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