I’ve always loved science fiction but keeping up with the genre is a big damn job. I constantly worry I’m going to miss a breakthrough novel with the impact of Neuormancer or The Life of Pi or Replay just because I was wasn’t keeping up with the times.
As a young bookworm I read several books a week at a time when the science fiction section at the bookstore was a wire rack at the drugstore where I bought my Popular Science and Mad Magazines. There just wasn’t that many new books being published every month and the real focus was on feeding an indiscriminate reading appetite. Reading the book review sections in Amazing, Fantastic, Analog, Galaxy, If, and F&SF kept me perfectly up-to-date on the world of science fiction publishing in 1968, but it’s not enough for 2008.
Every year now Locus Magazine reports there are over 2,000 SF&F books being published as well as a large variety of magazines, graphic novels, online zines, ebooks and other outlets of SF&F storytelling. The field is long past the size that I can comprehend. I’m a small town bookworm living in a giant metropolis of fantastic fiction. Last night I was watching a documentary on Discovery HD about Miami, the town I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. My father’s family moved there in the 1920s. The show made me realize just how much of the city and its glamorous history I had never noticed even though I had lived in many places in Dade County. If I went back home I’d be just another tourist. That’s how I feel about SF&F today. I can’t believe I miss so much.
What I need is a Lonely Planet Guide to the vast hyperactive country of science fiction. For years that was Locus Magazine’s job but even it overwhelms me today. Thank God for the Internet, and a special prayer of thanks to the guys who invented RSS. This year I’ve been on a voyage of discovery to find just the right RSS feeds that are easy to read and reduce the fire-hose of SF information overload down to a water fountain burble.
Of course I added the RSS feed to my old favorite Locus Magazine but strangely enough I was disappointed with its cryptic posts in my Outlook inbox. Some RSS feeds send the entire article and others just send snack-size snippets to entice you to click on a hyperlink and jump over to their site to eat the whole whole meal. The bite-size phrases from Locus seldom get me to byte. I do click now and then and sometimes discover perfect little gems like 2007 SF/F/H Books on Year’s Best Lists, which cross-tabs several review sites to list the books that have gotten the most recommendations for best books of 2007 (first posted on 2/13/8).
This same article was written up by SF Signal on 2/20/8. SF Signal is a fantastic web site that very successfully reports on the most tasty data bits about SF&F. It serves the same function for our genre as Slashdot does for computer news. I’m now trying to decide if I can abandon my RSS feed for Locus Magazine and depend on SF Signal to keep me up-to-date about anything worthy that Locus does publish. In other words a plain RSS feed is not always perfect, so maybe a meta-feed is even better.
Of course the best solution would a single RSS feed that notified me from many sites just the stories I would likely love to read. So if I could train my feed from SF Signal for just the kinds of stories I want to read then that would really save me some major time, but that might be too science fictional of an idea. What I’m wishing for is a reading robot companion that gets to know me perfectly and then spoon feeds me just the right stories.
The trouble is I can only read maybe 7-10 science fiction and fantasy novels a year and maybe another 20-25 short stories. (OK, yes SF&F is great, but there’s actually more healthy stuff to consume too, like science and history books, so I have to limit my SF&F candy.) Logically I should ignore all books but the very best sellers and also read one SF best of the year anthology to sample the best of each year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well doing that. I can dip into several best of anthologies and only find a few real nuggets among the fool’s gold. Not that a diamond to me won’t be cut glass to someone else, or vice versa. And many best sellers are less than filling to me.
What I’m learning to do is search out blogs by various SF&F bookworms with the hope I’ll find a few taste-clones of myself. I’m currently reading:
These readers don’t have my exact reading habits but they read much slower than review sites and they comment about books in a low key personal manner that I identify with. This slows the pace down for finding books. I hope to add other blogs in the future. I find it very easy to keep up with their blog feeds and figure I can eventually handle maybe ten or twelve blogging friends this way. It’s a virtual book club and we chat with each other without even knowing the other is in the room, so to say.
I also find speciality sites like The Internet Review of Science Fiction and SF Audio to be very helpful too. They cover more stuff than I ever want to handle, but I can easily pick and choose. SF Audio has a good RSS feed with enough content in each post so I quickly click yay or nay with my mouse. IRoSF is formatted like a magazine so it’s easy to pick and choose in the TOC, however I think I would like it better if they sent out RSS feeds of their full stories. Although that might not be what they want after creating such a nice magazine format, but my desire does fit with the new reading paradigm of the RSS.
When it comes down to it we spend a lot of time reading emails, so RSS feeds simply spoon feed us reading material in email size bites. I wish my Kindle was more of a true RSS reader. I haven’t experimented with it using RSS feeds, but I will. The Kindle is even easier to read than my Outlook client. And that’s what my needs comes down to, an easy method to shovel just the right words into my head. I’m getting old, so I can’t process as many words as I want, but these futuristic times really do have the technologies to do less with more. Imagine if I could get all my reading through email sized chunks of words?
Sure, there are downsides to the emailization of reading. It’s all fast food consumption and nothing is saved for studying. What some clever programmer needs to do is marry Outlook with MediaWiki. That way we could read and digest our words into something for long term memory.
I wish I had more time to read more books. Reading reviews at least show me the myriad of ideas being explored in the world of SF&F. To get an idea of what I mean just read January 2008: Short Fiction at IRoSF – there’s a reason why the old magazines were called Amazing Stories or Astounding Stories of Super Science and Fantastic Tales. There’s a lot more to SF than spaceships and more to fantasy than hobbits.
SF&F are the genres that require their writers to think up wild ideas, and boy to they ever. And me, I’d love to explore than all, but I can’t. I just can’t. So what I want to do is find the most sense of wonder I can for my limited reading time.