Strange Horizons fund drive 2011

Paul Raven @ 26-09-2011

If you come to Futurismic for the science fiction side of things (which I hope, even in the temporary absence of an active fiction department, quiet a few of you still do), then you’ve probably at least heard of Strange Horizons, the free-to-air all-online pro-paying market and critical journal of genre fiction.

Better still, I hope you think Strange Horizons is awesome; I’ll say it again, they pay pro rates for quality genre fiction and poetry – some of it award-winning – that costs you nothing to read and doesn’t come accompanied by ugly ads or sponsorships. Heck, they even pay their reviewers and columnists a little bit… and as one of those reviewers, I guess that means you could say I have a horse in the race, so to speak. But I was a reader of SH long before I was a contributor, and it’s one of the venues I’m proudest to write for; if that’s bias, then consider this my full disclosure.

So, if you also think Strange Horizons is awesome – or even just pretty good – they could do with your help. There’s a few weeks left on the annual fund drive, and if you pop over and pitch in a fistful of dollars you’ll be entered into a prize draw, meaning you get a slight sense of anticipation as a side-salad to your blue-plate serving of Supporting A Good Cause.

(There are some epic prizes in there, too: did you know Alastair Reynolds was an artist as well as a writer? Because apparently he’ll draw or paint you a scene from one of his novels! Or you could snag a copy of The Universe Of Things, the latest Gwyneth Jones short fiction collection from Aqueduct Press, which I spent over 3,000 words marvelling overearlier in the year. Or signed novels by Ursula Le Guin, or Adam Roberts, or… look, there’s all sorts of good stuff you could win, go see for yourself.)

Again, to be clear: Strange Horizons has always been free to air, and is run by volunteers. All money donated goes to paying for the physical needs of the site (the specialist technical stuff and webhosting magic) and the excellent, unique and original content it publishes. Please consider sparing a few bucks to keep it that way.


Crowdsourced content selection: the future of publishing?

Paul Raven @ 15-09-2011

No, not here. (Well, not yet, anyway.) Social media news network Mashable has a guest piece from Molly Barton, president of Book Country, an online community for genre fiction writers that’s trying to change the way stories get picked for publication. As with most such projects, there’s a strong egalitarian undertone:

In the modern world of broadcast and publisher media, the traditional model relies on a series of individuals reading and choosing which stories will appeal to broad audiences. These gatekeepers evaluate commercial and literary potential based on books that have previously succeeded. Daring stories that push boundaries and bend categories may be passed over because they are more difficult to market. But the tastes of readers and viewers often progresses more quickly than the stories readily available to them reflect.

But what if we created lots of little fires around which writers could tell their stories and gauge the reaction of a keen audience, improving their storytelling before bumping up against the traditional media filter? Would we get more interesting stories? Could we uncover a new group of brilliant creators who might not have connections to those gatekeepers?

They’re not just about raising up the passed-over, however; the proliferation and evolution of new genres is also part of the plan:

When Neuromancer was published in 1984, the genre called “cyberpunk” did not exist. Until Michael Crichton introduced us to The Andromeda Strain in 1969, the “environmental thriller” was but a category of stories waiting to be told. By expanding the process through which stories are found, we give those who are passionate about new kinds of stories the opportunity to influence, and in so doing, increase the likelihood that new genres and sub-genres of stories will develop and find eager waiting audiences.

Community curation, proliferation of niche verticals… lots of theories that (if you’ve been following along) we’ve bumped into here in the past, then. If you’re wondering what the business model is, Book Country is a subsidiary of the Penguin Group, so one assumes this is an experiment toward replacing the old acquisitions system, though the FAQ states that “Book Country is not a channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts to Penguin editors”. How the project is monetised remains unclear, though it’s still in beta, so perhaps there are contextual ads waiting in the wings, or plans to charge for access; time to send some emails and do some research, methinks.

Is Book Country the future of publishing? Or will it be just another failed attempt to graft a “social” element onto an old system? Only time will tell… but it’s good to see the industry trying new ideas instead of sitting around and wringing its hands as the landscape shifts beneath its feet.


Get schooled by Lavie Tidhar

Paul Raven @ 27-06-2011

Just in case I haven’t offended enough bigots already today, I’m going to direct you all to read Lavie Tidhar’s short story “The School”. Not only does the story itself critique the racism, misogyny and homophobia that regrettably still lurks in the heart of genre fiction’s body politic, but the fact that some big-name fiction venues shied away from publishing it – on the basis of being afraid to offend the sensibilities of said body politic – exposes an unwillingness to upset the applecart that contributes to the persistence of that bigotry.

Yet again, I find myself frustrated by my inability to fund story purchases here at Futurismic at the moment; I’d have paid for and published this story with pride, knowing that any readers I lost weren’t readers I wanted to keep in the first place.


Genre fiction’s cultural cringe; the annual repeat showing

Paul Raven @ 07-02-2011

Damien Walter at The Guardian last week:

… new works of speculative fiction rarely receive the critical recognition accorded to their literary cousins, a fact most evident in the major literary awards, not least the Man Booker prize. In the last decade, British SF has been through a period of intense creativity and brilliance. […] Whether any one of these books would have swayed the Booker judges is an open question, but the fact that only one significant work of SF from this extraordinary decade (Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) was even longlisted suggests a systematic problem in the Booker’s treatment of speculative fiction.

Over the same period, the fashion of literary fiction writers borrowing ideas from SF has continued. Putting aside concerns that novels such as Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go lag more than two decades behind in their treatment of cloning and genetics, for the Booker judges to consider SF ideas when recycled by literary authors, but to ignore the source of those ideas, only highlights the narrowness of the award’s perspective.

Is speculative fiction poised to break into the literary canon, as the headline asks? My money’s on “nope”.

As is Maureen Kincaid Speller’s, I suspect:

This is not to say that I am in any way advocating a rejection of the mainstream and a retreat to the teenage bedroom of the genre heartland, accompanied by a fading wail of “you just don’t understand”. Genre has its uses as a down-and-dirty taxonomic shorthand on occasion but I don’t believe these terms and definitions should be used to construct barriers, especially not in order to provide a platform from which to complain that people aren’t willing to make the journey through the barricade. It’s ridiculous and, dare I say, just a little childish.

Kinda similar to yours truly, right here last year:

… every time we moan that prizes like the Booker don’t recognise the genius that resides within our ghetto, we confirm the opinion we assume that they hold of us: provincial geeks with marginal interests and a persecution complex. We wear the bruised vanity of the snubbed underdog like sackcloth and ashes, and it does us a disservice far greater than being passed over by a prize that – by its own implications and history, if not outright admission – is just as focussed on a small (if ill-defined) set of aesthetic criteria as our own in-ghetto awards.

Let it go, people. Let it go.

As remarked in the comments thread of Maureen’s post, I’ve been that petulant underdog advocate myself in the past, and I think most people deeply involved with any subculture go through a similar stage. This is natural. However, when you’ve been sailing on the Good Ship Genre for a little while, you get pretty tired of seeing that distant landmass to port, and knowing that there’ll be an earnest but thoroughly done-to-death debate about how thoroughly mean it is of the people who live there not to let us settle on the beaches.

Lest it seem I’m picking on Damien, though, here’s a post from his personal blog where he makes a strong argument against attempts to technologize the fiction experience:

We won’t have novels with embedded videos either. Or sound-clips. Or RSS feed streaming content. And stories won’t be interactive. Most of all, they will not be interactive. Not that people will stop trying to do these things. They make perfect sense from a marketing perspective. The customer is always right. Prose fiction, says the marketeer, must adapt itself to the whims of the customer.

No. The customer must adapt themself to the demands of prose fiction. The book is defined by the fact that it takes time, and during that time you must concentrate on what you are being told. You do not get to lapse in to the zombie state of the television viewer. You do not get to choose what happens. The book does not change, the book changes you.

The book does not have a future. It is already the thing it needs to be.

I usually vacillate like a pendulum on that particular topic, but Damien can be pretty persuasive when his heart’s in his mouth.


Dark Fiction Magazine: monthly moody audio fiction

Paul Raven @ 29-10-2010

What’s better than plugging the launches of exciting new genre fiction websites? Plugging the launches of exciting new genre fiction websites put together by people who are a) awesome and b) your friends, that’s what. So, press release time:

Beginning Oct 31st (Halloween), Dark Fiction Magazine will be launching a monthly magazine of audio short stories. This is a free service designed to promote genre short fiction to an audience of podcast and radio listeners. A cross between an audio book, an anthology and a podcast, Dark Fiction Magazine is designed to take the enjoyment of short genre fiction in a new and exciting direction.

Dark Fiction Magazine publishes at least four short stories a month: a mix of award-winning shorts and brand new stories from both established genre authors and emerging writers. Each episode will have a monthly theme and feature complementary tales from the three main genres – science fiction, fantasy and horror.

The theme of Dark Fiction Magazine’s first episode is The Darkness Descends and will feature four fantastical stories:

  • ‘Maybe Then I’ll Fade Away’ by Joseph D’Lacey (exclusive to Dark Fiction Magazine)
  • ‘Pumpkin Night’ by Gary McMahon
  • ‘Do You See?’ by Sarah Pinborough (awarded the 2009 British Fantasy Society Short Story Award)
  • ‘Perhaps The Last’ by Conrad Williams

Which is a pretty good way to start, I’d say. And there’s more good stuff heading down the pike:

Lined up for future episodes are Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Ramsey Campbell, Rob Shearman, Kim Lakin-Smith, Ian Whates, Lauren Beukes, Mark Morris, Adam Nevill, Gareth L Powell, Jeremy C Shipp, Adam Christopher, and Jennifer Williams, among others.

Sweeeeeet… bravo to Del and Sharon, who’ve been grafting away at this project between their day-jobs for ages now. Go get yourself an ear-full of genre fiction on Sunday night, why don’t you?

[ Disclosure: I have been invited to do some narration for DFM. Don’t let that put you off, though. 🙂 ]


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