A Response to Dave Truesdale's "New Direction"

Last month Dave Truesdale posted an essay titled "A New Direction" in Tangent Online, one of the few publications which regularly reviews genre short fiction. In the essay Dave described why after 17 years of running Tangent he decided to change their editorial focus. The biggest change is Tangent will now only cover "professionally paying markets"—ie, those paying SFWA rates of 5 cents a word—meaning semi-prozines will no longer be reviewed. Tangent will also publish more reviews of classic SF and old pulp magazine stories.

Even though I hate to see semi-pro magazines dropped, I'd understand the change if Dave said that Tangent simply couldn't review everything under the sun and needed to narrow their focus. Or if Dave had instead said Tangent would only be reviewing magazines of "professional quality" (a term Dave does finally mention toward the end of his essay). In my own reviews of short fiction, I rarely write about poorly written stories which are not of professional quality. After all, time is a limited concern in any life, and I'd rather spend my time reviewing professional-grade stories.

But instead of saying any of that, Dave states the reason Tanget is dropping semi-pro magazines is because "The genre is going in directions that don't move me—intellectually, or with a sense of wonder, or both—like it used to. Frankly, it bores me." Dave then takes aim at new writers "with not a new idea or take to be had."

Is Dave basically saying he doesn't want Tangent to review semi-pro magazines because there's not much short fiction worth reviewing at either the professional or semi-pro level? Or is Tangent dropping semi-pros because these magazines publish so many new writers? Unfortunately, I'm not clear on which specific reason he is giving.

So according to Dave, what specifically is wrong with the genre and new writers—and by extension semi-pro magazines?

"I'll boil it down to the fact that I'm weary of a genre infested with politically correct thinking—at all levels. Where editors (for but one example) are bullied (or willingly acquiesce) into making sure there are exactly the same number of female and male authors listed on the covers of their magazines or collections. Where far too much SF/F is about trivial, mundane, quotidian affairs, and where emotional trauma and angst take precedence over any Idea or Story. Where far too much SF/F is about the small and the relatively unimportant (but my, how that author can write!), or the SF/F element is used merely as background or in an obligatory, perfunctory manner—as window dressing if you will. Hardly anyone would argue with the premise that SF is an all-encompassing genre, that it is open to all kinds of stories--from the pure adventure tale to the Important Message tale and everything in between. Some of it looks to the future while some is set in the past. Variety is good as a general proposition. The devil is always in the details, however, and I find, for my own personal taste, that too much of what is being produced these days (and for some years) just doesn't move me in any meaningful fashion."

He adds:

"Taken as a gestalt—the 'smallness' and relative unimportance of many of the stories, the tired, lazy thinking on the part of many of the writers (primarily the new), the politically correct element (editorially, and in individual stories), and the fact that while I still love the good short story but I now desire the time to read more of what excites me (which I find in Classic SF/F and the Pulp Magazines), I decided to eschew reviewing the less than pro-paying markets to free up my reading time."

Again, this is Dave's choice. Tangent Online is his baby and he can raise the kid as he chooses. And he is well within his rights to use his time reviewing the types of stories he prefers.

However, I disagree in no uncertain terms with his sentiments on new writers.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like Dave is dismissing an entire generation of new writers simply because they don't write stories like the ones he used to read, and is implying that these writers are only being published in semi-pro magazines (which he describes as "akin to reading published slush"). None of which is, of course, true. Many of the best new authors write both cutting-edge stories which could have only been written today AND stories which could have been at home in many classic magazines of the last 50 years.  These new writers are also published in more than semi-pro magazines; their stories can be found in professional-paying magazines like Clarkesworld and Fantasy and Asimov's and so on. And while there are bad semi-pro magazines, there are also many great ones.

To me, one of the many important roles genre magazines have—with the first being to publish the best possible stories—is to bring new writers to the attention of a larger audience. To say you won't review certain magazines because they are doing precisely what they should be doing is not a course I would chart.

This is not intended as an attack on Dave Truesdale. And as I said, it is his right to decide which magazines Tangent reviews. And since Tangent is one of the few genre outlets for short fiction criticism, I will continue to read their reviews. I also urge people to read his essay and draw their own conclusions on what he said.

But speaking for myself, I'm very disappointed by this decision—and more disappointed by the reasons given for going in this "new direction."