From here on, I can really only comment on issue-specific content so this may or may not be useful or relevant. I’ve already said that I thought the internal art could have been a lot better and that several of the ads detracted from the professional look of the magazine.
The book reviews left me flat too, mostly because the books that were reviewed were the same books that everyone else reviews and so, as a reader, I didn’t gain anything I couldn’t have found somewhere else or even free on the web. There was little said about the actual execution of the books, and the overwhelming bulk of the reviews were plot recaps of the work. (The review of the graphic novel is an exception to this; it does address technical merit.)
I thought the game reviews were pretty, sharp once you got past the obligatory look at the latest D&D sourcebook.
The artist highlight was enjoyable and I’d have liked to see his work spread throughout the magazine instead of all lumped up in one spot.
The movie review was a waste of space. My apologies to Resa Nelson—it’s nothing personal and her review was well written and the use of sidebars to cover specific characters was an innovative touch—I just cannot think of a movie less in need of review than the next Harry Potter film. It’s deep in a series based on a series of books. The reader already has their mind made up and either they’re going to go see it or not, regardless of what a reviewer says. To me, this is five pages of wasted content space. Hopefully in the future, the movies covered will be more obscure.
I mentioned music reviews earlier and now I must expand on that. It’s not actually a music review. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I didn’t do enough drugs in the sixties. The section is listed as a department (Folkroots) as if this is to be a recurring feature. The actual content is a rambling essay about music history. So, what does that mean for the next issue and the magazine in the long run? I hope it means that this abstruse essay is an introduction to the kind of material that will be reviewed in the future, but who can say? More annoying, I read the essay three times trying to find an answer and it’s not there. The essay is the kind of beat rant that’s full of references but lacking enough context for these references to give the reader meaningful information; the kind of essay whose real point is not to inform but to impress the reader with how smart the writer is. To me, seven more pages of wasted content. On the other hand, I think music reviews are a great idea. On this ‘department’ I say give it three issues. If the word ‘filk’ hasn’t been mentioned, start complaining to the editors. If Wild Mercy’s latest album isn’t reviewed in the next six, cancel your subscription. But that’s a personal thing. If you like to dress in black and snap your fingers while some guy rants in a coffee shop, you’ll love this.
What of the stories themselves? Despite Shawna’s editorial promoting the magazine as an incubator for new authors, this issue wasn’t. Tanith Lee headlines and the other three authors aren’t exactly new faces. (On the other hand, for a relaunch, this is a bit of a necessity.) I liked two of the stories, hated one, and thought that the Tanith Lee work was not up to her usual standards. I appreciate and support the goal of promoting new authors in RoF but the cold realities of magazine publishing and marketing mean that, with only 4 spots to work with, at best only two of those can be risked on new talent and that’s not great odds.
So, in the end, what do I think? I think it’s not as good as I’d hoped and I hate to have to say bad things about it. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same old RoF, back again. That’s good and bad. The old fan base will be happy, but I don’t see anything here that will draw in new readers or subscribers. The old fan base is loyal but they weren’t enough to support the old RoF. I expect that the magazine will continue on at a slightly reduced production value, and will probably drop their pay rates for freelancers within the year. (Please don’t let me be right about that.)
Did I mention that I want them to succeed? By all means and please, prove me wrong.
[Postscript: After I prepared this review, I was fortunate enough to exchange emails with Doug Cohen at RoF. He explained to me that FolkRoots was not music reviews. It is an ongoing series of essays about music. This gives me a better understanding of the department but no greater liking for it. I would rather that they have music reviews--if there is any area where it is almost impossible to find good talent, it is the folk and filk community. (There's lots of talent out there; they are just really hard to find other than word of mouth.) He also assured me that the style guide is being standarized as we speak and that the copy-editing quality will improve. Many of the problems I identified as first issue issues seem to be exactly that. This is good news and I pass it on to you.]