Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Who are we anyway?

I flatter myself using the royal “We” of course, since – at present – EXTANT! SF remains a one-being show. Nevertheless, let me give you the penny tour:

We live in a golden age of science fiction.

SFnal technology is accelerating SF availability. This shows in the sheer number of SF offerings on TV and in the cinema in recent years, but it goes much further.

Advances in computerized animation and the drastic drop in the potential cost of SFX, not to mention a multitude of lower cost - and lower risk! - platforms makes it easy for production houses and even individuals to take risks they might otherwise have balked at. And this goes not only for traditional platforms like film and TV, but for newer visual media like video games and the emergent AR and VR.[1]

But wait! There's more!

Easy access to nearly free writing and publishing tools, global marketplaces any idiot[2] can set up shop on without worrying about distributors or catalogs - keeping up with what's on offer is like drinking from a fire hose.

It's literally impossible.

Compare this to a time even as recent as the 1970s or 1980s when you could watch the new releases roll out, and even comparatively large book stores might have little shift in their shelf offerings from week to week.

Indeed, calling this the golden age is appropriate!

The sudden explosion triggered by new, cheaper, more democratizing technologies is (in my humble opinion) exactly like the new printing and paper technologies that drove the pulp explosion.

This golden age has its own challenges though. It really is like drinking from a fire hose. It really is impossible to see everything, and this means filters. We still haven't figured out good ways to handle the sheer volume of data flying at us minute by minute.

It's overwhelming.

It's the future!

[Enter EXTANT! SF, stage left]

One dimension of SF[3] publishing that has been long neglected is the short story. This bastion of creativity and experimentation was fuel for the engines of the pulps, and for decades shorts drove the marketplace and provided the momentum that made the novels we know and love possible.

As the novel took over as the cornerstone of SF – particularly the inexpensive “pocketbook” formats championed by Don Wollheim, Tom Doherty and others –many shorts venues stumbled and eventually died.[4] Isaac Asimov made a valiant effort to revive things with the launch of two new venues in the 1970s, but to no avail – for many years the only significant SF markets for shorts were the Big 3, and even they suffered as market forces (and agents) pressured authors to “write long” and head for the novel end of the pool.

But the internet has changed the calculus.

Jeff Bezos started it in 1994, and the world hasn’t looked back. Now with advances in computing and connectivity we have not only entire book catalogs at our tips, but capabilities in publishing and delivery that would make Johannes Gutenberg salivate.

The Big 3 lumber on in the depths of L-Space, along with a constellation of lesser Ancients who likewise emerged in a paper-only world, all of whom have been gradually adapting (or not) to the new reality.

But there’s a new world of opportunity and adventure up here on the shore, for those willing to take the risk and crawl out of the surf.  This is a place that crackles with possibility for the short form, and there have already been a number of exciting forays by folks like Neil Clarke at Clarkesworld, John Joseph Adams at Lightspeed, P. Alexander at Cirsova and Bryce Beattie at StoryHack, not to mention a multitude of multi-author anthologies and of course a bubbling brew of web-venues as well.

I think it’s time - the new explosion of short fiction is in motion.

So why EXTANT! ?[5]

The roots of EXTANT! go deep – right down to my love of the best of the Radium and Golden Ages of SFF as exhibited in the pulps, and in some of the amazing authors and books that grew out of that fertile soil into our own era. It seems fitting, then, that I draw on my favourite “post-pulp” author for inspiration: Jack Vance.

In The Killing Machine (1964) Vance’s hero Kirth Gersen inveigles the dreaded Kokkor Hekus out of ten billion SVU[6] - after a variety of expenses (and adventure) he is still in possession of a staggering sum, which he entrusts to Jehan Addels, a financial expert, for investment. Thus begins The Palace of Love For the most part, he leaves his money in the capable hands of Addels, but in pursuit of the other Demon Princes he sometimes finds it useful to direct a specific investment. One such case is the musty and nearly defunct magazine Cosmopolis.

A clear parody of the waning glossy society magazines of the time, Cosmopolis was in trouble and a cheap investment. Gersen directs Addels to buy, and to invest in new management to reinvigorate the magazine. As cover for his own activities, and as a convenient means toward making the investment pay off, the sister publication Extant is launched: envisioned as a high energy, titillating counterpart to the staid intellectualism of Cosmopolis.

Vance imagined his Extant as a series of exciting “specials”, designed to appeal to the public’s hunger for excitement, adventure, drama, and romance.

I can’t promise you exclusive interviews with chilling masterminds like Howard Allan Treesong, but excitement, adventure, drama, and romance is what I want for my own foray into print. The passion and enthusiasm of the pulps lives on in the 21st Century.


-- KW

[1] Leave aside the question of whether these platforms are real or mere vapor-ware for the moment – their time will come! And the very fact we can seriously consider them is itself evidence of how far the development of cheaper, easier technologies have progressed.
[2] Ahem.
[3] Read that as “science fiction”, “speculative fiction”, or “super fantastic!” at your pleasure.
[4] Granted, the market had already suffered a K/T event in the 40s and 50s.
[5] Aha – the disadvantages of the name suddenly reveal themselves! This will drive my typesetting goblins insane!
[6] Vance’s fictional futuristic currency – 1 SVU being valued at 1 hour of basic labour.

No comments:

Post a Comment