Locus Online


E-mail Locus Online



by Paoli du Flippi

Wednesday 25 February 2004

Insiders and Outsiders

Paoli du Flippi

The press conference kicked off promptly at one PM, in a ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria. The hordes of reporters and cameramen from the various media reluctantly left the expensive buffet and took their places. Onto the stage climbed Si Newhouse, billionaire publisher of the Conde Nast family of magazines. Long characterized by publications such as Business Week as "shy, short, insecure, awkward, inarticulate, rude, cruel — and in his way, brilliant," the elfin magnate seemed to be in an expansive mood at this juncture.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I won't speak more than a minute. I just want to say that I'm very proud to stand before you today to launch this particular magazine. Never before in my long and illustrious career have I been so excited about a new magazine as I am about this one. It promises to revolutionize the literary world. But exciting as the core concept is, it would be nothing without two very important and talented people at the helm. Without further ado, I give you the two co-editors of Inside/Outside magazine — Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem!"

From the wings strode a rather unlikely pair of writers — at least as far as surface appearances went. The elderly Atwood, a regal, conservatively dressed doyenne, and the youthful Lethem, a dead ringer for the comedian Ben Stiller, and trigged out in bohemian chic.

The two took seats at a table and adjusted their microphones. Then Atwood began to speak in plummy tones.

"There has long been a vital, important mode of writing known as speculative fiction, fiction that takes a probing and intensive look at modern socioscientific trends and projects them into a near-future venue. But which most emphatically does not include spaceships or aliens. Unfortunately, this ancient and honorable manner of writing came to be hijacked somewhere along the way by incompetents and illiterates, and thence devolved into the farrago of excitement and awe and wonder known as science fiction. None of which I have personally ever read."

Nodding graciously, Lethem commenced his speech.

"Well, Margy, I have, and I can report that aside from an author or two such as Phil Dick and Gene Wolfe, there's not a whole lot worth stealing in that genre. Now, I know that some might say to me, 'Jonathan, haven't lots of your own stories appeared in various science fiction magazines?' And I'd have to answer, "Yes, but that was when I was a rank beginner, desperate for a foothold.' I never really meant any of it. And now that I have attained my current eminence, I can categorically state that I have never written a word of science fiction in my whole meteoric career. Which unlike a meteor will never cease to shine."

Atwood smiled. "And your statement, Jonny, brings us precisely to the whole point of Inside/Outside magazine. Its mission is to provide a home to two kinds of writers and their exciting, vital work. Mainstream writers such as myself, who stand outside the so-called science fiction field and yet who wish to commit speculative fiction. And writers such as yourself, who were unfortunately tarred early on with the brush of science fiction, due to whatever temporary lapse of judgment or good taste or economic necessity, and who now wish to graduate to speculative fiction. Provided they can pass our stern editorial vetting, of course."

"I think that pretty much says it all. Inside/Outside is going to be capitalized at one hundred million dollars for its first year of existence. We're going to have an initial print run of half a million copies. And we're going to be paying more than The New Yorker, Playboy or Wired. All of whom, by the way, we've stolen columnists and assistant editors from."

"And our issue one lineup," Atwood continued, "if you'll permit the colloquialism, really thumps arse. We have new stories from Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Ray Bradbury, Paul Theroux, Jeff Noon and Karen Joy Fowler. And just wait until you see whom we've captured as the star of issue number two."

Lethem grinned slyly. "Let's just say that the initials 'Ess El' don't stand for 'Stanley Lum.' He's alluringly foreign, and he kicked the Science Fiction Writers of America when they were down!"

"In short," Atwood said, "we believe that we have finally managed to take the tools and tropes of science fiction, cast out everything that made that genre unique yet déclassé, and preserve what remains in a savory aspic compounded of equal parts gentility, fine writing, and prestigious and remunerative literary prizes."

"We'll be taking questions in a moment," Lethem said. "But before we do, there's one more announcement we'd like to use this press conference to make, even though it's of a highly personal nature."

Lethem reached across the table and took Atwood's hand. She blushed becomingly and looked down at her sensibly shod feet.

"Margaret and I are engaged. And we've already begun our first collaboration."

Looking up proudly, Atwood said, "Yes, it's to be called Motherless Handmaidens, and concerns a future where AIDS orphans form a new servant class for the rich."

"No aliens, no spaceships."

"That's our guarantee."

© 2004 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved. | Subscribe to Locus Magazine | E-mail Locus | Privacy | Advertise