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.


Phoenix Pick announces series of new author showcase books

Paul Raven @ 26-07-2011

Here’s some news from sf small press Phoenix Pick; they’re doing a series of books pairing up established names in the genre with newer writers. From the press release:

The Phoenix Pick program pairs a veteran author with a newer writer, each contributing a story for a single, stand-alone edition within the series. Each of the two stories may be set in the same universe, or complement the other in some other manner.

This project offers less-established authors a new venue to sell their stories and also provides them with an exceptional opportunity to have their work introduced to science fiction and fantasy fans by current masters in the field.

It allows veteran authors the opportunity to provide newer authors of their own choosing a distinctive platform to launch or re-ignite their careers.

Mike Resnick, the series editor, is considered one of the most distinguished writers and editors in the genre. He has been nominated for a record 35 Hugo awards and has won the award five times. He is first on Locus magazine’s list of all-time award winners, living or dead, for short fiction, and fourth on the magazine’s list of science fiction’s all-time top award winners in all fiction categories.

Good to see people still trying new ideas in the dead-tree sphere. As I’ve said before, I don’t think print media is anywhere near over, though it’s definitely moving into a twilight phase… and as mass market models fade away, there becomes space to try new things with niches. One to keep an eye on.


The Science Fiction Gateway

Paul Raven @ 21-07-2011

For those of you not so deeply plugged in to the sf lit and fandom circuits of the intertubes, I’ll act as a repeater station for a signal worth passing on: venerable UK sf imprint Gollancz has announced its SFGateway project, which will integrate a growing backlist of classic sf titles in ebook formats with the also-forthcoming online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Here’s the main meat from the press release, which you can read in full if you so wish:

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.

Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors. It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014. Gollancz’s Digital Publisher Darren Nash, who joined the company in September 2010 to spearhead the project said, “The Masterworks series has been extraordinarily successful in republishing one or two key titles by a wide range of authors, but most of those authors had long careers in which they wrote dozens of novels which had fallen out of print. It seemed to us that eBooks would offer the ideal way to make them available again. This realization was the starting point for the SF Gateway.” Wherever possible, the SF Gateway will offer the complete backlist of the authors included.

The SF Gateway will be closely integrated with the recently announced new online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which provides an independent and definitive reference source of information on the authors and books included. Direct links between the Encyclopedia and the Gateway will provide easy access to eBook editions, for sale through all major online retailers.

The Gateway site will also act as a major community hub and social network for SF readers across the world, allowing them to interact with each other and recommend titles and authors. The site is planned to include forums, blogs, regular promotions, and is envisaged to become the natural home on the net for anyone with an interest in classic SFF.

All of a sudden, I’m genuinely interested in buying an ebook reader. (Or at least a device with ebook-reading capabilities; I suspect the standalone ebook reader will be an exemplary illustration of Chairman Bruce’s concept of “obsolete before plateau”, killed off by convergence in the tablet market, folded in as one more function for your general purpose portable computing/connectivity platform.)

I’m quite impressed at how well Gollancz have kept this on the downlow for so long, too, especially given all the folk in the [aca]fandom circuit (myself included) carping loudly about publishers failing to embrace new platforms and technologies. The sheer joined-up-ness of this project (and the decision to base it all on pure HTML5, with no flash-in-the-pan walled-garden proprietary app crapola) is ambitious and forward-looking; I’m sure there’ll be some minor snags here and there, but I get the sense that this has been thought through very carefully, and that a certain allowance for tweaking and flex has been built in.

And to see that vast (and apparently set-to-grow) backlist of out-of-print titles brought back into availability is a thing of wonder. Ladies and gentlemen of Gollancz, and everyone else who has been involved: I salute you.


How will writers make a living in the future?

Paul Raven @ 12-07-2011

That’s Damien G Walter’s question:

It’s very likely, in fact I would argue almost certain, that the freedoms unleashed by the internet will bring almost unimaginable benefits to every person alive today and every person that comes after us. The society that emerges from today’s information revolution will be as far advanced from our society today, as our society is from the Dark Ages.

In that future society, it won’t be possible to make a living from writing. Even the idea of making a living from writing will seem strange. In much the same way we might think making a living from talking a little odd…although it seemed perfectly natural to the priest who read from the bible only he could translate to his Dark Ages congregation. But then, if we make it down the rocky road of change that leads there, the idea of making a living itself will seem a little odd…

I can see where Walter is going here, but the flaw in his logic is easy enough to spot… even more so now that I’ve underlined it, I hope. (*ahem*) I can think of loads of people who still make a living from talking and reading: lecturers, lawyers, performance poets and actors, to name but a few.

And as such I suspect that there will still be people making a living from writing for as long as we still have alphabets to write with. While I can imagine a post-text future for humanity, I think it’s a very long way off from now, and until the day when we all communicate in hyperdense ideoplasts that can compress entire schools of thought into a small yet intricate 4-dimensional shape, people who make widgets are still going to need to hire people with the skill to explain to potential customers why their widgets are (supposedly) better than all the other widgets available.

I’m being a little disingenuous here, of course, as Walter is more specifically thinking about the demise of the writer of fictions rather than the churners-out of ad copy. [The difference between most ad copy and ‘proper’ fiction is left as an exercise of the reader’s cynicism.] But as much as the novel or short story forms we know today may become impossible to monetise in a fully-digital cultural sphere, I still hold that the human desire for story will not vanish until the human itself vanishes… and even then, our posthuman descendents will probably want to tell tales about their simian meatbag forebears in order to understand (or mythologise, or both) themselves, and their place and purpose in the universe.

Walter’s distress – like that of many other writers, my own included – is understandable, but it is also rooted in the very limiting conception of story being something that is printed on thin sheets of compressed and dried wood pulp… which rather overlooks cinema, television, machinima and computer games as storyable media, not to mention the spoken word form that he mentions, and the media we still have yet to discover, invent or adopt. That said, my callously future-focussed big-picture attitude here probably isn’t very comforting for folk trying to pay the rent with the one skill they’ve honed over a lifelong career, and I wish there was a magic wand I could wave that would sort that particular problem out.

But it’s equally disingenuous to wring hands over the Sad and Inevitable Fate of Story: to be led, limping, out to the barn like Old Yeller. That’s a little like lamenting the demise of the buggy whip while completely overlooking the opportunities opening up for whip-makers to redeploy their leatherworking skills on luxurious car interiors… storytelling ain’t going nowhere soon. While there are still people with the drive to tell stories, there’ll be new ways of making the talent pay. Mark my words.

Looking a little less deeply into the future of fiction, however, here’s a piece from The Guardian‘s Robert McCrum in which he looks at the way publishing houses are finally getting to grips with the digital age… and not so much in terms of new technologies or platforms, but in terms of the sort of books they’re printing. The internet and social media may have their faults, but there’s no denying they’ve made it easier to find out what your audience wants… or at least what it thinks it wants, which – as the saying goes – is close enough for government work, though the government don’t seem very keen on using it. Naturally enough, McCrum arrives in closing at the same question as Walter above, but with notably less angst – how’s the economics gonna work out?

I don’t have the answer, more’s the pity, or I’d be raking in big bucks from publishers as a futures consultant (in which capacity, I might add, I am most certainly available for hire at this moment in time – all enquiries and downpayments to the usual address, KTHXBAI). But it’s certainly an important question, and – if you ask me – one best addressed with positivity.

Although, of course, End Times storm clouds on the horizon do make for a more dramatic hook for a story… 😉


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