Book Smugglers Publishing have released the latest (and sadly, final) volume in the Speculative Fiction series. Speculative Fiction 2015 is edited by Foz Meadows and Mark Oshiro and collects over 50 online reviews and essays from the extended SF/F webbersphere. This year's cover art is provided by Kenda Montgomery.
The Speculative Fiction series began with Speculative Fiction 2012, which won a British Fantasy Award and was a Hugo finalist. Each year that followed, as was the intent, the collection changed editors - in order to present a new perspective on the year's 'best' discussion, and showcase the vastness of the online world (and, in some sense, the ridiculousness of trying to sandwich it between two covers). In 2015, the series publishers as well, moving from Jurassic London to Book Smugglers Publishing.
The end of the series is - as the Book Smugglers note - 'bittersweet'. But endings take different shapes and sizes. When Justin Landon and I began curating the first volume at the end of 2012, the relationship between 'traditional' and 'online' reviewing was far more strained. Bloggers, online platforms, even digital publications were still on the outside, looking in.
The first collection was explicitly produced to bridge this gap, to show the brilliant work that only existed online. There was a hint of irony to it, of course: the idea that online work had to be bound into book form in order to achieve respect, as if format equated quality. Especially since, as we noted in the first volume, the circulation of Speculative Fiction was far, far less than the readership of any of its component contributors.
Still,... it worked.
The non-fiction categories of genre awards are now almost entirely digital-first publications, to say nothing of the way that the Hugo Awards' Fanzine, Semi-Prozine and Fan Writer categories have shifted from ignoring digital channels to being dominated by them. There are now more online review venues and more paid online review venues for speculative fiction in all its forms. Online platforms like Tor.com are now recognised as the most effective way of getting short fiction and art in front of audiences - both readers and juries. And major awards, from Spectrum to the Arthur C Clarke Award, are now open to digital or online-only submissions.
It seems silly to think about now, but in 2012, the online 'scene' was an afterthought; considered second-class fandom and third-rate professionalism. In 2017, this is no longer the case. Speculative Fiction certainly wasn't the cause of the SF/F community eventually embracing the importance of the online world, but it helped make a little noise at the right time, and in the right places. Selfishly, I hope its role as an insolent little pioneer isn't forgotten.
Is there still a role for a 'best of online non-fiction'? Probably. There will always be readers - consumer and professional - that disproportionately respect the gravitas of the printed word. (Hell, I'm probably one of them.) But the tide has truly turned, and the Speculative Fiction series can end knowing that it helped make a difference.