My Big Fear

Some people are afraid of dying. Some people are afraid of having to speak in public. Some people are afraid of spiders, and some people are afraid of heights.

It’s weird, but as I get older, there is very little that frightens me. Of course, if I paid closer attention to the news, that might be different. But dozing off last night, after starting Robert J. Howe’s novelette “From Wayfield, From Malagasy,” I realized that I have one big fear.

My one big fear is that the remaining Big Three science fiction magazines, ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, and F&SF will cease publication in the not too distant future, and I will have lost my chance to have something published in these pages.

You hear rumors that the circulation of these magazines keeps dwindling. Slick s.f. magazines like SCIENCE FICTION AGE could barely survive a decade. Online magazines, like SCIFICTION, which won several big awards in its six short years, could not survive. So it makes one wonder about the Big Three.

Of course, the Big Three have been around for a long time now. ANALOG (which used to be called ASTOUNDING) has been around since 1930. Some of the greatest science fiction stories of all time were told within its pages. My guess is that, of the Big Three, it retains the highest circulation. (The best figure I could find was from April 2005 and the ciruclation of the magazine at that time was 33,000.) 33,000! You couldn’t fill a baseball stadium with 33,000 people! F&SF has been around since 1949, and from what I can find, it has the lowest ciruclation of the Big Three, somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,000. ASIMOV’S is the youngest of the Big Three and has been around since 1977. It’s circulation is somewhere near 25,000. If this figures are too low, please correct me! I would love to know that the circulation is actually higher than what I found.

I have paid subscriptions to the Big Three through as far out as August 2009. I do this in the hope that the magazine will continue to circulate that long. But it is also just another way of masking my fear.

I have had two Big Dreams in my life. The first was to be able to fly an airplane. I’d wanted to do that ever since I was 7 or 8 years old and I was lucky enough to get my private pilot’s license back in April 2000. The second of my Big Dreams was to have a story of mine appear in one of the Big Three science fiction magazines. I’ve been working on this, on and off since January 1993. In that time I’ve written 30-40 stories and made well over 100 submissions. No luck yet, but I’m getting better; I can tell from the rejection slips that I get. But lately, it seems like I’m fighting the element of time. I wonder to myself, how much longer will these magazines be around? You’d think that would inspire me to write more and more, and I wish it did, but sometimes it just depresses me.

Some might say, so what! If these magazines cease publication, there will be other magazines to submit to, and there will still be the chance of seeing a story in print. The print may be electronic instead of “printed” media, but you can still sell your story nonetheless. This is all true. But…

I have this desire to have a story of mine appear in the same pages as the likes of Asimov and Heinlein, Del Rey and DeCamp, Ellison and Malzberg, Bester and Budrys. When all is said and done, I want my name to be in the list of of authors who have had their stories published in one of the Big Three. Unless you grew up reading and writing and breathing science fiction, this may not make any sense.

And so my big fear is that it will never happen.

But at the very least, it won’t be because I didn’t try; it will simply be because my stories just weren’t good enough. Or, put a different way: because there are better writers out there than I.

While some people try not to think about growing old, try not to think about the speech they have to give, try not to think about spiders or dogs or how high up in the air their office is, I try not to think about the circulation of the Big Three s.f. magazines. Instead, I write, when I can, assuming the magazines to be immortal and ever-present. I don’t always get a chance to read them, and I often get way behind, but there is a kind of comfort walking into my office and seeing the magazines stacked neatly on the shelf. It’s a comfort that ties me to the young s.f. reader from 1937 who got a glimpse of his first s.f. magazine in his mom and pop’s candy store and it changed his life. So, yes, there’s nothing to worry about. These magazines will be around forever.