Jim Baen's Universe

Tagged: Publication

US professional Online Magazine published by Baen Books and edited by Eric Flint, with Mike Resnick from April 2007. It ran for 24 bimonthly issues from June 2006 to April 2010 and was regarded as a model of its kind. James Baen, who had previously edited Galaxy as well as the anthology/magazine series Destinies, Far Frontiers and New Destinies (see Destinies), had been revolutionary as a publisher in his approach to marketing e-books, making a selection of stories and novels freely available online, by way of promotion, via the "Baen Free Library", with a positive affect on sales. He brought a similar approach to the short-fiction market whereby, in discussion with Eric Flint and David Drake, they saw the need for an online magazine that was unencrypted and allowed readers access to a range of freely available material before they would need to subscribe to either be able to read more online, or to download to any variety of formats or devices. It was also a major market for writers, as Baen paid up to 25¢ a word.

With its pay-rate and profile, Jim Baen's Universe ought to have become a major force and published top-line material. Strangely it did not have the expected impact. It certainly published some good fiction, notably "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" (August 2006) by Cory Doctorow, a wonderfully frenzied apocalyptic tale which won a Nebula award, and some good solid Hard SF such as the stories by John Barnes, Gregory Benford and James P Hogan. Other contributors included David Drake, Mike Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Gene Wolfe, so there was no lack of talent. The magazine was almost equally divided between science fiction and Fantasy; in the latter category, Garth Nix's "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again" (April 2007), with its wonderful sense of period, won the Australian Aurealis Award. There were other deft fantasies by the ever-reliable and original Elizabeth Bear, Esther M Friesner, Ekaterina Sedia, Carrie Vaughn and Ian Watson, amongst others. There was also something for the older fan. Kevin J Anderson provided a sequel to A E van Vogt's classic Slan (September-December 1940 Astounding; 1946; rev 1951), based on material left by Van Vogt when he died, as Slan Hunter (December 2006-April 2007; 2007). The magazine also published the last new story by Christopher Anvil, "The Power of Illusion" (October 2006), and there was usually a classic reprint story in each issue to remind younger readers of the field's legacy, although some of these, such as Rudyard Kipling's "The Mark of the Beast" (12-14 July 1890 Pioneer) may have seemed a little out of place.

There were also several nonfiction features. Ben Bova, Barry Malzberg, Mike Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Bud Webster were all regular columnists, Webster continuing his Past Masters series from Helix SF; and again, a number of these articles were retrospective, providing a backcloth of sf history for the uninitiated.

Overall it was a readable, informative, entertaining if slightly uneven package, but it does not seem to have been enough. The magazine was struck by tragedy right from the outset. James Baen died on 28 June 2006 just one month after the first issue was released. His drive and passion were difficult to replace. Baen had stated that they needed at least 3000 subscribers within the first year and ideally 6000 to break even. Not even the 3000 mark was reached, and the magazine survived primarily on initial income that had arrived via the Universe Club memberships, which provided added benefits. In 2009 Flint was hospitalized for triple-bypass surgery: the burden of work falling on others, in addition to the continued lack of income, led to the decision to cease publication. Part of the problem may have been an overambitious business plan based, to some extent, on the success of The Grantville Gazette, also published by Baen Books and edited by Flint: but that magazine had an entirely different fan base and readership. Jim Baen's Universe did not solve the puzzle of a successful online magazine.

Two anthologies were drawn from the magazine, The Best of Jim Baen's Universe (anth 2007) edited by Eric Flint alone, and The Best of Jim Baen's Universe II (anth 2008) edited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick. [MA]

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