Celebrating 50 Years of Locus Magazine

To name your magazine Locus—a center of activity, attention, or concentration—is to make a bold statement of what your magazine wants to be. As Locus has become the place for science fiction news over the last half century, Locus has grown, developed, and taken on that mantle.

In 1968, the legendary anthologist and editor Charles N. Brown created a one-sheet fanzine about news of the science fiction field. Brown’s intent was to use it to help the Boston Science Fiction group win its Worldcon bid. Brown enjoyed the experience so much that he continued the magazine through Noreascon I, the 29th Worldcon held in Boston in 1971 (where Locus won its first Hugo award). Brown continued to be the steward of Locus until his death in 2009. In that run, Locus won thirty Hugo awards, and for good reason.

In the days before the rise of popularity of the internet, the dissemination of information in SFF, like in any other field, was a slow and scattershot affair. Fanzines shared news and information across SFF fandom, but none of them had any sort of critical mass to be the voice of SFF that everybody looked to across the science fiction world. Various local science fiction conventions held sway in different regions of the country, and Worldcon itself had been the one place SFF fans across the US and the world gathered to meet and exchange knowledge and ideas. But not every fan went to such conventions, or could afford to fly to Worldcon every year. The idea of a continuous resource, a location where news and information about science fiction and fantasy could propagate, simply could not and did not exist before Locus was created.

Before the internet transformed how we get news and information, Locus, under Brown’s stewardship, and the assemblage of his team of columnists, grew and expanded its reach year after year until it became what I call the semiprozine of record. Locus became the go-to place for SFF news and information, backed up with a strong stable of reviews and interviews. Every issue of Locus was a window into the ever shifting and changing world of SFF.

I personally discovered Locus in the early 1990s. I was wandering through Forbidden Planet, the premier purely science fiction bookstore in Manhattan. Curiosity drew me from the book shelves to the magazine racks, where the bold red border of the glossy Locus magazine drew my eye. Flipping through it, I saw immediately that it was what I had been missing: an SFF resource I wanted and needed. I started buying issue after issue, until I decided to get myself a subscription.

Within its pages, with a couple of decades under its belt, I discovered just what a semiprozine of record could do and mean. Every month I would eagerly look at the news feature first: Who had sold rights to a new book? Who had gotten married? Who (sadly) had passed away? I devoured the glossy, photo-laden columns recounting various conventions, from Worldcons to local SFF scenes. It was in these pages that I first became cognizant of the idea that there were thriving SFF communities not only in the US and in the UK, but really, across the entire world. The bestsellers list in the back of the issue gave me insight as to what people were excited about, pointers toward books that I might consider trying myself.

It was also in the pages of Locus that I really started to understand and get a sense of science fiction and fantasy awards and their role in the community. Sure, I had seen “Hugo Award Winner!” emblazoned on books in the bookstore, but it was in Locus that I read lists of nominees for the Hugo, the Nebula, and of course Locus’ own award. For years, I discovered authors by seeing their names on Hugo and Nebula nomination lists: Kate Elliott, Martha Wells, Lois McMaster Bujold, Walter Jon Williams, and many others. I looked forward to the magazine’s photos of the award nominees—to getting a glimpse of who these authors really were.

In the time before the internet, finding out about new books was an uncertain and unreliable affair. Before I discovered Locus, it was a matter of coming across a review in another SFF magazine, or more likely, stumbling across a new release in a bookstore. While there is an innate joy in serendipitously discovering that a favored author has released a new book, it’s not an efficient way of finding this information out.

The Locus Forthcoming Books column changed all that for me. There, I could find the forthcoming books from every SFF publisher of note. At the front of the column was a list of books of special interest, irrespective of publisher. Twice a year, when that column was published, I would pore over that list, seeing what might draw my eye, before delving deep into the publishers section to find more forthcoming gems.

Months later, I would watch for the annual Recommendation Issue, where Locus editors listed dozens of books and stories that were of interest to them in the previous year. Books I had not twigged onto in the forthcoming books column or in a review would get a fresh look, a second appearance in front of readers. Fresh chances to read and discover more books and more authors. Thanks to these Locus features, I, and doubtless countless other SFF fans and readers, have bought and read countless books.

Locus embraced the internet in the late 1990s, starting with Locus Online in 1997. Far from replacing the magazine, the digital version of Locus has become its digital partner. News and announcements from across SFF only feel real to me when I see them within the pages of Locus or on the Locus website. In an age of a thousand online sources of information, there is a torrent of information, rather than a trickle. And many SFF sites have risen and fallen in the two decades of the internet. Reliability and longevity are rare things in the online SFF world. The editorial voice, direction, persistence, and curation of content are what make Locus still the semiprozine of record. May it last another 50 years in that role.

An ex-pat New Yorker living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading sci-fi and fantasy for over 30 years. An avid and enthusiastic amateur photographer, blogger and podcaster, Paul primarily contributes to the Skiffy and Fanty Show as blogger and podcaster, and the SFF Audio podcast. If you’ve spent any time reading about SFF online, you’ve probably read one of his blog comments or tweets (he’s @PrinceJvstin).

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