futurismic point

Christopher East makes an intriguing point over at the Futurismic blog regarding the commentary I posted below. The salient question he poses is this:

"Isn't there some middle ground between comfortable tradition and edgy experimentation, a way to push the envelope without losing economic viability?"

I don't necessarily know the answer to this.

However, I want to point out that I'm not specifically speaking of 'experimentation', per se, when speaking of the so-called lunatic fringe. Rather, I'm talking about innovation (see Argosy for innovative packaging, for example) and taking risks (see the line of novellas from PS Publishing for a risky publishing prospect!), and the way those things tie together to create more creative and interesting forms in the process. For example, would we have ever read something like A Swim in the Laughing Soup by James Patrick Kelly in, say, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction? I somehow doubt it.

Experimentation for the sake of experimentation may be fun, but it isn't necessary all the time.

Anyway, back to Christopher's point.

While it's somewhat distasteful to consider (art for art's sake and all that jazz, you know), I'm afraid that Christopher's question of profitability is a good one. But I also think that 'economic viability' itself is a wrong term, as I'm fairly certain that a lot of the independent presses are profitable. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in business...

Rather, I think it comes down to a question of audience, marketability and the growth of the readership.

One of the ways that the placid core affects the genre as a whole is in its stagnancy. Truth is, the placid core does nothing to bring new readers into speculative fiction, preferring a lazy 'sit-and-wait-for-them' attitude to aggressively pursuing new readers. This is actually one of my major complaints with the SFF community in general, and if I get into it now, harsh words will flow... so I'll refrain.

But really, that's the heart of 'economic viability', isn't it?

So why does the lunatic fringe contribute to that viability while the placid core does not?

Once again we return to appearance and content.

The zines and independent presses, by refusing to limit themselves to genre tropes and distinctive elements (i.e. slapping artwork of space ships on their covers) are bringing speculative fiction to readers that wouldn't normally go there. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, for example, does not stand out as a genre magazine, even though every issue is infused with the feel of speculative fiction. I figure that within ten years, the readership of LCRW will have surpassed that of Analog, because they aren't serving a specific handful of readers. They're serving everyone.

There are a handful of publications and independent presses that I can see doing the same thing, provided they manage to remain profitable as they grow. Night Shade Books is one publisher that I am willing to lay betting cash on as an inheritor of a wide audience. They aren't publishing boring cookie-cutter commercial genre works; they're taking care to publish work that is either historically remarkable or ideosyncratic and modern. They're a publisher that targets READERS, and that's an important distinction.

This is one of the reasons I'm so gung-ho about promoting the independent press. These are the future leaders of genre fiction, and I want to see more diversity and more risk-taking than we've historically seen. And I want to see our readership grow... and by offering work that rises above works that are little more than a handful of tropes slapped together under a starship cover, these publishers will continue to bring in readers that would normally scorn genre fiction.

Enticement. Not a bad thing.

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