Patreon Update: Ch-ch-ch-changes and a Question

My Patreon page has been updated to reflect the changes to my blogging/writing efforts.  If you'd like to support what I do, please become a patron! Patreon+Image On a related note: I've had some difficulty thinking about how to change the patron levels to better reflect what folks would want from such a thing.  In principle, folks support a Patreon because they like what a person does, but I also like the idea of adding something additional to the pot.  Thus far, that "addition" has been varying levels of voting ability and/or topic suggestion ability.  Now, I wonder if it might make more sense to make topic suggestions and votes a public function and replace the current levels with something else. The question:  what would I replace those things with? Some things I've considered:
  • Quirky handwritten letters w/ handwritten maps and other weirdness (I love drawing maps)
  • The Encyclopedia Obscura entries (absurd, quirky alternate history entries to an encyclopedia)
  • Access to fiction (which some said I shouldn't offer)
  • No idea...
I suppose what this comes down to is a confusion over what works for something like Patreon, especially when what you're offering is written content that isn't fiction.  So if you have any ideas, do let me know.  Otherwise, I'll just leave the page as it is for the time being.
Anywho!  Thanks for the support!

On Black Widow and Marvel’s Gaps (or, Why We Need a Black Widow Movie)

On the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) episode of The Skiffy and Fanty Show, I argued that part of what bothered me about the Black Widow scene wherein she reveals having been sterilized in the Red Room is that it clarified what was an obvious gap in Marvel's Cinematic Universe.  We need a Black Widow movie, I said -- more so now than ever.  This is a somewhat complicated position, and I'd like to explore that in-depth here. For those that don't know, I'll spoil the bit everyone is talking about: Read More

The Reboot: New Schedule, the Focus, and New Beginnings

Here we go.  I've been thinking about this for the past month.  A number of people have offered their thoughts on what I should do about this blog and my various blogging efforts (thanks!).  The following list is a far more compact set of regular (in italics) and irregular features, with the former having a set schedule.  I think it's more focused and better tuned to what I want to be doing in each space.  Having a set (but reasonable) schedule is also good for me, since it gives me a structure that isn't too cumbersome. Here it is: Read More

Speculative Fiction 2014: It’s Here!

That's right.  The anthology of online reviews, media and fan criticism that I edited with Renee Williams has officially been released by The Book Smugglers.  You can read all about it here.

The collection includes works by a whole lot of amazing people,:
Abigail Nussbaum, Adam Roberts, Aidan Moher, Aja Romano, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Amal El-Mohtar, Ana Grilo, Andrew Lapin, Annalee Newitz, Anne C. Perry, Bertha Chin, Betty, Charles Tan, Chinelo Onwualu, Clare McBride, Corinne Duyvis, Daniel José Older, Deborah Pless, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Erika Jelinek, Foz Meadows, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Joe Sherry, Jonathan McCalmont, Juliet Kahn, Justin Landon, Kameron Hurley, Kari Sperring, Ken Neth, Mahvesh Murad, Martin Petto, Matthew Cheney, Memory Scarlett, Mieneke van der Salm, N.K. Jemisin, Natalie Luhrs, Ng Suat Tong, Nina Allan, Olivia Waite, Paul Weimer, Rachael Acks, Rebecca Pahle, Renay, Rose Lemberg, Saathi Press, Sara L. Sumpter, Shaun Duke, Tade Thompson, Tasha Robinson, The G, thingswithwings, and Vandana Singh.
The book is currently available in print via Amazon US and Amazon UK.  An ebook version can be purchased on the The Book Smugglers announcement page (scroll down a bit); ebooks should become available on other sites soon.

The Book Smugs are also running a giveaway for 5 copies of the book; the giveaway closes on May 9th.
A big thanks goes to my co-editor, Renee Williams, for being so organized and putting in so much work on this anthology.  I feel like we did an amazing job together, and I am truly proud and honored to have worked with you.

Also:  a huge thanks to The Book Smugglers (Ana and Thea) for their hard work, their prompt responses to our questions and concerns, and for keeping us (mostly) on track.

Lastly, a huge thanks must go to the contributors, who brought so much to the community in 2014, to the fine folks on the Internet for suggesting essays and reviews for us to consider, many of which we might have otherwise missed, and to anyone else who helped me or Renee throughout this process.

Now it's official.  I'm an editor person thing.  Cool.

Addendum to the Redemption Post: A Set of Apologies and Conclusions

As some of you are aware by now, I wrote a post entitled "On Forgiveness and Redemption (Storify)."  The post contained (obviously) a Storify of a series of tweets I made some time ago.  I received some pushback to this at the time, some of it public and some of it privately.  At the time, I didn't quite understand the degree to which privilege, power, and so on were involved in the situation (especially my own), which is one of the many reasons I chose not to respond to Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and others who felt it important to speak to me about what I had written.  This issue again cropped up yesterday (and this morning) when I became involved in spreading misinformation about a related concern (more on that below).  I am now in a position where I both feel I am not quite able to disentangle my own emotional investment from what is going on, but yet feel compelled to issue a statement, several apologies, and a declaration of future intent.*

All of these posts will be left online unless requested otherwise.  I generally disagree with deleting Tweets or posts solely because I may have been wrong or criticized -- except in cases where I have been specifically asked to do so by an individual who feels that the continued existence of such materials does more harm than good (or where keeping them there might have a detrimental effect on my person).  As such, I will leave these things as they are.  If you are someone who has been harmed by something I have written and you would like that thing removed, I will respect your wishes and delete it -- emails requesting as much will be kept confidential.

First, some apologies:
  1. I must reiterate my apology to Kari Sperring for my behavior on 4/29/15.  In brief, I spread misinformation about what occurred at a panel at Eastercon because I believed the account to be accurate.  I then proceeded to report that incident to the Eastercon chair.  At the time, I did not know who had made the alleged statement, but it was revealed late last night that the accused was Kari Sperring.  This morning, I came to the conclusion that the incident report was not accurate and that my actions (speaking about banning whoever said it and sending a response to Eastercon's chair) was inappropriate.  I have apologized to both Eastercon's chair and Kari for everything I have done.  I should not have assumed the account of the "incident" at Eastercon was wholly accurate, nor should I, as someone who did not attend Eastercon, have reported the "incident" to Eastercon.  Hearsay is insufficient grounds for doing either of these things.  I also should not have stated that anyone should be banned from a convention I did not attend and who had not even had a chance to respond to an allegation.  I assumed, and I leaped.  For all of this, I apologize.

    That I know I should not have done these things does not absolve me of guilt for doing so.  My actions have caused someone harm, and it was clear that my intent was to do so from the start, albeit of a professional sort.  That harm, however, extended beyond the professional to unintended personal harms on the part of Kari (which I won't discuss because that is not my place).  For that, I also apologize.
  2. I must apologize to those who felt my previous post on redemption diminished or devalued the real pain many still feel as a result of past interactions with Requires Hate.  Though it was not my intention to devalue those experiences, the net affect amounted, I suspect, to the same, and that is not something I want my words to produce for anyone.  I apologize for doing so and for opening or throwing salt in any wounds.  I should have understood that even given time, many people still have legitimate pain that may not ever go away, and that writing even from my own experience the value of redemption and its necessity for this community could only worsen those feelings.  I cannot speak for everyone, and I should not try.  In essence, I think my comments have done more harm than good.  For that, I also apologize.
  3. I must apologize that it has taken me so long to issue a response.  I realize that this may have given the impression that I was either walking away or not interested, but I assure you that I stepped back and took so much time because some people both public and private spoke candidly with me about what I wrote and impressed upon me, perhaps unintentionally, the importance of not leaping in again.  That I then leaped indicates that they were right from the start.  It would be wrong of me to send off another stream of tweets when I am certain that doing so would not come from a position of near-objectivity.  It would also be unfair for me to do so when so many people expressed their concerns to me personally under the assumption that I would actually listen.  Their assumptions were correct, and so I must come to this response with respect for them, as they gave their respect to me.
Lastly, a few thank yous:
  • Thank you to every single person who has called me out, publicly or privately, for my various failures over the years, but especially now.  That so many of you have felt comfortable enough telling me why I was wrong is a complement I suspect you didn't intend to give.  I often feel that I don't deserve the respect that so many of you have offered, and yet you continue to offer it.  Thank you for that vote of confidence, even as I flounder and shove my foot far down my own throat.
  • Thank you also to those who have pointed out to me that my privilege extends beyond the nature of my birth, that indeed what I say in public can have an affect on many people by dint of my being a figure of some authority in this community.  It is something I have struggled to understand because I too often think that I am not important enough to have that kind of impact, but it is clear that I was mistaken.  I suspect most people don't like being told they are privileged, and that may have been the subconscious reasoning for my refusal to accept it, but I am glad that it has been pointed out to me so I can make better use of that privilege for, well, good things.
Having written everything I have written here, I have come to the conclusion that I need to do a few things.  

First, I need to back away from the conversation.  I am no less prone to kneejerk reactions and instinctual leaps than anyone else, and my connection to many different conversations within sf/f and my own emotional investments have led me to a range of bad decisions, responses, and opinions.  It is clear to me that I need to do my best to "detox," to remove the impulses that lead me to accept things that confirm what I already believe and reject what I don't already believe (specifically, to the issues found in this post).  I also need to do a better job of understanding myself, my privilege(s), and the ways in which I mobilize these things towards intended or unintended goals.

Second, it is clear to me that so much of what I have been writing and discussing in the past month or more has been overtly negative.  It seems to me that this is a terrible use of my time and a contributor to the problems noted in the previous paragraph.  It is also clear to me that I should be doing more to positively contribute to the sf/f community.  Running a podcast isn't enough.  How I conduct myself online also matters.  And my conduct online has been, at times, poor.

I hope that people who have come to know me over the past few years will still feel inclined to tell me when I have crossed a line.  This is very much a learning process, and I am thankful that I have earned enough goodwill in this community to warrant respectful disagreements and criticism from so many.  My intention is to do better.  To be better.  I can't promise I will always succeed, but I can promise that I will try.

----------------------

*One of the other reasons I did not respond at the time was the fact that I came down with a chest cold that lasted for two weeks, and from which I am still recovering.  This coupled with my emotional investments (if you read the Storify, that will make sense) led me to believe that it would be wrong of me to leap into response without reconsidering my own position in relation to what others had said.

On Legitimacy, Academia, and the Hugos (or, Someone Needs to Take a Class)

If you've been following the Hugo Awards fiasco, you might have come across Philip Sandifer's fascinating analysis of Theodore Beale / Vox Day, his followers, and the Hugos.  Sandifer has since become a minor target within the Sad / Rabid Puppies discussion, but not so much for what he actually said as for who he declares himself to be:  an educated man.  Why would this matter in a conversation about the Hugo Awards?  What is so offensive about being a PhD in English (or any other individual with a PhD in the humanities)?

As someone who is roughly a year away from acquiring a PhD in English, I find this blatant anti-academic stance rather perplexing if isolated to the science fiction and fantasy world.  After all, so many of our greatest writers were academics -- mostly in the sciences, but occasionally in the humanities.  But once I think about the wider culture -- in this case, U.S. culture -- it becomes abundantly clear:  it's anti-intellectual posturing.  The U.S. has always had a strong anti-intellectual perspective, but in recent years that has reached alarming levels, with mountains of outright derision lobbed at those who are identified as intellectuals -- especially academics in the humanities.  And as an academic, I still struggle with how to respond to this derisive viewpoint.  How do you convince people who already view intellectuals (and academia) with contempt that there is value to be had among the intellectuals (and academics)?  That's a question to answer another time.

All of this leads me to R. Scott Bakker's recent post on the Hugos.  In particular, I'm interested in Bakker's conclusion, since the majority of his post has little to do with academia, except insofar as he demonstrates a significant dislike for us (we're fools and clowns, apparently, for believing we can teach critical thinking).  That dislike also seems to extend to Sandifer, though I'll admit that it's difficult to parse posturing or rejection of ideas from actual dislike (and, hell, they may not be that different anyway).  Sandifer is a necessary starting point here, because what Sandifer argues about the effects of the Sad / Rabid Puppies (and Beale in particular) on the Hugo Awards can be boiled down to "damaging the Hugo Awards" and "damaging the value of fandom by infected it with bile."  To this argument, Bakker eventually concludes the following:
And let’s suppose that the real problem facing the arts community lies in the impact of technology on cultural and political groupishness, on the way the internet and preference-parsing algorithms continue to ratchet buyers and sellers into ever more intricately tuned relationships. Let’s suppose, just for instance, that so-called literary works no longer reach dissenting audiences, and so only serve to reinforce the values of readers… 
That precious few of us are being challenged anymore—at least not by writing.
The communicative habitat of the human being is changing more radically than at any time in history, period. The old modes of literary dissemination are dead or dying, and with them all the simplistic assumptions of our literary past. If writing that matters is writing that challenges, the writing that matters most has to be writing that avoids the ‘preference funnel,’ writing that falls into the hands of those who can be outraged. The only writing that matters, in other words, is writing that manages to span significant ingroup boundaries. 
If this is the case, then Beale has merely shown us that science fiction and fantasy actually matter, that as a writer, your voice can still reach people who can (and likely will) be offended… as well as swayed, unsettled, or any of the things Humanities clowns claim writing should do.
There are a number of problems here.  First, Bakker assumes (or wants us to assume) that the so called "literary works" aren't reaching audiences.  This is easy to refute by looking at the mountains of so called "literary writers" whose works appear on bestseller lists or are invited to give talks in performance halls fit for a thousand or more people.  The challenging works of the "literary" form are already reaching audiences.  Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell, and on and on and on and on.  This is, after all, what we are concerned with, no?  Challenges to our literary and personal sensibilities.  Within science fiction and fantasy, that becomes much more difficult to measure.  What constitutes "reaching an audience"?  Bestseller lists?  OK.  If so, then we might as well assume that sf/f is utterly stagnant, since its most compelling and memorable work isn't hitting those lists, which is a problem too complicated to explore here.

I am, of course, setting aside the reality that "literary" doesn't exist in any realistic grouping.  As a genre, it is even less well-defined than science fiction, which at least has identifiable traditions.

What I will say is this:  while Bakker seems to view people like me as clowns, we do have a significant hand in what continues to be discussed as "significant" in the sf/f field.  What I teach when I teach a science fiction class influences what thousands of everyday people think of when they think "science fiction and fantasy."  There are thousands and thousands of teachers just like me, and thanks to a massive shift in public and academic interests, we're now teaching sf/f more than we used to.

And what I teach isn't going to be the repetitive, stagnant sf/f of today.  Why would I teach an sf/f adventure novel from 2005 which offers nothing new when I can teach its more compelling predecessor from 1895?  When I teach my space opera course in the fall, I'm not going to teach contemporary works which read like E. E. "Doc" Smith.  I'm going to teach Smith.  I'm not going to teach Heinlein pastiches.  I'm going to teach Heinlein.  And when it comes to the contemporary writers I want to explore, it will be Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Tobias Buckell, and so on and so forth.  And I don't feel any shame in saying that this class will be amazing.

Second, Bakker seems to confuse what Beale / Day does as an online troll and moral thug with what Beale / Day writes OR what the Sad / Rabid Puppies have repeatedly claimed they wish would make a come back.  If Beale / Day challenges us, it is not because his fiction does so, as may be the case for Rushdie, Mitchell, or Atwood (or Delany, Butler, and Le Guin); it is because the ideas he espouses are a reminder that our community doesn't have clear boundaries to keep out the undesirable (and perhaps for good reason).  Bakker does address this in his final paragraph (see below), but the initial framing isn't about Beale's ideas so much as his literary output.

But the Sad / Rabid Puppies aren't asking for literature that "challenges."  Rather, they're asking for the opposite.  Time and again, they've espoused a desire for the return of the Golden Age of sf/f -- a Golden Age that has been repeatedly rejected as a fantasy.  They want adventure and entertainment, not stories about complicated human subjects.  They want repetition, simplification, and routine.  They want reduction.  This is not a call for "challenging literature."  It is precisely the opposite.  Bakker misunderstands the literary roots of this so called "war."  It's not simply about diversity, but about the very quality of sf/f as a progressive medium:  a field that is always exploring the possibilities, the "what if."  That sf/f can be entertaining and adventurous is a given; it always capable of this and always will be.  But reducing quality arguments about sf/f to a single rubric does the field a disservice.

That's what slate voting does:  it pits one groupthink against another.  That there was no groupthink outside of the Sad / Rabid Puppies miniverse this year is significant because it demonstrates the danger of one viewpoint controlling a semi-public award.  The irony of the Sad / Rabid Puppies campaign is that the very thing they have harped on for years only applies to themselves.  They are the problem they misapply to the nebulous non-entity they claim has taken over sf/f.

Bakker ends his essay with the following:
‘Legitimacy,’ Sandifer says. Legitimacy for whom? For the likeminded—who else? But that, my well-educated friend, is the sound-proofed legitimacy of the Booker, or the National Book Awards—which is to say, the legitimacy of the irrelevant, the socially inert. The last thing this accelerating world needs is more ingroup ejaculate. The fact that Beale managed to pull this little coup is proof positive that science fiction and fantasy matter, that we dwell in a rare corner of culture where the battle of ideas is for… fucking… real.
I'm not sure what Bakker has against the Booker or the National Book Awards.  These are perfectly decent awards serving a particular viewpoint of literature.  They are no more or no less legitimate than any other award, I suppose.  Given that Sandifer never mentions these awards in his essay (I checked), it seems odd that these would come up at all.  In fact, the only awards Sandifer ever mentions are the Hugo Awards and the MTV Movie Awards, both popular awards of a kind.  And it's obvious from Sandifer's post that he loves the award.  A stuffy humanities teacher loves the Hugos.  My god!  If you don't believe me, you can just read Sandifer's anger about this year's slate voting fiasco for what it is -- love:
Fuck you for making me feel that way. Fuck you for the way you’ve brought this thing that I love, this celebration of great science fiction, to a point where it is full of the sort of mean and hateful desires that seem to animate you. Fuck you for dragging us all down to your sorry level. Fuck you for being so odious that we have to go there. 
Sandifer certainly has his own tastes and interests.  I do, too.  And as it turns out, we don't entirely agree, which is perfectly fine.  Two educated smarty pants academics who don't agree!  My god!

The point I'm poorly trying to make here is that Bakker's assumption about Sandifer's (and other anti-Sad / Rabid Puppies) motives or interests is a false one.  To be frank, I have never felt the need to conform to everyone else's tastes.  I still didn't much care for some of the non-Puppy short fiction on last year's ballot, and I know many other who didn't.  And so long as we're not running about screaming to high heaven about how much we hate X, nobody seems particularly bothered.  We're allowed to like different things.  It's OK.  Really.  We're an ingroup, I suppose, but hardly one that is bound to enjoy all the same things.  If we were bound in such a way -- as the political messaging implies about the Sad / Rabid Puppies -- the ballot would have looked very different this year.  Of course, by "we" I mean a nebulous non-entity, since I can't for the life of me figure out who the "we" actually is.  But I will continue to use it here anyway.

As one can imagine, we all didn't agree.  There was no groupthink.  There was a sea of people who might like some of the same things, but who didn't come to a natural consensus about much of anything.  If we could see the long list going all the way down to everything that got 1 or 2 votes, I bet the Hugo Awards would look like a grab bag of different opinions about the quality of sf/f.  Bakker might think we are all likeminded, but he would be wrong.  We might care about the same political issues (many of us, anyway), but to assume we are likeminded is to suggest that we don't care about quality, or that we don't debate amongst ourselves.  I don't know anyone who shares my point of view who doesn't care about the quality of a work.  I'm sure some exist who pick works because it fills in a checkbox, but they're hardly taking over sf/f anytime soon.

No.  Taking over sf/f is someone else's game.  And they're doing a smashing job thus far.  That it has so thoroughly backfired probably didn't come as a huge surprise to the Sad / Rabid Puppies.  When you deliberately piss in everyone's cereal, what do you expect?  Balloons and a party?  I think not.

The irony here is that the real challenge occurring in sf/f isn't coming from the Sad / Rabid Puppies side.  They might think they're challenging some imaginary status quo, but in reality, they are a reactionary group.  And what they are reacting to is quite clear:  sf/f doing what it does best.  The Hugo Awards have not only begun recognizing more diverse writers, but they have also begun to recognize sf/f that pushes against the actual boundaries of our society in a more concentrated fashion -- against racial constructs, sexism, gender norms, etc.  This is actually one of the most exciting times to be a scholar (let alone an sf/f fan).  And as Sandifer says, this isn't going to stop.  Even if the Hugo Awards are forever mired in political nonsense, people will still write the kinds of stories that challenge us.

Good.  I, for one, can't wait to read every bit of it.

Why I Don’t Shop at Chain Bookstores (Often)

I live in a town which has very little in the way of independent bookstores.  There's one very tiny feminist bookshop, which is nifty, and a handful of comic shops, but there's little else.  If I want to shop somewhere that isn't a chain, department store, or Internet store, I have to wait for one of the two massive Friends of the Library events (one in the fall; one in the spring), which is always a zoo and hardly conducive to calm browsing.  Basically, I have few options.

None of this would be a problem if I still had access to a Borders or a good independent bookstore.  Back in the old days of living in Santa Cruz (pre-2009), Borders was my go-to-chain.  It had a decent enough selection and little of the stresses that other chains often created.  Their membership club was free (and for a time offered "points" for purchases, which you could add up to discounts later on), too.  It wasn't the only bookstore I went to, of course.  There was a great used bookstore in the part of town (called Logo's) and a wonderful independent bookshop with superb selection.  Basically, downtown Santa Cruz was the ultimate bookshopping spot for me.

Gainesville has none of that.  The Barnes & Noble shop closed down.  I don't know if we ever had a Borders, but there certainly hasn't been one here since at least 2009 (and now there never will be).  The only good independent bookshop closed down years ago because the University of Florida bookstore did everything it could to cannibalize its sales (not just conjecture; it did -- ok, it's conjecture...).  Gainesville has two Books-a-Millions, which are poor excuses for bookstores, generally speaking.  When it had a B&N, things weren't much better (except that I could talk to a real person if I had questions about my Nook/Nook HD+).  What's the problem with places like BaM, B&N, etc.?

In the current bookshopping climate, chains offer the least pleasurable experience.  Since they're desperately fighting off the online marketplace, many of these chains have put more effort into pushing things that aren't books on customers.  Books-a-Million, for example, puts far more effort into trying to sell people their $25/yr memberships than it does in curating a good selection of books.  Their science fiction and fantasy section, for example, is lackluster on average (one of the stores in town might as well stop carrying sf/f, since their selection is just shy of pointless).  When I do shop there, I'm always measuring the desire for a book against my desire not to have to tell that poor cashier that I don't want to join the club or do X or whatever to get some added discount.  I'm always trying to avoid the guilty shopping experience.

That's a horrible thing to feel when I'm at the bookstore.  I want to feel excited about that new book, not uneasy because I know I have deal with the hard sell.  There's a reason I do so much of my bookshopping online.  I get all the selection I could possibly want and none of the uncomfortable feelings.  Why leave the house for anything less?

All of this was highlighted further by today's experience at Books-a-Million.  When I went up to the counter, I noticed that this particular BaM sold comics at the register.  I knew they sold graphic novels, but I had somehow forgotten or missed that they also sold comic books.  Being a new comic book convert, I had to say something.  And what did the cashier say?  He said "hey, there's actually a whole section of comics if you'd like me to show them to you."  I hesitated, because I knew the hard sell was coming.  He was going to push that damned membership on me again:  "And if you join our super duper club, you'll save $0.37 on a comic book!  Come on, you know you want to!"  If I said know, he'd push again.  And again.  And then he'd give that look they all give because somehow that membership is tied to their job security...  But that's not what happened.  He gave me an enthusiastic smile and showed me those comics.  I ended up grabbing the first volume of Black Science, which he apparently loved enough to give me a high five.  (This same fellow made several recommendations to another customer, who then bought those books.)

This experience is so uncommon at Books-a-Million that it stood out.  Here was a guy actually showing customers things they might like.  He was doing his job as a bookseller, not as some guy working for a chain trying to upsell their non-book-specific bobbles.  This has never happened to me at a Books-a-Million.  Or any chain for that matter.  The chains are always about general sales, not recommendations.  They're about shoving non-book product on the consumer, not helping them find new things to read.  They're about everything other than selling books (except in the most basic sense of the phrase, since they are bookstores).  So when a cashier at such a place goes off script, I can't help but notice.  Because this is the kind of behavior I expect at Powell's or Santa Cruz Bookstore.

There's a reason the chain bookstores are struggling.  They don't offer this kind of service as a default.  They don't give us a reason as consumers to continue to go through their doors, particularly if we're regular book shoppers.  Because for chains, it's not about treating customers as individuals who want to read, but about treating customers as walking wallets you have to prod and tweak to open up.  There's a reason I always go to Powell's when I visit home:  I get the personal experience I want.  And Powell's is enormous.  Thousands and thousands of customers shop there.  And every time, I get that personal experience.  Period.  It doesn't matter if I'm there to buy 50 books or one.

I don't pretend for a second that "personal experience" isn't self-serving.  Stores that do this do it because it works.  When your business environment is welcoming and helpful, customers are far more likely to return.  What Amazon will never have over Powell's is that environment.  It can't.  It's a massive monstrosity of a store with no face (and I'm told customer service is lackluster at best, not to mention that it is designed like a "troubleshooting / tech support" entity, not a bookseller).  There's nothing personal about it.  It embodies the absence of the personal.  That's why Powell's is unlikely to go anywhere, even as the rest of the chain stores struggle to compete against Amazon (and elsewhere).  Maybe they'll learn the lesson, but I doubt it.

The Future Blogging Game Plan Thing: Opinions Welcome

As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, I've started putting together a new structure for my online writing.  Today, I offer up one possible restructuring effort.  Your opinions are always welcome, even if you fundamentally disagree with the whole endeavor.

On a side note:  I do plan to move this blog to its own website soon (to coincide with my own personal site).  I don't know if I will keep the World in the Satin Bag name, though I probably should.

Here is the structure I'm considering:
  1. WISB would shift to an sf/f commentary and writing blog; most of what I'd offer here would be my semi-academic discussions, views on what's happening in sf/f, views on sf/f, and general nonsense about my sad little writing career (which is frankly what this blog has mostly been anyway).  Basically, this blog ceases to be a review blog and becomes more of a discussion blog that provides much of the same stuff I've always provided, but with a little more focus.
  2. All book reviews would move to The Skiffy and Fanty Show blog OR to review sites (Strange Horizons, etc.; I already have a review coming out through them soon)
  3. Totally Pretentious would become my "movie discussion" arena, since it's a movie podcast and blog.  This would include three specific elements:
    a) the podcast (more on that later)
    b) Retro Nostalgia:  it will become a feature where I review an sf/f movie released 10/20/30/40/50+ years from a specific week or month (example:  Ladyhawke was released in April 1985).  I'll just go back and forth through time by divisions of 10 :)!
    c) The 6 Continents Director Circle:  a terrible title for a feature in which I explore the work of a single director, moving from continent to continent.  This may come in the form of reviews or essays about the breadth of their work (from the perspective of a budding film critic and film scholar).  I'm told by David Annandale that we might also include this as part of the podcast at a future point (more on that later). 
This would mean restructuring my Patreon so it focuses on the specific things I'm offering (the columns at TP and reviews at S&F).  It would also mean effectively killing many of my current columns in favor for a smaller number of specific ones, which may or may not be the path I should take (or the expectation of readers).  You are free to disagree if you really love something I do on WISB.  Hell, you can disagree with this entire post if you so choose.

It was also suggested to me that I should perhaps put more focus into my podcasting anyway, since that's where I'm better known.  And it's true that I really love podcasting and would love to do more of it.  I'm not sure how to incorporate that into the structure, though.  Thoughts?

My biggest concern with the new structure is this:  it seems to diversify my writing across multiple spaces, which seems counter-intuitive to the project of focus.  Is that just in my head, or is that fairly accurate?  Should I just focus the columns on this blog and simply repeat a weekly "formula" on a consistent basis (three columns a week on MWF; every week...always)?  Would that be more effective?  Would that be better for my existing readership?  

Alright.  The comments are all yours.