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No Inter(Net)action

06/08/2005. Contributed by Stephen Hunt

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Despite the hordes of science fiction fans queuing for hours for a 15 minute web cafe slot at this year's World Science Fiction convention at Glasgow, as usual, the existence of online science fiction has largely - and sadly - passed the con organisers by.

I will preface this rant by saying, the content of my grumbles below aside, the Interaction organisers have done a stirling job and put together a fab event. With one exception. And it is this bizarre exception that forms the basis of my little diatribe.

Having arrived at the World science fiction con, I checked out the event programming, and just like every other science fiction event of recent years, out of hundreds of seminars and talks, there's nary a whiff of the existence of the online science fiction and fantasy world in the official schedule.

Yes, we all know there are millions of SFF web sites - from blogs by fans and authors, from magazines like SFcrowsnest, through to BBS systems and community sites.

But for the organisers of InterAction, we all still seem to be living in a parallel universe where computers exist in the ZX Spectrum era and the Web is something you wipe off the corner of your shed with a rusty broom.

The odd thing is, you simply can't stop the event speakers and fans talking about - or using - the internet. There's a six(ish) station web cafe kindly being operated free in one of the halls (nice touch).

But demand for the free internet service has been so great that fans have their name added to a waiting list for a 15 minute slot many hours hence. I turned up 10 seconds late after waiting most the morning and found my slot had been given to someone else! You'd normally have to go to a NHS waiting room to find that kind of pent-up demand!!

I went to a seminar entitled 'The Sting: SFWA, Atlanta Nights and Publish America' about a group of SFWA authors who wrote the worse novel ever in an attempt to expose Publish America as a vanity publisher.

Here too, you simply couldn't stop the speakers talking about the internet. Del Rey editor Steve Saffel kept chatting about the internet and how useful it was a publishing medium. Author Robin Hobb couldn't stop talking about POD publishing. And all the speakers mentioned the fact that this type of publishing operation feeds off the internet. Then they discussed all the great web sites which are being used to warn authors of vanity publishing scams. It was like watching the internet slowly leak out of every blooming conversation.

The most informed comment about the web I have seen to date was in one of the update flyers handed out at arrival, where someone - I forget who -was noting that the existence of this year's web Hugo category is a bit of an oddity now, and that every category should be opened up to online works.

In a way, that insight is quite correct. Having a best web site Hugo Award category is a bit like splitting the best novel category into sections like - best SFF novel printed by lithographic offset - best SFF novel printed by UV varnishing and litho varnishing - best SFF novel printed by screen-print hand - best SFF novel printed by chromoxylography.

But I suspect this comment was neither intended as an apology or excuse for the lack of any internet SFF focus in the programming.

Oh well, at least the very nicely done souvenir book has a couple of pages about the online SF world - written by Ariel and Sandy of TheAlienOnline.net - but as a nod to the wealth of online science fiction, this, like any single web site itself, is of course a mere drop in the ocean.

Oddly, the one seminar that most verges towards the online SFF world this year is 'Geek Eye for the Technophobe Guy', which reads "Wary of Wi-Fi? Prevaricating on a PDA? Our panel of experts will take a tech-resistant fan and rebuild him/her into a walking Singularity."

Good luck guys. But if if you are to do your job properly at Inter(Net)action, may I suggest you rebook the event from the Argyll room (max capacity 250 people), and rebook for the Armadillo - seats 3000?

Oh well, I am reliably informed that the superhighway to hell is paved with good intentions.

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