Archive for the ‘SF/F’ Category

What the Future May Bring

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

With Realms of Fantasy shutting down last week, lots of writer and industry blogs have been speculating yet again what will happen to SF/F magazines, which have been declining steadily for twenty years and now face the same rough economy as everything else. The big wildcard in this for the last ten years has been online publishing. Everyone sees tons of potential in it, but no one knows yet how to make online fiction work as a business.

I’m an amateur musician, so my analogy for online publishing is the situation that digital/online music was in ten years ago. There was no business model because there was no market of paying consumers yet. Then Apple launched the iPod, providing easy and popular hardware for playing mp3 files, and that created a market of people who were willing to pay 99 cents for songs. Apple covered that side of things as well with their iTunes online store, and the combination of widespread hardware and an online store changed music forever.

For magazine publishing, I think if or when e-reader hardware becomes as common among readers as iPods became among music fans, then profitable business models for online magazines will take shape.

The seeds of this model are already out there. I’ve had e-reader fans contact my magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, asking about ebook versions. Unlike web fiction, ebook files a reader can amass, store, and read whenever they like. These e-reader users are willing to pay a couple bucks per issue, even for stuff like BCS that’s available free on the web. There aren’t enough of those consumers yet to make a business model work, but when the hardware becomes more ubiquitous, there will be.

I also think audio fiction will be a significant part of the future. Escape Pod, the SF short fiction podcast, has about 20,000 subscribers, nearly double that for each of the big-three digests. I think most of those people are commuters with iPods, who perhaps wish they had time to read print fiction but don’t, and during their commute they are a captive audience for audio fiction. But unlike music mp3s, podcasts are almost always provided at no charge, so the business model there might have to be advertiser-driven.

One of the roots of the decline of magazines is the declining readership of short fiction–readers just aren’t as interested in short stories as they were thirty years ago. But one of the hidden benefits of ebooks and audio fiction may be that both those formats work very well if not better for short fiction than for novels. So it may be that once these new formats become common, they will attract more readers back to short fiction.

So are we at the nadir of a decline, or are we at the tiny start of a huge renaissance in short fiction that will all be delivered electronically? Or both? Only time will tell. But like a great speculative fiction story, it will be a lot of fun to find out.

A Death in the Field

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

As most everyone in the fantasy short fiction world has heard by now, Realms of Fantasy magazine is shutting down after their next issue.

Realms wasn’t perfect–in recent years their editorial tastes had migrated more toward the literary and farther away from the traditionally fantastical, and the business office sold subscribers’ names to commercial mailing lists. But they consistently published far more new authors than the only other top magazine interested in fantasy, and their editorial staff gave public updates that let slushpile submitters like me follow what was going on with our submissions. They were also the higest-profile fantasy magazine in the world, so they attracted famous authors and lots of attention.

Hopefully something new will come along to fill their role as the leading magazine of general fantasy. But they will be missed.

From Manuscript to Real, Published Novel

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Today marks the release of a novel that I read large parts of years ago in manuscript form. This will be the first time I’ll get to see a manuscript that I read transformed into an actual, real, major-house published novel.

Maggie Ronald, who was a classmate of mine at the Viable Paradise workshop in 2004, has her urban fantasy novel Spiral Hunt coming out from Eos Books today. It’s set in Boston, Maggie’s hometown, and features lots of Celtic-inspired supernatural stuff.

It also includes references to the Red Sox, a topic dear to my own heart! When I first read parts of the novel in 2004, the Red Sox’s legendary curse of not winning the World Series since their star left-handed pitcher Mr. Ruth had been sold to the New York Highlanders was used in the novel. But of course, less than two weeks after our workshop session in New England, the Sox won the World Series, so Maggie had to rewrite that part!

Urban fantasy is not usually a favorite of mine, but I love the city of Boston and I really enjoyed Maggie’s character-centered approach. So if you like urban fantasy or Boston, definitely give Spiral Hunt a look.

What Is It Good For? Horror.

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

My colleague Jay Ridler, with the ink drying on his PhD in War Studies, has started writing a non-fiction column at about horror outside the traditional definitions of that subgenre.  Jay knows a ton about horror, both in the genre and out, so this column should be great.

He also knows a ton about war. His innaugural column, the first of a two-parter, is about the influence that the horrors of 20th-century warfare in the two World Wars had on fiction. If you’re an armchair military historian like me, and you love gritty fiction about characters in horrible circumstances, definitely check it out.