History of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
by Sheila Williams
Have you ever wondered where George R. R. Martin’s Daenerys Targaryen first appeared on the printed page? Where Kim Stanly Robinson first staked his claim on “Green Mars”? Who first published Octavia E. Butler’s Hugo and Nebula Award winning short fiction? What magazine was home to the first professional fiction publications of Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, and Allen M. Steele? Well, these and many other significant milestones can all be found in the pages of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
Asimov’s was founded in 1977 by Joel Davis and Isaac Asimov. Then known as Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, it hit the newsstand with the Spring issue as a quarterly publication. The magazine immediately picked up a large number of subscribers and by the next year, it had expanded to a bi-monthly. By 1979, Asimov’s had become a monthly. The magazine is now released six times a year, each edition a substantial 208-page double issue.
Isaac Asimov was the editorial director, but he insisted on hiring excellent personnel to edit the magazine. Asimov’s founding editor, George H. Scithers, had already received the Hugo Award for his fanzine, Amra, when Isaac picked him to run Asimov’s. Both Isaac and George viewed the magazine as a market that would welcome beginning authors alongside well-known professionals. Authors whose careers George launched include Barry B. Longyear and S. P. Somtow. Barry Longyear’s novella, “Enemy Mine” (September 1979), won Hugo and Nebula awards and was made into a movie with Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett, Jr. In addition to publishing award-winning stories, George won two Best Professional Editor Hugos before retiring from the magazine in 1982.
Kathleen Maloney took over as editor in 1982. Although she didn’t stay long, she managed to publish Connie Willis’s Nebula Award winning “A Letter from the Cleary’s” (June 1982) and to take me on as editorial assistant (also June 1982!). Kathleen left the magazine later that year and Asimov’s talented managing editor, Shawna McCarthy, took over the helm.
While remaining a welcoming home for new writers, Shawna’s Asimov’s acquired an edgier and more literary and experimental tone. Shawna published much of Connie Willis’s award-winning work as well as stories by Octavia E. Butler, Robert Silverberg, George R. R. Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, John Varley, Nancy Kress, Bruce Sterling, Esther M. Friesner, James Patrick Kelly, Kit Reed, John Kessel, Michael Swanwick, Roger Zelazny, Pat Murphy, Gardner Dozois, and many others. Shawna won a Hugo for Best Professional Editor in 1984.
Shawna McCarthy left the magazine at the end of 1985 and Gardner Dozois took over as editor with the January 1986 issue. Gardner had actually worked on the magazine as an associate editor for six months in 1977. And one of his two Nebulas had been awarded to his August 1983 Asimov’s short story “The Peacemaker.” Gardner continued to publish many of Shawna’s stalwarts as well as authors like Robert Reed, Jonathan Lethem, Greg Egan, Judith Moffett, Terry Bisson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick, Allen M. Steele, Joe Haldeman, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Geoffrey A. Landis, and Neal Barrett, Jr. In 1986, Gardner published the magazine’s first novel serialization, Count Zero by William Gibson, and he later serialized two novels by Michael Swanwick and Harlan Ellison’s screenplay for I, Robot. Gardner won an unprecedented fifteen Hugo Awards for his work as a professional editor before retiring in 2004.
Having served Asimov’s under almost every known editorial title, I took over as editor in chief with the January 2005 issue. Familiar bylines continue to appear in Asimov’s. In addition to many of the authors listed above, some like Paolo Bacigalupi, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Frederik Pohl, Lisa Goldstein, Paul McAuley, Rudy Rucker, Chris Beckett, Alexander Jablokow, and Ian R. MacLeod, had earlier publications in Asimov’s. Other established writers, such as Carol Emshwiller, Elizabeth Bear, Brandon Sanderson, Aliette de Bodard, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Christopher Barzak, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Lavie Tidhar, Dale Bailey, Will McIntosh, Suzanne Palmer, Megan Arkenberg, and Daryl Gregory made their first appearances in Asimov’s over the past decade. Authors making sales to Asimov’s early in their careers during this period include Ted Kosmatka, Felicity Shoulders, Henry Lien, William Preston, Alice Sola Kim, Derek Künsken, Jeff Carlson, and Steve Bein.
Personnel change has not been limited to Asimov’s editors. The magazine started out life with regular editorials by Isaac as well as monthly puzzles by Martin Gardner, and a regular round-up of upcoming SF conventions by Erwin S. Strauss. Our long-time book reviewer was Baird Searles. Martin retired from the puzzle columns when Shawna McCarthy left the magazine, but along the way, we added book reviews by Norman Spinrad. Sadly, both Isaac and Baird passed away in the early nineties. In 1993, the editorialist mantle was passed to the superb author Robert Silverberg and he’s been writing “Reflections” columns for us ever since. Also in 1993, we picked up some new book reviewers, and twenty years later Peter Heck and Paul Di Filippo are still sending their reviews our way. In 1998, we added James Patrick Kelly’s bi-monthly column about what’s new “On the Net.” Every so often, we feature nonfiction “Thought Experiments” by authors like James Gunn, Ray Kurzweil, Allen M. Steele, Aliette de Bodard, and many others. Our award-winning poets include Robert Frazier, Bruce Boston, Jane Yolen, Megan Arkenberg, William John Watkins, Laurel Winter, and Janis Ian.
Since 2008, the magazine has also been a very popular digital download available from a variety of popular vendors – see them here.