For the Best Semi-Prozine category, Fireside Magazine provided a Hugo packet containing essays, novellas and short stories from their magazine.
The thing I notice immediately with this collection compared to other publications is that it is absolutely at ease with being political.
There is a series of essays talking about the Black SpecFic Report, which looks at rates of publishing for writers of colour in the field of speculative fiction, followed by responses talking about how to improve these rates, the need to combat unconscious bias, how to create diversity (it doesn’t just happen), and the experience of trying to get published as a black speculative fiction writer.
There is also an essay by John Wiswell called ‘Evil isn’t a disability’, which talks about how illness, particularly mental illness, gets portrayed in films, how Donald Trump’s mockery of disabled people plays into similar cultural norms, and horror movies that miss opportunities to be interesting by making the disabled = monster sterotype.
Some of the stories are political, too. Black Like Them, by Troy L. Wiggins, is full of biting, black humour. It purports to be a series of interviews by an investigative journalist about a drug called ‘Nubianite’ that makes people Black for 24 hours – only for some people, it doesn’t wear off. I especially like the interview with the boy who was going Black on weekends because he thought it was cool, and then wound up stuck with it. He likes that he can dress like a rapper and be cool, but the shit where he gets stopped by the police all the time is just not OK, because he’s Ivy League, man… And the ending is an absolute kick in the stomach. Brilliantly done.
‘The Revolution, brought to you by Nike’, by Andrea Phillips, is also shamelessly political. It’s about a marketer at Nike who decides that the best way to improve the brand’s image is to fight fascism and encourage a popular revolution. It’s political wish-fulfilment fantasy, set very much in the current presidency, and it’s great fun.
The other stories were hit and miss for me. I think the best of them were ‘Geppetto’, by Carlos Hernandez,the tragedy behind Pinocchio; ‘River Boy’, by Innocent Chizarim Ilo, a lovely, rather sad take on the changeling / magically given child story; and The Fisher of Bones, by Sarah Gailey, which is a disturbing and creepy novella about a Prophet who must lead her people to the promised land, and what happens when they get there.
I really like the diversity of authors in this magazine, and the essays were thought-provoking, but I feel that Uncanny Magazine had a better hit rate for me on the stories. This is going second on my ballot for now.