James Van Pelt

Writing Words Fantastical and Otherwise

The Old Stuff vs. the New Stuff

1953-10 The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction by Ed EmshwillerYou know how sports fans will sit around the table and argue about today’s teams vs. the teams of the past? How would the 1985 Chicago Bears who went 15-1 do against the Superbowl champion 2015 New England Patriots, for example? This is an evergreen topic, and I think it’s an interesting one for the modern science fiction/fantasy writer.

How do the old market conditions (pre computer era) and the new market conditions compare? My premise is that computers and a proliferation of markets who accept e-submissions, among other factors, has increased the number of writers. Here are my complete thoughts on why I think there are more writers than ever competing for the publishing slots.  Are the conditions more difficult now for a writer to break into the big three print magazines?

To get to my question, do you think that the bulk of what Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF is better than what they used to print, say, twenty to thirty years ago? I know better is an arguable term, but if you assume there is a kind of “middle of the road” story for the three markets, which would be stories that are fine on their own terms but not award winners, has the bar for the middle of the road gone up? Does a writer have to be “better” now to get into those magazines than they used to have to be?

By the way, when you consider this question, be sure to factor in the rosy-goggles-of-time factor that eliminates all the forgettable stuff you read, leaving only the glittering jewels of your favorite stories.

Or here’s another way to ask this question, if you could take your current writing skills, climb into a time machine, say to 1975 (or 1955) and try to make your way in the world as a SF writer, do you think you would have more luck then than now?

Just wonderin’.

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2 Comments

  1. Howard Brazee

    A similar comparison can be seen in golf. When Tiger came out, people talked about how Jack’s competition was so much better – there were a few players who won so many more events. But in my mind, that indicated that the difference between the 4th best player and the 50th best player in Jack’s era was much bigger than during Tiger’s era (or now).

    A half century ago, I read virtually all of the SF. No way I could do that now, we have so much more written now that Surgeon’s Law’s 10% is much, much larger.

  2. I think that the range of writing published in the top-tier F&SF magazines was wider in those days — probably because there were fewer people writing. In that sense, it might have been easier for a talented newbie to break in. But the best writing from that period is breathtaking, and would still be notable today.

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