Grumbles from the Graveur

Jeff VanderMeer’s “Science Fiction Chronicle” column was launched in America’s leading paper a few weeks ago. His reviews have been popular, but the choice of title has taken Andrew Porter by surprise.

“I am just back from my extended month-long trip to Australia for the Worldcon,” writes Porter, “and coming back to find that Jeff Vandermeer, who I have never met nor e-mailed, has a column under the SFC name in The New York Times
“You’d think that someone would have chosen a less confusing name. There is no legal way I can prevent the name being used; I wonder if the Times knows its previous use.”

Porter founded Science Fiction Chronicle in 1979 and won two Best Semiprozine Hugos as its editor. He sold SFC to DNA Publications in 2000 and the zine died when that company collapsed in 2007. SFC also had an online presence but the original registration apparently lapsed because there’s now only a placeholder page at that URL.

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6 thoughts on “Grumbles from the Graveur

  1. Probably as many as you hear from the makers of Jockey shorts.

    If someone does own the rights to the title “Science Fiction Chronicle” (and I don’t know if that’s even possible) it isn’t Porter, since his rights would belong to the company who bought his magazine, or the company’s creditors.

    On the other hand, threats of litigation by The Critic were enough to make Richard E. Geis abandon The Alien Critic as a fanzine title. Was The Critic running a bluff or did they have a legitimate complaint?

    For that same reason I have been wondering if will take official notice of the new sf/f nonfiction publication Salon Futura.

  2. The NYTBR has several “chronicles”–basically thousand-word columns reviewing three or four books. They even had one recently just called “Fiction Chronicle”. So…that’s how the chose the name. JeffV

  3. @Gary: Algol, surely, or else Fast Frozen Food?

    @Jeff: That seems pretty straightforward. I’m surprised the pattern wasn’t remarked by any of the Times readers who post comments here.

  4. As a small point, Jeff VanderMeer’s column is not in The New York Times, but in the Sunday Book Review, a separate publication of The New York Times Company, with an entirely different staff. Andy, I’m sure, knows this, but since most people don’t: this is non-obvious to people not in the book business (though obvious if you are, since the Book Review is distributed to the trade on Tuesday), and thus one endlessly explains this all of one’s life.

    […] Double-Reviewing Books?

    Q. Why are the same books often reviewed in both the daily and Sunday editions of The Times? It seems odd to have Michiko Kakutani scald John Updike for his novel “Terrorist” when a laudatory review of the book, by Robert Stone, graced the cover of the Sunday Book Review. Varied reviews of important books may have merit, but this duplication reduces the number of books selected and has been practiced even for books panned by both reviewers.

    — A. Robert Smith, Virginia Beach, Va.

    A. Simply put, the answer is that the Sunday Book Review has a different editor, Sam Tanenhaus, and a staff that is independent of the culture department of the daily newspaper. We are separate entities. It’s a setup that harks back to the old days, when there was a whole separate staff for the Sunday news department and the two outfits, daily and Sunday, regarded each other warily — like “a collection of autonomous and warring fiefdoms,” as Alex Jones and Susan Tifft put it in “The Trust,” their history of The Times.

    No more, I am happy to say. Relations between our departments are exceedingly cordial. But the fact is, we don’t coordinate our coverage of books, nor should we. Readers come to the daily newspaper for the criticism of particular reviewers: our lead critic, Michiko Kakutani; Janet Maslin; and William Grimes. (We use freelance critics sometimes, for books by Times writers, for instance, or for books that demand a specific expertise.) Readers on Sunday come to the Book Review to read the work of freelance critics (and, occasionally, Times writers) paired up with particular books for particular reasons.

    The overlap leads, sometimes, to very different opinions about a book; sometimes it leads to a double-barreled pan, or rave. This, I think, is probably a good thing. In books as in so much else, opinions vary. I’m glad we can reflect that in some areas of our coverage.

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