In David Langford's most recent edition of Ansible (#233), he recounts Stephen Baxter's pride that NASA is planning a lunar base right where he and Arthur C. Clarke planned it in their recent Sunstorm. For every imagined development published in science fiction that has actually come to pass there are, I would guess, about ten million that have not. (If simply evaluating Clarke's fiction, however, that ratio would be considerably lower.) This shouldn't be surprising. Perhaps the reason that science fiction and fantasy are so often lumped together is the simple observation that they are essentially the same enterprise. When writing science fiction and when writing fantasy, an author is casting aside the world we know and imagining some other world. Better, maybe; but worse more often than not. Other planets, other universes, other laws of physics. Science fiction is not prognostication, it is raw imagination.
At conventions and other places where science fiction readers congregate, one sometimes hears the complaints that the future hasn't turned out to be quite as nifty as predicted fifty years ago. Fortunately, it hasn't turned out as awful as predicted twenty years ago. This debate, if engaged, will include discussions of how science fiction failed to predict personal computers, or for the most part, even cell phones. Others will observe that cell phones are commonly designed rather strikingly like Star Trek communicators.
This should be no surprise either.
The faculty of human imagination can come up with some pretty useful ideas, even when applied to highly fantastical circumstances.
So, here we are, publishing The Internet Review of Science Fiction—the first in quite a while, which is a story unto itself, but we'll save that for another time. This is a magazine of non-fiction, covering a collection of genres devoted to pure imagination. There are many, many sites out there that publish reviews, and fair enough. Science fiction and fantasy are both forms of entertainment. When it comes to entertainment, people want to find the stuff they will like.
But IROSF is something a little different, and it's worth asking whether that something has value.
We've been doing this for three years now. (Three years? Really?)
Rather than comment on our spotty publishing schedule this autumn (we're back on track, you'll see!), I thought I would take a moment and review the purpose of this thing. Rather than prognosticate (or imagine) about what will come to be, I thought I'd take a look back.
For each of our three years we've had a different editor. I started out as publisher and technologist, and have held the reins of editor this year as well. We have had a number of volunteer section editors and copy editors over the years. IROSF has always paid its authors, but to my deep disappointment we've never yet been in a position to pay editors. If you like this publication, you should bear in mind that a lot of people have worked quite hard out of the sheer love of the job to make it happen.
Of course, we have always intended to turn this into a viable financial enterprise, one that can at least break even, but the final steps have always been just around some corner or another. Many people have volunteered donations or other contributions, and some day (not to predict you understand) we'll get that all sorted out. The point is: IROSF is the product of a lot of people working very hard because they believed the effort was worthwhile. Our pay—$70 per article—is actually higher than some other prominent publications in the field, but it's not paying anyone's bills. So I think we can safely assume that the authors are doing this for the love as well.
The current issue looks a lot like those in our first year: there are reviews of short fiction, book reviews, features, essays, an interview, even a sub-genre spotlight (eternal credit to John Joseph Adams for suggesting the idea and putting together the first few). We've never published quite as much serious criticism as we would like, but now we are (sadly) publishing obituaries as well.
Each issue reaches about five thousand readers, if web logs are to be believed, which is a nice change since the first year. I remember watching the logs after our first few issues. Word spreads fast in the community of science fiction and fantasy readers, writers, and editors, but it still took a few months before we were regularly reaching even one hundred readers.
Despite the occasional rough spots that are the almost inevitable result of an entirely online-driven production environment, the changes in staff and leadership, and the occasional vicissitudes that have caused an issue here or there to slip from it's appointed publication date, IROSF has remained surprisingly constant. From this vantage point, I believe the growth in readership has been matched by corresponding improvements in the depth, the quality, and the size of each issue. (And yet, even as I write that, I think back to some of the very fine articles published in the first months.)
All well and good, but this isn't rocket science—or even the planning of a permanent lunar base that we're talking about here. This is a magazine about genres of fiction devoted to material that is inherently fantastical. What on earth is the value of this thing? With so many pressing problems before the world, is this really the best way to spend our time?
Of course the world certainly could use more people doing profoundly good works; but all that's necessary for the world to be a truly better place is for more people to do what they love.
It is in that spirit that I look to the future. Yes, I have big science fictional dreams about what this enterprise might turn into. But all that I'm sure of is that IROSF will continue to be a place where people can share ideas about the genre they love.