Forbidden Lines

Tagged: Publication

US Semiprozine published by Paul B Thompson, Chapel Hill, North Carolina and edited by Charles Overbeck supported by an editorial board consisting of a student-based writers' group at the University of North Carolina. It ran for 16 letter-size issues from October/November 1990 to Summer 1994, initially bimonthly but irregular after Fall 1992. The magazine began because the writers' group felt there were insufficient markets in the US for sf/fantasy and those few markets dictated the nature of genre. The group, and particularly editor Overbeck, wanted a home for more radical material. Waters were initially tested with an anthology assembled by the group, Forbidden Lines (anth 1989), a trade paperback edition of just 500 copies which contained material by the group plus reprints of stories and essays generously donated by John Kessel and Frederik Pohl. The anthology was sufficiently popular that Overbeck suggested a magazine. The title is a term used in astronomy to refer to lines that appear in the spectra of stars that don't appear in the elemental spectra on Earth, and it also seemed appropriate because the writers' group wanted a freeform magazine with no censorship beyond wanting good quality writing. Not surprisingly, though, the title suggested something more sinister and once the magazine was opened up to submissions the editors were flooded by horror stories. They found it hard to fill each bimonthly issue and the first two issues were written almost entirely by the writers' group.

About a half of the contents were classifiable as science fiction, including some more readily identifiable as horror fiction, such as the first published work by F Brett Cox, "Love is All You Need" (October/November 1990) about a township recovering from a frenzied night-long sexual orgy compelled by an unknown force. Publisher Paul B Thompson contributed a short serial from issue #2-#4, "Sodalis" (December/January 1990/91-April/May 1991), where the androgynous human inhabitants of a planet are being eradicated to make way for "normal" human colonists (see Colonization of Other Worlds). The special Armageddon (see End of the World) issue (May/June 1992 #10) was well in keeping with this dark image. There were some more traditional stories: despite its title, "Tales of the Screeching Skull" (November/December 1991) by Dan O'Keefe tells of a Rejuvenation process that has far-reaching consequences. "Anne's Pen" (January/February 1992) by Monica Eiland considers how a future timeline hinged on the loss of a pen (see Jonbar Point). "Wishing and Hoping" (Summer 1993 #14) by F Brett Cox questions whether a pub encounter is with a time traveller or a lunatic.

The most overt sf element in the magazine was the nonfiction, which included interviews with John Kessel (February/March 1991 #3), James Morrow (Fall 1992 #12) and Connie Willis (March/April 1992 #9), and an edited transcript of a talk by Bruce Sterling, "New Maps of Bohemia" (April/May 1991 #4). There were also features on designing planets and on UFOs.

Forbidden Lines never lived down its horror-fiction image and, from the way it was illustrated, it rather encouraged it. Sales improved progressively through its run, from a few hundred for the first issue to 1200 for the final. Overbeck believed that with more time and energy the magazine could have sustained itself, but the support system was no longer there with most of the writers' group drained by the sheer volume of dreadful manuscripts they had been reading. [MA]

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