Readers Feedback and Forum

Dear Editors
I recently got hold of a copy of Eidolon (Autumn 1992); it's a nice-looking magazine. I quite enjoyed Geoffrey Maloney's offbeat story, "Greening"; it had an unpleasant plausibility to it. Ellison's piece reminded me of a similar comment made by Ursula Le Guin when asked the same question; Where do you get your ideas? "Forgetting Dostoevsky and reading roadsigns backwards," was her reply. A related form of strange alchemy evidently goes on in the Mind of Ellison. Pity he never bothered to finish the stories whose fragments you published. Who said you'll never sell an unfinished piece of writing?

The best story was Sean McMullen's "The Glasken Chronicles". The idea of humans forming components in a vast computer was original and made for an entertaining read. I was also impressed by McMullen's article; "Skirting the Frontier" contained some thought-provoking and persuasive notions.

I'm afraid I couldn't get into Terry Dowling's story. He's got a reputation as Australia's leading sf writer, but over here the only Australian to have won widespread recognition is Greg Egan. Egan looks to be a far more cerebral writer than Dowling, but his stories are always compelling and original, while the idea of a sentient ship was somewhat hackneyed.

Best Wishes

Matthew Dickens

Thanks for the feedback Matt. Obviously, Terry's Rynosseros stories aren't just about a sentient ship, but maybe you should read a few more... Incidentally, Harlan has sold "Where I Shall Dwell in the Next World" in exactly the same 'unfinished' form as it appeared in Eidolon, to the recent Midnight Grafitti anthology.

Dear Eidolon People
Just received, and have read, No 8. It's the best issue yet, though the Maloney piece, for him, was minor. McMullen had plot problems with "Destroyer of Illusions" (Call to the Edge), so I'm afraid I just didn't believe "The Glasken Chronicles". The Dowling was great, but at times, even for him, the prose was a little obscure. Robin Pen was as interesting as usual. I liked the story format for the review, but please Robin, don't let the style interfere with the content. A review without theme or content becomes a meaningless prose poem. With Michael Tolley's reviews - I feel at times he uses just as many words avoiding saying what he means as he uses at other times to say what he means.

Other issues. The layout in 6 got a bit chaotic at times. The boxes, triangles, diamonds etc. in the middle of a page of print might be interesting if a writer deliberately built a story around them. 7: The Stathopoulos adaption didn't work for me. Too many voiceovers, and the dialogue seemed forced. Nick says in his intro that the story gives too much away too soon, then he gives away the whole physical background in his first scene. The interior artwork has been outstanding. The smaller typestyle is a bit harder to read, but is an acceptable trade-off to fit in more material for the same physical cost.

Final comment. If Eidolon is going to expand, as I assume it must, then you must be able to sell it in bookstores both here and overseas. Even in Australia, where some fans at least know the magazine exists, the thing hardly sells quickly in specialty stores. Three quarters of the people who walk into Galaxy [a major sf bookstore in Sydney - Ed] don't know Eidolon exists. It is sitting right there on the counter underneath the cash register - the prime sales position in the shop - but nobody is going to pick it up on spec (impulse buy?) because there is nothing on the cover to tell a punter what the heck it is. For those of us who know you, Eidolon is a beautiful thing. But I've gotta admit I walked right past your first two issues without a second glance until Terry Dowling recommended it to me. At the same time, I saw, and bought, the first issues of Aurealis.

If you translate this to overseas, then you are doomed. Word of mouth, and subscriptions, may bring you some slight growth in sales, but you are going to find it very difficult to sell in overseas specialty shops. If you look at the number of small press things happening in North America, and look also at the growing number of SF/Fantasy/Horror/Comic specialty shops around the world, then it is obvious a small press can thrive. Witness Pulphouse. But people have gotta know what your magazine is before they can buy it.

Thank you for the Dowling chapbook. Wish it was longer.

One final word. I always feel guilty sending off manuscripts without at least an SASE. I know you call them an administrative nightmare, but why make things even more expensive for yourselves than they have to be?

[Later letter, post Issue Nine -]

Interesting comments about self-publishing in your last issue [Jonathan's Issue Nine Editorial]. Let me mention a few more writers who have self-published sometime in their career: Horace Walpole, Virginia Woolf, William Makepeace Thackery, Balzac, Lory Byron, Beatrix Potter, Zane Grey, D H Lawrence, James Joyce, John Galsworthy, Mark Twain . . . Obviously these writers are exceptions, in that they can write, and I believe most had achieved some success before embarking on self-publishing ventures, but there is still obviously a tradition noticeable. There are some books which are unpublishable - until such time as somebody forces standards to change by publishing the thing anyway; eg. Lady Chatterly's Lover. I think you hit the nail on the head when you hinted that a previously unpublished writer should get some outside editorial judgment.

One final comment - congratulations on publishing longer stories. One thing I have noticed recently is a disturbing trend for writers to develop a story normally, and then jump like a bull in a china shop at the nearest available climax, and then stop dead, instead of fully developing ideas and plots more worthy of novelettes. I can only attribute this to an attempt to fit Aurealis' restrictions on length so that they can be paid. There is a lot of development and experimentation being done on characterisation and style, but plot is being left behind to the final detriment of the stories. Hopefully you can fight this trend.

Bill Congreve,

I address a couple of Bill's points in my Editorial, and those of you who're reading the retail edition of the magazine will see that we now print the name on the cover. Ah well - another triumph of economy over aesthetics. Incidentally, Pulphouse is currently in trouble.

Dear Eidolon
This letter serves [to express] my thanks for such a splendid magazine. I was pleased to "discover" your magazine as Galaxy Bookstore in Sydney, though I was disappointed to see that I had missed the first two issues. I have been buying it there ever since.

I enjoy most of the short stories and just about all the non-fiction, especially Robin Pen. The artwork is also very good.

Your Friend
John L. Manuel

We forgive you, both John and Bill, for not noticing Eidolon in Galaxy before Issue Three. Issues One and Two were never actually for sale there. Still, thanks for caring.

Dear Jonathan, Jeremy & Richard
Just a quick LOC, slightly late. Having hit the half-way mark of The Novel, I thought I'd better catch up with some overdue correspondence.

Issue Nine, or Vol. 3, No. 1, or "Winter 1992" (however you like it) was . . . how do I put this . . . fantastic? Spectacular? Brilliant? Superlative, even? Something like that. From cover to cover (with the possible exception of "Octopus"), the best issue since Spring 1991 [Issue 4 - Ed], if not the best ever.

Highlights: Ken Wisman's "Snowman", Rick Kennett's "The Seas of Castle Hill Road", Jeremy Gadd's "On Fingal Head", and, of course, Greg Egan's "Closer". Artwork was excellent all 'round, and it was good to see Shaun Tan getting a go in something other than Aurealis. (Thank Gavin for "Octopus", next time you speak to him.)

And, just to prove that I actually read your editorials, let me say that I won't be publishing "Metal Fatigue" myself. Thanks, also,
for the indirect, and certainly unintended, encouragement.

And that's it for now. Congratulations on the issue. (Good though it was to have nothing but fiction for a change, I must confess to have missed Robin Pen.)

All the Best
Sean Williams

Gavin should be reading this; Gavin, thanks. And thanks, Sean, for the feedback. Up until now it's all the reward we could offer our artists. Our sincere gratitude goes out to all those who've done such wonderful work for us over the last ten issues without monetary reward.

Dear Jonathan
A few comments on Eidolon 9. Interesting that you decided to run a complete fiction edition. The stories were fairly solid throughout, but I must admit that I missed your regular features. For example, I love letters columns and whether it's Eidolon or The Sydney Morning Herald, they're usually the first pages that I turn to. I have this idea - probably fairly warped - that the letter pages actually keep you in contact with how other people think. I also like editorials and think that they're a good opportunity to generate debate over important issues. I know there was an editorial in Issue 9, but the one that didn't make it into the issue - short fiction versus long fiction - was the one that I really wanted to read. Hopefully we'll see this one in the next issue or the one after.

While on the subject of editorials, I'd like to say that I thought Jeremy raised a very interesting point in Eidolon 8. Should Australian magazines always publish fiction/articles by Australian writers? The overseas magazines don't adopt this approach do they? Well to a certain extent they might, but it is a great question and probably deserves lengthier discussion. Akin to this question is another I've been thinking about over the last few months: Should Australian SF writers consistently attempt to use Australian content in their stories? What are the pros and cons of Australian content? I don't have any answers but I do believe some debate around these questions would be valuable for readers, writers and publishers.

These are just some ideas off the top of my head. I really should put pen to paper/fingers to the keyboard, take up Jeremy's invitation in Eidolon 8 and provide you with a more concrete response. As a writer and a reader I am more than interested in the future of Eidolon.

Geoff Maloney

I don't know that you'll ever see Jonathan's Editorial-that-wasn't, Geoff. In any case, my own comments in this issue come fairly close to what he was to have said. By all means further the Australian Content debate. It may be a hoary chestnut in certain circles, but I'm sure Eidolon readers would be interested in the discussion.

Dear Eidolon
A rather overdue letter I'm afraid. There are a number of things I've been meaning to write about for a while, but only now am I able to address them in print. I'm going to ramble on about the last three issues in no particular order, and I'm probably going to address most of my remarks to your artists who are doing a pretty neat job in my opinion, and don't get much comment in return for their sterling efforts.

But as an illustrator for Eidolon myself, I have a question to ask my editors first:

How is it you always seem to come up with a subject that I can't refuse just when I think I'm unable to do any more artwork for you due to my ever increasing work schedule?

First you accept one of my short stories for issue 6. Well, I can't let anybody else illustrate my own story can I? (It did cross my mind that you only accepted the story to get some art out of me . . .) Then you ask me to illustrate a Harlan Ellison short story. Wow, I don't get that sort of opportunity every day! I'd be pretty darn stupid to let anyone else get that one.

I thought that was going to be my last piece for a while until you ask me to illustrate a Titanic story. Some of your readers know that I'm obsessed with that subject and that I'm working on a short animated film dealing with the Titanic. You might find it interesting to know that I managed somehow to do that artwork in a couple of hours during the midst of a major deadline . . . I'm a sucker for you guys. Anyway, what I'm trying to say it that you've probably seen the last piece of artwork from me for a while, unless you can come up with another Ellison or something. After all, you've got such wonderful artists producing some spectacular work already.

Which just happens to lead me to comment on the astonishing work by Liesl Yvette, whose work improves with each appearance. She is certainly evolving a distinctive an individual style. (Except her illustration for Dowling's "Ship's Eye". The painting on which she based her piece is proving to be my most ripped-off work.) But her piece illustrating Simon Brown's "A New Song for Odysseus" (Issue 9) is just beautiful; lovely soft skin techniques.

The drawing for Maloney's "Greening" (Issue 8) was also superb, with a strong composition and a confident handling of flesh, steel, and fur. The contrasts in her work are bold and seem to reproduce well - the drawing for Greg Egan's "Closer" (Issue 9) is a case in point. Liesl's work is always well rendered and complementary to the fiction she illustrates. Bravo Liesl! I tip my palette in your direction. (Oops, more mess to clean up!)

I was also much impressed by Shaun Tan's illustration for Leigh Edmond's "Relics". The old Captain looking wistfully up at the stars, the curves of the vehicle, the weight on the balloon tyres, the distant salt dunes . . . very nice indeed. I particularly enjoyed this story as well, and only on its completion did I fully grasp the subtext Tan had woven into his painting. A moving story, which seems to (intentionally) be a pastiche of some of our better-known writers. This is something I felt while reading the story, but wasn't entirely certain until the identity of the Captain was revealed towards the end. I could still be wrong, and it certainly doesn't negate the lump in my throat the story left me with.

It's not often that one reads fantasy humour. It must be the most difficult sub-genre to write . . . if indeed such a sub-genre exists at all. Ken Wisman's "Snowman" was a joy (with another wonderful illo by the fabulous Liesl), and seemed to owe more to the teen/sex/horror film than any fiction I know. There was even a cinematic flashback - which works. Nevertheless, something about the use of language in this story invites the following question. Would I be wrong in suggesting that this story is not by an Australian? No criticism intended here. Just an observation. I certainly don't mind foreign fiction if it's of this calibre.

"In the Eye of the Octopus" - the Sean Williams story - was an exciting and breathless read (pant!) I'm curious as to how your readership is going to respond to this one. I don't normally seek out this sort of material, so don't know whether it was cliched or not, but I found it believable and acceptable; as was Gavin O'Keefe's art, with its little cryptaesthetic penis and vagina hidden in the Octopus's tentacles. A tough one to illustrate, and Gavin, with his symbolic approach, was obviously the right choice for the job.

I eagerly await the forthcoming books by Greg Egan. If I'm not mistaken there are two: a collection of short stories and a novel. I had hoped to meet him during SwanCon 17, and was sorry to hear that he's a bit of recluse. I wonder why? (I can't help thinking that maybe he looks like the elephant man or Stephen Hawking or something. I suspect that the reality is that he's actually too busy writing to waste time on social events).

I also welcomed Greg's criticism of my screenplay of Dowling's "The Mars You Have In Me". I wholeheartedly agree that it's too wordy, in fact the next step is to workshop it with actors - a process that will hopefully compress most of the dialogue or see it replaced by action. I thought his "Naked Gun" quip was funny though. The rest of the script took on a new dimension when re-read with Leslie Nielsen in mind. Just wait and see what I do with a screenplay to "The Extra", Greg . . . I can just see Goldie Hawn . . . but I digress.

On the other hand, Ron Clarke's comment that it would make a good movie if directed by Orson Welles is
a bit of a backhanded compliment (unintentional, I'm sure). even a Pizza Hut menu would make a great movie if directed by Orson Welles.

And finally; am I the only one who's noticed how the Eidolon on the cover has put on weight since foiling? Starting to look a bit too human I might add. If this keeps up it could become a candidate for Gloria Marshal.

Bye for now
Nick Stathopoulos,

The "Ship's Eye" business is entirely my fault, Nick - Liesl was essentially told "Terry's ships look like this, so draw us one". Did you see the attribution to you on the Contents page? You're right about Ken Wisman; he's not Australian. Ken lives stateside, and has been published widely over there, appearing several times in F&SF, Pulphouse and Weird Tales among others, and has his own "Author's Choice Special due out from Pulphouse. About "The Eidolon"; who doesn't put on weight with age? Oh Nick, by the way, we've got this short piece by Lucius Sheperd on Japanese Animation and the work of George Pal we'd like you to have a look at illustrating . . .

Originally appeared pp. 84-87, Eidolon 10, October 1992.
Copyright © 1992 Eidolon Publications. Individual contributions are copyright to the respective authors.
Reprinted with kind permission of the authors.