17 October 2006

Lit'ry Magazines

My favorite benefit so far of being series editor for the upcoming Best American Fantasy is getting to read things I wouldn't otherwise know about or have ready access to, including a wide variety of magazines generally considered part of the literary mainstream. Inspired by these two posts from other bloggers, I thought I'd highlight a few that I have been looking through recently -- not an exhaustive list by any means, but rather a little sampling.

Agni is a magazine I used to subscribe to, but because I try to scatter my subscriptions, I let it go, and now I regret it. I haven't read a recent issue, but I have enjoyed some of the web-only content they've posted, and I expect the journal itself is as varied and high-quality as I always found it to be. I know I'll spend a day at the library catching up with this year's batch of fiction, in case there's something appropriate for BAF, and I look forward to it.

Gargoyle is a genuine find, a journal I hadn't encountered before beginning the BAF selection process. The quality is wildly varied, but the fiction is consistently strange, and that alone is enough for me to recommend it.

The quality of fiction in Hobart also fluctuates a bit, at least to my taste, but when it's good it's very good, indeed. I like Hobart's openness to all sorts of different things, from the realist of realism to utter batshit surrealism. It's a fine place to discover new writers with unique, individual qualities. Hobart is a young magazine yet, and lots of people have never heard of it, so I expect that it will have a breakout moment in the coming years, one where all sorts of people suddenly say, "Hey, where's this magazine been all along?" Read it now so you can feel superior to those people later.

Ninth Letter is a magazine with high production values -- it's like something from TTA Press on steroids. The design sometimes gets in the way of the readability, but when every page looks like it could be hung on a museum wall, that's a small price to pay. I've only read one issue so far, but the one I read was full of wonderfully weird work.

There was a time when I thought the New England Review was really boring, but either I or the magazine or, most likely, both have changed. This was one of the first magazines to send us copies for consideration for BAF, and to be honest, I laughed -- "What," said I to meself, "is this bastion of realism doing sending itself to Best American Fantasy?!? Whose idea of a joke is this?!" But I take my job as series editor seriously, and have vowed to read at least a few pages of every piece of fiction in every magazine we encounter, and the joke was on me. The nonfiction seems stronger to me than the fiction at the moment -- so strong, in fact, that I was considering trying to convince our guest editors to alter our guidelines somewhat to include at least one essay -- but I now am excited when each new issue arrives, because my preconceptions have been blown to bits, and that seems to me like a good state in which to read new stories.

A Public Space is a newcomer that I find myself recommending to people constantly, purely because I read the first issue cover-to-cover with great enjoyment. (It included a story by Kelly Link, which is what first brought it to my attention, but I was pleased to discover that just about everything in the first issue held my interest and sparked plenty of thought and, often, pleasure.) The fiction is a strange and eclectic mix, including both formally innovative and relatively straightforward work, the kind of mix I most enjoy, but the nonfiction is just as eclectic. I recently received the second issue, and it looks promising as well. I particularly like the section in each issue focusing on one country -- in the first issue, Japan, in the second, Russia.

Threepenny Review is another journal I've subscribed to for a while, and one that has survived my tendency to only subcribe to a magazine for a couple years. Frankly, I've seldom enjoyed much of the fiction, but the essays and reviews are among the best I know: thoughtful, surprising, beautifully written.

Zoetrope: All-Story is a magazine I've been reading for some time, though in the past I've thought its quality has been rather hit-or-miss. That's not been the case with the last couple issues, though, both of which I read cover-to-cover. In the past, Zoetrope tended toward traditional, plot-driven fiction, but the most recent issues have shown more variety of style and approach than I remember from before, which may be merely a delusional perception on my part, because I haven't gone back to old issues to compare. Whatever that perception is, though, the fact is that the newest issues are very much worth reading.

I don't know of anything in the world of literary magazines quite like the great Ralan.com market site for SF, but if you're interested in exploring the (overwhelmingly) vast world of lit journals, New Pages and Web del Sol are good places to spend time exploring. (The annual Pushcart Prize volumes are also a treasure trove of fiction, poetry, and essays you're not likely to come upon unless you devote most of your days to reading lit mags.)