Deep Outside SFFH - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

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While A. L. Sirois is readying the first of a brilliant series of new reviews for Far Sector SFFH, John Cullen offers these thoughts.

Being: a farewell, a hello, and most of all, a review of what is still the most exciting technology yet to be invented but celebrated early by those of us in the digital world: the e-book.

FAREWELL. When is a farewell not a goodbye? When it is not a leave-taking but a metamorphosis into a new entity. As we cruise toward the end of 2002, we are not the same people—any of us—that we were when this magazine published its first edition on April 15, 1998.

We managed a few firsts or "earlies"—like our early experiments with web-published, weekly serialized novels (1996), and our magazine's making history by becoming the first web-only paying magazine listed in Writer's Market (1999).

Today, as we release the final issue of this magazine under the name Deep Outside SFFH, we recognize that magazines, like people and worlds, must also change over time.

My intrepid and adventuresome friend Brian Callahan and I launched this magazine on April 15, 1998 under the name Outside: Speculative & Dark Fiction. With our very first issue, we were fortunate to obtain fine fiction from excellent authors, and we continued to publish enjoyable genre fiction. We were one of the first sites on line to publish serialized novels ("Neon Blue" and "Heartbreaker," 1996-97).

Of inestimable value has been the wonderful support from two pillars of fortitude, A. L. "Al" Sirois and John Kenneth Muir. Al Sirois, who has been one of my best friends for over 30 years, helped us launch the first issue with two of his fine award-winning SF short stories, and he has regularly and faithfully contributed his reviews that match, in their professionalism, those in the finest magazines in the land. Equally professional and loyal has been John Kenneth Muir, our media critic, whose monthly reflections on the present and—most remarkably, for such amnesiac media—the history of film and television.

In 1999, we changed the name of the magazine to Deep Outside SFFH. We continued reading over 100 submissions a month, many of them from new and unknown authors, many from well-known authors including Andrew Vachss, Melanie Tem, Pat York, Dennis Latham, Joe Murphy, A. L. Sirois, Jak Koke, and too many more to name.

We came in at the start of the dot-com craze. Brian and I were active on the web in 1996, and we looked forward to the advent of web commerce. As early as spring 1996, we were publishing fiction to over 100 countries around the world from our websites The Haunted Village (sf/f/h) and Neon Blue Fiction (suspense). In those days, before affiliate programs and web wallets, we were giving our work away free, and it was a joyous adventure. We understood that the three top secrets of web commerce are traffic, traffic, and traffic (just as it is location, location, and location in the brick and mortar world), and we were puzzled what all the hot air was about in the investment world. Had anyone listened to us, we could have saved the world a trillion dollars or more in tulip-craze chump change, because we could have pointed out that business fundamentals do not change; we were cruising on the leading surf-curls of the digital age, but we were convinced the "new economy" was a silly pipe dream.

Oh well.

Or, Orwell?

Our scheme was a rather humble one. We wanted to provide "exciting fiction on the web for avid readers," and we've been doing that for a long time. We wanted to keep it small and humble, remembering the old adage that "good things come in small packages," and that has been the key to our longevity.

Now it's time to let go of the dot-com craze, the world before 9-11, the previous millennium, and a whole lot of exciting but lost times. Brian has decided to move on to other things in life, having more than done his literary duty as publisher, editor, webmaster, artist, and brilliant presence in many ways. Brian remains a good friend, trusted advisor, and consultant on all things webbish and sf/f/h.

HELLO. The magazine henceforth changes names and ownership, but continues to carry the same torch with the same credentials and the same birthright. The new name is Far Sector SFFH and I shall be the culprit responsible for monthly bringing to your attention, dear reader, stories that you cannot afford to miss.

As the world has changed, so will a few of the background particulars, but I'll continue the solid traditions we have established as a team. John Kenneth Muir and A. L. Sirois have expressed their enthusiasm to continue sending articles, and Brian has assured me of his technical, advisory support. Maybe, over time, this publication will attract one or two more cometary talents of their stature—our readers will be fortunate if this is so.

As I mentioned a moment ago, Brian and I had a humble goal, in the midst of all that tulip kvetching: to survive as publishers. To that end, we kept our means simple. We published one short story a month.

As Brian pointed out to me a few weeks ago, we've had a darned good run—few magazines last nearly five years, as this one has, and I hope to prolong its lifetime for a good many years to come.

Details for Far Sector SFFH will be posted shortly on its new website ( which should be active sometime in November/December 2002. The transition will be fairly seamless, and we can look forward to this magazine's five-year anniversary in April 2003.

E-BOOKS. Ah yes. Like the dot-com craze, this is easily the most misunderstood earthquake that has not quite yet rocked the world, but its rumblings are evident to those of us who share the belief that the print medium is breathing its last. At this juncture, I feel a brief revisitation of the future would be appropriate. In the early days of this magazine, I used to write a monthly column that frequently hailed the arrival of this new technology. As early as our inaugural issue, I was declaiming the benefits of a coming e-book technology. In October 1999 I wrote:

To begin with, realize that the PC and its variants are borrowings of older technology. Those cars you see with names like Landau, Brougham, etc? Their names are all borrowed from 19th Century horse-and-carriage types [named after their cities of manufacture, just as cars like the Pontiac and the Cadillac are named in the same way], and indeed the first cars were built as if horses would tow them. Likewise, the first steam powered boats were built with masts for sails. Putting it very simplistically, the personal computer sitting before you (unless you're a step further along with a laptop LCD screen) has borrowed the tube from the television set, the keyboard from a typewriter, the memory matrix of a tape recorder or variant, and so on.

Whither next? I've long supported the notion that we'll move to network computers (NC's) where you no longer have to be the system administrator of your own toy system. That's like in the first days of automobiles, before Henry Ford standardized parts manufacture for the industry-if you broke an axle, you shlepped it to your village blacksmith, who made you a new one from molten steel while you waited with blackened face. The theory on the NC says that the technology gets pushed to the other side of the wall and you can concentrate on being a user, not a toy admin guy or gal. I think I might quote myself on the advance of technology: "When was the last time you lay awake all night worrying about how to configure your telephone?" Point being that telephones are no longer new, but are old appliances we take for granted.

Which brings me to this point: everyone's talking about the departure of the computer and the arrival of the appliance.

Look for a world soon in which info will be a utility, like gas or electricity or water. A big info hose will run to your home, bringing what used to be radio, TV, internet, fax, telephone-you name it-if it's info, it comes through the hose (or, in rural areas, by satellite).

Now let's look in your home. No PC or Mac in sight. If you look closely, you'll see the muted glow of dozens of tiny red signal lights indicating power is up and info is at your beck and call.

You want to take a call? Walk around and talk-the walls will talk back to you, bringing your mother in law's voice, your son's call from college, your bill collector's persuasive discussion about your recent problem with the info bill.

Want to watch TV? Skip to the next item.

You want to see a movie or the news or 16 ballgames simultaneously. The info wall is waiting to be turned on (mentioned long ago in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and other works). You'll see The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy or Larry King or R2D2 in to-code 8 foot high format. Since the walls will be covered with display-sensitive wallpaper, you can actually go to the bathroom and have the movie you're watching follow you around the house. So, the info wall is not a blob sitting on your living room floor like those erstwhile tvs, but a data allocation. How will they do that? It's called electronic ink, and it's basically a matter of telling the pixels in your wall what color they should be. The first exemplars of this technology will soon be out of the lab and in your local store.

Want to read a book? That's the logical sequitur from the previous paragraph. The true e-book will find its own ergonomic logic. It will probably be a lot more like a paperback than the current crop of hand held devices. I predict a cheap lightweight plastic gadget (same as I wrote in April 1998) whose "page" will look so much like a paper and ink page that you'll want to scratch it to make sure it isn't paper. And, as I wrote back then, the full tsunami of transition will hit when school boards realize they can buy one ruggedized book per pupil to last from K through college, rather than buy dozens of books each year. Although e-books will have some ecological impact, I predict that should be net positive, since it will eliminate the need for paper, ink, and dead horses.

(May I also insert here my pitch that we stop using lumber to build homes? How stupid can we be? Let's let 1,000 year old trees stay alive. Let's use bamboo, which is more versatile, strong, durable, etc. Bamboo is just grass, actually, but it's used in many parts of the world even as scaffolding to build huge skyscrapers.)

Well, now the part I like best. Here's your desk a la 2019: You sit down and say "power." Your desk powers up. Its surface lights up with about the luminosity of a page in a paper and ink book in soft but distinct lighting. Your entire desk top is a virtual surface where you can drag squares of "paper" by the touch of your fingertip. You'll shuffle through your Pending folder without touching paper-just by speaking to the virtual stack of files. You'll write memos by speaking them to your desk's voice recognition; or, if you have a scratchy throat, you'll use a v-pen to write on the desktop and your desk's handwriting recognition will format the ASCII characters...[and so on]

I still believe, absolutely, that with the e-book we are in for a revolution so complete and powerful that it will change much of what we do and how we do it, not just in reading books, but in how we dress, how we build desks and houses, and how we live and move around. In my enthusiasm, I was a bit premature in predicting we'd be kissing print smeared on dead trees goodbye as early as today. However, in a column some months later (written in response to a Feb. 2001 special in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review section), I compared the arrival of the new e-book technology with the replacement of the horse by the automobile. It took about two generations (approx. 40 years) from the time Mr. Daimler stood in his barn polishing his new contraption until Henry Ford started mass producing his Model A wonder machines for the common man. Hitler was still using horses to pull his chariots into Russia in 1941, but Hitler was basically just a horse's ass. Yes, we've seen pictures in 2002 of Afghan fighters chasing down Taliban fanatics on horseback3but these are isolated examples in a metaphor that otherwise very nicely holds its water.

In my article (I'll post the link sometime soon here), I had a neighbor walking by and wondering what the contraption in Mr. Daimler's barn was. Mr. Daimler (we imagine) replied that it was a horseless carriage that would make horses obsolete as ways to commute to work or carry groceries home or actually do work. We have the neighbor saying things like "That's absurd!" and "It's unimaginable that horses will ever be obsolete, because they have been around for thousands of years and we love them and they simply cannot become obsolete because we've always had them and they are all we have ever known and [fill in similar brainless reasons why the future must not come]." The most comical touch of all is when the neighbor kindly and condescendingly allows that, although horses cannot possibly ever become obsolete, and certainly cannot and must not be replaced by some strange gadget, one might allow that this contraption could in fact be used to back the cart up to the horse's rear end and thus make life somehow easier.

So, what's the big deal about e-books anyway?

Brian Callahan suggested in 1998 that the revolution would happen in textbooks for schoolchildren. Much fuss has lately been made by the fact that horses—er, piles of book—tied to children's backs cause spinal injuries and other problem. Brian suggested that one day, when technology is just a few more steps out of the lab and onto the street, school boards everywhere will suddenly realize it's cheaper and better to provide a child with a one pound digital 'ruggedized' textbook about the size and shape of the familiar (trademarked) Etch-A-Sketch toy. Such a book will be capable of being updated with a simple data download. Since a single textbook today may cost up over $50, the economies of the digital version quickly become obvious. I believe this revolution in itself will sweep across publishing like a hurricane across a row of dominoes.

We have not seen the true e-book yet. That's one of the sources of confusion to those Luddites too heavily invested in the current awkward print model to let go. One hears choruses and howls of glee everytime it is revealed that readers are still riding horses—and that children are still lugging $100, twenty-pound tomes; and that people are still buying print books (because the e-book is not yet available, and many Luddites confuse e-books with POD books or even, simply, with print books purchased from an online catalog like Amazon). This whole mode of thinking is as pointless and absurd as the comments of Mr. Daimler's hypothetical neighbor. The true e-book, whose earliest antecedents are represented today by laboratory prototypes sometimes called "electronic ink" or "radio ink," will sweep not just the provincial publishing world, but our entire mode of living like a divine wind when it hits the streets.

This is good news for everyone. Books will be cheaper, searchable, portable, in every way more convenient. Digital, just in the humble beginnings of this on-line democracy where anyone can publish a web page, has already meant more authors can reach their readers than ever possible in the slash and burn world of the print industry—the simple fact is that while a goodly amount of less than stellar material is thus offered to the reader, that has always been the case. The reader now has more options to choose from, and there is less gratuitous censorship on the reader's behalf. Those readers who have been spoiled in the sense of being told what they like, and spoonfed, will scream, but hopefully eventually they'll stop sheepishly and say something like, "Oh, this what's meant by democracy?"

Lest there be a misunderstanding, let me clarify that I don't really see it as "us vs. them." I'm not going to take a position like the older editor I once asked about some technical matters regarding book pricing, and when the subject of e-books came up, she wrinkled her nose and said: "...not that I care, because I'll never read one." Horses are nice. I'm sorry, it's just time to giddy-up and go now, and we have cars to ride. That doesn't mean I didn't grow up loving the perfume of a fresh book, opened for the first time in a bookstore. Yes, I'm one of those people who will open a book like a bottle of fine perfume, close my eyes, and inhale its scent. I also happen to think illumined manuscripts are divinely beautiful—but, as the lady said, I'll never read one, much less own one (unless it's a digital version). I give the older way of doing things its full due. It has been a sluice of sorts, censoring us from unworthy authors who must never see the light of day (you see the tongue in my cheek? Shakespeare, nearly arrested and sent to jail? Dickens, the top investigative reporter of his day, a Geraldo despised by "his betters," who had to use his newspaper connections to serialize his books that no printer would touch; Joyce, who could only get into print in Italy where nobody could read his English; Lawrence, likewise; and so many more). In time, the market place will speak, and no amount of partisanship by myself or the Luddites or for that matter people who write stories on the bottoms of pie plates (it really happened!) will matter one damned whit. Save your bile, children of Ned.

I happen to also believe that print-on-demand is a Band-Aid (trademark) that will not survive the test of time. Print on demand is the metaphoric equivalent of creating a hybrid of two technological worlds that cannot mix anymore than can oil and water. POD is like a chimera with the front of a car and the rear end of a horse—I can readily see hapless tulip craze investors pouring millions of dollars into this zeppelinesque dead-end technology, whose purpose is, rather than to replace antiquated printing processes with digital ones, to bring the printing press into the bookstore—which is about like bringing the wagon to the horse's rear end rather than proudly riding the wagon away down the street and leaving the horse standing there. Please, save your billions of dollars. But then, nobody listens. They didn't when we were watching them burn money on the streets of New York just a few years ago on all sorts of brainless "emperor has no clothes" dot com scams.

I'll write more about these developments as Far Sector SFFH gets under way in late 2002. Transitioning as we are (and always will be) we are seasoned survivors of not just webyears, but web-generations. Time on the web makes the lifespans of dogs seem antediluvian. We've seen much hoopla and nonsense come and go. I'm still as enthused about the coming e-book revolution as ever. And you'll hear a lot more about it from me in the "pages" of Far Sector SFFH, along with the best fiction that comes my way on your behalf. Onward, and happy reading!


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