First of all, sorry for the late post. I got in late Saturday from Chicago, barely wrote a word of anything while I was there, and then worked and hated life all Sunday. So, you get a super late post, then we resume a normal Saturday schedule. And now, one of my favorite things:
I found Clarkesworld as a writer trying to place a story. That didn’t really work out, but as a reader I have never looked back. There are many good magazines out there for science fiction and fantasy – Shimmer, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons – in addition to the venerable Asimov’s, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction, but Clarkesworld is my favorite, consistently publishing some of the most excellent speculative fiction – or fiction in general – currently floating around on the Internet.
Neil Clarke, the founder and editor of Clarkesworld and no direct relation to Arthur C., publishes the kind of fiction that I aspire to write. It is strange and beautiful, full of spaceships, death, robots, heartache, alien worlds, interstellar empires, moments of defining character, poetic language, and experimental humanoid and literary forms. I’m wary of drawing some distinction between “genre” and “literary” fiction, so let’s just say that whatever limiting genre expectations you may have, Clarkesworld stories tend to transcend them. There is no formula, exactly, but most of them do what I most want science fiction to do: take me to other worlds. “Mantis Wives”, for example, posits an entire mantis culture based around the death of the male during mating, while “Aquatica” presents the short life of a male anglerfish pursuing a legend of his people in a quest for his life to have some meaning beyond breeding and dying. There are stories that explore the ruined world after some Event (“Fade to White”), or set in an age of great interstellar empires and interplanetary rebels (“Scattered Along the River of Heaven”), hidden worlds not far removed from our own (“A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight”) or our own world gone strange in unexpected ways (“Melt With You”). They don’t tend to explain themselves in so many words; they expect you to splash in and immerse yourself, and let the strangeness and wonder take over for a little while. And they do this effectively, making you feel like you’ve just visited a strange, lovely, sometimes terrible place.
While not as deliberately dark as, say, Apex Magazine, the quality of the writing is such that when they choose to be so, the effect can be pretty devastating. The three combined stories of the August 2012 issue pack a hell of a punch: “Mantis Wives” is morbidly beautiful, “Honey Bear” is sweet, sad speculative horror, and “Fade to White” just rips straight into your core and keeps on going through and through. The editors aren’t afraid of experimental or weird fiction, either: “Spar” is as deeply upsetting as it is powerful (trigger warning for graphic nonconsensual alien sex); “Everything Must Go” and “All the Young Kirks and Their Good Intentions” are so strange that it’s almost surprising how moving they are, and how well they capture a particular kind of sadness.
I think part of what makes Clarkesworld’s voice, insofar as a magazine can have a voice, unique is the diversity of authors that it publishes. The volume of women and people of color published in Clarkesworld is pretty astonishing, and although Neil Clarke insists it isn’t a deliberate editorial choice, if it was it would be a welcome antidote to what so often appears to be a very white male dominated field. Through Clarkesworld, I’ve learned the names of many writers I might not otherwise have discovered, such as Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, Kij Johnson, Yoon Ha Lee, and these are now names that I look for when I search for new fiction. I haunt the blogs of N.K. Jemisin, Jay Lake, and Carrie Vaughn. I find inspiration, as a writer, in interviews with old masters like Gene Wolfe and Lois McMaster Bujold, and with newer writers like Nnedi Okorafor or Myke Cole. The depth of voice in Clarkesworld makes it fresh and engaging every month. I probably wouldn’t say that Neil Clarke publishes optimistic stories, but I think his magazine does the work of optimistic science fiction: not only showing us how the future of the genre could look, but actively works to make that future a reality. Clarke publishes the magazine he always wanted to read, and it turns out that’s the kind of magazine I want to read too.
I hate to relegate illustration to an afterthought, but I can’t leave the subject of Clarkesworld without mentioning the cover art. I know I’m a sucker for judging books by their covers, but the effort taken to select such gorgeous artwork for each issue of the magazine is part of what makes this a top quality read, and has even inspired me to purchase hard copies of a few issues. I’m just going to leave you with a few links to my favorite covers; see if they aren’t just what you’ve always hoped would be on the cover of a magazine of speculative fiction.
Read it online, and consider buying a subscription for your ereader. You can also buy the first three Clarkesworld anthologies or selected chapbooks through Neil Clarke’s publishing house, Wyrm Publishing.