other writers and editors? So, in the genre press, we have this problem as well, and we are way more popular than the "literary" zine press. It's pretty discouraging, and I'd love if the lit mags would find an answer to the problem, but I think the problem is too big and they're too small. And getting smaller all the time. Making writers send receipts showing that they walked into a "real"  bookstore won't stop the shrinkage.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Info-dump and world-building

I spent the last three hours weeding through new submissions to M-Brane SF, and I realize that the number one reason that I pass on a story--even over clumsy writing--is probably the way a lot of writers choose to lay in the information about their world, the way that many of them (probably feeling a need to get a lot of details in front of the reader) fall into dropping in a big fat info-dump rather than finding less intrusive ways to insert these details.

In science fiction, it's probably an easy ditch to fall into since, of course, the writer wants to present the awesome new world that her story is set in and make as clear as possible what cool or weird circumstance is driving the story. But what I see happening again and again in submissions are long scenes (sometimes even entire stories) that consist of characters sitting across a desk from each other discussing a situation in way that is entirely contrived to convey a lot of information to the reader but which doesn't ring very true as far as how real people would behave. It's the old "As you know, Bob," problem. As in, "As you know, Bob, ever since the founding of the Terran Douchebaggery, access to android porn has been severely curtailed." And while that may be an important bit of info to get out there, there must be some way to do it without making one's characters sit in an office rehashing information that they themselves certainly must know already.

Another variation on this that I see a lot of is where the story is going along swimmingly and the all of a sudden a giant info-dump shows up in the form of a secondary character revealing to the protagonist what's really been going on all along. I just read one where the writer had managed to set up very evocatively a great setting and had suggested a strange mystery and shown some clues toward its possible meaning, when suddenly about three-quarters of the way into the story..."I'm sorry I couldn't tell you this earlier, Bob, but actually you've been assigned to our new project of breeding half-human/half-android beings. Which you never heard of before, nor had any reason to suspect. But still. Sorry." I read another one like this a couple weeks ago which I enjoyed so much through most of the length of it that it was almost heart-breaking when it all went to hell in this fashion right at the very end. It's almost as disappointing as "It was all a dream."

I'd be interested in hearing what other writers have to say about ways to lay in rich detail in their stories but avoiding the info-dump. Or even ways to use an info-dump effectively so it's not dull or distracting, because it can be done sometimes.

Friday, July 2, 2010

New trailer for THE AETHER AGE!

This is some fine work by T.C. Parmelee and Paul Rothchild, with the spectacular music by the Chameleon Chamber group. The visual component consists largely of the interior artwork that will accompany the stories. Spectacular, all of of it!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2020 VISIONS briefly open to submissions: send positive outlook, near future sf

Rick Novy, editor of 2020 Visions, an anthology forthcoming later this year from M-Brane Press, reports that he has received a lot of excellent stories. The tone of them, however, has been overwhelmingly dark and pessimistic, so he would like to balance this with some material that has an upbeat, positive outlook on the very near future.  This was previously an invitation-only book, but we are briefly opening it to unsolicited submissions in hopes of getting some more optimistic selections. Here are the details:

2020 Visions: Speculative fiction set ten years from now, to be published as a print book and in several ebook versions.
Needs: Stories with an optimistic outlook or positive outcome for the near future. For this submissions call, please do not send dark, bleak, dystopian, or negative-outcome stories. Rick wants to see some ideas for how things could actually turn out well.
Word count: open
Send submissions in standard manuscript format as attached RTF files to ricknovy at gmail dot com. In the subject line of your email, say "Submission: 2020 Visions" and the title of your story.
Payment: Token advance on publication (probably something in the $10-25 range), plus a copy of the print edition of the book, plus royalties paid as a pro-rata share of book's profit (We have a few "name" authors lined up already, and have a credible expectation that the book will, in fact, earn royalties for its contributors). Acquiring First World English Rights, print and electronic.
Deadline: July 17, 2010

Yes, that deadline is in just a couple weeks, so this submissions call may be good for writers who have something finished or in process that fits the theme and tone, or for those who get inspired soon and can write it quickly.


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