Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Jim Grimsley Debate

There's an interesting discussion thread over at the ASIMOV's Messageboard, which started with this post (the magazine in question is ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION):

By Jim Grimsley on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - 01:45 pm:

About an hour ago Sheila Williams called me to tell me she'd been directed by the magazine's owner to kill my upcoming story "Wendy." Sheila accepted the story two months ago and I signed a contract for it two weeks ago. She told me she was about to send the proofs when she got the news that the owner was killing the story.

The story's protagonist is a person with known genetic tendencies toward child abuse, at a time when these can be firmly predicted. The story is being killed due to the child abuse content.

I've written a couple of stories trying to point out the fact that these wonderful technoloies we are developing will inevitably be used in depraved ways. "Wendy" is another story in that vein. I don't want to say much more in detail about the plot since I hope to sell the story elsewhere.

I'm not posting this here to start a discussion about this action since I'm not likely to hang around for it. But this forum is a convenient way of letting other Asimovs writers know that this has happened.

Sheila did offer to pay for the story but I declined. This was not her decision and I don't bear anyone any ill will over this since I knew I was pushing boundaries with this story - apparently a bit too hard, in fact.

As you can expect, people just couldn't leave it at that. Lots of varying reactions followed, also on various weblogs, and apparently even Harlan Ellison made a comment...
So what's it all about, then? Some observations:

1. The reactions are more interesting than the event that started the debate. That a publisher gets cold feet about a potentially very controversial story is hardly news.

What IS news, however, is that now readers can actively debate the validity of the decision in a public forum. Has this happened in publishing before?

2. Some responded that the critics of the decision were harming the magazine -- especially since magazines like ASIMOV's, ANALOG and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION have all suffered a steadily sinking readership for the past few decades. "Don't rock the boat!"

3. Do printed magazines for short fiction have a future? In the debate emerged a generally pessimistic attitude that magazines with short stories are headed for extinction.

People either claimed the critics were "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" (i.e. harming the magazines they wanted to support) or that it didn't make a difference what they demanded, because short-fiction magazines were not going to survive anyway.

Personally, I think short fiction has a future. But perhaps not in the "classic" form of magazines like the above; some sort of electronic distribution will probably replace them.

But the debate is a positive thing: it shows readers are passionate about what they get to read; they care, and they will be active participants in the future of publishing.

What do you think?

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