Darkest humor in the new issue of XB-1

The February issue of XB-1 is coming soon a it features the second part of Equoid (Charles Stross), Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma (Alex Shvartsman) and What Doctor Gottlieb Saw (Ian Tregilis) in the foreign stories section. And with so much horror, humor ranging from the darkest tones to the lighter ones and a lot of lovecraftian world, it would be impossible not to build on it in the nonfiction section. Therefore my article “The Darkest Humor from Deep Spacetime” on Lovecraftian pastiches, with emphasis on the ones containing an element rarely if ever found in Lovecraft: humor.

There are hundreds or thousands of pastiches, many of them more or less humorous, some even parodies. But there are two great fiction series I’ve encountered that managed to convey deep horror and despair and season it with moments of wonderful, mostly very dark humor without making the horror seem any less serious, each series in its own brilliant way. One of them are Laundry Files by Stross. Equoid is a part of that series, among more shorter works, but be sure to try the novels as well. The other one is the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L. Howard. It’s composed of short stories as well as novels too and again I can recommend reading everything of it.

In light of unseen terrors and gloom, on the very verge of madness, there still can be something to laugh at. And where you’ve got laugher, you’ve got an even tiny spark of hope. Maybe that’s why the combination of true horror and humor works so well.

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Review of Upgraded at Fantasy Scroll

I’ve reviewed Neil Clarke’s cyborg anthology UPGRADED for Fantasy Scroll Magazine; the review can be found here in the new issue of the magazine.

Czech readers can look forward to a Czech translation of the review at XB-1’s website (update: it’s here). And who knows, with some luck, the magazine might feature some of the stories from UPGRADED in the future if our editor picks some of them. There are certainly some stories which deserve to get to as many readers in as many languages as possible.

Where are current SF magazines going?

I’ve had a talk on current Anglo-American magazines at Festival Fantazie in Chotebor last weekend. I meant to present notable magazines to the Czech audience, describe the change this market went through since its establishment up until now and most of all talk about magazines with freely-accessible content, their strategies, benefits and how they shape the world of speculative fiction. Finally, I mentioned the opportunities online magazines present to authors worldwide. The talk had more impact than I had expected (especially given at 9 a.m. at a busy convention where this is about the time many people finally go to sleep); it gave one editor the idea to add podcasts to his magazine (more specifics about this later if he succeeds – I certainly hope so), some authors’ eyes brightened and Františka Vrbenská asked me to write an article based on my talk.

Well, here it is! (Czech version of the article can be found here.) Most of this information is quite easy to find for any English-speaking person interested in this topic, so I’ll only very briefly mention the history of SF magazines here and then will move to the changes brought by online publishing (and what it means for readers as well as authors).

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Erasing boundaries and distances

I’m bringing you another snippet from interviews I do for XB-1, this time with a notable Czech SF editor Martin Šust.

Martin Šust is well-known as the editor of foreign lit section of XB-1 magazine, XB-1 website, several Czech publishing houses, particularly Laser-books, and formerly the Czech edition of F&SF. He has edited mainly new weird anthologies Trochu divné kusy (Rather Weird Pieces) 1 – 3 and an anthology of new space opera Plameny hvězd (The Stellar Flames). He’s also the author of Slovník angloamerických autorů fantastiky (The List of Anglo-American SF authors) and specializes in introducing exciting foreign SF on the Czech market. His newest contribution is a retrofuturistic anthology Plnou parou (Full Spead Ahead). In this snippet I had chosen from the interview, he talked about his views about Anglo-American as well as Czech fiction and the future of speculative fiction.

How did your work on anthologies change since you had assembled the first Rather Weird Pieces anthology? After all, not many online magazines were on the market then, while today a lot of stories are freely available and most have at least a snippet on the internet…

Online publishing made the work somewhat easier, of course, but not very much. For example, only three from the twelve stories in Full Steam Ahead were published in online magazines and one solely on Amazon, most of them came from various anthologies – so I still needed to contact the authors and ask them if they could send me their text. On the other hand, more and more stories are getting published nowadays thanks to the online market, so orientation on the market and the final decisions became rather harder. Luckily, I have a lot of contacts and experience thanks to working for XB-1, formerly Ikarie, which comes as a great advantage.

Do you have any exemplar or inspiration among foreign editors?

I used to look up especially to Gardner Dozois, today I most of all respect Jonathan Strahan for his diligence and brilliant yearlong activity not just on his The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year but a number of other original projects too. His taste in fiction seems to me quite similar to mine, though it’s not easy to tell since editors also try to meet the taste of their readers and offer them diversity where every reader can find his beloved piece. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish every month in XB-1 as well as in my anthologies. We all still have lots to learn and it’s best to learn from the best.

Anglo-American speculative fiction went through a number of changes since the beginning of this century: more online publication options, new popular subgenres, authors from all over the world writing in English… What changes do you consider most important or interesting and where do you see SF in this decade going?

Everything is connected to the growth of electronic publishing and erasing boundaries and distances. English is so widespread nowadays that almost everyone regardless of their nationality can learn it since childhood. And thanks to new opportunities and expanding the market, there is more space for non-Anglo-American writers including Czech authors. Personally, I consider this trend very positive and expect it to continue and intensify in the future. These days, Anglo-American authors still have a major role but it might not take long for writers from the whole world to fill the gap. I believe that non-Anglo-American online magazines will play a more important role in the future and the market would expand and diversify even more. It’s a fascinating unstoppable process favorable especially for the readers – they’ll just need to learn to voluntarily pay for what they like, or it would inevitably lead to more commercialization and depreciation of the written word.

What’s your opinion about current Czech SF – and would you try to predict where it might be going?

Czech SF seemed a little boring to be for a long time, shut out in its own self-praise and attempts to copy successful trends. Until recently, I’ve rather avoided it, though a lot of projects interested me. Nowadays I’m finding a way back to it since lots of new plans occur and everything’s starting to move ahead again. I welcome attempts to get into foreign markets, even if just by one story, and I hope there will be more. I also welcome ambitious projects attempting to achieve worldly goals. I don’t like the frequent Czech self-centeredness and trying to astonish outwardly, while if you look closer, you find an inflated bubble of nothing. It may sound too harsh from me but most of all I’m excited to see signs of change and the will to change around me. A crisis was bound to happen, the so-called “Golden Age” is past us and everyone needs to work harder now. I hope that XB-1 finds its place in this process and won’t just stand by.

You can find more of the interview (in Czech) on XB-1 website: http://www.casopisxb1.cz/aktuality/pribehy-se-vali-na-ctenare-tempem-parniho-rychlovlaku/

Don’t be surprised if you find some of the questions above not present in the linked Czech article; that one is a snippet too, the full interview is available in the January issue of XB-1 (see the cover below).

XB-1 01/2014 cover