Bewildering Stories Editorial
by Don Webb
With a Bench, the Moon
Happy Year 6, Bewildering Stories — readers, contributors, and editors alike. Our 5th anniversary probably fell in the week of issue 250, but we normally celebrate it in the first week of July, and this is it.
The Citation of Merit in this Second Quarterly Review refers to a “quality explosion” in submissions. That sounds like a sudden event, but it’s actually a process that’s been going on for quite a while. When did it start? That’s for a historian to tell us; we didn’t exactly hold up a stopwatch and say, “Start quality explosion... Now!”
A contributor and prominent figure in Argentine science fiction, Sergio Gaut vel Hartman, reports that a colleague of his has undertaken to read all of Bewildering Stories. I have to wonder when or whether his friend will ever catch up, but at least he’ll have a rare perspective on our history. And the compliment is much appreciated.
The old Retrospectives, which began counting from issue 53, at the beginning of Year 2, are a good place for anyone to start. And apparently they, as well as the Reviews page, have come in handy: we’ve received requests for reprint permissions — which we’ve duly forwarded to the authors — for publications such as Axxón, in Argentina, and José Joaquín Ramos’ Alfa Eridiani, in Spain.
An “explosion” implies colorful fireworks, and they’ve been very pretty indeed: recent novels such as Grim Legion, Observation One and Observation Two, as well as Gilboy’s Quest and Noble Lies — not to mention the outstanding novellas and serials — have set a very high standard for meticulous, craftsmanlike work.
Indeed, the days are long gone when Bewildering Stories’ educational mission consisted mainly of publishing stories as a challenge to our readers and contributors. That mission has shifted to the critiques that your Editor and the review editors send to contributors. This interactive nature of Bewildering Stories and the “quality explosion” have naturally been reflected in the official Challenges, The Critics’ Corner, and in critical essays.
On the other hand, “explosion” can be ambiguous: it might also refer to a smoking hole in the ground. As we never tire of repeating, “Proofreading never ends,” and what you see in Bewildering Stories is very seldom exactly what we receive. In many cases, the mechanics of submissions — spelling, punctuation and even grammar — have lagged behind the quality of the content.
On Thursdays, usually, when an issue is almost ready to go on line, your Editor sends “Preview” notices to the contributors. At the same time, the review editors begin reading the entire issue. And they report errors. Between Friday and Sunday, I record corrections in almost every file in the issue. By Monday, the authors may as well throw away the copies they sent us; the on-line versions will be more accurate.
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Where does Bewildering Stories go in Year 6 ? Onward and upward? The sky’s the limit? We already seem to be cruising in the stratosphere: we started an on-line schedule when the waiting time for short fiction reached five weeks; now it’s five months.
We used to be able to promise that an acceptance would appear in such-and-such an issue; now it’s just our best guess. And simply acknowledging submissions, let alone keeping up with them, is almost a full-time job in itself.
The schedule is creaking under the weight of issue length. Titles have to be juggled constantly: the issues simply cannot get any larger than they already are; time doesn’t permit it. And what would be the point? We want everyone to read everything in every issue. Even so, we sympathize with our contributors: a week is an eternity for an author; it’s like a day for an editor.
A doctor once told me that wine improves with age, but people turn to vinegar. Ouch, an inconvenient truth. What Bewildering Stories needs most is life insurance. We’ve done well for five years with uncannily remarkable teamwork and a like-minded vision between the Publisher and Editor. But what if one or both of us suddenly go to join Monty Python’s ex-parrot? Running a server, managing a forum, and formatting a page is routine once you know how, but — as we found out in Year 2 —the learning curve can be a little steep.
Our review editors already form a first-class team. Their work and dedication cannot be praised highly enough: they have made themselves an integral part of Bewildering Stories and have given this publication a quality it could not have had otherwise.
As Editor, I stand by and support the review editors both in their critiques and in managing their workload. However, in a term borrowed from sports, we now need more “bench” — that is, more redundancy — especially in preparing issues to go on line. It’s always best to play to one’s strength, but it’s also important to recognize one’s limitations, and anyone who becomes indispensable is a potential weak link. That’s something we may be talking about in the weeks to come.
Bewildering Press got its public launch with the appearance of Grim Legion, which has since been followed by Gilboy’s Quest. Nearing completion: Observation One. With three outstanding works like those, Bewildering Press has already “gotten noticed” and is going to change this timeline for good and the better. And there’s more to come!
The website itself is in shape — no easy task without experience and good teamwork, both of which we’ve been most fortunate to have. Now, to support our public “face,” Bewildering Press needs an advertising manager. That’s something else we may be talking about in the weeks ahead.
On the inside, Bewildering Press also needs a production manager for the all-important day-to-day job of riding herd on copy, namely to make sure the “galleys” are proofread to perfection and that the covers are in place before Jerry approves the advance review copy and sends it to the author.
A Cyber 960 technician once told me, about twenty years ago, that the truly amazing thing was not that the system performed as well — or, at times, as poorly — as it did, but that it worked at all. Bewildering Stories and now Bewildering Press have grown far beyond the stage where one can exclaim with amazement, “What do you know, it works!”
Was that the stratosphere we just passed? We’re heading for a new cruising altitude. A Voyage to the Moon, anyone?
Copyright © 2007 by Bewildering Stories