In the late 1930s, a group of dissatisfied SF/F fans pooled their resources and pitched a magazine to a dubious magazine publisher recently released from prison after serving time for seditious activities with some degenerate marmots. That magazine was called Uncanny. He loved their idea and immediately stole it. Known for its literary quality, Space Unicorn mascot, off-kilter stories, and letter column where fans argued books, politics, and cabbage roll recipes, Uncanny ran for decades as the seventh most popular pulp magazine.
When not arguing about the proper fillings for a cabbage roll, the readers found themselves developing a sense of community. As one bright woman in the letter column opined, even mythical creatures in space need to hang out with other friends on occasion to swap and discuss great stories. Uncanny readers began referring to themselves as members of the Space Unicorn Rangers Corps, reflecting the inclusivity and originality of perspectives inherent in its readership.
In the late 1950s, unfortunately, Uncanny fell into ill repute when that current editorial team published a series of essays supposedly culled from cobalt tablets found buried in the Northern Wisconsin woods by a “Phineas Q. Longshanks.” The ancient or possibly future tablets claimed the Space Unicorn Rangers Corps was actually very real and on its way to planet Earth to spread love, candy floss, and an intricate betterment system conveniently available from the current Uncanny Editor-in-Chief for an additional fee. Not surprisingly, Uncanny faded from newsstands and into oblivion. Years later, it was mostly remembered for an awful anthology TV series in the early 1980s hosted by John Agar and produced on a dare for a small television station in rural Saskatchewan.
Now Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas have inherited the magazine from a dearly departed aunt who hid magazine trademarks in her attic next to her collection of telegraph glass insulators. The Thomas’ plan is to modernizeUncanny while making nods to its long traditions.
…Of course there was no Uncanny that ran for decades. We lied about that part. Mostly.
In Lynne’s day job, she’s the curator of a massive SF/F collection that includes a large number of those wondrous old pulp magazines. Michael has been known to come into the department to flip through copies of Amazing Stories, Astounding, and Weird Tales for inspiration.
When we decided to return to magazine editing and start our own magazine via Kickstarter (we edited Apex Magazine from 2012-2013), we were especially inspired by Ann VanderMeer’s editorial run on Weird Tales. We loved the idea of taking a magazine with a long history and giving it a completely contemporary take and feel. So, we invented one—Uncanny and its fake history.
The name Uncanny has a wonderful pulp feel. It also sums up what we love about speculative fiction. What makes a story uncanny, for us, is the unexpected feelings it evokes—happiness, sadness, unease, and most especially that feeling when the execution of a concept makes you think, “WHOA.” Uncanny stories bend and blend genres and make you feel. The word “uncanny” itself can be flexible. It doesn’t necessarily indicate creepiness or horror—sometimes it’s a feeling of deep familiarity that you just can’t quite place that isn’t sinister in the least. It’s not necessarily whether this kind of story has been told before; it’s that this particular execution of the story haunts us long after we’ve read it.
There are many examples of the uncanny among the works we’ve edited. The emotional punch and poetic linguistic sparseness of Rachel Swirsky’s Nebula Award-winning “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” opens with deceptively simple, childlike language, and then takes a dark emotional turn at the end. Catherynne M. Valente’s Locus Award-finalist “The Bread We Eat In Dreams” takes on the town witch in a sleepy Puritanical community. The setting is dreamlike, which contrasts beautifully with the sharp delineation of the characters. Amal El-Mohtar’s “A Hollow Play” explores the deep pain of a lost friendship that isn’t easily expressed, and the importance of moving on, through the notions of gender, shapeshifting, and cabaret performance. We could name so many more. Many of the stories we published in Apex Magazine and Glitter & Mayhem haunted us for quite some time.
Apex Magazine is hardly the only place that has published uncanny stories. We have many examples edited by others. For instance, the human struggle to find meaning in survival is front and center in “Useless Things” by Maureen McHugh. The main character crafts lifelike dolls that replace children for privileged people in water-wealthy places, while she struggles to stay alive and feed herself amid water scarcity and interlopers. Maria Dahvana Headley’s “The Traditional” is an apocalyptic love story that twists O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” beyond recognition. The effect of giant killer worms on the couple in question is reinforced by the beautifully grotesque nature of how they express their love. Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals” captures the quiet desperation of a couple in midlife crises and an unstable marriage, with ghosts, bunnies, and the need to constantly repaint rooms in the hopes that this will be the time that you get it right.
What makes these stories uncanny is that they are much more than the sum of their parts. The execution of the stories—prose style and cadence, sentence structure, imagery, characterization, and plot—all work together to create a unique reading sensation.
Our mascot is a Space Unicorn (designed by the marvelous Katy Shuttleworth), because finding stories like these feels as wondrous as running into a Space Unicorn. They can be fierce, but they generally do their thing in such an elegantly stealthy manner that you don’t realize that they’ve just reconstructed reality while you were hanging out. Fortunately for us, Space Unicorns (and ours in particular) are rather organized creatures, as they fly through time and space saving the galaxy from cynicism.
Of course, we can’t make this magazine alone. Our backers and subscribers are members of the newly-revived Uncanny Space Unicorn Ranger Corps (see, we told you something in our fake story was sort of true). They support our ability to create uncanny reader experiences and find the most uncanny contributors. We have a great lineup of writers, poets, and artists solicited to submit to Uncanny in year one (including Charlie Jane Anders, Liz Argall, Paul Cornell, Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Amal El-Mohtar, Neil Gaiman, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jim C. Hines, Kat Howard, Kameron Hurley, Hao Jingfang, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Scott Lynch, Tran Nguyen, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Catherynne M. Valente, E. Lily Yu, and many more). We’re also getting ready to open to unsolicited submissions soon. We are deeply committed to finding and showcasing great new work from across the planet. Every Space Unicorn has a unique voice and perspective, and our job is to show them off in all of their glory.
We hope you’ll join us and add to our illustrious fake history. The Space Unicorn Rangers Corps needs you.
Three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas is (in her day job) the Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. She is perhaps best known as the co-editor of the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords with Tara O’Shea, Whedonistas with Deborah Stanish, and the Hugo Award-nominated Chicks Dig Comics with Sigrid Ellis, all published by Mad Norwegian Press. Lynne is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Hugo Award-nominated Apex Magazine. She moderates the Hugo Award-winning SF Squeecast, a monthly podcast (with Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Michael Damian Thomas and Catherynne M. Valente) in which a group of SF/F professionals get excited about stuff they like, and contributes to the Verity! Podcast (with Erika Ensign, L.M. Myles, Katrina Griffiths, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Deborah Stanish), where a bunch of smart women talk about Doctor Who
Along with being a two-time Hugo Award nominee as the former Managing Editor of Apex Magazine (2012-2013), Michael Damian Thomas co-edited the Hugo-nominated Queers Dig Time Lords (Mad Norwegian Press, 2013) with Sigrid Ellis and Glitter & Mayhem (Apex Publications, 2013), with John Klima and Lynne M. Thomas. He also has worked as an Associate Editor on numerous books at Mad Norwegian Press, including the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords (edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea, 2010) and Hugo Award-nominated Chicks Dig Comics (edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis, 2012). Michael is also a contributor to the SF Squeecast podcast.