"You should check out this article on stories that survived the slush pile," a friend wrote to me in an email. "It's from Doug Cohen, the slush reader for Realms of Fantasy. You might like it. Maybe it's even something you could use on your blog." I clicked and read and discovered he was right. The article was most insightful, providing the initial lines of unsolicited shorts and an analysis of what made the slush reader press on beyond the first few paragraphs. I hadn't heard of Realms before, so I did a little digging and discovered that its editor, Shawna McCarthy, had once helmed Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I blogged the article, added Cohen's LiveJournal to my reading list and resolved to check out Realms. It sounded like a worthwhile publication.
A day or so after that, I learned it was going out of business.
Quality short fiction, especially of the genre sort, seems in increasingly short supply today, supplanted in consumers' affections by long-form paperbacks, Hollywood blockbusters and the endless distractions of the Internet. The death of any of short-fiction market, even one with which you aren't personally familiar, is a cause for sadness. But after barely a month had passed, something unexpected transpired: A publisher swooped in and snatched the magazine from the flames. What looked like certain death turned out to be a summer hiatus, and Realms returns to regular publication with its August '09 issue, which happens to be the only issue I've ever read.
What you notice right off the bat about the magazine is that it, well, actually looks like a magazine, glossy with four-color printing, unlike some markets that appear as though they've been run off on a Xerox. Space is pretty evenly divided between columns and stories, and while the non-fiction feels a tad niche at times (a piece on the mystical power of music would've seemed more at home in a journal on comparative religion), the fiction uniformly pleases. Veteran novelist Tanith Lee contributes "Our Lady of Scarlet," in which a medieval alchemist battles a newly invoked pagan goddess during a time of plague. In what may be the issue's best short, "Healing Benjamin" by Dennis Danvers turns the mysteriously lengthened life of a 47-year-old feline (329 in cat years) into a meditation on love and loss. Ian Creasey's "Digging for Paradise" finds an archeologist trying to unearth a potent magical artifact wondering if Lord Acton's famous aphorism always holds true. The only real spoilers are a number of typographical errors, one of which turns up in the publisher's column, embarrassingly enough. But such things can be easily fixed in the future. Realms has returned, and it's good to have them back -- even if it's for the first time.
(Picture: Copyright 2009 by Tir Na Nog Press; used by permission)