... in the English language, at least as implied by certain awards nominations and "best of" placements.
Okay, I'm a dork. I want to apologize right away for this list, for two reasons, but then also excuse myself for two reasons.
First apology: It's a little weird for me to occupy space in a philosophy blog with talk about science fiction magazines. I know! Excuse: I've come to think that science fiction, and other types of "speculative fiction" (e.g., Borges), is an interesting and valuable way to explore the metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological dimensions of various "what-if" possibilities. The concreteness of speculative fiction, and the way the stories engage the emotions and imagination, has I think both epistemic virtues (you think through the specific scenario somewhat better) and shortcomings (you might be too influenced by particular incidental features). Serious speculative fiction belongs in the philosopher's toolbox.
Second apology: It's silly to take rankings like this very seriously; and also, in certain respects, such rankings tend to reinforce the privilege of the status quo. Excuse: However, in another respect, lists level the playing field. I've started publishing science fiction, and until recently I had no idea where to send things. So I started looking at the original venues for some of the stories I liked in the "Best of" anthologies I'd been reading. This seemed better than just searching "science fiction magazines" on the web and seeing what popped up. The list below is really just a systematization of my efforts, as an outsider without word-of-mouth connections. It magnifies the advantage of insiders if outsiders are at sea about what is read and respected by those at the top of the sci-fi publishing hierarchy. (The SFWA list of qualifying markets isn't necessarily a good guide.)
Okay, I know, I'm still a dork. Feel free to stop reading now, lest you become a dork too!
Method and Caveats:
1. Asimov's (197 hits) 2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (146) 3. Subterranean (47) (started 2007) 4. Clarkesworld (43) (started 2006) 5. Analog (38) 6. Tor.com (33) (started 2008) 7. Strange Horizons (32) 8. Interzone (31) 9. SciFiction (26) (ceased 2005) 10. Lightspeed (25) (started 2010) 11. Fantasy Magazine (16) (started 2005, merged into Lightspeed, 2012) 12. Postscripts (11) 13. Jim Baen's Universe (10) (ran 2006-2010) 13. Realms of Fantasy (10) (ceased 2011) 15. Apex (6) (started 2005) 16. Helix SF (5) (ran 2006-2008) 17. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (4) (started 2008) 17. Electric Velocipede (4) (ceased 2013) 19. Black Gate (3) 19. Black Static (3) (started 2007) 19. Cosmos (3) (started 2005) 19. Flurb (3) (ran 2006-2012) 19. The New Yorker (3) 19. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010) 25. Aeon Speculative Fiction (2) (ceased 2008) 25. Conjunctions (2) 25. Futurismic (2) (ceased 2010) 25. Lone Star Stories (2) (ceased 2009) 25. Weird Tales (2) (off and on throughout period) --------------------------------------------------
Two things are immediately striking about this list:
First, really just a few magazines dominate the nominations and "best of" selections -- especially Asimov's and F&SF. Given the chanciness and subjectivity and imperfections of the submission and selection process, and given the fact that excellent authors might sometimes prefer venues other than the top few on this list, I find it difficult to believe that those few magazines really have that proportion of the highest quality stories. Almost half of the hits are from the top two, and 83% are from the top ten. And there are very good magazines that don't appear on this list at all (Nature's "Futures" series, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex...).
The graph below captures this distribution visually (click to enlarge):
[BTW, the Pushcart Rankings served as a partial model.]
Update, Aug. 20:
In the comments, Sean Wallace suggests re-analyzing with a five-year window to see if the dominance patterns are shifting. The results, through 5 hits:
1. Asimov's (100) 2. F&SF (66) 3. Clarkesworld (42) 3. Subterranean (42) 5. Tor.com (33) 6. Lightspeed (25) 7. Interzone (21) 8. Strange Horizons (18) 9. Analog (16) 10. Fantasy (14) 11. Apex (6) 11. Postscripts (6) 12. Realms of Fantasy (5)
Not radically different, though as Sean suggests, it does show some broadening away from Asimov's and F&SF toward others in the top ten.
Second update, Aug. 20:
Following another suggestion of Sean's, I looked at five and ten years' selections of novelettes and short stories from the Locus Recommended Reading List (no novellas this time).
Over a five-year window, the spread is considerably flatter than my original ten-year list above, with the number one Asimov's (60) approximately doubling the number 5 Subterranean (25) and five times the number 10 Beneath Ceaseless skies (13). Also Intergalatic Medicine Show, Interfictions, Nightmare, The Dark, and Tin House now appear (2-3 hits each).
Over a ten-year window, the top-ranked magazines start to pull away again, with Asimov's (164) and F&SF (142) well ahead of the 3rd to 7th ranked (all 31-40 hits). Magazines on this list that are not mentioned above are Argosy, MIT Techology Review, Harper's, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2-3 hits each).
See The Underblog for my full Locus ranking lists.