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Genre Origin Stories

February 17, 2017

As part of the Shadow Clarke project, each of the jurors were asked to write an introduction that laid out some of their thoughts about science fiction and how they perceived the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Mine went live yesterday afternoon. You can read it on the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy’s website but I’m also reprinting it here below the fold.

 

A couple of things that occurred to me upon re-reading the piece:

Firstly, I think it does a pretty good job of capturing how I currently feel about the institutions of genre culture. To be blunt, I don’t think that genre fandom survived the culture wars of 2015 and I think genre culture has now entered a post-apocalyptic phase in which a few institutional citadels manage to keep the lights on while the rest of the field is little more than a blasted wasteland full of isolated, lonely people. One reason why I agreed to get involved with shadowing the Clarke Award is that I see the Shadow Clarke as an opportunity to build something new that re-introduces the idea that engaging with literary science fiction can be about more than denouncing your former friends and providing under-supported writers with free PR.

Secondly, the piece toys with the idea of the genre origin story. While this is not a particularly novel concept, it is interesting to note that when genre culture does engage with how people first got into SF it’s through a range of narrow tropes such as helpful librarians and the discovery of the one book that changed everything. I think that our path into culture goes a long way to determining how we view said culture and I also think that there’s a lot more to genre origin stories than Heinlein juveniles and Lord of the Rings. While more recent episodes have tended to feature book discussions and interviews with authors, Jonah Sutton-Morse’s Cabbages and Kings podcast has interviewed quite a broad range of fans and found their genre origin stories to be as unique as they are fascinating.

 

 

 

Whenever I think about how people first acquire an interest in science fiction, I am reminded of two very different data points:

The first comes from an essay by the American academic and reviewer Gary K. Wolfe in which he observes that virtually all science-fictional biographies contain scenes in which the lives of their protagonists are transformed either by a kindly librarian inviting them to take home books from the ‘grown up’ section or by someone handing them a copy of Lord of the Rings.

The second is that the author Madeline Ashby once observed that different people often have radically different paths into science fiction and that while others were reading Tolkien, she was watching the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. The author Adam Rakunas was so taken by the simplicity and power of Ashby’s observation that he turned her words into a badge that was put on sale just long enough for it catch the attention of the Tolkien Estate who allegedly threatened legal action over what was nothing more than a passing reference to their intellectual property.

The point here is not only that one person’s transformational experience is another person’s tired biographical trope, but also that there are countless paths into science fiction.

My personal journey is probably a lot closer to Ashby’s than to that of Wolfe’s literary grandees. My only childhood memories of librarians involve being repeatedly told to shut up and my first attempt to read Lord of the Rings ended with my abandoning the book in an airport lounge as a childhood spent watching poorly-edited Japanese cartoons and age-inappropriate Italian exploitation films had left me psychologically unprepared for the yellow-trousered wazzockry of Tom Bombadil.

 

fuckwit

 

Regardless of whether they are conventional, idiosyncratic, or simply products of distracted parenting, our paths into science fiction cannot help but shape our understanding and expectations of the field. Unfortunately, where there is difference there is bound to be misunderstanding and where there is misunderstanding there must inevitably be conflict.

The problem is that while the walls of science fiction may be infinitely porous and allow for inspiration from different cultures and artistic forms, the cultural institutions surrounding science fiction have shown themselves to be remarkably inflexible when it comes to making allowances for other people’s genre origin stories.

The roots of the problem are as old as genre fandom itself. In fact, the very first Worldcon saw the members of one science fiction club deny entry to the membership of another on the grounds that the interlopers were socialists whose politicised understanding of speculative fiction posed an existential threat to the genre’s continued existence. A similar conflict erupted when the unexpected success of Star Wars turned a niche literary genre into a mass market phenomenon. Faced with the prospect of making allowances for legions of new fans with radically different ideas as to what constituted good science fiction, the institutions of genre fandom responded with sluggishness indistinguishable from hostility. Media fandom was born when traditional fandom refused to expand its horizons and the same thing happened again in the early 1990s when fans of anime decided that it was better to build their own institutions than to fight street-by-street for the right to be hidden away in the smallest and hottest rooms that science fiction conventions had to offer.

The institutions of genre culture may pride themselves on their inclusiveness and forward-thinking but this is largely a product of the excluded not sticking around long enough to give their own sides of the story. Time and again, the institutions of genre culture have been offered the chance to get in on the ground floor when science-fictional ideas began to manifest themselves in different ways. Time and again, the institutions of genre culture have chosen to protect the primacy of the familiar over the vibrancy of the new and the different.

 

fuckwits

 

The conservative nature of genre institutions is particularly evident in the convulsions of American genre culture over the actions of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. Often framed as a battle between either racism and diversity or literary elites and real fans, the Sad Puppies were initially fuelled solely by resentment at being passed over for awards. Indeed, the earliest expressions of the Sad Puppy formation were less concerned with racial purity than with genre institutions’ historic reluctance to honour the field’s most commercially-successful forms including epic fantasy and military science fiction. It was only when the successes of anti-sexism and anti-racism campaigns within fandom began to translate into more award nominations for women and non-whites that the Sad Puppies’ resentment and cultural conservatism allowed them to make common cause with the emergent fascism of the Alt-Right.

While the furore surrounding the actions of the Sad and Rabid Puppies appears to be fading year-on-year, it is interesting to note that the Puppies were not so much defeated as brought to heel by the institutional conservatism of genre culture. Opposition to the Puppies may have focused on their right-wing politics but concern over the presence of the Puppies appeared to diminish just as they shifted away from voting themselves onto award shortlists and towards campaigning for existing authors with large followings in fandom.

Cultural commentators may choose to characterise 2015 as the year in which genre culture rejected the misogynistic white supremacy of the American right but the real message is far more nuanced. Though the institutions of genre culture have undoubtedly improved when it comes to reflecting the diversity not only of the field but also of society at large, this movement towards ethnic and sexual diversity has coincided with a broader movement of aesthetic conservatism as voices young and old find themselves corralled into a narrowing range of hyper-commercial forms.

In today’s diverse genre culture you can engage with the voices of people from all over the world as long as you are content to read multi-volume epic fantasy and military science fiction series. In today’s diverse genre culture, authors whose ideas and experiences demand that they write in unconventional or experimental ways are both ignored by the larger genre imprints and overlooked by popular awards. In today’s diverse genre culture you will write the same old rubbish as George R. R. Martin and John Scalzi or you will wind up getting paid six cents a word for stories that nobody will ever read.

I value the Arthur C. Clarke Award in so far as it challenges the assumption that the best genre fiction comes from genre culture. Right from the moment of its inception in 1987, the Clarke has dared to look beyond the confines of genre culture and seek out works that approached science-fictional ideas in radically different ways. Sure… the Clarke may have helped to nurture some of the greatest talents that genre culture has ever produced but then so has every other award in the field’s history. The value of the Arthur C. Clarke award lies not in its ability to pick the right books or celebrate the right authors but in its history of challenging the innate conservatism of genre culture by selecting works by people working outside of that culture’s mainstream; people whose journey to science fiction took them via paths so bizarre and circuitous that they feel like a provocation merely by virtue of existing.

Science fiction is a genre that must never be allowed to sit still. The future is forever in a state of flux and the genre must reflect this by existing in a state of perpetual experimentation. I value the Arthur C. Clarke Award when it broadens the conversation and challenges conventional thinking about science fiction, the works I most enjoy and intend to celebrate are those that reflect the genre’s protean and transgressive nature.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Pontin permalink
    February 17, 2017 8:16 pm

    ‘In today’s diverse genre culture you can engage with the voices of people from all over the world as long as you are content to read multi-volume epic fantasy and military science fiction series.’

    This. To hell with that stuff.

    ‘I value the Arthur C. Clarke Award in so far as it challenges the assumption that the best genre fiction comes from genre culture.’

    I’m looking forward to you and your colleagues’ efforts with the Shadow Clarke. You seem to have your heads screwed on straight.

    Like

  2. February 18, 2017 8:23 am

    Thanks a lot for the support Mark, appreciate it :-)

    Like

  3. February 18, 2017 8:26 am

    Commercial fiction has always existed. I think genre culture has entered the mainstream (see Marvel superhero movies) and is splitting off into ‘commercial’ and ‘literary’.

    I agree with the corralling though. Indie fiction is highly commercial. Big bookstore fiction is inherently unadventurous. There aren’t (any?) commercial short fiction outlets and the literary ones have a limited vision and scope. One of the complaints I’ve seen about the short fiction market, which I agree with, is there’s lots of nostalgic and sentimental writing. This may be because many of the gatekeepers of literary SF&F are now old. There’s lots of harkening back to older themes or stories, sometimes with a shallow treatment of oppression or diversity issues to make the reheated corpse look fresher.

    One of the interesting things to come from the Sad/Rabid Puppies is the pulp revival movement in short fiction. This is a bunch of predominantly conservative/alt-right writers who have gone back to before the Golden Age of SF to the swashbucklers & spaceships age of John Carter & Barsoom, etc. and are writing short stories in the fantastical pulp style of Leigh Brackett and other authors. They’re even more hyper-conservative than the sentimental stories in some ways, but – at the same time – knowingly so. It’s retro and neoreactionary rather than nostalgic. They’ve started a magazine (Cirsova) and it’s possible something interesting might come of that.

    As an aside, I’ve been following your and Nina Allan’s commentaries over the years. Good luck with the Shadow Clarke!

    Like

  4. February 18, 2017 3:56 pm

    Hi Vivienne :-)

    There aren’t any commercial short fiction venues because nobody without a professional interest in short fiction reads the stuff. Online short fiction magazines are a combination of ponzi scheme and vanity publishing: They are funded by those who want to get published and what little money and status there is drains to the already well-connected.

    The new pulp thing is just an attempt by right wing pros to create their own ponzi schemes in the image of magazines set up by well-connected liberals. Nobody will read them but they’ll sucker in aspiring right-wing writers and enrich a few well-liked and well-connected fascists.

    Like

  5. PhilRM permalink
    February 19, 2017 1:06 am

    Hi Jonathan,

    While I don’t agree with everything in your piece, speaking as someone who has greatly appreciated your commentary and criticism in Interzone and was very disappointed in the Clarke shortlist last year (compared to what was submitted), I’m delighted by the Shadow Clarke jury, glad you’re a part of it, and really looking forward to what comes out of it.

    ‘I value the Arthur C. Clarke Award in so far as it challenges the assumption that the best genre fiction comes from genre culture.’ *cough*Satin Island*cough* (Although I gather that McCarthy’s publisher didn’t submit it for the Clarke, unlike some of his earlier novels.)

    Also, ‘Sluggishness Indistinguishable from Hostility’ is totally the name of my new sludge-metal band.

    Like

  6. February 19, 2017 8:07 am

    Hi Jonathan,

    I take your point. Cynical, but point well made :)

    I’m told that short fiction publishing doesn’t make any money for precisely the reason you mention. There are more aspiring writers than potential readers. It’s done for the love.

    Speaking as a fan of short fiction, that’s a huge shame. As a writer, short fiction is a great way to practice storytelling without committing to a novel. As a reader, short fiction is a great length for busy people. You don’t lose the thread of a novel if you don’t have much time to read.

    With the advent of various electronic media, Kindle on smartphones and the fall in the cost of digital publishing, I always wonder if short fiction could be commercialised again since it used to be the heart of SF&F.

    Like

  7. February 20, 2017 8:20 am

    You’re right Vivienne :-) The short fiction scene is essentially about empowering, validating, and encouraging aspiring writers. They pay money to institutions that occasionally publish them but mostly allow them to live thd life of an author. A similar scene surrounds classical music where there all kinds of workshops and masterclasses exist to encourage aspiring singers and musicians on their dime.

    I can’t see short fiction selling well via Amazon simply because there’s already so much of it being put up online for free. Authors with established fan-bases might be able to sell their short fiction individually but most writers have no chance.

    Short fiction is a hot house for aspiring authors and nothing more. There’s too much money and aspiration for it to be anything else.

    Like

  8. Cirsova permalink
    February 23, 2017 9:49 pm

    Hi! If anyone is interested, the second issue of our magazine is currently free on Amazon for Kindle through Friday. and the content of our first two issues are available on our website.

    While a number of our fans and readers could be considered conservative or even “Alt-Right”, we have a pretty diverse group of contributors who come from all over the spectrum. More than anything, we (Cirsova, that is) are championing exciting stories full of action and adventure.

    Ironically, having published essays on women in science fiction by noted feminist writers such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Liana Kerzner would probably put us left-of-center in a lot of eyes despite having attracted a conservative critical fanbase and readership.

    I’d be more than happy to field any questions you might have about the magazine, gaming, or fiction in general.

    Like

  9. Cirsova permalink
    February 23, 2017 9:54 pm

    Also, while I can’t speak for anyone else, I’m no pro. I just love fiction and decided to start sinking money into paying writers who happen to be writing the kind of stories I was enjoying having discovered stuff like Planet Stories.

    No ponzi schemes, I promise! You can ask any of our contributors, my checks clear!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. February 23, 2017 10:00 pm

    Mate… You’ve got a GamerGate banner on your website.

    Like

  11. Cirsova permalink
    February 23, 2017 10:03 pm

    Yeah.

    Like

  12. February 23, 2017 10:07 pm

    So you’re either a bunch of misogynistic fascists or you’re apologists for and supporters of misogynistic fascists.

    Like

  13. Cirsova permalink
    February 23, 2017 10:11 pm

    I don’t think you know what either of those words mean.

    My apologies for wasting both of our time.

    ::tips hat::

    Like

  14. February 23, 2017 10:13 pm

    Christ… You even tip your fedora when commenting on blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. pcbushi permalink
    February 24, 2017 1:32 am

    Uh oh – someone with a different worldview than my own! Time to start throwing out ad hominems! The very model of open-mindedness.

    Like

  16. February 24, 2017 7:25 am

    You self-serving Nazi pricks turned up in the comments of my blog to try and publicise a sad sack right-wing fantasy magazine filled with some of the worst writing this side of a head injuries unit.

    Now you’re defending yourself with debate-class pedantry and bad faith appeals to liberal values? Piss off back to Kotaku in Action.

    Like

  17. swedish cavalier permalink
    February 24, 2017 5:49 pm

    Man, John, you are so damn open-minded and brave. Ever so brave.

    Like

  18. E. M. Edwards permalink
    February 24, 2017 6:02 pm

    Excellent response.

    Like

  19. MishaBurnett permalink
    February 25, 2017 9:11 am

    Can we use ” a sad sack right-wing fantasy magazine filled with some of the worst writing this side of a head injuries unit” as a pull quote? It has a nice ring to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. February 25, 2017 10:52 am

    Poor Puppies… So desperate for validation that even an insult feels empowering.

    Like

  21. Sheena permalink
    February 27, 2017 6:48 pm

    Is that why File 770 uses an insult from John C. Wright as a promotional quote? Mike is desperate for validation and sees the insult as empowering?

    Like

  22. February 27, 2017 7:07 pm

    Ugh… You guys really need to do your homework if you think I’m copacetic with Glyer. That guy is a total arsehole and his website.

    That guy’s a complete arsehole and his website

    Like

  23. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 8:01 pm

    The very mention of me has you gibbering incoherently?

    Come on, pull yourself together an take another swat at it.

    Like

  24. February 27, 2017 8:03 pm

    Fuck off Glyer. There’s a good lad.

    Like

  25. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 8:18 pm

    You have me confused with the Tuaregs,

    Like

  26. February 27, 2017 8:23 pm

    Not really. I find them interesting and they tend not to follow me around like sexually-obsessed stalkers.

    Not surprised to see you turn up at my door at the same time as the Puppies though. Still fighting the good fight by helping to promote their book tours?

    Like

  27. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 8:28 pm

    Oh, is that what’s stuck in your craw, that I use Baen press releases?

    Like

  28. February 27, 2017 8:43 pm

    Your continued support for fascists is part of it… But it’s also the fact that you systematically support the SF version of the alt-right whilst pissing scorn all over anyone else who happens to adopt an even mildly critical attitude towards the field or its institutions.

    There’s also the fact that you continue to stalk and harrass me despite my repeatedly marking it clear that I want to be left alone.

    So again I say: Leave me alone. I have nothing to sell and you’re not buying anyway.

    Like

  29. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 9:13 pm

    You really have no idea what my interest is in your writing. On the other hand, an avid attention-seeker such as yourself doesn’t get to choose who pays attention to what he has to say.

    Like

  30. February 27, 2017 9:25 pm

    Please leave me alone. Don’t talk to me, don’t link to me, and ideally don’t read me.

    I don’t know why you happen to be interested in what I have to say but I really wish you’d get bored of me and go away.

    I don’t cultivate relationships and I don’t build audiences. You have thousands of people passing through your website every single day and legions of supportive fans. I’m a complete non-entity with zero profile, no audience, and barely enough self-esteem to express myself in public.

    Please leave me alone.

    Like

  31. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 9:34 pm

    Naming calls. The first step in getting what you supposedly want will to stop posting gratuitous abuse about me.

    Like

  32. February 27, 2017 10:01 pm

    It’s only gratuitous abuse if it’s untrue… You do use your significant power and visibility to harrass loners with unpopular opinions whilst systematically helping far right authors to fund-raise, reputation-launder, and generally promote themselves.

    I’ve asked you to stop harrassing me and now you’ve responded to that request with threats. You really are a complete piece of shit.

    Like

  33. Mike Glyer permalink
    February 27, 2017 10:25 pm

    You have this strange idea that you have the privilege of insulting people in personal terms then whining like the victim when they challenge your treatment of them. You are a poor specimen of bully.

    Like

  34. February 27, 2017 10:42 pm

    You have spent years signal-boosting some of the worst people in genre culture. People whose politics cause real harm to the most vulnerable of people both inside our community and without.

    You have spent *years* promoting fascists and yet even the mildest rebuke of your actions triggers wave after wave of vindictive harrassment and yet somehow it’s always the victim’s fault.

    I’ll be the first person to put my hands up and admit that I’m a terrible person. Maybe it’s time you did the same.

    Like

  35. February 27, 2017 10:46 pm

    So anyway Sheena… That’s why your remarks were off-base :-)

    Like

  36. Sheena permalink
    February 28, 2017 6:03 am

    Wow, didn’t see that coming. I thought I had to say Mike Glyer three times to the mirror in a darkened room to make him appear. Its good to know he is easier to reach than that. In his defence, I don’t think Mike has ever promoted a fascist. Even if he does look like Santa Claus.

    Like

  37. Jonathan Edelstein permalink
    February 28, 2017 3:54 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have to respectfully disagree with your statement that “aspiring [short fiction] writers… pay money to institutions that occasionally publish them but mostly allow them to live thd life of an author.” That’s true of workshops but not of genre short fiction magazines – the latter are among the few short fiction venues that don’t charge submission fees.

    I’ve sold a few genre stories. I don’t make a living at it and I doubt anyone can, even those who are much better at it than I am; but on the other hand, the checks I got for the stories worked out to a reasonable hourly rate for the time spent writing them, and no prozine or semiprozine has ever asked me for a dime to submit to them. Most of the genre magazines are transparent enough about their funding sources, usually subscriptions, online funding drives and/or Patreon, all of which work out to them being reader-funded rather than writer-funded.

    There’s also quite a bit less aesthetic conservatism in short-fiction markets than in novels, though some editors are more open to experimental forms than others and my own writing tends more to the conservative than otherwise.

    Like

  38. February 28, 2017 4:57 pm

    Jonathan — That’s not really the model I have in mind :-) the SFWA are mostly nothing more than a club house but they have been very clear on the question of a) writers owning their own ip and b) nobody paying to submit stories.

    The model I am thinking of is more insidious. I believe that the bulk of the money generated through patreon etc comes from aspiring writers. People who either hope that their donations will give them an edge or people who simply buy into a magazine and so want not only to keep it open but also to see their work on its pages.

    In practice this means that money from aspiring writers goes in and then filters back down to editiors, established writers, and then a small minority of newbies submitting in the hope of getting a foot on the ladder.

    Hence the assessment that online magazines are equal parts vanity press and ponzi scheme.

    The same is true of traditional magazines in that I suspect that a lot of subscribers are newbie writers trying to learn a magazine’s house style before submitting.

    I admit that much of this is supposition but it’s interesting to note that when you google inline magazines, the first pages to come up are usually submission guidelines.

    Personally… I’d like online magazines to address this issue by making it clear how many % of their published stories are from first-timers, how many % of their published stories are from people who have yet to secure SFWA membership and how many % of their authors are also subscribers and/or donors.

    I suspect that if those numbers were to be made public, you’d rapidly get a market for newbie-friendliness and the situation would clarify itself as a result.

    Also bear in mind that I don’t have a major objection to this set up beyond its dishonesty. Conservatoires and Graduate Schools run on the basis that the many will ne milked in order to help elevate the few and everyone seems happy enough with the excgange of money for services. My issue is with genre culture persisting with the outdated idea that magazines are in the business of providing great content to readers. The real market for genre magazines is aspiring genre ptofessionals.

    Like

  39. February 28, 2017 5:38 pm

    PS You mention workshops and I think those are definitely relevant as while you’re paying for a service, many of them insist upon people submitting examples of their work in an attempt to appear prestigious and exclusive. My wife’s a singer and she’s been to loads of ‘masterclasses’ where she submitted examples of her voice only to find herself in classes with people who could barely sing but could pay fees.

    A good model is the MFA. You pay for admission, you get access to workshops and seminars, you might get to network, you definitely get a guarantee of x contact hours in which someone will discuss your work in depth. You’re effectively paying for a set of training wheels that will help you learn to ride the novel-writing bike.

    I also like that genre writing school that people have been running over the internet. You pay your money, you get some contact hours, it’s all accessible and transparent from the get-go.

    I’m endlessly sympathetic to aspiring artists and I’m glad tgat an eco-system has emerged to provide them with some training and some feedback that helps them develop whatever talents they happen to have. It’s a robust business model and it’s a really nice thing to do. Similarly, there are critics who get a lot of love because they give aspiring readers a bit of attention and make it their policy never to be mean. I have no problem with people making money and social capital out of helping people to develop their skills. My problem is with the genre short fiction scene’s reluctance to admit that this is the model they are pursuing. The clients of the short fiction scene are aspiring writers, not readers.

    Like

  40. Jonathan Edelstein permalink
    February 28, 2017 7:12 pm

    Thanks for your response.

    I can only speak for myself and for those I know, so the following also counts as supposition when applied to genre markets as a whole. I am a short fiction reader as well as writer, so I do contribute and/or subscribe to some magazines. However, I made my first pro sale before I made my first contribution; the venues to which I’ve contributed have only one point of overlap with those where I’ve sold stories (the sale came first), and I never contribute to a market where I have a submission pending. No editor has ever mentioned contributions to me in an acceptance or rejection and no editor has hit me up for money. No other short fiction writer of which I’m aware – and I’m active in a couple of online genre short fiction communities – has complained that failure to contribute was held against him, and I’ve never heard another short fiction writer talk about contributing financially in order to get an edge.

    Whether other newbie writers might hope that a contribution will help them sell a story or whether any of them contribute in the hope of selling there someday, I can’t say. As noted, I have no firsthand experience of anyone doing either and I talk to a lot of short-story writers, but OTOH, most of the writers I talk to are roughly at my level (i.e. have sold a few stories to pro-rate markets already). And I’m not convinced that editors are responsible for any misconceptions others might have as long as they don’t foster those misconceptions themselves.

    When I google online magazines, I almost always get the homepage first and then the submission guidelines as a subsidiary link underneath, but Google uses algorithms that are sensitive to individual search patterns so your experience and that of other readers may be different.

    I too would like to see which markets are friendliest to newbie writers. Speaking again for myself, I made my first sale to Strange Horizons and I sold to Escape Pod and Beneath Ceaseless Skies before becoming an SFWA member, It may be possible to do a first approximation by checking the Writertopia list of Campbell-eligible writers, all of whom have had their first pro sale in 2015 or 2016, and seeing who was first to publish each of them. I’d definitely like to know which magazines are most newbie-friendly because I’m sometimes called upon to make suggestions in that regard.

    I’ve never attended a writing workshop and so can’t really speak to how selective the premium ones actually are – I know good and bad writers who went to Clarion and good and bad ones who didn’t.

    Finally, in terms of the audience for genre short fiction markets: Many genre readers do have a desire to write in the genre someday – it’s the same impulse that leads readers of these and other genres to write fan fiction – so I suspect you’re right that many short fiction readers are also aspiring writers. I also suspect there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ve received reviews and other feedback on my stories from people who’ve never been published and have never expressed any wish to be. Some of the magazines I read most avidly are ones to which I’d never submit because I don’t write in the style they favor, and based on discussions over the years, I’m not alone in this.

    I think that maybe my ultimate disagreement with your argument is that you say “aspiring writers, not readers” as if they are two different things, when in fact aspiring writers tend to be avid readers and may lifelong readers have a desire to write. Storytelling is natural to humans, so “aspiring writers” may in fact be most of us and I’m not sure this is a very meaningful distinction. In any event, as long as short fiction editors don’t attempt outright to monetize newbie writers by soliciting submission fees or by hinting that financial contributions will improve the odds of a story being accepted, I’m not ready to agree that short fiction markets are dishonest or a Ponzi scheme. Maybe that’s because they’ve treated me honestly, but that’s the only frame of reference I have.

    Like

  41. February 28, 2017 7:26 pm

    Jonathan — I count myself in the group of people with no ambition regarding publication. I used to review with readers in mind and while I’m more selfish in my ethics nowadays, I’m very aware of how genre culture treats the unconnected and this is an area where it really needs to start doing better.

    I take your point about the blur between readers and writers and I suspect that if you blur the boundaries between the groups then I’m definitely right but I stand by the stronger claim, namely that the majority of the money that goes into onlibe short fiction magazines comes from people who are actively writing and thinking about submitting.

    As I said, I think an ecology of talent nuturing benefits everyone but genre culture needs to be more honest about why these magazines exist and who their clients actually are.

    Like

  42. March 1, 2017 7:37 am

    Sorry Misha-kun, spam comments get deleted. Wow… You people really are desperate for attention.

    Like

  43. March 1, 2017 10:42 am

    Personally… I’d like online magazines to address this issue by making it clear how many % of their published stories are from first-timers, how many % of their published stories are from people who have yet to secure SFWA membership and how many % of their authors are also subscribers and/or donors.

    Rocket Stack Rank collated data on Campbell-eligible words, taking it as a proxy for newness:

    Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), Niall Harrison (Strange Horizons), and John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed) all published over 70,000 words of original fiction by new writers, and Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld) was close.

    SH published about 160,000 words of original fiction in total last year, so that represents about 40% of our output.

    No idea on SFWA membership, but comparing the list of writers we published to the list of donors in the fund drive reveals that 10% donated to the magazine in some way or other.

    Like

  44. March 1, 2017 6:09 pm

    Bugger… I did write a response to this but the internets done gone and eaten mah homeworks. Will re-write tomorrow.

    Like

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