Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Second Anniversary Notes and Acknowledgements

UPDATED 1/20: M-Brane SF #24 was just released to subscribers. As a gift to all of our supporters (and hopefully a bunch of new fans) on the occasion of our second anniversary, I am making available the PDF of the new issue for free here.

The following is from my editorial notes from M-Brane SF #24:

Some Second Anniversary acknowledgements:
I know I am about to forget to mention a lot of important names here, but I need to recognize at least a few of the people who were so helpful and wonderful to me and M-Brane Press during these first two years. First, thanks to all the many, many fellow editors and publishers who offered me so much help and moral support, particularly Kaolin Fire (GUD Magazine), Bart Leib and Kay Holt (Crossed Genres), Jason Sizemore (Apex), Caren Gussoff and Eden Robins (Brain Harvest). I want to also mention again my awesome collaborators Brandon Bell, Rick Novy, Jaym Gates, and Eric T. Reynolds (Hadley Rille Books). A lot of great writer-friends helped make all this worth doing, such as Dan Tannenbaum, Michael D. Griffiths, T.J. McIntyre, Derek J. Goodman, Jeff Kozzi, and Abby “Merc” Rustad, and many, many more. The writers as a group are really owed all the credit, and they are too many to list here, but I’ll throw out a few names that really stood out lately: Patty Jansen, Cate Gardner, Gustavo Bondoni, Aaron Polson, Shawn Scarber, Edward W. Robertson, Ian Sales, Sunny Moraine, Joyce Chng, Jason Heller, Therese Arkenberg, and, of course, the late Jamie Eyberg, whom so many of us knew for far too short a time. Though I have already heaped praise on them almost to the point of indecency elsewhere, let me single out again the incendiary talents of Cesar Torres and Alex Jeffers. Artist and writer Mari Kurisato merits the Red Star of Socialism (the M-Brane equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor) for her terrific artwork and her other work on General Awesomeness on Earth. And I’d be totally remiss if I forgot to mention as a group all my badass Twitter and Facebook and Live Journal followers and friends. Curmudgeons who still think that the social media are a stupid waste of time are dead wrong: I wouldn’t know anyone and M-Brane SF would be nowhere without it. This is and always has been a grass-roots operation, y’all. So thanks perhaps most of all to the masses of you who actually bother to read my little posts and my longer outbursts throughout the vasty spaces of the intertubes. Love radiates from me to you.

An assessment at the two-year point…

This does not suck
January 20, 2011: Two years ago today was a day of great significance. A new President of the United States was inaugurated, my cat Maus turned twelve years old, and I released M-Brane SF #1, the first volume of a new monthly magazine of science fiction short stories. It was a project years in the works. I had begun and then set aside various plans to launch a science fiction zine going all the way back to 1994. I needed the proper convergence of motivation and technology to make it real, and the time finally seemed right by late 2007. But M-Brane—then tentatively called Homeworld—stalled out again for a while when I realized that I still did not have adequate computing power nor adequate command of how to use the internet to make a new zine’s presence known. But a year later, I was ready to try it. I started the M-Brane blog, posted writer’s guidelines and started reading the surprising number of submissions that appeared almost immediately.

Issue #1 opened with a quirky and funny tale called “Time Enough for a Reuben” by the late Glenn Lewis Gillette. It continued with fantastic stories by a couple of writers very well known to M-Brane readers now, Brandon Bell and Rick Novy. The first issue also included great entries by Barton Paul Levenson, Frank Roger, Joshua Scribner, Mel Cartagena and Jason Earls. I am happy that I am able to look back on that very first issue and say, “This does not suck.”

Of quantity and quality
In the second year, from about issue #13 to the present, M-Brane changed in a number of ways. I simplified its design, making it less magazine-like in appearance in favor of a more book-like look. I also started publishing a lot less material per issue. These changes happened for a number of practical reasons, but also because of an evolution in my thinking on what M-Brane SF should be. During the heady early days, I wanted to have a cool, interesting, and unexpected sf zine with awesome writers and astounding stories, with a real proletarian, hand-made sensibility. But I also wanted to publish a huge quantity of material and make it as big a room as possible for all kinds of writers. While I still think this was achieved to some extent, it also resulted in some uneven issues with a fair amount of content that I liked for various reasons but which probably made the zine as a whole have more of an amateurish, fanziney character than what seemed good for the long-term future of it.

I still wanted the unexpected and brilliant stories, but I decided to severely limit the number of stories that could appear in an issue (six is generally the upper limit now, while some Year One issues had as many as thirteen). I decided that I could, by forcing myself to not exceed a certain amount of content, refine the quality of the zine’s content and better define its character. As the number of submissions to the magazine has steadily increased, I have found that I generally have more and more interesting stuff from which to choose. Sometimes this makes story selection extremely difficult. Since I strive to completely clear the slush pile every month, this means that I must pass on stories that I really like all the time. But there are always more where those came from. I also decided that while six stories per month is probably the upper limit, I don’t necessarily have to find six: when I was assembling issue #22, I only had four items that I considered to be proper M-Brane stories, and so that issue was our shortest to date. So while quantity has diminished a lot, quality has gone up, and it’s more apparent what kind of fiction this zine deals in. When I assembled the first Quarterly (the print compilation of electronic issues 19, 20 and 21) and looked at its table of contents, I got a clearer sense of my own concept for M-Brane than I think I’d ever had before.

Technologies like print-on-demand make it really easy to publish print books nowadays, and I decided to try that out for some dream projects. The ease of printing a book also invites a lot of really lousy work from well-meaning creators who don’t know how to design anything, as one can see from the surfeit of really ugly books that are floating around the indie press world now. So, very carefully, I selected some special projects for book publication and put a lot of effort into making them handsome objects. The first was Things We Are Not (2009), an anthology of GLBT short stories and novelettes. A few months ago, M-Brane SF was described incorrectly in a Locus online review as being billed as a gay-oriented magazine, but if it were in fact a gay-oriented magazine, then Things We Are Not gives one a good idea of what that would be like. I am very proud of it, especially as my first project as a book publisher. In 2010, I featured a couple of writers that I am very interested in by presenting collections of their work: Cesar Torres’ The 12 Burning Wheels and Derek J. Goodman’s Machina. These two lovely volumes are as different as two books could be in some regards: Cesar’s is a collection of very short items while Derek’s is a quartet of novelettes and novellas. But they are similar in that they both showcase in a very attractive way excellent writers from whom readers will be hearing a lot more in the near future. Then, late in 2010, we brought out a real stunner of an anthology, 2020 Visions, edited by Rick Novy. A collection of stories set in the year 2020, this is a must-read antho. Next, in a couple of months, we will bring out another beloved pet project, the “Double.” The date for this will be announced very soon.

2010 was a year of exciting collaborative projects. With the brilliant and lovely Jaym Gates, I co-edited the sexy little zine Little Death of Crossed Genres. This was intended to have been a quarterly periodical of erotic speculative fiction from Crossed Genres, but, alas, I think it ended up being a one-night stand. But even if there is never an issue #2 of it, I am quite pleased with the nice work we did on it. The biggest collaborative project of the year for me was, of course, the awesome and monumental The Aether Age. Co-edited by Brandon Bell and me and published in November 2010 by Hadley Rille Books, this was the realization of a terrific shared vision. Not only did two editors and two publishers collaborate on getting it done, but dozens of writers collaborated from afar to create a whole new fictional world that we have opened up for limitless future invention. The Aether Age has only just begun. But as exciting as publication of The Aether Age was, I am just as pleased about the newest addition to the family, Brandon Bell’s Fantastique Unfettered. Issue #1 of M-Brane SF’s new fantasy sibling was released just a few weeks ago as a very beautiful print publication. A quarterly “Periodical of Liberated Literature,” FU is based on the same Creative Commons philosophy as Aether Age, and I think it’s going to be a great big deal in the next year.

And so it goes.

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Red Bakersen said...

Nice. :)

Amazing what you've accomplished in two years. Congratulations. Can't wait to see what the next two years will bring.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

And let me say back that it has been an equal joy working with you these past two (alread?!) years.

Aaron Polson said...


Congrats to two wonderful years, and on to the next!

Jha said...

Congratulations on Year Two!!

Jason Heller said...

Congrats! Glad to be a part of it.


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