What am I doing in my retirement? (Or what was I doing over the past couple decades when not at work?) Updated November 2020:
Updated January 2021:
IN WORK FOR COMPLETION IN 2021: Expanding the Scope of the Science Fiction Awards Database
I’ve always been aware that lists of awards winners by themselves are only partially-accurate indicators of the all-time best works in the field, just as a list of Oscar winners only somewhat overlaps any consensus of the best movies of all time. And so from the beginning I’ve intended to supplement the awards site with additional data, from reference works, expert lists, critical anthologies, and so on, to deduce, as objectively as possible, ranked lists of best novels and best short fiction, and a timeline to portray these best works across the decades. And so sfadb.com has added, over the years, citations about books and records of anthology appearances of stories, to this end. As of August 2019, I had drafts of all the rankings and the timeline. Then I decided I needed more anthology data, and spent nearly a year greatly expanding the section about Anthologies (http://www.sfadb.com/Anthologies_Directory), so that it constitutes a semi-independent section of the site, a history of sf/f/h as reflected through anthologies. That complete in September 2020, I’m now updating the scoring algorithms to generate updated rankings.
IN WORK FOR COMPLETION IN 2021: Family History and Pics; Personal Narrative (Memoirs)
After my father died in 2001, I inherited the metal boxes of photographic slides he had taken, all the way back from the early 1950s, through my parents’ years in England (where I was born), through the years I grew up with my siblings until I was on my own, and beyond. Beginning a couple years ago I’ve been scanning selected slides, and am now scanning selected snapshots from my own photo albums, to preserve a family record and provide a narrative to my family’s life, and my own, for my siblings and interested nieces and nephews. I scanned dozens and dozens of pics over the summer of 2019, and posted some of them.
Then with the pandemic lockdown beginning March 2020 — and someone’s rhetorical Facebook query about what the first line of your memoirs would be — I expanded the scope of this project (as I always seem to do with my projects), to include narrative to provide contexts for the pictures. I wrote some 75,000 words of both family history and personal memoirs, and by October have posted much of it on the site here. Some polishing of the narratives, and some additional posting of photos, remains.
ONGOING INDEFINITELY: Science Fiction Awards Database (sfadb.com)
I’ve been a compiler of lists and indexes since I was a teenager, and in the mid-1990s I had reason to learn Microsoft Access (the database application that’s part of the Microsoft Office suite, on PCs thought not Macs) at my day job, and then parlayed that knowledge into Locus Online in 1997 (see last item on this page) and an initial online version of an index to science fiction awards on that site in 2000. (Before that I had built some elaborate macros in MS Word to combine documents for individual awards into an index by author, and proposed a book version of this to David Hartwell at Tor Books; he declined, citing his own version in work, though it was never published.) That initial awards index was not easy to maintain, and I would typically update it only once a year. A decade later I applied the object-oriented design principles I’d learned from my day job, and built a new set of Access databases, and designed a new site using php to enable clean URLs and inclusion files, and launched the independent site sfadb.com, which can now be updated in a few minutes every time a new set of award nominations or winners is announced. The core database currently has about 44,000 individual awards records.
ONGOING INDEFINITELY: Reading
Of course I’ve read books all my life, or as far as I can remember, but since my ‘retirement’ [I was laid off, albeit with full pension] in late 2012 I’ve become more focused. I’m not just reading ‘for fun’; I’m reading with a specific target in mind (next project). This entails rereading (or in a few cases reading for the first time) the ‘classics’ of the science fiction, and in parallel, reading for the first time (or in some cases rereading) substantial nonfiction books, about science, philosophy, and religion. (For 30+ years we’ve been a golden age of substantial books written for the lay reader about these subjects, and I’ve amassed several hundred of them.) My intention is always to post notes and reactions about these books here on this blog, though I’m usually somewhat behind. I’m organizing bibliographies of my reading notes on menu tabs at the top of the site.
In January 2020 at the invitation of the site’s editor, I began contributing biweekly essay-reviews to Black Gate, which have given me a public form and more exposure than this blog ever gets. To an extent, these essay-reviews allow me to rehearse some of the themes I have in mind for The Book (next topic).
ONGOING INDEFINITELY, but with a potential conclusion: The Book
My provisional project is to write a book that integrates my Provisional Conclusions (based on life experience and reading all those nonfiction books), with close readings of foundational science fiction works, both novels and short fiction, to examine how science fiction works to anticipate and explore humanity’s ideas about reality and the future. As I’ve mentioned in posts, in a way this blog is a set of notes and references to resources that would form a basis for such a book. On the one hand, anyone can write a book, and publish it themselves if by no other means; I would want a real publisher and real editorial guidance. On the other hand, my notion of such a book will take years of reading and rereading and notetaking (see Reading project above) before I could do it properly, and I worry I won’t live long enough to complete it.
Update November 2020: The title will be Unfolding Infinity: Science Fiction as a Prism in the Dawn. The parallel with a well-known book by Carl Sagan is quite deliberate.
COMPLETE, if involuntarily: Locus Online (locusmag.com)
I founded this website in 1997 as the online counterpart to Locus magazine, for which I had doing a monthly review column since 1988. I ran the website pretty much single-handedly for 20 years, in that I controlled the design and manually posted the vast majority of pages, from news to reviews to various listings and indexes, some generated from MS Access databases. (By 2009 or so I began implementing parts of the site in Blogger, then WordPress, to allow the magazine staff to post directly, especially news.) The awards site (above) began as a section of Locus Online. In 2017 the publisher of the magazine and her staff took control of the site, with a redesign in WordPress that I did not have any say in and that I don’t particularly like (too many differently sized graphics; too many places on the homepage where new content might appear). As of 2019 I still contribute a couple weekly listings, and I solicit and edit the reviews by Paul Di Filippo and Gary Westfahl. A history of my tenure, with a timeline and (at the bottom) images of what the site looked like over the years, is here: 20 Years of Locus Online.