Short fiction, digital publishing and the influence of Interzone

Interzone 's co-Fiction Editor Andy Hedgecock talks to SFX about working on the long-running SF fiction magazine

Interzone is Britain's longest running SF fiction magazine – since 1982 this award-winning publication has launched the careers of a great many writers. Its pages have featured the likes of Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, William Gibson, Stephen Baxter, Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Gwyneth Jones and many, many more.

We spoke to Andy Hedgecock, Interzone 's co-Fiction Editor, about the mag's influence and about the state of short SF fiction in general.

SFX: Why is Interzone significant in the world of British SF fiction?
It would be nice if our endeavours turn out to be significant, but I'm reminded of Zhou Enlai's response when he was asked about the significance of the French Revolution: "It is too soon to say". Having said that, I hope we're providing an outlet for work of a high literary standard – work that tackles pressing contemporary concerns and developments; work that rejects formulaic or nostalgic forms and ideas; and, most of all, work that engages and astonishes its readers.

SFX: What do you think makes great SF fiction of this size? How do you choose what to accept or reject?
Andy Hedgecock:
The strength of short stories in any genre is that they offer a concentrated focus on a specific idea, theme or problem. A good SF story has to have an intense and idiosyncratic vision, characters the reader can care about, and some spark of originality – formal or thematic. I don't think the way Andy [Cox] and I select stories is at all analytical: we make vague intuitive assertions about stories and if we get excited about the same story it goes in. Nothing goes in Interzone unless we both like it. And sometimes that means one or other of the fiction editors is disappointed a particular story gets rejected. It's all about that spark I mentioned...

SFX: How has short fiction changed since you first started working in this business?
There have been some significant changes. When I first got involved with the independent press as a critic and interviewer – about 15 years ago – the resurgence of the idea that fiction can cross genre boundaries had begun relatively recently. It seemed radical at the time, but now we take the idea for granted. At the same time, there has been a growing frustration that mainstream fiction ignores key elements of contemporary experience – areas such as the abuse of power, ecological threat and the fragility of identity. These are the themes that SF writers are most concerned with at the moment. I would argue that storytelling in SF is more human centred, more innovative and more complex.

SFX: What fiction magazines do you see as your nearest competitors – what are you doing to differentiate yourselves from them?
Clarksworld and Strange Horizons publish excellent stories that explore human values, philosophy and scientific possibility. Asimov 's run some brilliantly off-centre stories from time to time. So what do we do to differentiate ourselves? I hope it won't sound smug or facetious if I day "nothing". I don't think we can play the game of trying to put clear blue water between Interzone and other magazines, or spend time trying to second guess trends in writing and publishing. To do so would be to impose a set of artificial constraints that prevent us choosing well-written, innovative fiction with uniqueness of vision. It's a terrible cliché but I'm tempted to sing a line from Rick Nelson's "Garden Party": "you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself". We just focus on pleasing our demanding readers and ourselves!

SFX: Angry Robot recently launched their Nano Editions, short stories for digital download. Can you imagine a time when Interzone went digital?
If I understand it correctly, the aim of the Angry Robot programme is to transform access to fiction rather than to transform reading. It's a very timely and welcome development. The more new SF readers Interzone , Clarksworld , Angry Robot and Strange Horizons attract, the more we all benefit. In publishing, the times they are a-changing very rapidly, and we all need to be responsive to the demands of an increasingly diverse audience. Younger people are used to accessing stories in a wide range of modalities, from an even wider range of platforms. I have no idea what the future will look like, but I know writers and editors need to make a lot more effort to prepare for it. I have no idea what to expect and I'm quite excited by that!

SFX: What steps need to be taken to convince the young SF readers of today that they should be picking up stories to read?
It's important we respond to the fact that younger readers access stories in a wider range of forms, and through a wider range of technologies. Having said that, I think they respond to narratives in the same way as those of us who started reading SF at the tail end of the New Wave! They want stories that flout boundaries, stories that tackle the issues that preoccupy them and stories that astonish them. When it comes to the basic needs of SF readers it's a case of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose .

SFX: What are you most proud of from your time on Interzone ?
As part of the Interzone team: the huge number of new writers whose careers we've supported in their early stages. On a very personal level: my interview with my literary hero Michael Moorcock – I think we took our conversation into places author interviews don't usually go. Mike linked his writing to his politics, his feminism and his life. I'm proud of that, but it would be an achievement to do a dull Moorcock interview.

SFX: What have you got coming up that you're most excited about?
We're hoping to find and support new talent, of course. And there are a number of authors who have been Interzone stalwarts over the past few years. Writers such as Jason Sanford, Nina Allan, Aliette de Bodard, Eugie Foster, Chris Beckett and Gareth L Powell – all of whom bring an impressive intensity and specificity of vision to the SF short form.

SFX: What are your ambitions going forward – where do you see the mag and the market in two years time?
I have a terrible record as a crystal ball gazer! The market will become even more competitive and it will be harder than ever for short story magazines to survive. The days of Arts Council support are probably a thing of the past, and distribution is likely to become more expensive. Then there will be competition from online publishers. Many of our readers seem highly committed to the print format – there's often as much discussion about the look and feel of the mag as there is about the stories themselves. Having said that Interzone has a well-received podcast . We've occasionally put content online, and Interzone has been available in a variety of e-book formats for the last few years. Of course, there will be stuff happening that none of us anticipate...

SFX: Thanks Andy!

You can find out more about the mag and subscribe at the Interzone website .