After months of subterranean rumblings, the alarming news began to leak in March 2004. Could Interzone – Britain's oldest-established SF fiction magazine still appearing regularly – really be on its deathbed? In fact it was the end of an era, but not the end.
I was there at the beginning, though I didn't know it. Guests of honour at the 1981 British national SF convention included Ian Watson and myself, and it seemed the event's finances must be dodgy when the committee discreetly asked us to avoid extravagances like charging breakfast to our hotel rooms. Imagine our surprise when this proved to be part of a cunning plan to make a four-figure profit and fund a new SF magazine ...
Interzone was launched in Spring 1982, with a quarterly schedule, a title from William Burroughs, and an eight-person editorial collective. One by one these dropped out, faded into "advisory editor" limbo or accidentally threw themselves backwards on to daggers. The last man standing, David Pringle, emerged as sole editor and publisher in 1988.
Initially drenched in the influence of New Worlds magazine, Interzone (alias IZ) developed its own special flavour ... once defined as "radical hard SF", whatever that meant exactly. The SF Encyclopedia called it "by far the most distinguished UK SF magazine since New Worlds and Science Fantasy." Authors "discovered" by IZ went on to fame, like Stephen Baxter, Greg Egan, Ian McDonald, Kim Newman, Geoff Ryman and – long after his 1980s debut – Charles Stross.
1986 saw the magazine's first Hugo nomination, in the "semiprozine" category: IZ never reached the 10,000+ circulation required by the Hugo rules' definition of a professional magazine. It's been regularly shortlisted ever since, and won on the editor's home turf (Pringle is Scots) at the 1995 Glasgow Worldcon.
Slightly to his embarrassment, this Hugo win was flaunted all over Pringle's 1996 The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, with multiple mentions and photographs. Apparently these nonfiction projects helped him subsidise IZ – like Michael Moorcock dashing off another Elric novel to pay the New Worlds printers. Even with Arts Council assistance, a distinguished fiction magazine is hell to run in cheapskate Britain.
Still, IZ moved from quarterly to bimonthly publication in 1988, and went monthly in 1990. Having revived my SF newsletter Ansible, I was soon condensing each issue into an IZ news column, "Ansible Link". This, like Nick Lowe's brilliant "Mutant Popcorn" film essays, and book reviews by John Clute and others, appealed to readers who weren't in the mood for fiction.
There was occasional controversy. Brian Aldiss's 1992 IZ story "Horse Meat", featuring a numbingly, unforgettably revolting rape, provoked many "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" letters. But at least the police didn't come knocking on David Pringle's door in Brighton. That happened when he published Gwyneth Jones's "The Salt Box", excerpted from her novel Bold As Love (2002 Clarke Award winner). It featured – not approvingly – some underage sex, and was reported to the boys in blue as child pornography. After actually reading the story, they lost interest.
The complainer, I discovered, was mainly annoyed by the extract's lack of SF/fantasy elements (which don't appear until later in the book) and chose this way of wreaking revenge. Cancelling his subscription would have been easier on everyone's nerves.
For a few years, 1991-3, I also wrote for IZ's short-lived sister publication about bestsellers, Million: The Magazine of Popular Fiction. Unfortunately Mr Pringle was in earshot when I tactlessly said, "As opposed to Interzone, the magazine of unpopular fiction?"
IZ faltered in 2002, with two double issues, making ten rather than twelve that year. Late in 2003, the magazine officially went bimonthly again. Frankly, Pringle was exhausted after 22 years of editing and publishing IZ, and felt inclined to stop. Meanwhile, readers may have thought it cruel and unusual punishment that they were getting two Langford columns per issue in order to clear the backlog; we finally agreed, this March, to put the feature on hold. Secret rescue plans were whispered, but for ages nothing was said in public.
David Pringle's final issue, the first of 2004, appeared in late May with a tactful "Spring" dateline and an announcement of the new deal. Andy Cox of The Third Alternative magazine (which tends to weirdness and borderline horror rather than SF) would take over Interzone, keep it going as a separate publication, and honour existing subscriptions to the last issue. Sighs of relief!
Future IZ enquiries should go to TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs, CB6 2LB. The website is www.ttapress.com.
For the final Pringle issue, Malcolm Edwards of Orion Publishing – a member of the original IZ collective – compiled a league table of magazine longevity, showing Interzone's 193 issues as second only to New Worlds (201) among British SF fiction mags, and in the top ten worldwide. There's glory for you.
By coincidence, the 2004 Hugo shortlist for Best Semiprozine includes three British nominees in addition to the US Locus (bound to win) and The New York Review of SF. These are Ansible, Interzone and – its first listing – The Third Alternative. Well, well.
Interzone is dead, but long live Interzone. Congratulations to Mr Pringle and his many helpers for bringing it so far.
David Langford is hiring a removal van to shift "Ansible Link" to a new home at TTA Press.
By the way, the Pringle-era IZ web hosting at The SF Site has vanished, and so therefore has the archive of "Link" columns. Since these are condensed from issues of Ansible itself, already archived on the web, I don't know whether it's worth putting them on line for the record. Andy Cox thinks not, which is why they haven't reappeared in TTA web space. What do you think?