Or: How Did We Get Here?

by Isaac Bell

I wasn’t aware of the danger when I sat down to dinner with friends at the end of our summer writing workshop. We were flush with the joy of studying our craft, honing our writing, and learning a great deal about ourselves and others. During our conversation, we bounced between many topics, including what makes the speculative fiction genres of science fiction and fantasy so appealing, the need for more serious scholarship about these kinds of literature, and how much fun we had during the workshop.

We, and many other writers, students, and teachers, were participating in the month-long celebration and examination of speculative fiction provided by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. The experience began with the Science Fiction Writers Workshop and Science Fiction and Fantasy Novel Writers Workshops conducted by Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson. They were following the tradition of SF Grandmaster James Gunn, who was one of the first scholars to study this field. In addition to the workshops, the CSSF offers the annual Campbell Conference, and then follows it up with the Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction.

These courses are great experiences. Everyone who takes part in them comes away enlightened, full of ideas, and ready to make use of our knowledge.

Someone at that dinner table talked about sharing this experience with others. Someone else (it may have been me, but I plead the Fifth) said something about how easy it would be to create a magazine or journal online, where we could publish stories, poems, and articles. Everyone present agreed that this would be a great idea. When we brought the idea to Chris, Kij, and Jim, they also thought the idea would be exciting.

The danger was that someone – who turned out to be me – would have to do the work. True, these days it is much easier to publish and share information, to communicate what we are thinking, but “easier” is not the same as “easy.” There has been a fair amount of heavy lifting going on here, from struggling with multiple layers of campus IT, two servers and versions of the site, Schrödinger’s volunteers, work, family, school, learning and relearning programs, and of course, making a great many decisions while always wondering how it was that we were in a position to make these decisions.

After all that, the end of this journey has been almost smooth and pleasant.

It’s safe to say there is no way I could have done this by myself.

Ben Cartwright, the previous Coordinator for the CSSF’s AboutSF educational outreach, was instrumental in providing us with an outline and infrastructure. He also put me into a position where I could get the resources to make this happen.

Jen Green not only helped sell the idea, but recruited volunteers, provided planning and moral support, and most of all, named our project.

Tepring Crocker has been invaluable, taking on all sorts of duties beyond the job of “Outreach Manager,” including some spot editing, helping with website set-up, volunteering her husband’s expertise, and making sure this project has been heard about by more than just those people sitting down to dinner a year ago, or our close friends.

Douglas McKinney has done an incredible job organizing our readers, sorting through our submissions, and editing several great short fiction and poetry pieces. He has literally done the work of two editors on his own, and I cannot thank him enough for it.

Kathy Kitts not only brought her academic expertise to bear, but also gave me great advice based on her considerable experience with journals and other grand projects. She made certain that our scholars gave us the highest quality articles. Mark Silcox made the perfect one-two punch with Kathy, with insightful comments and guidance for our scholars.

And of course, none of this would have happened without the inspiration and example of James Gunn, author, editor, and scholar. When we asked permission to use his name, it was because we hope to follow in his footsteps.

Thank you for joining our experiment, and enjoy!