Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Strange Horizons Fund Drive

Strange Horizons, the erstwhile speculative fiction magazine, is currently running its annual fund drive.  I've had a close relationship with Strange Horizons that has spanned most of my writing career.  They were the first magazine to publish my reviews, thus bringing my work to a wider audience.  I served as the magazine's reviews editor between 2011 and 2014 (which means that my name appeared on the Hugo ballot when it was nominated in the Best Semiprozine category).  And I continue to write for them today, most recently in my two-part review of this year's Clarke shortlist.

But beyond my relationship with it as a writer, what makes Strange Horizons special and important to me is the material it's put before me as a reader.  A lot of the testimonials you're going to see around the internet in the next few weeks are going to talk about Strange Horizons's fiction department, which has and continues to give platforms to new writers, many of whom have gone on to great things.  That's worth recognizing and celebrating, but to me Strange Horizons will always be special as one of the finest, most interesting, most fearless sources for criticism and reviews.  There is, quite simply, no other online source of genre reviews that covers the breadth of material that Strange Horizons does, with the depth of engagement and the multiplicity of perspectives that it offers.  The editorial team that took over from me in 2015, under the leadership of Maureen Kincaid Speller, has excelled at finding new voices, such as Samira Nadkarni, Vajra Chandrasekera, and Keguro Macharia, to offer their vital points of view, while maintaining the presence of reviewers like Nina Allan and Erin Horáková, whose writing is essential to anyone interested in the state of our field.

A focus on Strange Horizons's non-fiction content feels particularly important to me at the moment, because in the run-up to the fund drive month the magazine has featured some truly exceptional writing, showcasing a variety of styles, approaches, and subject matter that all demonstrate how valuable it is as a source of genre criticism.  Great recent reads from Strange Horizons's non-fiction departments include, but are by no means limited to:
  • Aishwarya Subramanian's review of The Explorer's Guild, Volume One, a YA adventure novel co-written by, of all people, Kevin Costner.  It's a supremely unpromising review subject that most of us would dismiss as a cynical cash-in, but Aishwarya demonstrates how, in the hands of a good reviewer, even the most inauspicious topic can be fruitful ground for discussion.  Her review discusses the adventure novel genre and its pitfalls, as well as the difficulties of resurrecting it today, but it also treats its subject seriously, and finds things to praise about it.

  • Tim Phipps's review of Star Trek Beyond, which is really more a meditation on Star Trek fannishness in the age of remakes and reboots, and which will warm the hearts of any old-school Star Trek fan (and particularly fans who, like myself, love Deep Space Nine the best).

  • Katy Armstrong's review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled about this project, but Katy's review is the first I've seen that both approaches the play as a fan (and especially a fan who was active in fandom, and is familiar with the voluminous body of fanfic written about the series), and is written from the perspective of someone who has actually seen the play, rather than just reading the script-book.  Though still critical of the story's problems, Katy is able to convey how some of them are ameliorated, or even cancelled out, by the theatrical medium, which is a perspective that discussions of this new entry in the Harry Potter canon have desperately needed.

  • Iori Kusano's review of the virtual reality game Job Simulator, which addresses the implications of a game that simulates low-paying, service-sector labor, which is played on a platform that most actual employees of the jobs it simulates couldn't afford.  At a time when we're still having to debate whether game criticism should address anything more than graphics and gameplay mechanics, this review quietly offers a vital alternative.

  • Adam Roberts's review of Apocalypse: An Epic Poem, a novel in verse about climate change by Frederick Turner.  Strange Horizons's editors challenged Adam to review the novel in its own style, and it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his writing that he rose to the challenge.  But within the lines of his poem-review, Adam also takes his subject seriously, discussing the history of novels-in-verse and the challenges of the form, as well as the points in which Turner succeeds and fails.

  • From the articles department, Erin Horáková's masterful, fascinating essay "Boucher, Backbone, and Blake - The Legacy of Blakes 7".  Even if, like myself, you know Blakes 7 only as a buzzword for a certain kind of old-school SF fan, you'll find a great deal to chew over in Erin's article, which touches on politics, fandom, the way that television has been influenced by the show, and the ways in which it has changed that would make a show like it impossible today.  It's a brilliant piece of cultural commentary, and more importantly, one that it is almost impossible to imagine being published anywhere but Strange Horizons.  As much as venues for pop culture criticism have proliferated in recent years, most of them are focused on the blazingly current, and on discussions that can be consumed in bite sizes (hence the dominance of the TV episode recap/review).  I've spent the last few weeks trying to place a piece that is shorter than Erin's, and less historical in its subject, but still long and not topical.  It's been amazing to realize how many venues are excluded by those qualities.  As a demonstration of why Strange Horizons is necessary in our current genre landscape, Erin's essay is highly instructive.
When you've finished reading all these excellent pieces of non-fiction, I hope you'll consider donating to Strange Horizons, and helping it to continue being a source for such writing.  The main fund drive page is here, where you can donate via PayPal or Patreaon.  All donors are entered in a prize drawing, with many great prizes that are constantly being added to.  As funding goals are reached, the magazine is releasing special bonus content (Adam Roberts's review of Apocalypse was one such prize).  This year's fund drive target is $15,000, but stretch goals go as far as $22,500, and if the magazine reaches those goals, it has ambitious projects planned for the next year, including a special issue on Spanish SF, and new projects focusing on translated and interactive fiction.

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