Tracking

Doug Cohen:

So I thought to myself, “Hey, what if we did a general subscription drive, to boost the magazines for general purposes? Every subscriber counts.” The difference here is that I’m not talking about any specific magazine in danger of dying. There is no immediate urgency. Nothing right now. But like with oil, one day we’ll wake up and the magazines could very well be gone. We need to do something now, before that happens.

So I’m asking people to do two things. First, spread this post throughout the blogosphere. Get the message out. Second, if you haven’t subscribed to a magazine recently, unless you don’t have the $$$ pick one and subscribe! At least one. Saying you don’t have the time to read the magazine is a lame excuse. How many of us have books we bought years ago that we haven’t read? I do. Add a few magazines to the pile. What’s the harm? And if you just read novels, try short stories. Why have you only been reading novels, especially if you want to be a writer? Do you honestly think there is nothing to be learned from reading shorter works? And don’t tell me you’ve tried all the magazines. New ones are always starting. And when a new editor takes over the helm, in many ways that magazine becomes new.

Paul Raven:

What we are missing are the cold hard facts. Why are subscriptions to short fiction magazines dropping? Subscription drives are an admirable thing, but until the source of the problem is located, it’s like adding more water to a leaking bucket. We need to find the hole and patch it.

Now, for all I know, the magazine publishers may well be hunting for the leak. I certainly hope so. I know some of them are looking at methods of patching the leak, too, if not already rolling out potential patches and strengthening. This is a good thing.

But what worries me is this; subscription drives may cause an unfounded short-term sense of security. If publishers look at the next twelve months and breathe a sigh of relief, they may not think ahead to the next five years.

Jonathan McCalmont:

Like most genre fans these days, I’m not hugely interested in short fiction. I don’t particularly like long books either but I think that any idea worth developing is worth developing in some depth. On a purely shallow level, if short fiction magazines were to be wiped from the Earth, I don’t think my enjoyment of genre would be hugely curtailed. However, I try not to be the shallow type so I think the question one needs to ask oneself when considering Doug and Paul’s advice is, what are short fiction SF magazines actually for if they’re not shop-windows for people who go on to write novels?

Dave Klecha:

Which is why, to me, the fate of science fiction magazines, to me, is somewhat academic. Or, I should say, I don’t have a lot of bias when it comes to them. Not particularly beholden to them, no particular animosity toward them (other than, of course, that cliched sort of frustrated rage at not being able to sell to them–look at me, my fury burns so hot, I’m increasing entropy! Rawr!) And it occurs to me that the move to the web not only seems inevitable, but could actually be constructive.

Like Jason Stoddard, I think the world has already changed away from print magazines and print fiction. Short of an incipient electronic paper revolution (which seems to me to be best poised as that holy grail of effective e-book readers, not the sort of disposable/collectible unique copies that magazines and newspapers are today), I don’t see them surviving in their current form. But, you know, I find the web much more conducive to reading the short stuff.

Jeremy Tolbert:

The gorilla in the room that we rarely acknowledge is that nobody wants to read short fiction. If they did, then there wouldn’t be this mess. I’ve heard and read hand waving about the changes in distribution models, but honestly, I don’t buy it. In this day and age, if you have a burning desire to read science fiction short stories, you can Google up a magazine in less than a second.

Do I think that the public could be marketed towards to encourage the reading of more short fiction? Maybe. A good marketing team can sell just about anything. Do I think anyone has the money to back a large campaign like this? No. SFWA would be the only organization that I could see such an initiative coming from, and they’re a massive joke; an organization dedicated to internal politics and rumormongering more than the decline and collapse of the industry around it.

There is no solution. The public’s interest has moved on. If you’re a writer, go write video games, movies, television, or books, in that order of popularity. That is where the public’s interest is right now, and if you don’t like it, then I’m afraid that you should probably get used to the idea that short fiction is a small, niche hobby of little importance. I’m fine with that. I find that I enjoy writing it, and that’s enough for me. Short fiction for me is a way to learn writing, but I won’t regret leaving it behind if I were to crack another (more popular and better paying) medium, or find some amalgam of several of my own.

(I may come back and add my own comments later. In the meantime, see also most of the comments in that last discussion.)

EDIT: For instance:

But how many people really love to read “speculative novels”? I love to read the novels of — for example, and in no particular order — William Gibson, Maureen McHugh, Geoff Ryman, Connie Willis, and Paul Park, among others. There are other authors whose novels I don’t love to read, but I might be willing to spend eight bucks on them in an airport bookstore for lack of choice. There are some authors I’ve never read that, if I did read read them, would probably fall into one or the other category.

And then there’s the vast majority of authors, whose novels I either am indifferent to, or actively dislike.

I’m probably a little pickier than average, but I would be surprised if most fans tastes don’t follow a similar sort of distribution. How much crossover is there between John Ringo readers and Ellen Kushner readers?

Admittedly, few magazines are as broad as all of SF, but the more major they are the broader they are, and they’re pretty much all a lot broader than my tastes — which, you will note, are not easily categorized by subgenre. If I pick up any SF magazine, there might or might not be a story in there that I like, but I can count on there being stories in there that I hate.

Foundation News

Thing the first: details of the second SF Foundation Masterclass:

The Second, Annual, Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass.
Location: University College Dublin.
Dates: June 20th, 21st, and 22nd (that’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
The SFRA starts Tuesday.

Class Leaders: Wendy Pearson, Geoff Ryman, Gary K. Wolfe.

The Science Fiction Masterclass is held in conjunction with the University of Liverpool. However in the summer of 2008, the archive is being refurbished and is closed to researchers. It has been decided, therefore, that for this one year the Masterclass will be held in Dublin, a few days before the SFRA, to allow people to attend both with ease, should they wish. The SFF committee will ensure that supplementary reading is made available.

The aim of the Masterclass is to provide those who have a serious interest in sf criticism with the opportunity to exchange ideas with leading figures in the field, and also to use the SFF Collection.

The Masterclass will take place from June 20th-22nd 2008 at University College, Dublin. Each full day of the Masterclass will consist of morning and evening classes, with afternoons free to prepare. Class leaders for 2008 will be Wendy Pearson, Geoff Ryman, and Gary K. Wolfe.

Delegate costs will be £190 per person, excluding accommodation. Accomodation will be provided at University College Dublin: €55 per single room, per night. (The applicable rate is 55.00euro per single room per night in a shared apartment. Each apartment consists of six single bedrooms en suite with kitchen/dining area and sitting room. All bed linen, hand towel and basic breakfast crockery are provided.)

Applicants should write to Farah Mendlesohn at farah.sf@gmail.com.

Applicants must provide a short CV of either: academic credentials, essay/book publications, reviews and writing sample (this may be from a blog); all of these will be valued equally as we are looking for a mixture of experiences and approaches.

Applications will be assessed by an Applications Committee consisting of Paul Kincaid, Andy Sawyer and Jenny Wolmark.

Completed applications must be received by 31st January 2008.

Thing the second: the 100th issue of Foundation dropped through my letterbox yesterday. It’s a fiction anthology jointly edited by Farah Mendlesohn (the outgoing editor) and Graham Sleight (the incoming editor). As it says in the editorial:

The original idea for Foundation 100: The Anthology came out of John Clute’s argument that First SF was dead: that no one now wrote in the belief that the future they depicted was both possible from where we stand now, and desirable. The anthology was further shaped by an argument (whose origin I can no longer remember) that too much modern sf clearly descnded from a past in which genocide had wiped out most of the non-white population because they were so clearly not the futures of the places that so so many of us live in: multicultural, diverse, argumentative. With both these things in mind we asked our authors for stories which were our future and of which they were some way convinced. Inevitably, the result is not quite what we expected.

Here’s the cover (or at least the cover image, by Andrew M. Butler) and the contents:

foundation_100
Contents
“The Flood” by Christopher Barzak
“HealthGuard” by David Marusek
“Life-Pod” by Vandana Singh
“The Spirit of Radio” by Tricia Sullivan
“Living in the End of Days” by Karen Traviss
“Reflecting Glory” by Margo Lanagan
“Angel of the Waters” by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
“Sea Change” by Una McCormack
“The Last American” by John Kessel
“Soul Case” by Nalo Hopkinson
“Induction” by Greg Egan

Needless to say, I am looking forward to getting stuck in.

Only Linkward

No time for proper posts this week, I’m afraid; fortunately, there’s plenty to read elsewhere.

Call For Papers: SFRA conference 2008

The following just dropped into my inbox:

SFRA CONFERENCE 2008
on the theme of Good Writing

We invite papers on all aspects of the aesthetics of sf in any medium.

We particularly welcome papers on our guests who will include:
KAREN JOY FOWLER, DAVID MITCHELL AND ZORAN ZIVCOVIC.

The banquet will be hosted by Ian McDonald

The Science Fiction Research Association Conference 2008 will be held at Trinity College, Dublin from Tuesday 24th to Friday 27th June, 2008.

Full prices, excluding banquet and accommodation: EUR160/USD185/UKP110; students EUR100/USD120/UKP70.

Paypal account: SFRA2008.
Enquiries: sfra2008@googlemail.com
Details: www.ucd.ie/historyarchives/conferences/sfra2008.htm

Proposals should consist of title, 250-word abstract (maximum) and equipment needs. Deadline for proposals: 29th February 2008.
Proposals should be sent to: sfra2008@googlemail.com

Organisers:
Edward James, Paul Kincaid, Farah Mendlesohn, Maureen Kincaid Speller

I was more or less planning to go anyway, but that list of guests seals the deal. (And with any luck I’ll go to the second SFF Masterclass, which will be immediately beforehand, as well.)

Yet More Readercon Reviewing Follow-up

Ernest Lilley clarifies his position on positive and negative reviews:

The only thing that we really try not to do is to run reviews where the reviewer rants from one end to the other and whose main objective seems to be to get even with an author for making them read a book they didn’t enjoy. My frequent comment to reviewers is that if it doesn’t grab you, put it down and we’ll get you another. On the other hand, if a book has flaws as well as strengths (and what doesn’t?) folks are welcome to point them out. Of course, what one person sees as a flaw may be another person’s strengths. Handled well, for instance, I like a bit of exposition in my fiction, and if a story doesn’t include new ideas I’m less likely to think well of it. I like plot too. For other reviewers though, the prose is the thing, and infodumps just get in way. I don’t think either is right or wrong, and part of the editorial job (handled ably and more often by Gayle Surrette than me) is to match book and reviewer.

See also John Berlyne’s comments, here and at SF Revu.

Velcro City Down

Those of you who follow the Velcro City Tourist Board may have noticed that it’s vanished from the interwebs. Paul’s asked me to pass on a message explaining the situation:

Basically, the server where VCTB is hosted appears to have had a database crash. Unfortunately, the helpful and generous local webgeek who runs it out of his own home machine is away in a muddy field for a German metal festival for the rest of the week, and hence there is little or no chance of the situation being changed until he returns. Normal (ahem) service will be resumed as soon as is possible.

Here’s hoping it gets fixed sooner rather than later.

Human Nature

Of necessity, this will be more of a compare-and-contrast than a review. Paul Cornell’s 1995 novel, Human Nature, is the first Doctor Who novel I’ve read, and almost cripplingly mired in continuity I have next-to-no knowledge of. So if I say that I didn’t like it as much as the recent TV adaptation (as “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood”), in part all that means is that I don’t know the context. The outline of the plot is the same for both versions – the Doctor, living as a human teacher in England, in the months immediately before World War I, watched over by his companion, falls in love, and (unrelatedly) is pursued by an alien family. But the details are different. In both, the companion is the viewpoint character; but I don’t know Bernice Summerfield like I know Martha, and nor do I know Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.

Some of the changes are cosmetic. Benny is clearly cut from the same cloth as Martha (or rather, vice versa; both are smart, proactive, athletic, funny), and has an equally impressive resume, being a professor of archaeology, not to mention more overtly political in ways that would probably not sit comfortably with the current TV incarnation. In fact, in some ways it’s hard to imagine a more companion-ish companion, and at times Benny comes across as almost too good to be true, in the manner of the characters in The West Wing: you want very much to believe in her, but there’s always a nagging suspicion that people as intelligent, competent, and passionate about what they do as she is are too awesome to really exist. On the other hand the book’s family, never named as the family of blood, are more alien but less threatening than their TV counterparts. In the novel, the family are from a species of shapeshifters known as the Aubertides, who reproduce by budding. The catch is that (apart from their queen) they can only do so for a half-dozen generations, after which point they become (a) a complete family and (b) sterile. To get around this, the particular family in Human Nature want access to Time Lord “biodata” to enable every member of their family to reproduce 13 times — more than enough to form an army. We are told that this will lead them to scourge Gallifrey (among other places), mostly out of boredom (“Don’t knock it,” says one family member. “It’s something to do”). So they set a trap for the Doctor. As fuel for the action of the plot they work well enough, but none of the family members are as well-defined, as instantly sinister, as their TV counterparts.

Other changes between book and TV are more fundamental – surprisingly so, in some ways. The novel takes an impressive risk (if you don’t know what’s coming) by introducing us to John Smith as though he is just another character. It’s only when we see him through Benny’s eyes that we realize he’s the Doctor in human form. (The downside of this, of course, is that we’re not given a chance to get to know the Doctor before the story starts, so without context we don’t know how similar he is or isn’t to Smith; but the same could be said of the TV version, in isolation.) But to my mind, in the end the novel is a somewhat safer work than the TV episodes. For example, it seems that much more of the Doctor remains in Smith, who is never quite as nakedly human as his screen counterpart; when confronted with the truth of his nature, his reaction is not fearful but pragmatic. He attempts to do what the Doctor would do to save the day – albeit never with any intention of letting himself be turned back into a Time Lord. And what changes his mind is not the desire to do the right thing per se, but the appearance of a character who has been lurking in his memories throughout the novel, Verity. As in the TV episodes, the actual decision to change back takes place off-screen, to set up an encounter in which the Doctor bluffs the family. But, not knowing who Verity is, Smith’s choice in the novel feels more than a bit ex machina. In the context of the New Adventures it may all make perfect sense, but coming to it cold it looks clunky. Moreover, a plot contrivance allows Smith and the Doctor to talk to each other before the end, to reach some sort of accommodation; neat in theory, but unfortunately the scene comes across as nothing so much as an attempt to absolve the Doctor of his responsibility for creating a life he only ever intended to destroy, and that’s a shame.

At the same time, the other big difference of emphasis is that there’s much less of Smith in the novel’s Doctor. In “The Family of Blood”, the Doctor tells Joan (Smith’s love) that he’s capable of everything Smith was — including, implicitly, love. In the novel we get the opposite. Smith certainly still loves Joan, but after he has changed back, the Doctor tells Benny, “I can’t love her”; “whatever [love] is, I’m incapable of it” is how he puts it, bluntly, to Joan. On the flipside, this Doctor is more aware of the moral consequences of his actions – in the novel it is he, and not Joan, who raises the issue of how many lives he caused to be lost by choosing this time and place to become human, citing it as a reason he can’t risk changing back. This fits with the more selfish nature of the original choice to become human: as noted above, in the novel the Doctor walks into the family’s trap, choosing voluntarily to become home to take “a holiday from being himself”, rather than undergoing the transformation as a last resort to hide.

Of course, much of the power of Human Nature comes from the contrast of Smith’s love story with its setting – among schoolboys training to be soldiers, on the eve of a singular, terrible, global war. That aspect is the same, and similarly effective, in both novel and TV episodes — if anything, the argument for pacifism is stronger in the original. The epilogue – which, as in the TV version, plunges us fully into the midst of war – is probably the best piece of writing in the book, arguably the only place where the prose aspires to anything beyond the comfortable. But in the novel, Timothy, the boy who finds the Doctor’s essence (which in the novel is stored in a cricket-ball-like pod, rather than a watch) only goes into the conflict as a member of the Red Cross, a choice made as a direct result of his experiences with the pod. Both versions of the story shift focus as they develop, moving the rural idyll from foreground to background, but the extra room to breathe in the novel makes the contrast between quiet, pastoral life and the harsh intrusions of conflict that much more powerful. It’s a contrast that, in the end, perhaps gives us a taste of the Doctor’s perspective, his capacity for what in the novel is called loving “big-ly, not small-ly”; or is that already part of human nature?

Review of 2006

The latest issue of Vector is out, and should be arriving on members’ doorsteps in the next couple of days. It’s our review of 2006, and here’s the lineup:

Torque Control — editorial
Vector Reviewers’ Poll — compiled by Paul N. Billinger
The SF Films of 2006 — Colin O’Dell and Mitch LeBlanc
What Kind Of Year Has It Been? SF on TV in 2006Abigail Nussbaum
The Year in Short Fiction — views on 2006’s short fiction from Claude Lalumiere, Paul Raven, David Soyka, Claire Brialey, Martin McGrath and Niall Harrison
First Impressions — book reviews edited by Paul N. Billinger
Particles — a books received column by Paul N. Billinger
The New X: Remaking History — a column by Graham Sleight

It has felt, to be honest, a little bit like this issue is cursed. All the content was ready at Easter, but production and various other difficulties cropped up to create delays. So apologies for that, and thanks to the contributors for their patience. Also, particular thanks to Liz for stepping up to handle layout for this issue.

Unfortunately — at least based on the samples the printer sent me — it looks like some copies of V252 are subject to a printing error in which pages 6 and 31 appear blank. If you find your copy has this problem, please email me with your details, and I’ll get a replacement out to you.