Online Science Fiction Book Clubs

I created a new blog, Online Science Fiction Book Clubs, with another member of the Modern Science Fiction book club, John Grayshaw.  It all started when only two people said they would read this month’s book, A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.  I suggested we promote the Yahoo! Groups we’re in that focus on reading science fiction.  John volunteered to set up a Facebook page and I did a WordPress blog.  In all there are four book clubs that we’re members of at Yahoo! Groups:  Classic Science Fiction, Classic Sci-Fi, Modern Science Fiction and Hard SF.  You can find links to them all at the new site.

Book clubs are fun but hard to manage.  I’ve been in both meet-in-living room and meet-in-cyberspace clubs, and its not easy to get people to participate.  Some of the online clubs have hundreds of members, but only a few people read and comment on the monthly books.  We assume there are a number of lurkers, but many people sign up, check that they want to read the messages online and never come back.

Actually, it doesn’t take that many people to form a good book club, either in the real world or the digital universe.  Ten or twelve members, with six to eight that regularly attend or post, with at least four or five people that read the book.  Online book clubs aren’t as social as meeting in each other’s living rooms, but it’s more convenient.  You read comments when you feel like it, and you can comment any time, and have your own say in the peace and quiet of your home where you can compose your thoughts carefully.  Online is better for shy folk.

John and I have both heard from email administrators that young people hate email and prefer Facebook.  I was even told that kids are moving away from texting and tweeting, preferring Facebook.  Most of the members of the four book clubs are past fifty, and because it’s email based that might explain why we don’t get many young people joining.  We got 38 people joining the Facebook group on the first day, but we don’t think any of them have joined the Yahoo! Groups.

Since young people like tweets, texting and wall jotting, we’re wondering if the verbose emails of the book clubs will be unappealing.  We also wonder how many young people who like to read long books when they love to communicate in short bursts of words?

Now there’s an opposite trend among the older book club members, many of them don’t like newer science fiction books.  Which is weird.  Back in the old days science fiction books were often under 200 pages.  Modern science fiction books are usually longer than 400 pages, and often belong to 3, 5 and even 10 book series.  Could it be the young people have so little to say because they are engrossed in epic novels and don’t have the time to write long emails?  And the old people have time to write long emails because they are reading shorter books?  Who knows?

At the beginning of the year when I was making my new year’s resolutions I decided to read less science fiction in 2010 and more brand new non-fiction.  Because I’m in these book clubs I’m still cranking through the SF.  But I am learning something from reading so much science fiction, and that’s that I prefer the newer stuff.  I went through a nostalgia period for my old favorite SF, but I’m really digging the new stuff more. 

It’s great to be in the two classic SF book clubs and talk with other people my own age about our life-long love of science fiction.  However, I’m learning that there is a style of writing in the books from 1950-1975 that they like and I don’t.  There’s a lot to be learn from being in four book clubs.  Look at the July books we’re reading:

  • The Dragon Masters (1963) by Jack Vance
  • The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) by Vernor Vinge
  • Permutation City (1994) by Greg Egan 

That’s quite a snapshot of science fiction evolution.  They all deal with the far future of humanity, but each shows such vividly different views.  What’s really fascinating is the impact of computers on the last two stories.  The Dragon Masters is almost primitive in its ideas compared to the others with its future feudal society and medieval warfare between genetic monsters.  And it’s funny how A Fire Upon the Deep was influenced by the now archaic Usenet internet technology that was so exciting before the world wide web covered the Earth.

Science fiction has many dimensions, and many reasons for people to take up reading it, but I’m finding what I like best about science fiction is surfing the cutting edge of ideas.  I love both the science fictional speculation and the evolution of writing styles.

JWH – 7/8/10

12 thoughts on “Online Science Fiction Book Clubs”

  1. Speaking from experience I’d say both the Modern Science Fiction Group and the Classic Science Fiction Group have been great with the about 10 active members we have right now. The discussions are always excellent.

    However, I think both of us just feel like there could and should be even more active members.

    But the health of the Boards is like the health of a church or a restaurant, if you aren’t getting new members/patrons, you’re not going to survive indefinitely.

    The Blog and the Facebook are an interesting experiment to see how people are communicating. I think Yahoo in general is on the decline, while Facebook is on the rise, but the Yahoo board still has better functionality for discussion.

    If any given group picks up even 5 new solid participating members I’d say the effort will be a great success.

  2. I haven’t commented much lately on your blogs, but I read them faithfully. Keep up the good work, Jim!

    I would love to join some of your online book clubs, except I’ve either read most of the books being discussed already, or have little interest in them (such as the hard sf club). But I’m still considering joining one of the two “classic” clubs now that I have officially retired and have more time to spare.

    As for Clarion, I also attended it, but at a much younger age in 1972. I spent the next 15 years dedicating myself to writing, finishing tons of short fiction and a half-dozen novels, all without success. Now that I have retired, I am returning to writing fiction again, although I anticipate it will be more for my own enjoyment than any sudden increase in my talent level. I will probably post my stories at my lifejournal blog just to get them out there a bit.

    1. Wow Bob, you attended Clarion in the very early days. I guess we never give up on our dreams. Keep sending the stories out. There are lots of new markets out there for SF/F.

  3. I recently published a science fiction/cyberpunk novel and would like to give away 5 copies to anyone interested. How do I get the word out? My book is on Amazon, so they could post a review if they wanted.

    I appreciate any suggestions…

    1. I’d recommend contacting the people at SF Signal. They seem to be the best promoters of anything science fiction. I’m afraid my blog doesn’t get that many readers to create much promotional word of mouth. Also visit SFFMeta.com and look at their list of websites that review science fiction.

  4. I hope readers will try newer science fiction and at least give it a try. I too appreciate the older science fiction, so I understand that mindset. But, there are so many great stories out there!

  5. I would like to see independents and self-published writers given more of a chance. My co-author and I are mulling over the possibilities of self-publishing. We are not ready to go that route yet, but it’s certainly intriguing. I recently purchased five new sci-fi books, all self-published, just to see what they’re like. I can’t wait to receive them and start reading! I went to lulu.com to get them. I am just the tiniest bit tired of big publishing companies having the market cornered.

  6. I came across this blog searching for ways to get the word out on the book I just self-published on Amazon. It’s called Nanomech (http://rdavidking.com). It was really easy to self-publish there. They have their own POD service and while you are waiting to approve proofs, you can publish right away on the Kindle. I spent so much time writing the thing, I just had to get it out there. I’m happy I did.

    1. Good luck with your book. You should create a blog and write regularly on it to develop a readership. That will help you find an audience. Look at John Scalzi and his blog.

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