Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines

... in the English language, at least as implied by certain awards nominations and "best of" placements.

[Note: This is a 2014 list. For more recent lists, see here.]

Okay, I'm a dork. I want to apologize right away for this list, for two reasons, but then also excuse myself for two reasons.

First apology: It's a little weird for me to occupy space in a philosophy blog with talk about science fiction magazines. I know! Excuse: I've come to think that science fiction, and other types of "speculative fiction" (e.g., Borges), is an interesting and valuable way to explore the metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological dimensions of various "what-if" possibilities. The concreteness of speculative fiction, and the way the stories engage the emotions and imagination, has I think both epistemic virtues (you think through the specific scenario somewhat better) and shortcomings (you might be too influenced by particular incidental features). Serious speculative fiction belongs in the philosopher's toolbox.

Second apology: It's silly to take rankings like this very seriously; and also, in certain respects, such rankings tend to reinforce the privilege of the status quo. Excuse: However, in another respect, lists level the playing field. I've started publishing science fiction, and until recently I had no idea where to send things. So I started looking at the original venues for some of the stories I liked in the "Best of" anthologies I'd been reading. This seemed better than just searching "science fiction magazines" on the web and seeing what popped up. The list below is really just a systematization of my efforts, as an outsider without word-of-mouth connections. It magnifies the advantage of insiders if outsiders are at sea about what is read and respected by those at the top of the sci-fi publishing hierarchy. (The SFWA list of qualifying markets isn't necessarily a good guide.)

Okay, I know, I'm still a dork. Feel free to stop reading now, lest you become a dork too!

Method and Caveats:

  • I gave each magazine one hit every time it had a story nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, or World Fantasy award (at short story, novelette, or novella length), 2004-2013.
  • Each magazine also got one hit every time a story was included in the Dozois, Horton, or Strahan "Best of" anthologies, 2004-2013 (Horton starting 2006, Strahan starting 2007). I would have included the Hartwell-Cramer anthologies too, but I didn't have access to the full lists. (I might update if I can get access.)
  • I am not attempting to include the horror / dark fantasy genre, or other related genres, except incidentally as those other genres happen to appear in Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Dozois, Horton, or Strahan.
  • Prose only, not poetry.
  • I'm not including edited anthologies -- only regular magazines -- though about half of all nominated stories and "Best of" selections appear in edited anthologies.
  • I'm not attempting to correct for frequency of publication. (Notably, GigaNotoSaurus publishes only one story a month.)
  • I also don't attempt to correct for a magazine's only having published during part of 2004-2013. Reputations of defunct magazines (e.g., SciFiction) slowly fade, and they are sometimes restarted. (Weird Tales!) Reputations of new magazines (e.g., Lightspeed) slowly build. A ten year window seems right.
  • I take the list down to magazines with two hits. One hit might be a fluke. But actually there are some very good magazines with only two or three hits. A bit more about that at the end.
  • I welcome corrections.

  • Results:

    1. Asimov's (197 hits)
    2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (146)
    3. Subterranean (47) (started 2007)
    4. Clarkesworld (43) (started 2006)
    5. Analog (38)
    6. Tor.com (33) (started 2008)
    7. Strange Horizons (32)
    8. Interzone (31)
    9. SciFiction (26) (ceased 2005)
    10. Lightspeed (25) (started 2010)
    11. Fantasy Magazine (16) (started 2005, merged into Lightspeed, 2012)
    12. Postscripts (11)
    13. Jim Baen's Universe (10) (ran 2006-2010)
    13. Realms of Fantasy (10) (ceased 2011)
    15. Apex (6) (started 2005)
    16. Helix SF (5) (ran 2006-2008)
    17. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (4) (started 2008)
    17. Electric Velocipede (4) (ceased 2013)
    19. Black Gate (3)
    19. Black Static (3) (started 2007)
    19. Cosmos (3) (started 2005)
    19. Flurb (3) (ran 2006-2012)
    19. The New Yorker (3)
    19. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010)
    25. Aeon Speculative Fiction (2) (ceased 2008)
    25. Conjunctions (2)
    25. Futurismic (2) (ceased 2010)
    25. Lone Star Stories (2) (ceased 2009)
    25. Weird Tales (2) (off and on throughout period)

    Two things are immediately striking about this list:

    First, really just a few magazines dominate the nominations and "best of" selections -- especially Asimov's and F&SF. Given the chanciness and subjectivity and imperfections of the submission and selection process, and given the fact that excellent authors might sometimes prefer venues other than the top few on this list, I find it difficult to believe that those few magazines really have that proportion of the highest quality stories. Almost half of the hits are from the top two, and 83% are from the top ten. And there are very good magazines that don't appear on this list at all (Nature's "Futures" series, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex...).

    The graph below captures this distribution visually (click to enlarge):

    Second, excluding the two prestigious "literary fiction" magazines on the list (The New Yorker and Conjunctions) 20 of the 27 magazines either started or ceased publication during this ten year period. It's a troubled industry. All but a few magazines fail after a few or several years, but dedicated editors regularly launch new magazines (or scoop up the right to old titles) and try again.

    [BTW, the Pushcart Rankings served as a partial model.]

    Update, Aug. 20:

    In the comments, Sean Wallace suggests re-analyzing with a five-year window to see if the dominance patterns are shifting. The results, through 5 hits:

    1. Asimov's (100)
    2. F&SF (66)
    3. Clarkesworld (42)
    3. Subterranean (42)
    5. Tor.com (33)
    6. Lightspeed (25)
    7. Interzone (21)
    8. Strange Horizons (18)
    9. Analog (16)
    10. Fantasy (14)
    11. Apex (6)
    11. Postscripts (6)
    12. Realms of Fantasy (5)

    Not radically different, though as Sean suggests, it does show some broadening away from Asimov's and F&SF toward others in the top ten.

    Second update, Aug. 20:

    Following another suggestion of Sean's, I looked at five and ten years' selections of novelettes and short stories from the Locus Recommended Reading List (no novellas this time).

    Over a five-year window, the spread is considerably flatter than my original ten-year list above, with the number one Asimov's (60) approximately doubling the number 5 Subterranean (25) and five times the number 10 Beneath Ceaseless skies (13). Also Intergalatic Medicine Show, Interfictions, Nightmare, The Dark, and Tin House now appear (2-3 hits each).

    Over a ten-year window, the top-ranked magazines start to pull away again, with Asimov's (164) and F&SF (142) well ahead of the 3rd to 7th ranked (all 31-40 hits). Magazines on this list that are not mentioned above are Argosy, MIT Techology Review, Harper's, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2-3 hits each).

    See The Underblog for my full Locus ranking lists.


    James Davis Nicoll said...

    What are you using to find content lists? I generally use both isfdb.org and Contento (when I can remember the URL), as well as the odd post on SF Signal.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    It would be terrific if I could scrape the data in some way out of those databases. For the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards I went directly to their sites or to fan sites listing past nominees. I pulled the Dozois and Strahan out of the hard copies of the books in the UC Riverside Special Collections science fiction collection. For Horton, I looked at his own page, which goes through 2011, and then looked at my own personal copies for 2012 and 2013.

    UC Riverside and my own bookshelf have a few of the Hartwell-Cramer anthologies, but I don't see an easy way to get the whole list other than by purchasing every volume. If you can think of an alternative method, I'd be much obliged!

    (My hunch is that Hartwell-Cramer won't change the list much, since it looks like they have a strong tilt toward Asimov's and F&SF and pull the remainder mostly from the same magazines as the others. Maybe it would lift a few new magazines to the list, though, and shuffle around the order near the bottom.)

    Charlie Stross said...

    I find it difficult to believe that those few magazines really have that proportion of the highest quality stories.

    Yes, but there may be a reverse correlation. I don't write much short fiction these days, but when I do the first places I send it are those few outlets that (a) pay best, (b) have the biggest audience reach, and (c) are seen to dominate the awards shortlists -- because for me, as a successful (multiple Hugo-winning) author, short fiction is primarily an advertising/showcase vehicle (and a medium for experimentation that isn't feasible in novel-length fiction). If other award-nominated authors are doing the same thing, then this gives rise to a self-perpetuating loop. Fair? No. But can any one writer afford not to do it?

    Sean Wallace said...

    I wonder how this would look if you focused on even just the last five years, with the rise of online magazines. I know when I analyzed award nominations / wins that they were moving away from the Big Three, and it was particularly clear even a few years ago.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Sure, Charlie, I wouldn't blame any SF writer for placing all of their short fiction in Asimov's and F&SF if they can pull it off! But I suspect that some really excellent writers who aren't quite as well known can't reliably publish even their best stuff in the top two or five places. I'm thinking here of established writers with a dozen or so good placements, and maybe even a major award nomination or two.

    But maybe I'm wrong about that? I'm open to correction by people more in the know.

    One thing I noticed in gathering these data: Horton seems to pull more broadly than the other editors.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Sean: Yes, I noticed that too. I have the data all arranged by year in my files, so it would be easy enough to re-analyze with a five year window. Maybe I'll just do that right now.

    Sean Wallace said...

    You particularly see this shift with the Locus Recommended Reading List, but primarily for short fiction, whereas for novella and novelettes the Big Three still hold sway. I suspect you'll see the same in your analysis.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    I've appended a five-year analysis to the end of the post, reflecting your suggestion, Sean. It does seem that there's a trend the direction you say.

    A quick perusal of the Locus Recommended Reading List also fits with what you say. It could be interesting to analyze that, too.

    Is your own analysis still up somewhere?

    Charlie Stross said...

    Eric: there are two angles to the new-authors-gaining-visibility issue.

    On the one hand, it's hard for them to get seen when folks like me crowd out the top spots in prestige outlets.

    On the other hand, folks like me can maintain their own reputation for cutting-edge awareness if we discover and promote talented newcomers. It's not just true of editors like Gardner Dozois (who "discovered" me, in the pages of Asimov's, back in the day -- 15 years after I began publishing stories in Interzone), but of established authors who would love nothing more than to see their cover quote spread across the front of the next "Ancillary Justice" (putting their tired old has-been name in front of a new and enthusiastic audience).

    This is by way of saying the question of making that breakthrough in visibility when writing in genre rates one of those "it's complicated" answers. I can't in all honesty say that I think there even is any one true answer. Because information flows don't work linearly and unidirectionally.

    Sean Wallace said...

    I was mostly interested in the short fiction category, for the Locus Recommended Reading List, as it was low-hanging fruit and because online venues were limiting themselves to those lengths. It looks like the last time I publicly posted anything about this was back in 2011, unfortunately.

    If I recall properly:

    2006: 7%
    2007: 11%
    2008: 14%
    2009: 28%
    2010: 53%
    2011: 30%
    2012: 38%
    2013: 50%

    2010 was a particularly weak year for anthologies, which skewed things quite a bit.

    Sean Wallace said...

    But if you look at the Hugos, for just Asimov's, for example, they pretty much dominated the ss category, until recently:

    2000: 3
    2001: 3
    2002: 3
    2003: 2
    2004: 1
    2005: 2
    2006: 2
    2007: 3
    2008: 3
    2009: 2
    2010: 2
    2011: 1
    2012: 2
    2013: 0
    2014: 0

    You would need more data, though, in order to call it a trend.

    Sean Wallace said...

    For F&SF, for that same period, for the Hugos, ss category:

    2000: 2
    2001: 1
    2002: 0
    2003: 1
    2004: 2
    2005: 0
    2006: 0
    2007: 0
    2008: 0
    2009: 0
    2010: 0
    2011: 0
    2012: 1
    2013: 0
    2014: 0

    And Analog hasn't had a nomination since 2006, in this category.

    So what does this all mean? I think it depends on the length of the story, these days, and even then online magazines are encroaching on novella and novelettes. (And the other reasons Charlie pointed out.) But let's not discount tradition. Some authors will submit to the Big Three for that, only.

    Sean WAllace said...

    I also think you have to break out the awards, because the Hugos tend to lean science fiction, though not lately; WFAs for fantasy; and the Nebulas are a mixed bag. The appearance of Analog's/Asimov's, for example, on a WFA ballot would be bizarre. But F&SF hasn't dominated since 2007 for WFA in the ss category. So the contention that an of the three dominate the award categories, well, it depends on the length, honestly.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Charlie, I agree with everything you say. It's not all that different in academic philosophy circles, actually.

    But let me add: One thing that philosophers have really become aware of recently is how huge "halo effects" can be on readers' and editors' perceptions of quality. Thus, good stories without author halo probably have a harder time getting into Asimov's and F&SF -- though of course it's *possible* (I've just managed one), and I know most editors would like to discover new authors. And good stories without magazine halo probably have a harder time getting attention for awards and best-of's. The real kicker is that these effects can be very strong despite readers' and editors' good intentions and best efforts to counteract them.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Sean: Interesting analyses! I'm working up a breakdown of five years' Locus recommendations right now, at your suggestion. I'll add a comment and link when it's up.

    I totally agree that tradition has weight in people's minds -- one reason to look at ten years rather than five. (It also improves statistical power and smooths the bumps.)

    I like having the Hugo, Nebula, and WFA all in the bag, with the Hugo and WFA kind of balancing so that it's a sci-fi and fantasy list *approximately* equally. Could try to pull sci-fi apart from fantasy, but that would be a difficult trick to do right.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Sean, not sure if you're still reading these comments, but I appreciate your suggestions, and I've updated with a summary of 5- and 10-year analyses of the Locus recommendations.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Anon Aug 24: I'm not sure your comment was attached to the right post. Since it's a bit uncivil and not clearly connected to the post, I have deleted it. Please feel free to repost a clearer comment.

    dolphintornsea said...

    Professor, I have detailed spreadsheets of all the major awards and all the Year's Best Series (well, except a few really obscure ones), with story publication details.

    If you'd like these for statistical analysis - just say what you'd like and e-mail me at pfnel@mweb.co.za.

    - Peter Nel, Cape Town.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Yes, send -- terrific! I just sent you an email.

    Roy said...

    Since most magazines do not allow you to simultaneously submit to another mag until and if they have declined your story, I would imagine that most authors--whether budding or established--simply submit StoryX to the magazine which pays the most. If it's rejected, then they move to the next in line, and so forth. This would mean that the best stories would tend to be hoovered up by a relatively small number of publishers, no?

    p.s.--how's your fiction career going since you published this post?? :)

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Thanks for the comment, Roy! A "top-down" strategy something like you mention seems to be a common one among SF authors who are trying to establish themselves, though it's complicated because of special issues, anthologies, magazines with different turnaround times (Clarkesworld lightning fast, Tor.com slow), opening and closing submissions windows, and editorial preferences (no zombie stories to Clarkesworld).

    I've sold a few stories to good places since the post and have a few more in the works, which I'm optimistic about, so I think it's going pretty well! My favorite stories so far: "Reinstalling Eden" (with R. Scott Bakker) in Nature 2013; "Out of the Jar" in F&SF 2015; "Momentary Sage" in The Dark 2015; "The Dauphin's Metaphysics" in Unlikely Story forthcoming.

    Nicole said...

    This is a fantastic resource. Thank you for doing it! I know the conversation has moved on here, but I loved reading it and how you recalculated data to adjust for more recent changes and other factors based on the comments. It's also fascinating that Charles Stross just dropped in to participate.

    One thing is, as a struggling sci-fi writer, my first pick for submitting isn't the source that pays the most. That's why I came here. My goals are more long term. I'm going to shoot for the spot with the most reach and/or award recognition.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Thanks for the kind words, Nicole. Also check out my 2015 update. I should probably make a stable URL for my 2016 update next fall.

    Nicole said...

    Thanks Eric. A Google search brought me here. My search was something like "Sci-fi magazines with most Hugo/Nebula awards." I was curious if there are sources that are respected in the community that I'm unaware of. I looked but didn't see an update link on this page for your more recent posts about it. I'm interested in that, of course! I'll look through your archive for the updated posts on it.

    What I think is pretty cool is that most of the respected magazines DO allow unpublished authors to submit. It's probably difficult to get in, as has been noted, but there is that sliver of a chance. A chance!

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