Bewildering Stories’ Tenth Anniversary
June 20, 2002 — 2012
From Start to Future
by Don Webb
More than five hundred consecutive weeks of Bewildering Stories must set a record of some sort, if only for sheer stamina and dedication. This marathon run has made “BwS” possibly the largest literary webzine on the Internet. But its future may take shape in another yet familiar form...
I. The Beginnings
Bewildering Stories was conceived in a humorous exchange on the Analog forum ten years ago, on June 20, 2002. Its purpose was to break the print magazines’ bottleneck in science fiction and give new writers a chance to find an audience.
Our original mission statement appeared in issue 1. It says, in part:
Bewildering Stories is something new on the Internet. What are its origins and purpose?
Legend has it that it started as a joke on the Analog forum. Well, sort of. Some forum members had been talking about all the stories they’d submitted to Analog or Asimov’s, only to have them bounce. It seemed to me that rejection slips are so common that they might be a literary genre in themselves.
I thought of all the attempts languishing in writers’ desk drawers and file cabinets, never to see the light of day. I said, “Let’s publish them.” And in a take-off on titles from science fiction’s past, such as Amazing and Astounding, I added, tongue in cheek, “We could call them Bewildering Stories.” That’s where the joke began and ended. Jerry Wright and “Invincible Spud” provided the means, experience and expertise to launch a website, and Bewildering Stories became a reality practically overnight.
Our “Big Bang” era was soon followed by one of cosmic inflation when Kate Bachus observed that Bewildering Stories was not a glorified slush pile but was indeed a new kid on the block, so to speak. We took Kate’s point, and our mission statement became essentially what it is now. Kate’s “Twenty Views of Tanforan” took us once and for all beyond the “solar system” of science fiction and into the interstellar realm of all genres.
Meanwhile, Spud had suggested making forays into French-language science fiction. I knew of a novel that is something of an early classic and is frequently referred to but that few people seemed to have read: Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde — “The Other World,” also known as “Voyage to the Moon.” The translation began in issue 27, and with that, Bewildering Stories was here to stay.
II. The Present
The dedication and work of many, especially Bill Bowler and Michael E. Lloyd, have assured our growth in many ways over the years. Meanwhile we’ve always been mindful of tradition. Our primary aim has been to make Bewildering Stories reader-friendly, and to make it distinctive, as well. Literary webzines have proliferated in recent years, and yet “BwS” still has a quality and look all its own. And that is precisely the point: once readers see us, they can’t forget us.
What have we learned in the past ten years? Our Submissions page as well as other Departments tell most of it. Anybody who reads it all deserves a medal of some sort. To summarize it, we have two official mottoes:
Edgar Degas, the painter: “But why are my poems no good? I have such wonderful ideas!”
Stéphane Mallarmé, the poet: “My dear Degas, poems are not made with ideas, they are made with words.”
(If you had beautiful furniture, would you put it in a shack with a leaky roof and broken windows? Or, to turn Mallarmé’s answer around: anyone can think of a beautiful image, but paintings are not made with ideas, they are made with paint and brush.)
Ars longa, vita brevis — ‘Proofreading never ends.’
(“The poet’s worst enemy is not the critic, it’s the typo.” — Oscar Wilde)
The original idea of Bewildering Stories, as expressed on the Analog forum ten years ago, had a double purpose:
It recognized the ambition of new writers. As John Stocks says in his interview, in this issue, writers ought to take their art seriously. Of course: without imagination and ambition, nothing would get done.
And it implicitly cautioned writers against taking themselves too seriously; complacency and self-satisfaction are stultifying. The audience of Bewildering Stories joins the dialogue between artist and work.
III. The Future
That’s where we’ve been and where we are. Now, where are we going?
Bewildering Stories began as a response to conditions in print publishing at the end of the 20th century, when a bare handful of magazines, publishers and editors determined what science fiction would be. In the first decade of the 21st century, those conditions began to be turned upside down: not only has the bottleneck been broken, the publishing dam has burst and a torrent is raging downstream on the Internet.
Print publishing will not go away, for many reasons, as long as it has paper to print on. But printed books are expensive to make and distribute, and they are becoming something of a luxury. Meanwhile electronic publishing is not only inexpensive, it has become almost absurdly easy.
When the first Macintosh computer appeared almost 30 years ago, in 1985, the future was easy to foresee. Desktop publishing had come within the reach of any author, indeed, of anyone.
And print on demand didn’t even need the Internet. One of my proudest achievements was showing my colleagues how they could print and distribute their Spanish-language literary journal themselves and, in the process, save about $4,000 an issue. That was a lot of money in the late 1980’s. Today the very thought of such an expense is ludicrous.
But what has happened on the Internet? The old print pyramid is being swept into an electronic ocean. The artistic and intellectual communities that formed around the print magazines and book publishers are dissolving into a kind of chaos that is without form and is, to some extent, intellectually and artistically void. In short, there’s a lot of good literature out here, but how can you find it amid all the junk?
Bewildering Stories now finds itself called upon not to reinstate the old bottleneck; that would be entirely too ironic a twist of history, and it’s impossible anyway. Rather, we have to function as a kind of lighthouse on the Net and attract readers and writers to something that is not only new but interesting. To that end, our Quarterly Reviews are indispensable. And our Annual Reviews focus the light even more intensely.
I foresee another twist of history. Our publisher and co-founder Jerry Wright had the life-long dream of operating a small publishing company. He began to realize it in the form of Bewildering Press until ill health robbed him of the capacity to continue it. The advantage of “BwP” is not print on demand, which will always be available anyway, but in e-books accessible by any e-reader. That is the place for our Special Features, our Annual Reviews, and the selected works of our veteran contributors. The future strength of Bewildering Stories may be in Bewildering Press. It is a possibility we need to begin thinking and talking about.
Bewildering Stories is a humanistic enterprise. By encouraging new authors we hope, as always, to make the world a better place in some small way. And above all it’s fun to do.
As in issue 1 we salute one of the original Humanists, who had a somewhat similar ambition. He speaks to us from the dawn of the age of exploration in terms of joy and optimistic exuberance. And his purpose, too, was very serious indeed: to bring the Renaissance to the people.
To the Readers
Dear friends who read this book,
Shun affectation and pretense;
And, as you visit, just take a look:
You’ll find no harm and no offense.
True, it contains much to criticize
Unless you laugh, I’m sure you’ll find;
But that is best, as I now realize,
Since ills beset us time out of mind.
Better, then, to write of laughter as we can:
Laughter is what’s natural to man.
Amis lecteurs, qui ce livre lisez,
Dépouillez-vous de toute affection
Et, le lisant, ne vous scandalisez :
Il ne contient mal ni infection.
Vrai est qu’ici peu de perfection
Vous apprendrez, sinon en cas de rire ;
Autre argument ne peut mon cœur élire,
Voyant le deuil qui vous mine et consomme :
Mieux est de ris que de larmes écrire,
Pour ce que rire est le propre de l’homme.
— the epigraph to Gargantua
Copyright © 2012 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories