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Helix SF

Entry updated 22 March 2023. Tagged: Publication.

US Online Magazine published by Legends Group, Gaithersburg, Maryland and produced by Lawrence Watt-Evans and William Sanders. A Semiprozine that made its material available for free but asked for donations from which authors could be paid, it ran for ten quarterly issues from July 2006 to October 2008. Its primary objective was to publish stories either rejected by other magazines or unlikely to find an easy market, meaning the stories were likely to be controversial. Controversial usually implies stories involving Sex or Religion, and Helix contained plenty of those, from the excesses of "The Mass Extinction of My Beloved" (January 2007 #3) by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia, where a cloned Brigitte Bardot has to contend with the lust of a descendant of Machiavelli, through William Sanders's "Going to See the Beast" (July 2006 #1), involving a confrontation with the Antichrist and the Whore of Babylon, to the more tempered relationships of "A Feast of Cousins" (July 2006 #1) by Beth Bernobich, later selected by Cecilia Tan and Bethany Zaiatz for Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction (anth 2010), to the beauty of "The Narcomancer" (January 2007 #3) by N K Jemisin. About half the stories in Helix's run are by women, and Helix is almost certainly the only general sf magazine to meet this level; issue #5 (July 2007) is filled entirely with stories by women. On balance the stories by women are the most original and rewarding. "Captive Girl" (October 2006 #2) by Jennifer Pelland, a story about isolation, invasion and individualism, was nominated for a Nebula. The intensity of much of the fiction is leavened now and again by some humour such as Bud Webster's fable about the origins of the loofah, "The Lordly Loofah" (July 2006 #1) and Pras Stillman's "Shelf Life" (April 2007 #4) depicting home life on an Asteroid, but the overall mood of the magazine is intense, making it one of the most challenging magazines of the millennium's first decade.

The magazine was generally praised for the quality of its fiction and poetry – Bud Webster was poetry editor and Geoffrey A Landis's poem "Search" (Fall 2008) won the Rhysling Award for best long-form poem. It was also in Helix that Bud Webster began his nonfiction series Past Masters about forgotten or near-forgotten sf and fantasy writers.

It is perhaps surprising that considering the quality of the fiction, and the status of some of the writers – other contributors include John Barnes, Terry Bisson, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Esther M Friesner, Jay Lake, Robert Reed and Yoon Ha Lee – that so little of Helix's fiction has been reprinted. This may partly be the nature of the fiction, but may also be because the entire website was taken down by Sanders and that, apart from some stories salvaged on another website, nothing now remains. It is ironic that a magazine that courted controversy should itself end controversially. Although Sanders and Watt-Evans had already agreed to cease publication, an unfortunate choice of words used by Sanders in rejecting one story led to an escalation of acrimony between the editor and several contributors and the final decision to delete the website. As a consequence one of the best magazines of recent years can no longer be savoured. [MA]

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