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Not much going on today except for having to take both the cat and the dog to the vets for annuals.  The dog loves going, the cat has to be fooled into the carrying case.  (Put them in backwards without letting them see it – works every time.)

I see that the courts have decided in favor of Andre Norton’s caregiver and against her lifelong fan in regards to control of the literary estate.  Not knowing either party, I’m incapable of rendering judgement on who would do the best job in maintaining Andre’s legacy.  It is nice to know that her works will once again be available for reprint.  What with all the concentration on YA lit these days, Norton’s novels are a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.  There’s the possibility of an appeal which could still delay things so we’re still in wait mode, but at least this thing is coming to a resolution.

I exchanged a couple of emails with Jason Stoddard regarding his “New Marketing for SF” pieces on his blog.  It’s nice to see someone who not only makes recomendations but follows his own advice as well.  INterestingly enough, Jason has Louis Edelman listed as a friend on his Myspace page, and I just exchanged a coupld of emails with Louis last week concerning my upcoming reviews of InfoQuake and Multireal.  (Finished Infoquake, about one third of the way through Multireal – see below for more).

I’m impressed with the accessability displayed by these ‘new’ authors; I’ve yet to not receive a timely response from anyone I’ve had occassion to email – Doctorow, Wolf, Scalzi, Edelman, Frank, Stoddard… 

I do agonize quite a bit over writing to them;  writing is their business and I’m asking them for ‘free’ time in doing so.  I don’t want to come across as annoying, and I try to remember that just because they seemed to appreciate the prior email doesn’t mean that I can start sending them recipes or pictures of my pets.  I don’t want to get classified into the ‘stay away’ column.

But my biggest fear is that some ham-handed attempt at getting an idea across is going to be misunderstood.  Email, blog commentary, etc., lacks the all important inflection conveyed by expression and tone.  There are a million ways to ‘say’ ‘your story sucks’ – from sarcastic to serious, but only one way to type it. Even if you followed it with an lol or a happy face, chances are your intention will be misconstrued.

It’s not all that different from being a fan attending a con, approaching that favorite author with some trepidation – that is until you get to know them (and they you) – but even when you’re on a face-recognition basis, it still doesn’t mean you can monopolize their time.  They’re at the con for everyone, not just you. 

***

I’ll not provide spoilers for my review of Infoquake that will be appaearing in an upcoming issue of Ray Gun Revival other than to say that I’m now on Multireal.  You might think that statement would give you a hint, but it doesn’t really.  Once the review is out, I’ll offer additional commentary here.

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I was struck (again) the other day by the unending lamentations coming from some quarters of the SF community.  In my head, it sounds like I’m standing in an alley between a Catholic Church and an Orthodox Synagogue as both congregations engage in response:

From the left: Priest: “For God hath created the singularity beyond which there is no knowing”

Congregation: “It is  truly a turd in the punch bowl that stinketh to high heaven”

Priest: “It is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, from which he turneth away”

Congregation: “And there shall be no more science fiction”

From the right: Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these words lacketh in style'”

Congregation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these characters are flat and uninteresting”

Congreation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘Go ye forth and write literary works for they are a sweet smelling sacrifice. No longer shall ye write in a clunky pulp style”

Congregation “And on that day, science fiction was no more. Amen.”

It seems like every day there is yet another reason why science fiction is no longer relevant, is dying or already finished but for the burial.

The post singularity future is unknowable, so we can’t write about the future.  SF is not literary enough and will therefore die in the marketplace.  We’re living in a science fiction world and therefore can’t imagine a future sufficiently wonderous enough to engage the reader. SF is and always will be perceived as an adolescent affectation. Science Fiction is for geeky nerds. There aren’t enough geeky nerds in the worlds to support the market. YA is stealing SF’s thunder. SF is a literature of short stories and the short story is dead. Magazines are the foundation of SF and magazines are dead. The audience has dumbed down and can’t handle thought-provoking literature of any genre. The society is falling apart and is too distressed and depressed to care about the future.  Genre’s only have a 75 year life cycle and we’re in year 100+.

My first thought is: you can’t have it both ways. Liteature of any kind is supposed to be about character.  SF’s contribution is a focus on the future, a vehicle for illuminating today through non-threatening speculative tropes, the home of the ‘big idea’.  But all of those things are realized through the characters that inhabit the story, the people that things happen to. 

Maybe a lot of SF characterization is ‘bad’ when seen through some ivory tower literary prism, and maybe there is room for improvement but, if stories are really about character (or are supposed to be) then how can a concept like the singularity threaten the genre?

I don’t think any of the aforementioned laments is accurate, nor are any of them the genre-killer they’re sussed out to be. I think the real problem is some underlying dissatisfaction with where the genre is today.  But not even that.  I think it’s dissatisfaction with where the genre is as opposed to some people’s fevered imaginging of where it ought to be. It might be a pay-scale thing. It might be an earnings thing, it might be a marketing thing. Some authors look at their advances and royalties and think they ought to be doing better. Some publishers think they ought to get more notices, or a better distribution deal or more shelf space. A lot of people look at the enormous impact some SF films or televisions shows have had and wonder why the golden touch hasn’t reached the book end of the business.

I’m not intimately familiar with the behind the scenes work that agents are doing for some of the more vocal authors (film options, etc), but of the authors who’s intimates I am familiar with, none of them are amongst the complainers, because they’re doing ok.  I don’t draw any conclusions from that observation, merely pointing it out as a possible data point.

And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with wanting more – better pay, more cultural recognition, bigger presence in the marketplace – but if that is what all of the complaining is about, I think the effort would be better spent on figuring out how to achieve those goals, rather than bemoaning the death of the genre.

Jason Stoddard was recently interviewed and covered a multi-part blog post he’s got going on SF and marketing.  His mantra is self-promotion and social networking (and the relatively low cost of high-impact advertising available via internet resources).

In those pieces he correctly identifies most writers initial reactions – “ugh, barf”.  And I agree that that is probably the standard reaction, except for a chosen few who seem to have a natural bent for it, such as Doctorow or Scalzi.  Not surprising, considering the relatively solitary nature of writing and world-building.  Most authors are, of course, happy to share the end product, but many are reluctant to let all but a few carefully hand-picked people in on the beta testing.

So, maybe the solution is to foist this activity off on the publishing companies? Maybe, as part of their marketing efforts, they need to not only host their own websites with lots of nifty content and quasi-social networking applets, but should, as a matter of course, automatically set up a blog, a youtube channel, a myspace page, add characters to virtual environments, generate appropriate widgets and etc.  Most authors have no problem writing, but many have a problem with the day-to-day maintenance of building a website, adding RSS feeds, finding the tributes and commentary, the reviews and such.

Instead of having each individual author try to do these things, there should be a department at a good publishing house that handles all the background crap.  Think of the traffic: if every single published author had at a minimum, myspace, youtube, flikr, website and blog, and all of those were linked in to the publishers main site AND cross-linked to each other (maybe a company logo at the top of the page), we’re talking a huge amount of internet real estate.  Think of the cross-promotion when every single one of those websites becomes a billboard, not just for the author in question, but for every other author represented by that publisher. 

Then the writers can do what they do – write. Preferably non-singularity conflicted, non-literary, pulpy science fiction.

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I recently signed up for the new beta of 42blips, a technorati-like ‘vote for your faves’ type community specifically for SF related blogs.

So go on over there and vote for me.

I’m now in the process of “claiming my blog” by pasting some invisible code into this post, per their instructions. 

If you can see the invisible code, then it’s not working.

This is all in support of the quest for more traffic and attracting advertisers.  Unlike my past successful efforts in this regard (a web site that sold ads directly to customers), I’m trying to learn all about the Google Adsense, Ebay & Amazon affiliate and other related programs.

I’m operating under a ‘specific niche’ model in that regard and trying to follow all of the rules and suggestions from people who claim success with that kind of thing.  Time will tell. 

I have earned some money already from Google – not enough to crow about, but it does indicate that at least a few people came to my site, read some content, clicked on an ad and actually purchased something. 

As I’ve pointed out to others when it comes to internet advertising, most of the metrics used for evaluation are pretty meaningless.  Number of impressions? Could be billions and matters not if no one buys.  Click thrus? Matters not unless someone buys.  Conversions? They only matter if the revenue compensates for all the previous expenses.  ROI is the only number that really counts.

Here’s what I mean.  You have two sites, each advertising for the same client.  One site has massive amounts of click thrus, and lots of purchases for low-cost, low margin items.  (The ad is attractive, the product not so much.)  The other site has far fewer click thrus and only a single purchase – for say, $100,000 worth of product. 

If you owned a car dealership, which salesperson are you going to keep?  The one who sold two thousand pine scented air fresheners last month, or the one who sold, for cash, two Hummers?  The first sales person could justifiably point to ‘thousands of sales’, could make a good case for future business, could point to steady sales and could easily denigrate the other’s ‘low sales volume’.  The second sales person could point to profit, total dollars and the lack of ‘stickiness’ on the part of the other’s customers.

If all you’re doing is looking at traffic and sales totals, you may be missing out on that opportunity to get that 100,000 sale.

SF Content of this post?  Ummm – 42Blips, duh.

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File 770 revives memories of Laser Books and Thomas Monteleone’s novel – Seeds of Change.  Mike brings it up because of the J. J. Adams’ anthology of the same title, and an interview in PW of Adams.  (Go here for the link.)

File 770 reminds us that Laser’s plan was to ‘flood the market with cheap SF, just like they had with romance novels’.  (my paraphrasing of Mike’s more elegant prose) In pursuit of that blasphemous goal, Laser shipped boatloads of cartons of their first book – S.O.C. – to conventions all across the country.

File 770 then – and here is where it gets really intriguing – relates a tale of the book being read out loud, with each page ripped out after it had been read.  Mike says that Alan Chudnow claims this activity occurred at the Equicon con, while Glyer remembers it has having taken place at the NASFiC that same year.

Hmmmm.  Very, very interesting, cause I didn’t get to Equicon or the NASFiC that year – but I remember this same thing happening as well. 

Could it be that SOMEONE ELSE had been coordinating mass book rippings at conventions all across the country?  There are only two possible explanations: either S.O.C. and the Laser Books concept were so god-awfully heinous that they engendered instantaneous and universal contempt amongst each and every last fan in the nation – or someone was running an op designed to kill Laser.

Of course there are simpler explanations (copy-catism), but those aren’t nearly as much fun as supposing a conspiracy, so we can safely ignore them.

Me?  I’ve got three copies of Seeds of Change from Laser Books.  I’m thinking that if we can build this thing up into a truly monumental conspiracy mystery, I might just be able to get a decent penny for a couple of them on Ebay.  Maybe even as much as 25 cents each.  Plus shipping.

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that the one sure way to up your traffic with a blog is to stick XXX in the title.

As I suspected, the fascination with SFnal BDSM imagery has not faded with time. 

I guess I’ll have to do some kind of weekly feature: Feast your eyes on this week’s PROBED BY ALIENS retro cover…

Lots of livejournal coverage of that one.  Makes me wonder a bit about who I’m hanging out with.

***

File 770 posted my outrage over twisted history.  Mike makes a distinction between ‘sci fi fanzine’ and ‘fandom’s fanzines’.  Considering my small rant about sci fi below, I guess Mike’s right. 

***

Skiffytube has dropped back down in the SF purity ratings game this week.  Not even a full third of the programming is remotely science fiction.  This was accomplihsed by removing all SF content from the channel for an entire day this week.

It’s probably a test.

***

In line with skiffy tube the channel, we now have the skiffy language police. Alistair Reynolds says “So here’s a suggestion. We get over the sci-fi thing. We can still keep talking about SF and science fiction, but we should give up the knee-jerk sense of insult whenever the sci-fi label is applied to what we do.”

Wrong.  This attitude is so dreadfully Neville Chamberlain.  Earlier in the piece Alistair said “To the average person in the street, sci-fi is what we do. It’s what copy-editors will always insist on putting into newspaper articles, even if the original author used the terms SF or science fiction. And guess what, I’m a sci-fi writer. I write sci-fi books. They get shelved in the sci-fi section.”

To them it’s what we do. And to the current administration, what they do at Guantanamo Bay isn’t torture. It’s ‘intensive interrogation’.

SF - SCIENCE FICTION – is about words and language as much as it is about anything else. Any political hack will tell you that once you start letting the other side create the definitions, you’ve lost.

It may be a lost cause – it certainly seems that way – but I’d much prefer to go down fighting than to tuck tail and run.

Maintaining the distinction may actually work in the long run.  Every day I get news feeds from google. One covers the keyword Sci Fi, the other the keyword Science Fiction. The Sci Fi feed produces links to stories that are almost universally crap: ECW discussions, bad anime, clueless ramblings about what star someone hopes to get an autograph from, paranormal television show reviews, self-published novels seeking a reader.   The Science Fiction feed produces links to reviews of real SF literature, commentary about conventions, fanzine reviews, new technologies, serious discussion and some frivolity. (The SF feed gets stories from the San Francisco Chronicle…)

It is clear from two plus years of google newreader feeds that Sci Fi is the great unwashed public’s name of choice for vaguely spacey CRAP. So let them keep it and use it. Let it spread. Because as popular terms spread, they water down and generalize, and I wouldn’t be at all upset if Sci Fi becomes a generalized word for CRAP.

THOSE people who use the word Sci Fi use it to describe all kinds of things that we know aren’t really Science Fiction.  As far as we’re concerned, the word is already synonymous with crap. Give it a few years and everyone will know that it’s synonymous with crap. It won’t be too much longer before THEY will have done the work for us, and there will be a true distinction between Sci Fi (crap) and Science Fiction (that literature thing).

Skiffy Tube is already educating a generation to believe that Sci Fi is profressional wrestling and ghost hunting. Which are decidedly NOT science fiction.  So let’s encourage them to use the word Sci Fi as a stand-in for excrement. Soon, very soon, when we say Science Fiction, they’ll know we’re not talking about Sci Fi.  I live for the day when someone stubs their toe or hits their thumb instead of the nail and shouts out in pain and agony – “OH SCI FI!”

(Apologies to Bill the Sci Fi guy who uses the phrase to suck in unsuspecting wrestling fans and then exposes them to Science Fiction.)

***  

Here’s a guy who gets EVERYTHING wrong.  From Ansible:  “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sf novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing science fiction as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.’ (Winsford Guardian, 21 August) [SHS]“

Now read it again with my edits: “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sci fi novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing sci fi as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.”

See?  Now it actually makes sense and you don’t feel so embarrassed for Garry Jon anymore, do you?

***

Nader coments on the ‘death of science fiction’ here.  I have unformulated objections to his contentions and intend to ramble on about them, probably later on today.

I will say one thing.  I sure hope it’s sci fi that’s dead and not science fiction.

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Lot’s of stuff going on.

First and foremost – my parents have arrived for a visit. Yes, it’s true, I have parents. And, in fact, they actually want to visit with me.  Hey – this blog is about science fiction. Don’t say that didn’t warn you that occassionally I’d post some strange and wonderous things here.

What this actually means is that, for approximately the next ten days, I will not be able to spend all my time at the computer.  What it really, really means is that I may end up losing some of my new-found traffic (thanks to two posts that have been widely picked up – the piece Scalzi’s Whatever linked to about giving fiction away for free and my bit of humor concerning how to convert a mundane heathen into an SF reader).

On the other hand, the visit may provide some interesting material for future posts.  My folks are retired so they’ve got lots of time for day trips to this and that.  Later this morning I’m meeting them to schedule out the trip.  We might end up visiting Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory (don’t tell anyone but they don’t actually make ice cream – they make frozen desserts.  ICE CREAM comes in three, perhaps four flavors – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and maybe tutti-frutti.  All this crunchy-funky-monkey-balls and Phish Pharm Phlava crap is an affront to the dignity of mankind (what dignity?). It may be fun, it may even taste good, but IT IS NOT ICE CREAM!).  Since everyone loves ice cream, I might be able to recapture some of that traffic if I post some pics of the tour.

***

I’ve been revisiting the commentary on the ‘free fiction’ post and wanted to clear up a couple of things.

First: I made an assumption that any published author is paying at least a little attention to their stock in trade and includes finances in their considerations when placing their work.  There are all kinds of good and valid reasons why an author would offer something to readers for free – whether they receive compensation or not.  In most cases, they are receiving enough compensation, of some kind, to make it worth their while to do so.

An example from my own experience will serve to illustrate this point.  I was writing feature articles and regular monthly columns for several publications, and receiving way beyond ‘standard industry compensation’ for the work.  (My pay scale was 2 to 3 times what other writers were getting.)  I was approached by the editor of another publication with a request to write (there was a time when my name on the TOC or cover was a draw) and I asked what the pay was.  It was minimal comp – $25 an article, $50 with pictures.  This was about a quarter of what the other publications regularly paid, so obviously well below what I was receiving.

I thanked him for the offer and declined the opportunity (why undercut myself?).  About two years later I had occassion to remember something that the editor had said to me:  “We don’t censor” –  by which he meant that, unlike the other rags, he didn’t worry about pissing his advertisers off when it came to running copy.

I was at the time embroiled in a huge political fight and none of the magazines I wrote for would vet my articles on the subject.  I called up the previously mentioned editor and asked if was still interested in pieces from me.  I explained the situation and he agreed to run them.

Not only did I quickly jump to the editor’s ‘higher pay scale’, I eventually ended up as a regional editor and later sports editor for the publication and the ghost writer for many editorials.  Most importantly, I had an outlet for subjects that no one else was willing to publish.

I’d have given those pieces away for free, because in that particular circumstance the compensation I received (airing my viewpoint) was the compensation that I needed.  I’d also previously established the fact that I expected ‘decent’ compensation.

*** 

Now on this same subject: the issue of free authorship actually encompasses two different issues.  One is mostly a marketing issue:  the new writer who breaks into non-scale paying markets is willing to accept this as a (required) part of their growth. They get something in addition to exposure and experience, even if it isn’t professional level wages.  Or, as in my case, I’m trying to develop my craft in an entirely new market.  While that progresses (during which time I am receiving NO compensation for lots of hard work) I’m making myself available publicly and hopefully building a potential market.  This is called ‘investment’ and ‘growing the brand’.  If I start selling fiction, I’ll begin to realize a return on that investment.

The other issue is one of intellectual property. Ownership.  Copyright. Copywrong. Creative Commons, digital piracy & etc.

I think it’s important to remember when discussing writers and compensation – especially when the word ‘free’ is involved, to keep these two aspects separate.

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*Above you will see the first incarnation of my ‘Nightline-esque’ reminder that we are STILL being held hostage by the eldritch horrors commonly referred to as Network Programmers.  Of the cable television variety.  Next to that, you’ll notice the countdown to TDTESSTWTOMD. For those coming late or not paying attention, that is the acronym for The Day The Earth Stood Still To Watch The Original Movie Day – which is December 10th, 2008.  I want everyone and anyone who might walk into the theater to see the remake to have already seen the original so that we can all form an unbiased opinion of the two as they relate to each other.  Clicking the link will take you to the page for that activity – where you can watch the original (over and over and over and over again – like I do).*

I had occassion yesterday to update some of the pages on the Rimworlds website, the personal page that started out as a home for my Rim Worlds/A. Bertram Chandler concordance project and has since grown to include The Classic Science Fiction Channel, Pulp magazine checklist and anything else I can cram in there.

I’ve obviously been paying attention to the ‘graying of fandom’/’old sf vs new sf’/similarly themed discussions floating around and as I was adding a couple of new items to the ‘Buy A. Bertram Chandler’ section I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

First, Chandler resides in the ‘old SF category; he unfortunately passed away in 1984, his 100th birthday is fast approaching (2012) and his works are becoming scarcer, although by no means are they completely absent.

Why he has faded remains a mystery to me, one that is probably equal parts fanboy blindness and publishing peculiarity; neither he nor any critic ever claimed literary pretensions for his works, but on the other hand he was a staple at DAW books and regularly appeared in the top magazines of the day.

His stories are what that they are: quaint adventures of an archetypical science fiction hero (John Grimes) – the man who always managed to get himself into deep yogurt, and always managed to come up smelling of roses and clutching the Shaara Crown jewels.

With HUGE tomes and ENDLESS series being all the rage these days in SF publishing, it’s a wonder that someone doesn’t do a little creative editing, retitle some of his works and bring out the Grimes series again.  The hype would be fun:

An Epic Space Opera Series!

Three Decades in the Making!

THREE MASSIVE DOORSTOP VOLUMES!

Featuring Science Fiction’s ORIGINAL Horatio Hornblower of Space!

When you consider that:

Chandler wrote some 20 novels (albeit 60’s/70’s/80’s 140 pagers) and 32 shorts dealing with John Grimes, 9 other novels and 30 other shorts dealing with alternate characters, other history or parallel universe versions of the Rim Worlds – you’ve got quite a canon!

In many respects, it seems like Chandler was writing for our time, rather than his own (not surprising if you consider how much he played around with time travel, alternate realities and world-as-myth). He’d fit right in: an on-going series that could count on a steady readership, long pieces for the book trade, short pieces for the e-zines and self-promotion, stories that play around in other parts of the universe…

I’ll note that SFBC did a series of omnibi editions which are mostly still available in the used book trade and that Baen Books offers all of the Grimes stories (with two exceptions that I can see – the recently published Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – Dreaming Again – Jack Dann and Doggy in the Window, a short that appeared in Amazing Stories) in three e-book packages, compiled in a manner that reflects the three phases of Grimes’ career – officer in the Federation Survey Service, wandering, self-employed ship captain and citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.  All of the current sources for Chandler’s material can be found here

Baen Books might want to think about offering a donwload pack of the rest of the Rim Worlds stories – there’s the Derek Calver tales (2 novels), the Empress Irene stories (3 novels – and they tie in to a Grimes novel), several other novels including The Deep Reaches of Space, Bring Back Yesterday, Frontier of the Dark – the novel based on a short story that Harlan Ellison called one of the best things he’s ever read – and a whole mess of shorts, including a Retro Hugo nominee – Giant Killer and one of the most anthologized short stories ever written – The Cage.

Me, I’d hype the space opera and continuing series aspects, hire some rabid fanboy (like me) to write a page or two of connecting material, combine three or four of the existing novels into one big tome, give them all new cover art, stick a new penname on the cover, maybe Whitley Dunstan (Chandler used both) and stick them out on the shelves.  Devoid of any connection to ‘old science fiction’, I bet they’d sell just dandy, thank you.

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