A Flurry of Futures
It was an interesting December with lots of visitors to NY and then a long Christmas break. We even had a blizzard. And since this is NYRSF we are talking about, I will note that we had computer problems, patched up just in time for this weekend and this issue, but the machine I am writing on must go back to the shop for another upgrade on Monday. And after that, the other main machine goes for repair. The mass shooting in Arizona involving a member of Congress and a Federal judge distracted us on Saturday. And up in Westport, where Kathryn was stuck by around of storms in Albany, we have a water leak over a window in the living room this morning. I sure hope we can get a contractor on a Sunday in the Adirondacks.
There are a couple of things I want to tell you about in publishing. The best news in my own opinion is that Tom Shippey is beginning a column in the Wall Street Journal reviewing fantasy and sf. Since the trend for the last two years has been the declining number and quality of reviews in mainstream media, I have great hopes for this column. Shippey is likely to be the most important reviewer in the field if this persists.
And secondly, it appears that the sudden growth of e-books has reached a bit of a plateau for the moment (for all but a few exceptional titles), and perhaps the publishing industry can catch up on converting the backlist until the next increase and make better plans for coordinating editions. It is still the Wild West out there in e-publishing, and it will be years before the quality and accuracy of the texts rushed through conversion in recent times is improved; the industry is still overwhelmed with conversions doneby third parties, too often by the “slap it on a scanner and thenuse the spell check, but no human eye” method. This looks to bethe year of proliferating reading devices and slower increases ine-book sales—and a variety of prices for e-books. And the year of the LED light bulb, but that’s another story.
The most unsettling and at the moment unsettled news affecting sf and books in general is the financial difficulties of the Borders stores, still the second biggest buyer of books for most titles in the US, after B&N. Even the possibility of bankruptcy at such a crucial link in the bookselling arena makes major companies shiver. For the present, they are not paying their bills on time, eeek! What a world, in which we are fairly definitively coming out of a recession with a long-term unemployment rateof nearly ten percent, and a future in which many services and benefits will be cut for the average person, employed or not, and the separation between the wealthy and the rest enormously increased. No wonder “dystopian” is the most fashionable subgenre in teenage sf these days—the kids are rightly skeptical of the future we are handing them.
I think it is about time to get back to the bright future, but we have a lot of left over baggage to dispose of first. Here at NYRSF central, we would like you to order some back issues toread and are offering them at $2.00 each to subscribers—your choice, or 40 for $20 (or 80 for $40)—our choice. We have cutour print run to have fewer back issues to store in the future, but if you like to carry copies around and browse them, here’s your chance to get more.
—David G. Hartwell & the editors