July 13, 2019

Hugo Reading 2019: Best Semiprozine

"Semiprozine" is a bit of a hard category to nail down, and is defined on the Hugo website thusly.

Semiprozine is the most complicated category because of the need to define semi-professional. A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits. To qualify a publication must not be professional and must meet at least one of the following criteria:

The publication pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.

The publication was generally available only for paid purchase.

This probably needs to be updated, but I'm not tackling that at the moment. My own definition of what makes a good magazine encompasses stories, of course, first and foremost--that's what I'm there for. However, if I just wanted good stories to the exclusion of anything else, I'd stick to anthologies (which I buy a lot of anyway). To me, a memorable magazine must engage its audience in a broader, more timely manner, incorporating essays, reviews, and editorials. A good magazine must have its finger on the pulse of not only what is happening in the fiction world, but what is happening in the world around us. It must be engaged, committed, and angry when appropriate.

With those points in mind, here's my ballot.

(Disclaimer: I also support some of these magazines on Patreon: Fireside and Strange Horizons; and have contributed to Uncanny Magazine's Kickstarters.)

6) Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I used to subscribe to this magazine, but stopped when I realized the stories they were publishing had gradually turned to stories I didn't care for all that much. The two sample issues they included in their packet showed that this was still the case.

5) FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

As I read through this magazine's packet, it seemed to me that the flashes of brilliance were matched equally by flashes of meh. This was true both of the stories and the poetry submitted. This wildly disparate quality meant that I couldn't place it any higher.

4) Shimmer

This magazine has apparently shut down, which is too bad. Its last issue was included in the packet. Some of its stories were notable--Sarah Gailey's "From the Void" in particular--but again, the quality was too uneven.

3) Uncanny Magazine

In recent years, Uncanny has been a bit of a juggernaut; it's won the past three Hugos. Perusing this year's packet, I can certainly see why: many of the stories included were on my personal longlist, and three of them made the final ballot. So, in the end, the thing that made the difference for me (since my top three was so razor-tight) came down to the nonfiction articles. Both Strange Horizon's and Fireside's nonfiction was a whisker better.

2) Strange Horizons

I get the feeling this magazine has been a bit overlooked in recent years, and that shouldn't be the case. Their Hugo packet entry showed a fine, well-balanced collection of stories, essays and reviews, including an outstanding story "Strange Waters," by Samantha Mills, which I wouldn't be surprised to find on the Hugo longlist; a nice roundtable discussion with five trans authors; a really interesting roundtable discussion with five authors, including some of my favorites, about domesticity in space opera; and good, lengthy, in-depth movie and book reviews. This one just barely squeaked out of the top spot.

1) Fireside

The first thing that strikes me about this magazine: Julia Rios is a really good editor. The stories included in their packet were on the shorter side, but nearly all of them packed quite a punch. Two of them, "STET" and "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington," made the final Hugo ballot, which is a fine testimonial to her ability. These stories (especially "STET") were also more experimental than we usually see, which reflects well on the editor's instincts. The subjects of the nonfiction essays included gender relations, disabilities, energy as the future of humankind, and the 2017 #BlackSpecFic Report. This is an exciting, well-rounded magazine, one I'm happy to put on top.

Next up: Best Fanzine

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