An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today

As it’s relevant to yesterday’s discussion:

About a year ago Athena was wondering what she should read next, and wandered into my office to look at books. Since she was amenable to suggestion, I went ahead and offered her Starman Jones, which is one of my favorite of the Heinlein juveniles. She looked at it a bit skeptically (it was an old copy with typically 80s cover art), but she was willing to give it a try.

And she did — she read a few chapters, and then she put it aside and read something else. I asked her later why she abandoned the book, and she more or less shrugged and said it was okay but it really didn’t speak to her.

Which on one hand made me sad — big Heinlein fan here, and also a fan of that particular book — but on the other hand didn’t surprise me all that much. Athena reads a ton of books and almost all the books she reads have been published in the last decade. The good news is that books in the last decade have been pretty excellent (the occasionally 50 Shades sort of thing notwithstanding — which Athena read, unbeknownst to me, and found less than impressive), so she hasn’t suffered for a lack of good work to read.

The sad news for me, though, is that it means a lot of the books I loved when I was a kid, she doesn’t have much time for. It’s not just Starman Jones, to be clear. Over the years it’s also been the Dark is Rising series, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth and a whole other host of books I loved but she… didn’t. In their place were books by John Green, Scott Westerfeld, Suzanne Collins, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Neil Gaiman, and so on. All good books and authors… just not my books and authors. Which is, of course, fine. My daughter also has different music than I do, and different favorite movies and television, and we frequent different places online. It shouldn’t be entirely surprising that her tastes in books also moves away from my own.

It’s also to the point that culture is not static and that every generation wants their own music, books and movies. In the case of Starman Jones, the book was a little old-fashioned when I first got hold of it around 1980, 27 years after it was originally published. I gave it to my daughter to read sixty years after its publication date. Regardless of its charms as a book, that’s a steep uphill climb for any book. It’s not that the book can’t be gotten into. It’s just that nearly everything about it is several steps out of sync with my daughter’s world.

Do I see Athena ever reading Heinlein? It’s certainly possible, if she takes a special interest in science fiction and decides to work her way back from current authors. But I don’t really see him ever being one of her authors in the way he is one of my authors. And while extending out from a single example is always fraught with danger, I have to say I wouldn’t be surprised if Heinlein is today only very rarely a teen’s author like he was my author. I suspect that door is closing, if it’s not already closed entirely.

Well. We still have Shel Silverstein in common. I can work with that.


A Plea to Current and Future Worldcons, re: Announcing the Hugo Nominations

Dear Chairs and Committee members of Loncon 3 and all future Worldcons:

Could you please, please, please and for the love of all that is good and sweet in this world, stop announcing Hugo nominations on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter? Seriously, it’s absolutely idiotic really not a good idea.

Here’s why, from the point of view of someone who did marketing professionally and also worked professionally in journalism, and who is also an author and fan who wants to see the Hugo Awards get the media recognition they deserve (i.e., me):

Saturdays are a dead zone for publicity. News organizations are on skeleton crews. Blogs update sparsely if at all. No one reads newspapers, news sites, or watches cable news on Saturday because they’re sleeping in, are outdoors, or planning their Saturday night. Anything that happens on a Saturday is generally forgotten by Monday morning, when everyone goes back to work.

There is a reason why governments and corporations release all their bad news on Friday at 5pm — because they don’t want people to know about it. The only reason they don’t release it on Saturday is that even PR people are home on Saturday. Saturday is where news goes to die. Saturday is where you go when you want no one to know what you’re up to.

Mind you, that’s any Saturday. But of all the Saturdays in all of the calendar year, the very worst possible Saturday to announce anything is the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. Because it’s the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, that’s why — the Saturday sandwiched between two major religious holidays, which means the “weekend” that week starts on Thursday and Sunday’s news cycle is swamped by the most important Christian holiday of the year — Christmas is noisier for longer, but Easter is concentrated. If you’re the Pope, Easter Sunday is great for you, news wise. If you’re not the Pope, not. Certainly anything that happened the day before Easter is toast.

If I were a crooked politician who had been caught murdering kittens while masturbating to a picture of Joseph Stalin, then the day I would choose to have that news go out into the world would be the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. That is the only scenario on which that day is optimal for the release of information. Conversely, if I were a publicist with a client who wanted the world to know what they were doing, and the client said “Hey, I have a great idea! Let’s release the news of our biggest event on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter!” I would stare blankly at the client while I counted to ten in my head, followed by “Well, we could do that, but –”

Now, this is someone’s cue to jump in and note that the reason for announcing on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter is because it’s a nice little treat for all the fans who attend Easter weekend conventions. This is a poor reason, from the point of view of publicizing and marketing the awards. The fans at conventions are already pre-sold on the idea of the importance of the Hugo Awards and will be excited about (or, if they don’t like the slate that year, annoyed at) them and will talk about them at length no matter when the nominations are announced. That being the case, the goal should be to get the Hugos into the consciousness of the larger public. You won’t do that by releasing the information on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.

If the conventions were on any other weekend, I could possibly see the argument for releasing the information on Sunday — it wouldn’t be optimal but then at least the announcement would land in a cycle where the news would still be reasonably fresh for Monday (releasing news on a Saturday for a Sunday news cycle is not a great idea — remember that most news orgs and blogs are running skeleton staffs, and your usual contacts are probably at home). But there is no good day on the Easter weekend to release any announcement, and Saturday least of all.

That Worldcon organizers announce their premier bit of news for the benefit of only a handful of fans at the expense of harnessing the power of the press really does not make any sense at all; it’s putting the cart before the horse. Nor does it even serve the larger interest of the fans, other than most insular of them. To put it another way, if you gripe about how the Hugo doesn’t get enough attention but don’t see why releasing the news about the nominations on the Saturday of Easter weekend is problematic, you might be part of the problem.

Releasing the information on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter also makes it harder for nominees and their publishers/organizations to publicize the Hugo nominations they get. Yes, when the Hugo nominations are finally announced, nominees happily go to Twitter and squee about them and publishing house publicists do the same. But again — on a Saturday, when fewer people are looking, and on the deadest Saturday of the year. Then when the week starts, the authors and the PR people have to try to sell to the rest of the media a story that’s already two days old. It’s literally old news, which diminishes the native interest in the story and also, even if the media outlet takes a nibble, the amount of space they are willing to devote to the story.

Yes but what about io9 and Locus and the SF-oriented media online? They run it on Saturday when it happens! Yes they do, and I assure you that they wish they could announce that stuff during the week, when their readership is significantly higher and the story will get that much more play. Because, again, by the time the weekdays roll around, it’s old news. The only stories they have left to play during the week are the annoyed reactions by people who are unhappy with the nomination slate. Which is to say, releasing the nominations on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter all but guarantees that stories complaining about the Hugo Awards will get bigger play in the SF-oriented media than the actual nomination announcement itself. And that is no way to run a railroad.

If I were in charge of announcing the Hugo nominations, I would announce them 10am Eastern on the Tuesday before Easter. Tuesday is a fine day to announce things you want to see get play in the media because it gives news editors plenty of time to slot you in, it gives publicists plenty of time to make announcements and get on the horn to their media contacts, and it’s during the week when the whole rest of the world might be paying attention, along with the fans. And then the Easter weekend cons can still play with the news, with panels and possibly other special events. Everybody wins.

If for some reason I couldn’t do that Tuesday, I would release on (in order of desirability) Wednesday, Monday or Thursday. Under no circumstances would I release on Friday (a holiday) or Sunday (Easter, for God’s sake). I would lick a wall socket before I released the news on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.

So, in short: The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter is the worst possible time to announce the Hugos, is bad for the Hugos, and is bad for the nominees. Please stop doing it that way. Get the Hugos the attention they deserve as the pre-eminent award in science fiction and fantasy. That means announcing them beyond the small group of science fiction and fantasy fans attending conventions on Easter weekend.

Just, you know, consider it, please. It’s not too much to ask.

Update: 4:15pm: Toned down the opening graph because I might have been slightly unfair in the assessment.

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