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Who Mourns for SCI FICTION?

When I posted a few days ago about the loss of SCI FICTION and the state of the short fiction market, I left out a few thoughts that I felt were more controversial. The reason I did so is that I don't want to be one of those doom-sayers who keep predicting the death of science fiction. As Gardner Dozois tends to note in his annual Year's Best collections, every year people predict the death of science fiction, and every year it trudges along.

But there is one thought that I've now decided to share. With all the Internet discussion lamenting the end of SCI FICTION, it occurred to me that I haven't seen one post from anyone who isn't either a writer, aspiring writer, or an editor.

In other words, I haven't seen a single reader or fan -- defined as someone who simply reads science fiction, and has no desire to write it -- post about how upset they are over the loss of the webzine. I'm also on a few fannish email lists, and I haven't seen any expressions of concern there either.

Am I wrong? Are there any laments about the end of SCI FICTION coming from people who self-identify solely as readers, or fans, who aren't either professional writers or aspiring writers or editors? Is there anyone out there bemoaning its loss simply for the stories, and not also for the fact that they've just lost a lucrative market for their fiction?

If not, that's a chilling thought to consider. Because it would imply that the only people who really care about short science fiction are those who harbor thoughts of make a living from writing. And there's not enough of those to be the audience.


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Here's a post about the closing of SCI FICTION from a reader:
Ah, good! I figured there must be some out there, but I hadn't seen any.
As an aspiring writer, I'm not particularly hopeful. I've watched the science fiction sections at most bookstores shrink over the last ten years. Granted, I don't get involved too heavily at the fan level -- I don't go to cons, I avoid the message boards, etc. I just read and write.

And truth be told, I'm hedging my bets and keeping my mainstream fiction writing sharp, too.
SF is actually a tiny fraction of the publishing world. Purely by the numbers, romance is the top category.
Well, one problem of which you might not be aware is that, as a reader, the first I ever heard of SCI FICTION was when you noted its demise on your LJ. I think of myself as a fairly savvy reader; I subscribe to Analog, I buy plenty of longer length fiction, I have paid for Strange Horizons and read semi-regularly (although I have fallen off recently-must fix that), I get Emerald City and Ansible, which, although both British, ought to cover major online markets, one would think. Despite this, I hadn't heard of SCI FICTION until you mentioned them. Why is that?

I admit I am as contemptuous of marketing as many people in SF; there is a sense that merit is its own reward, and should simply rise to the top, like cream. Sadly, it just ain't so; the demise of SCI FICTION may be as much a failure of marketing as anything else.
I'm reading this post along with many others below who also say they never heard of SCI FICTION. I have a few ideas why that may be, which I will probably share in a new post.
Are there any laments about the end of SCI FICTION coming from people who self-identify solely as readers, or fans, who aren't either professional writers or aspiring writers or editors?

That's an excellent question.

...it would imply that the only people who really care about short science fiction are those who harbor thoughts of make a living from writing.

An ominous possibility, certainly, and one that I have considered myself. My writer friend raecarson compares this scenario to adolescent beauty pageantry -- the only people who follow it are the ones with aspirations therein. I'll see if I can dig up her post on the subject.

Now if I may say something that might be unpopular... it seems to me that "literary" stylings are currently the vogue in speculative fiction. "Dark" fiction also seems to be popular -- at least, I see it specified as the preference in market after market. Frankly, I find both "dark" and "literary" fiction very unentertaining. Some of it is downright pretentious. The exception is Analog, of course, which gets no respect -- even though, tellingly, it maintains the largest subscription base of any speculative fiction magazine.

I think, perhaps, short fiction writers are writing to impress other writers (and editors) -- but not readers. That's a big disconnect.

Personally, I'm hoping to reach actual readers with my new webzine. (That goes without saying, I suppose, but there you are.) I'm planning to solicit accessible, "light-hearted" stories written to entertain, not impress. I doubt that anything I publish will win any awards; nothing I publish will be "serious" enough. But in the end, that's not what matters -- the readers matter.
Analog gets some respect, but it's true that it's not as honored with kudos as the other markets.

The dichotomy between its largest subscription base and its level of awards is actually not too hard to explain. Many of the people who are regular readers of Analog do not consider themselves to be part of the SF fan community. Many of them are scientists or engineers, and wouldn't think of even reading another SF magazine. So there's not much overlap.
At the risk of making you sadder: I enjoy short fiction, which I mostly read in dead-tree editions and not nearly enough of that, but had never heard of SCI FICTION before you posted about it. It never occurred to me to look for someone who would serve up short fiction to my email box or RSS aggregator.
Add me to the list of people who read science fiction, consider themselves fans, love short science fiction, and had never heard of this webside.
Short fiction, like the small presses, is a club scene.

There's nothing wrong with a vibrant club scene: it's where artistic creativity is hothoused and blossoms and where synthesis takes place. But it's a different world entirely than the wider commercial music (or publishing) industry.
The question is, what happens to the music when the club scene closes...
I'm a reader, and I've read SCI FICTION occasionally (more often in the days where I had a job in which I could spend time reading on-line / before I discovered LJ!): I first found it through a listing of fiction online for free. And that's one reason why I haven't had much to say about it: if people want to give me stuff to read for free, I'm very grateful, but I can hardly complain if they decide to stop.
That tends to be true of all genres of short fiction. No one cares about it except for the people who want get paid to write it. Probably, I'm exaggerating but...

That's why regular non sf/f literary magazines rarely make money. TH eonly people reading them are the people who want to be published and have to read the magazine to find out what the editors like.
True readers are less likely to write letters; they're too busy reading. If they're bloggers then they're more likely to have at least some aspiration to writing *something*.

And count me amoung the numbers who never heard of SCI FICTION. The problem is SCIFI channels website doesn't come across as a serious website. It comes across as a typical network website that has lots of Flash and not much "real content". Note the stargate section of the site. Completely unusable without Flash.
I never heard of it, either, and I visit the SciFi.com news pages every day.

I lament its passing, but think it was clearly not marketed well.
I don't buy all that much short fiction any more.

Most of my buying is novels by writers I already trust, and I rely on recommendations (from friends and Hugo ballots) for new authors. There are some great new authors, but I'm letting others do the first-line filtering for me.

I do buy collections of shorts by a single familiar author, braided novels, and topical collections where I trust the editor, and I loved the old Galaxy Readers, Groff Conklin collections, and so on. I have a huge number of old magazines (obtained cheap) around here that I'm slowly chewing through, but affording subscriptions to any magazines is a problem at the moment, and paying for them at the news stand costs even more. My subscriptions just now are professional publications, mostly free ones.

Maybe I'm feeling poor, maybe I'm getting conservative about my reading in my dotage (I'm 49, not all that old), or maybe I just prefer longer stories. All of those do apply to some small degree. I love to read, and read for entertainment every day, but I am less tolerant of bad writing or anyway stuff that is not to my taste than when I was younger. I feel my time is more precious.

The advantage to a web site is that web sites are often free. The disadvantage is that you only find them if you look for them. Google is great for finding what you ask for, and of course there are the false positives, but I have not found anything that feels like like going down the the news stand or the book store and browsing the shelves. I spent a happy hour and a half doing that at Borders yesterday.

Count me as another person who first heard of this web site via your death notice. Still, I'm not sure how I could have heard of it. Well, maybe if someone on my friends list posted about it, but I only follow a fraction of those links; there would be luck involved, too.

I don't think the scene for short fiction is just for authors and editors. I have friends who are much more interested than I am, and they are in neither category. The problem is that there is a lack of channels for getting it into the hands of anyone but the hard-core short-fiction fans. (I really started on short fiction when I had read all the novels in the SF section of the libraries available, because I couldn't afford to buy any novels at that age.) I don't think that this web site met that need because it wasn't visible enough. Even if I didn't patronize it, it should be visible enough that I'd have at least heard of it.

Most TV programs are essentially short fiction, since they have to be told in 24 or 48 minutes. Many (but not all) are episodes, so the background can be shared, although most of those are free-standing enough that they can be viewed in any order. There is clearly a market for short fiction. The wide use of the web shows that plenty of people are still reading. I think it's entirely a marketing problem. Harry Potter was a solution to marketing reading as entertainment, which may have been declining otherwise, especially for young readers; what would a solution to this problem look like?

How about podcasting readings of short stories, for short car trips, or to listen to at the gym? (This addresses the time-allocation problem and the reading is not fun problem.) Not for free, but fairly cheap. If the price could be between 50 cents and a dollar, or at least no more than a dollar (except for serials, which should be no more than a dollar per installment), and something like the Amazon rating/recommendation system to find fiction that is adventurous but not too much so, then perhaps this could even be profitable. The penetration of audio books seems to be increasing.
There is some podcasting of short SF taking place, such as that at the Escape Pod webpage. But it's yet to make a real dent, or pay significant amounts of money. (It's also all reprints.)

I'm glad to hear that there are readers of short SF out there other than writers and editors!
is it really that no-one cares about short SF fiction anymore except those who want to write it, or is it that (in this super-techno day and age we already live in) the people who read what is now SF and love it are the ones with the vivid "what if" imaginations...that as they get old enough they think/realise "hey, i can do this" and then start writing themselves.

maybe it's too subtle a distinction to flip the cause/effect around like that, and maybe i'm just playing with semantics here. but am i making sense?

from what i understand in my conversations with industry-people, short fiction in general is suffering from a loss of readership not just genre (any genre) short fiction. we've got TV and that whole intarweb thingy, so when we want a half-hour of storytelling we can get it at the click of a button instead of going through the trouble* of reading.

* there's a scary percentage out there who find reading "trouble" and don't get pleasure out of it so the very idea of reading fiction for pleasure boggles them because it's not worth the work they'd have to put in to it. and they're not all "functionally illeterate" people, either. too sad, but too true to dismiss.
Now that you mention it...there were a few non-writer folks I know who lamented its end, but they were by far in the minority.
Um, if it counts that I read short science fiction sometimes and that I'm a writer of other things, then I would be one who would mourn the loss. But I don't have the brain to read much these days -- except _Time for Bed_ and other stories of that ilk.

Oh and like many others, I didn't know this existed until you said it was dying.


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December 2016

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