I enjoyed what [Weird Tales] was under Ann VanderMeer, and I hate to see her leave in such a fashion. I have no reason at the moment to suspect the magazine will degrade in quality, but it probably won’t be the journal it was one way or another. I’ll give it a chance. But in the end, what it all boils down to is, I’m disappointed.
I wrote those words a year ago this Friday in a post on this blog. It was written in the aftermath of the takeover of the magazine. We’re still waiting to see what the new Weird Tales, as edited by Marvin Kaye, will look like. However, this week some rather disturbing news hit the internet when Kaye announced his upcoming first issue would include an excerpt from a self-published science fiction novel that many on the internet have decried as racist.
I’m not here to debate the content of that book. I have not read it, I have only read what people have said about it. However, even leaving aside the controversial nature of the material, this was still a highly unusual move for the magazine, given that the story is (a) not what the magazine has typically called “weird” in the past (b) was a novel excerpt of something (c) already published and (d) a chapter available free from multiple sources at that. In all, this has served as a disquieting portent of what the magazine will be under its new leadership. Weird Tales will also cease being one important thing it became under Vandermeer’s guiding eye.
It will cease being a SFWA pro-rate market.
This news was broken by SFWA Vice President, and former Weird Tales art director, Mary Robinette Kowal on her Twitter account. “Just found out that WeirdTales, which had gone to .05 per word with Ann Vandermeer, dropped its rates to .03 after the take-over.” It was not yet an official SFWA pro market, that requires one year of continual payment at pro rates, but I was still surprised by the news. The magazine currently does not list their rate on its submissions guideline page, it’s closed to submissions anyway, but Duotrope would appear to confirm, listing the market as “Semi-pro payment (1-4.9 US cents per word).”
The magazine will also lose Vandermeer herself. She was given a position with the magazine as an olive branch after the takeover, tasked with finding one story per issue that highlighted a new and upcoming writer. Her full statement is on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog, accompanied by a disturbing story that indicates both Vandermeers were aware of the decision to excerpt Saving Pearls and advised against it in June, which Weird Tales publisher John Harlacher says is “100% true,” but that he “had some romantic notion of editorial freedom.”
One piece of good news has come out of this, again from Mary Robinette Kowal. As announced on her blog, Kowal has personally underwritten a rate increase for the magazine Shimmer from $5/story to .05/word, paving the way for the magazine’s recognition as a pro market next year. Shimmer editor Beth Wodzinski, announcing the increase on Shimmer’s website, said “Even without publishing the overtly racist chapter of Victoria Foyt’s novel Save the Pearls, it’s pretty clear that Weird Tales is no longer interested in publishing the kind of beautiful, dark, and original fiction that I adore — and the vocal outrage from the entire speculative fiction community shows that we are not alone in loving these stories.”
I’m not going to say that Shimmer is going to become what Weird Tales was under Vandermeer. That’s not my position. However, I did love what Vandermeer did with Weird Tales, and on seeing the announcement by Kowal, I immediately ordered a print subscription to Shimmer. If you’re looking for a market for a story, check out their submission guidelines, and remember that, at least as I understand it, while it takes a year to be recognized as a pro market, that recognition is retroactive to when the pay increase happened.
So what about Weird Tales?
I appreciate the quick action the publisher took when he saw the storm brewing, though this is tempered both by Jeff Vandermeer’s account of their June dinner and by Harlacher’s own glibness in the resulting comments thread. I don’t suspect this is how they wanted to relaunch the magazine. Am I still willing to give it a try? I understand my subscription will still entitle me to one Kaye-edited issue, and it would feel spiteful to trash it unread even in light of this week. However, my reservations are now far higher than when I wrote that original blog post, especially with Shimmer potentially set up as the true heir to the Vandermeer era of Weird Tales. I know I’m being far more charitable than many. I suppose I still have this odd hope that in spite of this controversy, or perhaps because of it, Weird Tales can still be something of what it was, and that I have an odd loyalty that they’ve honestly done little to justify.
It’s awkward coming at this a few days after the heart of the controversy, that’s what a scheduled date blog does, but it also removes some of the immediacy of emotion from the issue. New wrinkles are still showing up, and I don’t suspect we’ll ever have a full story. John Harlacher has promised Marvin Kaye will make a statement when he’s back from travel, which will be another piece in this puzzle.