JUST A QUICK UPDSTE: I've done the guest editorial on this week's edition of "The StarShipSofa". The "editorial" is centered on this post but expands a bit...Stop by and have a listen: http://www.starshipsofa.com/20100223/aural-delights-no-122-michael-f-fly nn/
An interesting point is being made with respect to bringing the science fiction community up to date by making s.f. podcast sites, specifically The StarShipSofa.com, eligible for the reader-centric Hugo Awards. The distinguished science fiction scholar and writer Dr. Amy H. Sturgis makes a compelling case at http://eldritchhobbit.livejournal.com/284404.html.
Pause here for a moment: If you don't know what the Hugos are, I point to you Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Awards
Of course, if you don't know about the Hugos, you probably aren't reading this anyway.
The world of podcasting -- and if you don't know what that's about you really aren't here, now are you? -- is not exactly new but it's not that old, either. By now, a dedicated fan can hear, on demand, pretty much anything he or she wants to find. Many sites provide original material, written, produced and narrated and 'cast specifically for the site.
With regard to science fiction/fantasy/horror, the number of these audio sites is growing. So far as the number of 'customers' alone, the larger podcast communities probably rival, if they not yet outstrip, the ink on paper magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and others.
I want to emphasize the use of the word "community" in the 'graph above. While readers of specific magazines fall roughly into a loyal readership, podcasts generally spawn community. This is a rough echo of the way that the early fanzines and pro-zines created core groups of readers and followers in the 30s and 40s of the last century (God, isn't it fun to say that!).
The podcast communities echo the groups that gathered in the 20s and 30s around such figures as H.P. Lovecraft and pals. They are a shadow of the "Futurians," a group of science fiction fans-cum-writers-cum-agents and editors-cum-publishers who formed the soul of the Golden Age of Science Fiction of the 40s. People such as Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Virginia Kidd, Judith Merrill, Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, James Blish, Jack Gillespie, Cyril Kornbluth and others were the Futurians.
I emphasize again: these core groups, communities certainly, families if you will, gathered in single cities or in regions. Some outlanders, such as Ray Bradbury who, though born in the Midwest, grew up on the West Coast, speaks of making the epic road trip from LA to New York, to meet with the members of the Eastern fraternity, the Futurians. They gathered, hung together, drank and sang songs together over kitchen tables and, together and apart, made some great literature in the wake of their communalizing (you might also want to have a read at: http://jophan.org/mimosa/m29/kyle.htm).
The pace is quicker now. With StarShipSofa, Escape Pod and the like, the community happens globally. While the community of the StarShip isn't necessarily as personal as the Futurians', it is moving things at a faster pace. While Ray may have motored LA to NYC to gather once every now and again with his pals, I've met face to face only once with a fellow Sofanaut, the wonderful Diane Severson Mori, who, raised in Wisconsin, now lives in Germany and is married to an Italian nuclear engineer. I met DIane and her husband while they were visiting Chicago. But I knew Diane quite well by the time we met. I'd heard her read, we'd talked -- and seen each other -- via Skype. She knew me from my writing, my narration of my own and other people's work and from the forums on the StarShip. I know at another leg of that trip, Diane visited the founder of the StarShip, Tony C. Smith at his home in the north of England.
I mention this to point out the fact that the relationships between Diane, Tony, myself and dozens of other Sofanauts were already of long-standing duration.
Let me point to one exemplar: Spider and Jeanne Robinson are icons of contemporary s.f. Jeanne has cancer, a nasty form of biliary cancer which has drained the Robinson's finances. World-wide, the community has come to their aid. This past Christmas, the StarShip produced an original piece of long-form fiction which it auctioned off in an ink-on-paper one-off book and sold hundreds of .pdf downloads of the story with original illustrations by Sofanaut regular sketcher, Skeet Scienski, and raised quite a few thousand dollars for the Robinsons. Not huge amounts of money as cancer care goes, but certainly something that a family, a community would do for one of its own.
My point is, the podcast sites are the matrix around which families, community, continues to grow. This echoes the past.
The Futurians, by the way, continue through to the present. That batch of happy fans and pros are linked to most of the writers/editors/publishers working in the business today. Writer, Donald A. Wollheim became publisher Donald A. Wollheim whose name continues today as DAW Books. Author Gene Wolfe's agent is at the Virginia Kidd Agency, who continue to represent many of the premiere names in sf. While Virginia Kidd passed away some time ago, her home is still the office for the agency that bears her name. That house was a physical home away from home for the Futurians for whom Ms. Kidd's living room and kitchen was the hearth around which those writers literally gathered. Her husband, James Blish and his pals, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl and a couple dozen more of the iconic writers of that Golden Age all peopled that still in-use home office in woodsy Pennsylvania.
What is happening here, on-line, may not spark as many marriages, divorces, pregnancies, as did the communities of the past, but the voices that are coming out of these little internet tubes are beginning to change the form of fiction-making. One might even say, what is happening here gets back to the root of writing: the telling of stories around a fire.
I think the Hugos need to take a good look at the podcasts and begin to honor those in the medium.