As a teenager, my imagination was never anything less than vivid. I daydreamed my way through more than one Spanish class imagining myself inhabiting the world of whichever science fiction book or story I was currently reading. My imagination really took flight when I discovered the existence of science fiction magazines through Isaac Asimov’s various reminiscences about the field. It wasn’t much of a leap from thinking about the wonders of FTL and ansibles and time travel and neutron stars to imagining that in the aeries of Manhattan the editors of those noble magazines inhabited lofty palatial offices that were furnished in leather upholstery and cherry wood bookcases. I don’t know what I thought the magazines would look like, but I was sure they would be wondrous and magical. Of course, there were none to be found at the local drugstore in my suburban town. I had to search through the racks in a giant newsstand in metropolitan Springfield, Massachusetts, for my very first copies of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
While I don’t recall exactly what I was expecting to find, I can remember the tiny pang of disappointment that hit me when I realized the magazines were so . . . little. It had never occurred to me that the vehicles that held the gigantic ideas and myriad unfathomable aliens that inspired my daydreams weren’t much larger than the TV Guide my parents subscribed to. Still, it wasn’t long before these digest-sized magazines had completely charmed me. After all, it wasn’t the magazines’ prosaic physical dimensions that were important. It was the weird dimensions explored in the stories, the concepts and the characters that dwelt within the magazines that mattered to me.
By the time I’d discovered Amazing and Fantastic and Galaxy and If, I had become so comfortable with these little magazines, that I’m sure one part of my mind believed the digest was the inevitable and most appropriate size for a science fiction or fantasy magazine. I didn’t know these magazines had and continued to come in all different sizes. Analog, in its earliest incarnation as Astounding Stories, had begun life in the standard seven-by-ten inch pulp format. While most genre magazines were published in the pulp format for several decades, this wasn’t true for all of them. According to Mike Ashley’s history of early SF magazines, The Time Machine, Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing started out as a bedsheet-size magazine (around nine-by-twelve inches) that was roughly the same size as the old Life magazine. Astounding experimented with a similar large format for about eighteen months in the early forties. A short time later, though, it converted to a smaller (five-and-three-eighths by seven-and-three-eights inch) format, making it the first digest-sized science fiction magazine. Under Condé Nast’s ownership, Analog took a brief detour into the standard size of most of today’s nonfiction magazines (eight and a half by eleven inches), but it had pretty much settled back into the digest format by the mid-sixties.
When Asimov’s was founded in 1976, the fiction digest size had been standardized at five-and-one-eighth by seven-and-five-eights. Asimov’s size was reduced slightly in 1984 and again in 1989 to save on production costs. The second size adjustment meant that our publisher’s four fiction digests were now exactly the same size as the TV Guide and could be produced at the same printer during TV Guide’s down time. In June 1998, we moved to a new printer, and the magazines increased to a non-digest format called an “F-trim size.” Our production circumstances recently changed once again, which is why your new issue of Asimov’s is what’s known in the trade as an “L-trim size” magazine. We have fewer pages now, too, but, because the leaves are larger, we’re only a handful of pages shorter than we were previously. I’ve taken some steps to ensure that the effect this change has on the amount of fiction we can cram into Asimov’s will be minimal.
There are a few things that I now know about science fiction magazines that I didn’t know when I was a teenager. I know that a fiction magazine editor’s office is more likely to contain metal bookcases and Formica desks than designer furniture and that editors don’t usually inhabit palatial offices on the upper floors of midtown-Manhattan offices. I know that SF and fantasy magazines can be full-size periodicals like Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, or Weird Tales; digest magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; and in between like Asimov’s and Analog. I know that in a dynamic world almost nothing stays exactly the sameeven TV Guide is now a full-sized magazine. Of course, magazines don’t even have to come in three dimensions anymore. They can exist in electronic form on the internet like Strange Horizons, Jim Baen’s Universe, and Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Even Asimov’s can now be purchased in electronic formats from Fictionwise and for Amazon’s Kindle. I also know that whatever the format, magazines are still an exciting home for fast-paced adventure stories and thoughtful and strange slice of life stories, and they continue to be the place where our imaginations can explore unusual alternate dimensions. I know that this issue of Asimov’s is still the stuff of dreams and nightmares, only now instead of transporting me away from a high-school class, it launches the New York City subway to the stars.