Saturday, 24 August 2019

Reprint: ten years of The Future Fire

Reprinted from TFFX (2015, edd. al-Ayad, Matthey and Vitale) [purchase links] as part of our celebration of The Future Fire issue #50 in 2019. Four more years may have passed, but this history of the first ten years, and what we’re trying to do with the zine, still stands.

This anthology celebrates ten years of The Future Fire magazine (futurefire.net), by both reprinting a few highlight stories from the first thirty-one issues, and including several new, experimental, unusual or aspirational pieces to give a taster of what we’d like to see more of in the next decade.

Issue #1 appeared in January 2005, after a bit of preamble and experimentation the previous year, and apart from a short hiatus to rest up and take stock about halfway through, we’ve been publishing an average of three to four issues per year ever since. We always wanted TFF to be challenging, experimental, progressive, inclusive, political, revolutionary—even if to start with maybe we weren’t sure what we were rebelling against!

The first thing you would notice if you went back in time ten years (or just used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine) to look at the TFF website in 2005, would be how god-awful-shitty the web design was. I like to think that’s aesthetics having changed, and it wasn’t quite so ’90s-looking to a 2005 eye, but I’m lying to myself. Still, the evolution from CBBC-quality flames in 2005, via a slightly darker, smoky aesthetic in 2007, to the cathode ray tube Unicode-soup we know and love today in about 2009, echoes the growing confidence we started to have in our niche in the speculative fiction market.

We launched in 2005 as a cyberpunk market (words like “chrome,” “postmodern” and “hyperfiction” peppered our tagline, manifesto and first story contests), but through an accident of community we knew more writers of horror and dark fantasy, and there was almost no conventional scifi in the first several issues. You can hear a bit of diffidence about this in our early editorials, and our craving for that elusive cyberpunk is almost tangible…

But once our slushpile was deep enough that we could reasonably select on genre and theme as well as quality (we were always uncompromising on quality) then our niche was under our control, and we didn’t have to be shy about the geeky, retro, techno-noir look we imagined for ourselves. Not that we ever stopped publishing horror, fantasy and surreal stories as well, of course; and never will.

You might also notice the evolution in our one-line mission statement: “New writing in Dark Speculative Fantasy!” we proclaimed in 2004. “Speculative Fiction, Cyberpunk and Dark Fantasy!” we boomed in 2007. “Social-Political and Speculative Cyberfiction!” we have cried since 2009. Always the line, “An experiment in and celebration of new writing” has sat somewhere in the first paragraph.

We’ve had a thorough turnaround of collaborators too: In 2004 we were Bruce, Joseph, Equus and myself; Joseph and Equus left within days; by 2009 we had been joined by Leoba, David, John and Lois; by 2011 it was just me, which is part of the reason TFF took a year’s hiatus. Now, as of 2015, we are joined by Regina, Kathryn, Tracie, Valeria, Cécile (who has illustrated stories since 2006), Serge; plus Lori and Fabio who have guest-edited anthologies and continue to be valued collaborators.

We have attracted a fabulous team of artists, a critical and generous cohort of reviewers, and a community of support that we plug into via social networks and occasional conventions. We’ve had a huge amount of support, both financial and in-kind, during the crowdfunding campaigns for the last three anthologies, and we engage both productively and cordially with several other small presses, publications and writing communities. In 2005 it was mostly me, sketching and photoshopping, reviewing whatever junk I found lying around, bribing and threatening people to send us their stories, funding the whole thing out of my pocket.

I measure the success of TFF by such intangible things—legends who turn out to have heard of us; people who can publish professionally nonetheless sending us their stories; the generosity and excitement of new and potential collaborators. But if you want more measurable criteria, no less than eight stories first published in our pages have been shortlisted or honorably-mentioned in awards and year’s bests; ten stories have been reprinted in some of the most prestigious and high-quality anthologies such as Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best, Lethe Press’s Heiresses of Russ, the Apex World SF and Mammoth’s SF Stories by Women.

We hope to drive this success ever onwards. Our aim has always been to publish progressive ideas, underrepresented voices, socially important stories, and people clearly think that’s a worthwhile goal. We’ve learned a lot about what all of these mean over the years as well—learned to check our own privilege and be much more sensitive to issues of gender, race, class, ability, language, and so many other facets of oppression. We’re able to be selective now on features above mere quality, fit and taste; in addition we filter by features such as respect, not punching down, lazy stereotypes that we might have missed before we had such an inclusive team able to share their judgements of privilege and oppression with us.

But we’ve also always wanted to have fun, to push the boundaries, to play games that Borges, Kafka, Calvino and Eco would be tickled by, and people seem to enjoy that too. We feel it’s important to treat authors and artists with respect, which among other things means paying them properly for their work, and we have some ideas for improving our finances to do better on that front in the future.

But most importantly, my co-editors Valeria and Cécile have done a great job helping put together this anthology of old and new stories, and we hope you enjoy reading them. If you do, keep coming back to futurefire.net; we plan for there to be plenty more where these came from!

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