This week, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting the new incarnation of our Reviews Department. We're going to be focusing mainly on shorter reviews than we did in the past, but we're going to be running more of them—several a week, posted daily from Monday through Thursday. We encourage you to check in during the week to see what we're up to, but for your added convenience we've also set up an RSS syndication feed for the reviews department. What I'm even more excited about, though, is that we're going to be expanding the scope of the reviews department. Movies, comic books, anime, video games, music, television shows, poetry—if it's out there and it's got some speculative content, we want to be reviewing it here at Strange Horizons.
Expanding the scope of the reviews department is something that I'm very excited about. It was an idea that came from a number of different sources, but my own personal version of it came out of the Nebula awards weekend. As I'm sure we mentioned, a story from Strange Horizons (Greg van Eekhout's In the Late December) was nominated for a Nebula this year. It's the second time a Strange Horizons story was on the Nebula ballot (the first being Tim Pratt's Little Gods), but this was the first year that it looked even remotely possible for me to make the trip out for the banquet. It was a great weekend, overall—the local hosts in the Chicago area put together a lovely weekend for us, and the awards ceremony itself inspired a good strong sense of "yes, this is a good community, and I'm glad to be a part of it." Some combination of other things over the weekend created a kind of cognitive dissonance, though.
The best thing about the weekend, for me, was how much time I spent hanging out with smart and interesting people, having smart and interesting conversations. A couple of people were very interested in a then-recent New York Times article, provocatively titled "Watching TV Makes You Smarter," and as a result we were talking a lot about science fiction shows on television. It's a good time in entertainment history for science fiction television, and while a lot of it is kind of goofy, there's also a fair amount of genuinely interesting stuff going on.
More relevantly, though, I had the opportunity that weekend to talk with Sean Stewart a little bit about the interactive storytelling work he's been doing. He's one of my favorite authors, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to his books when I say what I'm about to say, but I still think that The Beast was one of the most brilliant works of speculative fiction I've ever seen. It was a puzzle game, a story told through web pages, this intricately constructed gaming experience that managed to have an actual and compelling narrative. I'd never seen anything like it, and talking to Sean about The Beast (and other similar projects he's done since then, like I Love Bees) got me excited all over again about the ways that we've only just begun to explore the ways that the Internet (and other new media venues) can be used for storytelling purposes.
While all that was going on in my weekend, though, other people at the Nebulas were having a different set of conversations. By which I mean, I suppose, that they were having the same set of conversations that science fiction professionals seem to have whenever they get together—the field is contracting, kids today aren't interested in good science fiction, etc. It's not that I don't have sympathy for this position, and I certainly don't mean to dismiss it, especially since so many people I trust and respect hold it. It's just that, in the context of everything else that was going on in my weekend, it felt parochial. Speculative fiction isn't a shrinking cultural presence, it's a large and expansive one. It's all around us. As far as I can tell, games like Deus Ex and World of Warcraft have more sophisticated narrative content than your average Golden Age paperback did. (And yes, I know, most gamers aren't paying attention to the story. That doesn't mean the story isn't there.) Science fiction and fantasy movies are wildly popular with the general public, not just with self-identified science fiction fans, and I could devote another entire editorial to this fall's explosion of genre television shows. Whether or not it's true that "the kids today" aren't interested in reading science fiction, it's certainly true that they're interested in reading manga and graphic novels.
Science fiction isn't dead, or even dying. It's all around us. So why restrict ourselves to reviewing mainly the print media? I came back from that weekend trip with what felt like an evangelical fever for expanding the scope of the Reviews Department, and once I started talking to other people on our staff about it, I found that a lot of other people had been thinking similar things, although their epiphanies came from different sources. All that was left (she said, as though it were a trivial detail) was putting the pieces together and getting the new Reviews Department up and running. A lot of people have put an impressive amount of work and energy into making it happen. Our new Senior Reviews Editor, Niall Harrison, deserves most of the credit here, along with our web team, the rest of the reviews editors, and the reviewers who have been so willing to go along with our experiment here. The first few weeks of new content should reassure our most loyal readers that we're not abandoning the print media entirely, and we do still plan to review a lot of books. We're just trying to keep an eye on the big picture.
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