Remembering Futurismic

Twenty years ago this month, Futurismic published its first story. Have two decades really passed since then? Those were heady days for the web, part of the era Cory Doctorow calls “the old good internet,” when social media still felt full of world-changing possibility and blogs weren’t only desirable, but financially viable. (For a while, Futurismic even paid for itself with advertising revenue, if you can believe that.) They also happened to be heady days for me as a writer; I had early sales under my belt, a modestly growing internet footprint as a short-fiction reviewer and message-board poster, and Futurismic was on the verge of propelling me to editorial greatness. I could practically smell my own relevance!

Well (sad trombone) we all know how that turned out. Still, Futurismic was a great project and a wonderful personal experience, and the twentieth anniversary of its fiction section is well worth celebrating. Founded by my brilliant Clarion ’94 buddy Jeremy Lyon, Futurismic began as a classic “look at this interesting shit” website in the vein of Boing Boing. Ironically, I was a terrible blogger back then, but Jeremy’s tireless enthusiasm built a following, and over the years a handful of other collaborators pitched in, until Jeremy ultimately handed over the reins to the most prolific of them, the great Paul Raven.

I contributed infrequently to the blog, but for seven or eight years I was deeply committed to Futurismic, especially once we opened for fiction submissions in January 2004. We were shooting for a distinct, ripped-from-the-headlines aesthetic in our fiction. At the time, I was full of piss and vinegar about how tired science fiction seemed compared to the future unfolding in real time, as the weirdness of Y2K came and went. As a writer, my vision had always outpaced my ability on that front, but I knew what I was looking for as a reader: energetic, inventive, post-cyberpunk-infused Mundane SF that kept up with the fast pace of reality. Saddled with an unsexy name, the Mundane movement never took off, but its commitment to staring hard truths in the face spoke to me. (And that was before we knew how bad things were going to get…!)

Anyway, my energy for that kind of SF carried me into the project as we opened for submissions. The aim was modest: to publish one story per month. As it turned out, workshop experiences and critique groups had not prepared me for the overwhelming reality of an actual slushpile. At its peak, I read and responded to five to ten submissions a day, and while the quality of the submissions was generally pretty decent, it was eye-opening to see what everyone pursuing this mad dream was up against, down in the trenches. The work was rewarding, but also exhausting. I would rate the stories on a five-point rubric, hold promising submissions for second reads, and then forward the top prospects to Jeremy or Paul (or both) for a second opinion. There were no first readers, mind you, so everything that came into our queue went past my eyes. We managed the volume by opening for submissions during short reading windows, so ultimately my workload wasn’t nearly as brutal as editors of more prominent, year-round markets have it. Still, I reviewed thousands of submissions over the life of the project, burning out my eyeballs in search of hidden gems.

Our first story was “The Factwhore Proposition” by Charles Coleman Finlay, which went up in March 2004, and for several years thereafter we published steadily, sustained by the town-crier enthusiasm of Jeremy and Paul, unexpected ad revenue, and a fair amount of traffic from Boing Boing (when the aforementioned Mr. Doctorow took notice of our fiction postings). Looking back, I’m stunned to see some of the authors we published during our seven-year stint, including early work by the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Silivia Moreno-Garcia, and Hannu Rajaniemi. It was exciting to spotlight so many great authors, both established luminaries and early-career pros.

Eventually, though, the reality of publishing caught up with Futurismic. By the time the last story, Lori Ann White’s “World in Progress,” went up in December 2010, we had suffered a handful of “outages,” including one extended hiatus and a site infrastructure meltdown that, if I’m not mistaken, wiped about a bunch of content. Money, enthusiasm, and time dried up and blew away, until finally the last, indefinite fiction hiatus became permanent. Briefly, Jeremy and I floated the idea of revisiting Futurismic as an original anthology, but at the time—circa the 2016 election, no less—it was one thing too many, and my heart just wasn’t in it.

While it’s unlikely, Futurismic, as a venue for new fiction, may yet live again someday. I would never say never! But if not, I can still look back on it proudly as an honest, hard-working effort to put out great fiction. It wasn’t the massive success I was hoping for, but it made a modest mark with its sixty-five stories, and was a fun  project to work on with truly wonderful collaborators. The site’s still out there, surely rife with linkrot, but some of the stories are still up. Here’s a happy twentieth anniversary for Futurismic fiction!

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