Vector #235

Over the past two years or so I’ve been building up piles of back issues of magazines and journals I use. I’d had a sizeable run of Foundations for a while, and filled in all but about four gaps, even the Philip K. Dick issue which sold out centuries ago; but my five years’ worth of Science Fiction Studies expanded to cover virtually the entire run (again four issues or so missing) and I’ve even found most of the Extrapolations since the mid-1970s, leaving the first third to get. As far as I can tell, that’s going to involve waving my flexible friend at some American bookdealers. (Note to Word fans – my spellchecker tells me that should be booksellers. Ho hum.)

Vector was more hit and miss. I had a patchy run of the various times I joined and fell off the mailing list, a pile I acquired off the back of a lorry, and a much larger pile I’d been given by the former administrator, Maureen Kincaid Speller, when I took the job on. But that only really took me back to issue 123 and (this is sad – I have a table telling me these things) the end of 1984. OK, so getting on for twenty years’ worth, with some gaps, but still less than half the run – plus there were issues of Focus, Paperback Inferno, Matrix and the other, mysterious, transient BSFA magazines such as Tangent, Parabola and Hypotenuse. OK, I made some of those up.

But I’ve recently acquired two large boxes that filled many of the gaps in the collection, and pushed me at least into the mid1960s for Vector, also filling most of the runs of the other magazines. This was fortuitous, as a number of recent articles I’ve been writing have required me to read some of the early material. To every magazine there is a time and place.

We’ve come a long way from typed stencils and duplicating machines to word processing, desktop publication and burning PDFs onto CD-Roms. There are indeed letters complaining about the placing of staples, and apologies for tardiness, and authors getting upset about reviews, and people saying the rot would set in if we stopped collating the magazines manually. Oh, and editors getting upset about only having six pages of letters of comment. One thing struck me as I’d been in a reflective mood and taking stock of my life, counting how many issues I’ve edited, how many I’ve got left: the recurring commentary on the role of the editor of Vector. It is made clear by contributors, chairs and editors alike, that the job is one held in trust. The magazine is not the mouthpiece of the editor, but the mouthpiece of the BSFA.

Any decisions and tone should reflect the feelings and opinions of the BSFA. I’m not sure how far this is the case today – I don’t think there is the same sense of ownership and stakeholding. It is clear that personalities have been reflected in the magazines, and priorities have altered over the years. I’ve largely been allowed to get away with what I’ve wanted to do, as long as I’ve kept to schedule and not gone on too long. Certainly when Cary S. Dalkin and I took over as feature editors in 1995, we were given instructions about the party line and told not to frighten the horses. Perhaps the horses are beyond frightening now. Perhaps the editorial structure — Tony Cullen as layout/production/general editor, Cary and I and then just me as features editor(s) and the various reviews editors — has meant that a single voice has not dominated, that we balance each other. There is no editor of Vector as such.

Perhaps we’re just too close to it — and in 2024 the editor of the holographic interactive Vector will laugh about how that old guy, Whatisname, used to go on about stuff and the old days; this is sf, ferchrysakes, it’s meant to be about the future. And as she searches for some inspiration for the topic of her next editorial, there is a bleep from her mobile phone to indicate a txt msg has been received (she knows it’s archaic, but there are still some members who prefer to receive Vector that way. OK, so they lose a bit in boiling it all down to 256 character chunks, but the highlights can be digested). Apparently the virtual staples are in the wrong place.

Andrew Butler