The Tragedy of Great Stories

One reason I began writing stories was because I felt unsatisfied with many of the stories I would read. When it comes to modern fiction, it often feels like the writer has an agenda which they are determined to hammer into my skull. Perhaps that just means I am out of keeping with the times, and what I perceive as being the crushingly simplistic and worthless dogma of others is merely the mainstream opinion of this era of civilization. If that is true, then it is natural that writers should reflect the prejudices of the public. However, those prejudices are not shared by me, and I find them stifling. Whatever the truth, it occurred to me that I might write my own stories, partly to test if it was possible to create stories I liked, and partly to learn if others felt the same as me. Although art is nothing without an audience, I am content to be my own audience. That said, I would also be glad to experiment with writing that I imagined like a beacon: instead of searching for people with similar tastes by looking for the stories that I liked, I would see if others with similar tastes would find the stories I wrote. I hoped, but did not expect that the beacon might draw some similarly lost souls in my direction. If so, few have yet to arrive!

My stumbling attempts to light beacons have not been helped by many editors. They, like their paying audiences, rarely liked my stories well enough to publish them. And if the stories remained unpublished, then they would also remain undiscovered. So I sidestepped into a variation of my plan. If I became a publisher, then I might find stories I liked because writers had submitted them to me. Then I would publish them, and the beacon effect would be magnified. The results have been good so far; I am proud of the stories published in Sci Phi Journal since taking it over. Though it meant bankrolling a loss-making operation, the amount of money spent has been nothing compared to the satisfaction of connecting to writers whose work I admire. It is my hope that we may collectively light a bonfire so bright that it will be seen from very far away, taking our stories to new audiences, even if it proves impossible to please the jaded tastes of current fashion that leave me bemused.

Only two months have passed since acquiring Sci Phi Journal, but the results are pleasing so far. The publication is being read by far more people than the number that visited it previously. More importantly, the detailed web statistics tell me that visitors are clicking on the actual stories, and spending long enough on the pages to be reading them to the end. This is a change from the previous pattern of visitors, where many writers were checking the rules for submissions but ignoring all the stories written by their peers. Nothing lacks purpose more than a publication which is only read by people hoping to be published by it, and nothing is more depressing than observing reams of wannabe famous scribblers clicking through submissions policies whilst never sparing a second to acquaint themselves with anyone else’s work. I have been grateful for the praise and encouragement that the publication has received since it was relaunched. The criticism has also been heartening, because it is small in volume and seems to have mostly come from the worst kind of preening authors, worried about the appearance and popularity of their work but totally disinterested in every other writer that is published. A small niche publication will fail if it aims to please buffoons like this, so I am glad to disappoint them, and hope they never come back. They can only be parasites, who feed from success without helping to create it.

Nevertheless, Sci Phi Journal‘s success is not without tragedy. That is because our success is meagre, and the authors being published deserve much more than we can provide. They deserve more pay, and they deserve to be more widely read. I feel some guilt; perhaps it is a curse that their stories are to my tastes. These talented writers may never gain the audience that I believe they deserve, because so many in that audience insist on disagreeing with me. A publisher should not play favourites, and I consider all of the stories recently published by Sci Phi Journal to be superior to most of the stories found elsewhere. However, there is one story that is so good that I rank it amongst the best I have ever read, and it pains me that Sci Phi Journal is not popular enough to do it justice. I find “A Fractal of Eight Tragedies in Fifteen Parts” by Matthew P. Schmidt to be the equal of any science fiction story I have read by greats like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Perhaps ‘Fractal’ is better, because it is written in this tawdry era, and not at the time that Bradbury and Asimov enjoyed their success. Its greatness is a tragedy, as I fear it will not be sufficiently appreciated, and my theories about beacons will prove as empty as a castaway’s hopes of rescue from a remote and deserted island.

Occasionally we hear of a message in a bottle that was actually read, long after it was tossed into the ocean. Perhaps “Fractal” has similar chances of being discovered by the big wide world that surrounds us, but stubbornly ignores the majority of us. Only a forlorn form of communication is tossed into the sea of human ambition, with no reason to believe it will land on a populated shore. But there is no tragedy without aspiration. The beacon has been lit, and the bottle thrown as far as our strength allows. Let us see if this is a tragedy without end, or whether there will be an unlikely twist in the tale.

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