Thursday, July 2, 2020

What Are Friends For?

Friends are not merely allies. They can be allies in causes, and they can even be support during the darkest times, but friends do not exist to be tools to achieve a common goal. They are not to be thrown away when they lose usefulness, or when they disagree with a certain belief you have that they do not. The only people who believe in such a thing as weaponizing friendship are those who have no idea what friendship is. All they can do is use people to achieve their goals, then dispose of them when they have worn out their usefulness to the cause.

If this sounds like high school behavior that is because that is what it is. The modern world is run by cliques of people with the stunted thinking of teenagers who never grew up beyond envying those at the cool kid table. Ever wonder why pop culture is so full of crybullies these days focused on the "underdog" and the "mistreated" over normality? Now you know.

Cliques should stay in high school. They actually shouldn't be there either, but it's a much better place for those useless groups to be than in the real world. They offer nothing to anyone except to massage the egos of hateful individuals who refuse to except responsibility for being hateful. It's a kid's game--one that adults should have put behind them a long time ago.

I've often puzzled as to why these cliques even exist, and beyond the obvious reason that certain types want control of others, I have come to the conclusion that it is because those involved either have no idea what friendship is or they reject the concept entirely and think they found something better. There can't possibly be this many people out in the world who loved high school so much they never want it to end, and yet it seems every week they set out to prove that they do. They want everything to be run like a high school cafeteria from a 1980s teen sex comedy.

The short story market, for instance, is run by cliques. Step out of line and you can be blacklisted from it. Have the wrong opinion on a current event, and you are out. No more selling to an ever-dwindling buying audience for you! Where the market should be banding together in an age where short stories should be more popular than ever, we instead splinter and fracture, doubling down on the same bad decisions that have killed the market since the 1940s. It's no longer about entertainment or art, but about pleasing the correct people: people that frankly have no business being in charge of the industry to begin with. But that's how cliques work. Nepotism and greased palms more their world go round, and the audience is the one who loses out.

The readers are the losers in this scenario, but what else is knew? The readers have been on the back burner since 1937.

Of course, not every single person in the market is part of the clique, but the majority of upper class urbanites larping as protectors of justice are. I can say as someone who has browsed a lot of submission guidelines looking for markets to submit short stories that at least 90% of these magazines have absolutely no relation to reality or what the average person would want to read. You can tell this by how popular the genres that came from the magazine format are in literally every other medium. Those in charge have no business being there, and are holding it back from reaching its full potential.

The last time short fiction sold in the western world was in the 1940s, and this is only referring to the Shaver Mysteries that ran in Amazing Stories. The clique hated the Shaver Mysteries by the way. Those sold, after all. Aside from that it has been a slow decline into irrelevance from the 1930s to the point that no one reads short stories anymore.

And no one will address this problem. They would rather double down and appeal to their ever-shrinking pool of "allies" instead. As long as they get what they want, who cares if normal people don't? Normies are scum! They should either read our slop, or nothing. And this is is why no one reads anymore. They would rather not read than read what is being dumped into the dying magazine market. That this isn't a wake up call is proof that cultists rule the market.

Then there is the claim that the audience just doesn't want short stories anymore: they've moved on! Avoiding that obvious revelation that no one is currently trying to offer the wider audience anything that might appeal to them, audiences want adventure. There are more magazines obsessed with skin color, genitals, and modern day politics, than there are those that offer wonder or adventure. This has nothing to do with format, especially in an age of shorter attention spans. This has to do with a market willfully abandoning a wider audience for a clique.

This drop in the sales of short fiction and magazines didn't happen overnight. People didn't stop buying short stories one day because they got sick of them--no one alive today has ever been at a point where buying short stories has been an option for them. The reason why is because the large majority of short fiction magazines do not offer anything the average reader wants, and they haven't for well over half a century. There are precious few magazines willing to offer the thrills Adventure and Weird Tales gave its readers; they are instead aimed at a tiny clique of Clarion taught urbanites that care more about message than wonder. That "audience" also barely buys anything.

In other words, no one reads short stories because no one is writing short stories for them. The audience has been taught to avoid the form. This isn't something that is going to change overnight, and these potential readers have no reason to trust us yet. It's going to take a lot of work to change that perception the clique has given of the form.

The Pulp Archivist has recently gone through the numbers, and his findings are not good. Other than a spike in the 1940s when Shaver Mysteries were in Amazing Stories, and a bump of nostalgia during the 1980s, genre fiction magazines have been rocketing downhill since the 1930s. We still haven't hit the bottom of this pit.

"So, yes, things are bad for science fiction short story magazines. Out on the edges, titles have shorter runs than the fly-by-night pulps. Fire sales of back issues before closings are not uncommon. Amazing was saved from a failed Kickstarter by an angel investor writing checks in excess of $10,000. More than one small press has gone out of business thanks to repeated flirtations with short fiction. And the recent Weird Tales revival just...vanished. The old names don't have the drawing power they used to, and the new names are stuck between not-taking enough risks and taking too many in a field that is glutted with supply but not demand."

Here's something for any potential editor reading this that is considering buying an old name for new stories. Please read closely and embed this in your brain, if you care even one iota about your field.

Stop coasting on the past success of magazines that were made over half a century before you were born. Everyone who wrote, read, or has nostalgia for that era, is dead now. They played their part and now their time is over. The only reason you are buying the old name for use is to get undeserved clout and to pretend you are an extension of their legacy. You're not. You have no intention of buying stories similar to those classics, which is why your run is garbage and is forgotten minutes after it goes under. You have no respect for the classics, or those who wrote them, and most of the time write guidelines saying as such. This is about your ego: it is not about helping the short story market. Stop making the problem worse.

I hope this does bruise an ego or two, because it needs to be said. Every single Weird Tales revival has been massively inferior to the original run from 1924 to 1956. Everyone knows this is true, but no one will say it. These are just nostalgics and grifters trying to coast on a name they have no claim to, aside from the fact that they wasted money on it. The problem isn't that Amazing Stories isn't around anymore; it is that no one is running a magazine like it.

You have diagnosed the complete wrong problem, and are obsessed with packaging over content. People didn't buy those magazines because the titles gave them fuzzy feelings: they bought them because the magazines had stories the audience wanted to read which is what gave that name credibility to begin with. This is credibility that you have killed by wearing the name as a skin-suit while offering stories completely unlike what made it popular.

Get over your ego. You aren't part of that old legacy by buying the rights and slapping your modified logo on the same modern fiction readers can buy in every other low selling magazine out there--you're coasting on that trusted legacy to do the heavy lifting for you.

There is no ambition in the short fiction market. It is all about subverting legacy brands that sold much more than you while also still relying on said brands to carry the load. It's actually pathetic. There is no attempt at anything resembling a classic revival or reaching out to wider audiences aside from a few isolated examples. No one is trying to appeal to the audience that was chased away, and that is why the market will continue to circle the drain.

"Still, in my ignorance, I thought things were bad by pulp standards, where 50,000 in circulation was average, 100,000 was good, and 35,000 was the lean years. Anything below that, and the magazine would be set aside for one that covered the current fad in short fiction. And, given that I've come across anecdotal statements that placed Asimov's and Analog at around 85,000 in the 1980s, I assumed that the same standard still applied. 
"No science fiction magazine currently has a circulation higher than 20,000. To pick one example, Fantasy & Science Fiction has gone from 60,000 to 6,000 in 80 years. 
"Many of the "cool and forward-thinking" are lucky to get 5,000 or even 3,000."

This is a dying market, if not one that is already dead, and no one has done anything to attempt to rectify the problem. They continue to offer lower rates for stories no wider audience wants to read, and yet strut about as if they are forward-thinking and revolutionary. They are nothing but kids playing with sandcastles.

The Archivist shouldn't be the only one looking into this data, but the revelations are uncomfortable and proof of a failed leadership. The clique would rather pretend to be head of the cool kid table instead of the elephant cage cleaners at the zoo they actually are. Short stories are see as a joke by the wider world, and instead of addressing it they would rather double down and continue shrinking the audience further. An elite readership that consists of less readers than the student body of an urban school. Pathetic.

As long as I've been alive, short stories have been looked at as shallow "gotcha" stories that "make you think" about things like The Lottery: stories students are given and told to read to get meaningless grades on papers and projects they will forget by the time they graduate. They have turned reading into an obligation, and not an escape. None of these people continue reading when they leave high school, but no one stops to question what can be done about it or why this happens. The clique doesn't care. They get to be kings of the sandbox that was once a beach.

Someone needs to actually ask the question: what are you going to do about it? Why is this acceptable? Why is it okay that less people read less than ever before, and why is it okay to ignore them? At this rate no one will be reading short stories within a few decades. This is a serious problem. Are you planning to address this?

Beyond that, there are other questions to ponder. Where are these audiences going? Why are they walking away? It's easy to say that audiences are no longer interested in the short story, but why would that be? Everything has a reason and a purpose. What is the reason, in this case? What can be done to turn it around?

For those who know anything about human nature they know that every man and woman has a reason they do anything, but those in the field are content with just throwing up their hands and moving onto the next literary fad that appeals to the ever-shrinking market. What is the point for writing to your three clique buddies who will drop you the second you fall out of line with the clique? Nothing is being fixed. The problem is only being made worse.

Unless these problems are actually addressed, unless reading is actually made cool again, things will only get worse. Action is needed. People are not just going to magically start reading out of nowhere. Someone, somewhere, needs to sidestep the clique, and make a push.

Where are the magazines pushing stories such as this?

Though it is hard to imagine anything lower than where we are now, things can always get worse. They almost certainly will, especially with a clique in charge that doesn't actually care that younger generations aren't reading.

The Archivist finishes up:

"The market is contracting, without signs of stopping, from at least the mid-2000s generational handover. Digital and its different margins have likely kept some of these magazines in business far longer than print runs can justify. This has also allowed many smaller magazines to thrive in niches as a sort of underground to the underground. But the overall scene is still shrinking, and there is no prestige, no coolness to short fiction in a time where tens of thousands and more devour teenagers' first fanfiction short stories. If there was, the magazines would be growing, not managing their decline 
"It's almost to the point where the established science fiction "fandom" does not and should not be the audience. There are 300 million people not reading science fiction short stories. The editor who can figure out how to reach even 0.0001% of that will be the king of science fiction."

Fandom is dead; fanatics do not have to be your audience anymore. It would be more accurate to say that they were never your audience to begin with, and yet were given the keys to the kingdom in order to run it into the ground.

The issue does go a lot further back than the last few years. As already stated, this has been a problem since at least 1937 when a cadre of authors got together to purposefully divide readers, and cast out those who wanted adventure for glorified school lectures disguised as stories. That would be by the group known as the Futurians, who then squeezed their way into the wider industry and dismantled everything overnight. Now the market is dead.

And no, it wasn't just to carve out their own niche in a bigger industry: they always wanted to control the whole thing. These types went out of their way to attack those still offering entertainment first fiction simply because their minds couldn't process beliefs outside their shallow slogans and catchphrases. These are the people who think adventure fiction is too stupid for their highly advanced brains raised on glorified pamphlets disguised as stories. Escapism is bad for you--being taught how to think is good!

Then there are comments from the past that reveal a bit too much of the game (emphasis mine):

"If science-fiction has anything to offer other than mere escapism, its value lies in promoting a receptive, questioning attitude and freeing the mind from the narrow, superstition-bound, taboo-ridden ruts of accustomed thought channels. 
"Nearly every science-fiction story is a glimpse into some writer’s conception of a possible future, and as change is the one certainty in this universe, the future will be different from the present. How different? Our present-day patterns are neither perfect nor static. Some of our better brains have concluded that if we don’t rapidly learn as much about our own psychology and social structures as we already know about the guts of a uranium, we are heading for disaster on a grand scale. 
"Anyone not entirely prejudice-blinded can see that the conventional standards of sex conduct of today are irrational, hypocritical, and simply are not working. The Kinsey report indicates clearly that a socially dangerous schizoid gap exists between “moral principles” and actual conduct."

This was from the magazine Planet Stories, and it once again shows how oddly obsessed supposed "forward-thinkers" are with sexuality and breaking moral norms and taboos. And this was in the 1940s, when the form was already on the decline.

Fandom hasn't changed all that much, has it? These fanatics were all attacking the one magazine from the time that was going out of its way to offer new material in the vein of what got the genre popular to begin with. But fandom couldn't let the readers have what they wanted. They needed to poison the well. It was never about choice; it was about the clique seizing control.

Where else were those readers who wanted adventure supposed to go? John W. Campbell reshaped Astounding into something it was never meant to be, cutting off a whole market. Amazing Stories ditched the very popular Shaver Mysteries simply because the new editor didn't like them. Readers were now being told what they should have, and they were walking away.

"When I took over from Palmer, in 1949," Howard Browne said, "I put an abrupt end to the Shaver Mystery -- writing off over 7,000 dollars worth of scripts."

Meanwhile the Futurians and their pals were slipping into places of power to make sure said readers would never get what they wanted again. Stories were now about "important things" and "teaching the correct way to live" from utopianists who hated humanity. If they just taught you the correct way to live the world would be fixed, darn it! As you can tell by the numbers this approach has been a rousing success and well worth clinging to after more than half a century of failure.

What was key was making sure those that wanted escapism, wonder, action, and wild ideas instead have those taken away from them so they could focus on the correct things instead. It was imperative that they not have their wonder! So sayeth the clique of fandom!

"[B]y and large the mid to late 1940s saw AMAZING at its lowest point in quality — yet its highest in circulation!"

If only they could see the sales of the magazines now! That must mean the story quality should be at its highest, by this logic. Apparently, the less people buy something the better it is. People are dumb after all and only smart people, the minority, can understand true quality--not the filthy masses. Only those at the cool kid table can deign what "good" is.

This backwards thinking must be why such a healthy, vibrant genre is currently the lowest selling one and is in the process of imploding at this very moment. The wider audience is dumb--but the fanatics and poseurs are smart.

Except that this isn't the case.

Once the normal audience leaves anything, the subculture collapses in a spin-cycle of fart-sniffing, power grabs, and cultism. Once you stop trying to approach the average person you are no longer creating outside yourself, but are instead creating in a void separate from the wider world. That is not what art or entertainment is for. Those that create to deliberately split their audience or mock them are the ones who have perverted the purpose of creation.

You are not smarter than normal people, and what you create is not above them. If you think this way, then you might as well stop creating now. Those who think themselves above their audience can never connect with them, they can only separate and isolate themselves instead. Just like the clique at the cool kid table.

So, yes, this war against escapism, against the readers, has been going on for a very long time and has had disastrous consequences for many mediums. Obsessives and poseurs made it their mission to deconstruct and warp an entire field while normal people were busy leading their lives. One day they woke up and found everything they enjoyed destroyed, so they walked away. They've never come back; the clique won. Unfortunately for newer writers, the problem is that the wrong side won this war. Now the market is gone, and no one is left to read what they write.

Cliques kill, and that is a truth unlikely to change anytime soon. Friends don't let friends form cliques: instead they do something more productive than destroying other people's good time in order to prop themselves up. Like playing a game of Contra together. Now that's a bonding experience. Couch co-op is a good way to make a friend.

On the other hand, it isn't hopeless out there. There are magazines trying to make a difference and to offer exciting stories to normal readers for cheap as dirt prices. They just want your beer money while they offer you fun tales of adventure, mystery, excitement, and wonder.

Some names include Cirsova, StoryHack, Econoclash, Pulp Modern, and Switchblade, among others. They are out there, and they are attempting to reach readers that might not even know such fiction exists any longer. It's going to take time, but this is a problem that can be fixed.

If we're going to break out of this rut we're going to have to keep trying to move forward instead of trying to tear each other down. There is no future utopia coming, no matter how many sad soppy stories you write about how bad things are because the correct thoughts aren't being thought by the stupid people. Your writing will not become required reading for some mythical future revolutionary front, and that's just fine. Make friends, not allies, and you'll understand that there are more important things than controlling what people think and feel.

There is plenty of adventure out there just waiting to be discovered by you, and to be shared with readers and friends alike.

That is, after all, what storytelling is all about.


  1. One of the things the pulp rev has tried to do is, on a cultural level, to promote stories that are at their foundation not-nihilistic, and pro-civilization.

    On that note -

    Pilium press, a new imprint, has put out a new book of short stories by Sky Hernstrom (who gained popularity in Cirsova) and Jon Mollison, and two essays by Jeffro. It's available in print via Lulu.

    In print, because paper is less ephermal.

    1. I just realized it was out. I'm going to have to do a signal boost for that one soon.

  2. I'm working on this very issue. I don't know if my plan will succeed, but it might have merit in the age of the failing short story magazine.

  3. We know the collapse of the short story market is all gatekeeper and not audience because fan fic is everywhere.

    1. Yes, the death of the short story wasn't natural. It was due to bad leadership.

  4. I love shorts as a medium, and I feel like I'm just getting my legs under me in that format. I intend to do whatever I can to save it. It's weird about the so-called "forward thinkers" and their obsessions - in that vein reading "The Last and First Men" is like looking at ground zero for a lot of their peculiarities - "nudity is futuristic" , "all sexual taboos must go to 'advance' human race." The sexual obsession and projection it's like it's so fundamental to their belief systems it's not even funny.