Sunday, 19 October 2008

Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.


It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled 'Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature', it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Short Sharp Shock: Blog Action Day

Early in the morning, I walk through St, James’ Park and each bench is occupied. The same faces, the same routines; they shelter under newspapers, huddled against the weather.

During the day, you’ll find them drinking White Lightning on the grass in front of the National Gallery – and why should they not? Alcohol fills the emptiness.

In the evening, I see them curled in doorways down the South Bank or under Blackfriars Bridge – and London’s wealthy commuters walk by them unseeing.

The harrowing images of third world poverty are somehow unreal, they’re too terrifying; we distance ourselves from in them in the same way that we walk past the old man on the bench.

Today is the day you stop. You face the horror and the denial.
And you ask how you can help.

There are lists of links on the Blog Action Day homepage.
I chose this one.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

NewCon 4: Confessions of an Overgrown Fangirl

Ever have a moment where you wonder what your younger self would’ve thought?

A Northampton fishmarket is an unlikely Con venue – the distinct absence of fish, though, and the gathering of both talent and aptitude made it wonderfully successful. Art show, dealers’ room, bar and cafĂ© all lazed in the same open space; an outside garden lured smokers with wire caging and fairy lights. Throw in M C Jester and the wonderful hospitality of organisers Watson and Whates and you have a very enjoyable, family-atmosphere event.

For once, I was free to attend panels, scribbling copious notes in a toxic green pen. Blog posts will follow on my two faves – ‘SF and Media’ and ‘Sex Sells’, the latter noticeably female-dominated.

Between events, I had time to chat and circulate and get myself known – and this is where the System Shock sets in…

…pause for breath.

If anyone had told my wide-eyed, twenty-something self where I’d wind up, I would’ve giggled in disbelief.

When I walked into NewCon, alone, I knew maybe three names on the guest list. I confess to being intimidated; I had no table to hide behind, no MonQee to flaunt. I took my MacBook as armour and FP badges as weapons… and ended up needing neither. Helped by the easy atmosphere, I found myself thinking, ‘you silly bitch, you know this'.

From a hilarious combat-Mum bonding moment with Juliet E McKenna to talking shop with Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington in the mesh garden; from trading affable insults with Andy Remic to having breakfast in an unmentionable burger joint with Tony Ballantyne, right up to a conversation with Paul Cornell about icomics (after Gary Russell and Russell T, making a hat-trick of ‘Who’ Gods in a week)… my younger self watched it all with an expression of perplexed amusement.

The moment itself though, was Sunday morning, sitting chatting with Marc Gascoigne. Once involved in the earliest days of Fighting Fantasy, Marc was approached by an eager fan wanting him to sign a copy of Titan – a book now rarer than a wargaming girl.

My late fiancĂ©, Bones, loved those books – enough that I’ve never parted with them. It would’ve been surreal for him, and I caught it from his memory. Next time I see Mister Gascoigne, I must ask him to sign my copy too.

Anyway, by Saturday night, I’d run out of business cards; by Sunday night, my Inbox was noticeably overweight. Good things to come, I think – I don’t know how many times I need to explain to my office where the real work gets done.

Long time out of the picture or no, between Orbital and NewCon, it’s been like picking up an old re-enactment blade – eminently familiar. This is the place where everything I was in my twenties is tempered with everything I’ve learned in my thirties and that forging has allowed me to realise something:

This blade is mine - and I know how to use it.
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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Gorilla Marketing: Measuring the MonQee's Success

We know the Litany: spam bad, personality good, front your Brand with your face and you’ll win friends and influence people… far more than if you blindly blanket-bomb with endless crap.

Putting a simian in the rocket’s pilot-seat at EasterCon was both whim and gamble, lunacy born from Bart’s breakdown. Fearing a rerun of Curious George, I sat myself in the co-pilot’s chair… we had a blast at the Con – and then had to dodge the incoming missiles on the flight home.

The first salvo: ‘How much money will it make?’ Accounts don’t want long-term Brand visibility; they want pound coins. Sod idealism, how many woman-hours equal how much cold cash? If that’s your criteria for judging the project, then the MonQee didn’t raise as much as I’d hoped.

The second salvo: solid traditionalism. Flyers have design costs and print runs; you can measure the return of ‘money-off’ vouchers or count up new victims on your email list. Solid, easy-to-comprehend numbers calculating investment versus effectiveness; why take a chance on something wacky when we can do stuff with a reliable return?

The MonQee was wacky – but how good were his piloting skills?

At the Con, he was a magnet. His arrival on the Forbidden Planet Vinylsplatter website rippled out through the Art Toy world generating links and interest from here to New York to Singapore. Raymond Choi at Toy2R got behind the project personally – as did the Urban Vinyl guru himself, Toysrevil, and many of my Twitter friends - thank you to @linksmonkey, @Herne, @digitalmaverick, @loudmouthman, @deCabbit, @lproven, and @Loaf.

He crept out through LiveJournal, springing at me from fandom’s random blogs. He turned up in the Discworld newsletter and in the Orbital post-Con write-up. He was tracked, listed and reposted by over a dozen aggregator sites. And the authors and artists I’d shamelessly shanghaied were there for him as well –throwing their own blog support behind his success.

Watching the MonQee’s viral spread has been an exercise in astonishment. Some of science fiction’s leading lights now remember me because of him – (did I have to be MonQee girl?) – and he’s proclaimed both FP and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust wherever he’s seen been.

The MonQee, it seems, is a good enough pilot to land the rocket safely. I genuinely wish he’d raised a little more for the Trust – but I feel his ROI is off the scale. Should I ever be crazy enough to attempt this again, I’ll know what to change.

A final word – after his adventures, he was actually bought by someone who’d been at EasterCon and had watched him change from virgin whiteness to the character he became. My friend Zoe is his guardian now; she’ll be carrying him to more Cons and more fan-gatherings, continuing to get him signed – and continuing to tell his story.

Which benefits the Trust in its own simian way.

MonQee MagiQ: may his legend long continue.
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