Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Feature: Interview with SF Signal

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

One of the sites I frequently visit is
SF Signal, easily one of the best places to find cool SF&F news. Since I'd like to think I'm an unconventional, instead of focusing on writers, today we take a look at things from the side of fans and who better than the guys over at SF Signal?

Hi! Thanks for doing the interview. First off, for those who don't know what SF Signal is, can you tell us in your own words what SF Signal is all about?

SF Signal is a group blog devoted to science fiction and, to a lesser degree, other genre fiction like fantasy and horror.

JP: What John said! Although we have tended to focus more on written science fiction in the past, but are now adding a bit more about the visual side of SF (movies and TV).

When did SF Signal get started? How did you guys come up with the concept?

JP had the idea of jumping on the blog bandwagon. I wondered whether anyone really wanted to know details on our personal lives. He suggested a themed blog and, since we both like science fiction, SF Signal was born. Well, hatched would be more like it. The idea was that we could have a place to share sf-related things, kind of the web-based equivalent of shooting a "look at this" email.

JP: Yup, way back when (2003), there were very few science fiction blogs, so I thought it would be a cool idea to start one. Plus we'd be getting in on the whole 'blog' craze.

How many people are running the show? Can you tell us more about yourselves? What are your reading preferences (i.e. favorite authors/genres/publications, etc.)? Favorite show? Favorite game? Any other geek trivia?

Originally it was JP and myself, who remain the regular contributors, but others friends ("irregulars") have dropped in along the way. (Hi Tim, Scott, Kevin, Rich and Trent!)

My personal preferences for science fiction are books, TV and movies, in that order.

As far as reading, my tastes cover a whole range of sub-genres and writing styles - basically, whatever I'm in the mood for when it comes time to pick something to read. I also like to alternate between novels and short fiction. I like reading classic sf because it has a certain charm that is hard to find today; I think because we knew a lot less back then about the nature of space travel. It interests me to see how writers of the past envisioned their future, our now. That said, there are a whole lot of recent authors who write some great stuff.

TV shows I like watching include Doctor Who (and that I got my daughter hooked on it); Torchwood; Eureka; The Office; Law and Order:SVU. And don't we all miss Firefly?

Movies I like: Gattaca; Primer; The Fifth Element; Star Wars; Minority Report; The Day the Earth Stood Still; The Iron Giant; Independence Day...and many more.

JP: I'd like to read more than I've had time to do recently, but I'm always open to a good SF TV show or movie. I like them all equally.

I like to read a good, giant-sized space operas. Something you'd see from Hamilton or Reynolds, or even Banks, if you consider the Culture novels to be space opera. I'd say those three authors, plus David Brin, John Scalzi and others are some of my favorites. Because of the blog I've been able to read a bunch of newer authors who I also like: Tobias Buckell and Chris Roberson jump to mind.

As far as TV goes: LOST is currently the only TV show I absolutely have to watch the night it airs. Eureka is a close second. Everything else can wait till later. And the only non-SF TV I'll watch is anything involving the Astros, Texans or Rockets, in that order. I don't watch much TV in general though.

Movies I really like include: Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Ghostbusters, The Fifth Element, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and more. My DVD collection is mostly SF and Looney Tunes.

Hmm, favorite game is a tough one. I tend to burn out after playing a game for a long time, no matter how good. Recently, I thought Mass Effect ended up really good after a slow start. I think the first Halo was good from a story perspective even if it's nothing special from a shooter point of view. Oh, Bioshock was great. I tend to forget about older games which is why you don't see any here.

Why name the site SF Signal?

Because Supermodel Signal was too long. (Ba-dum crash!) If memory serves, we were trying to convey the idea of sharing information. Geeks that we are, we brought up an online visual thesaurus and clicked our way to "Signal".

JP: That's pretty much it.

How are you related to Gaming Signal? Are you guys starting a franchise?

Gaming Signal is an offshoot of SF Signal in that many of the folks involved in SF Signal (mostly the others) are really into gaming: board games, PC games, console games, card games. Kevin even owns his own game company (www.apegames.com).

JP: Currently, Gaming Signal is like the red-headed step child of SF Signal. We seem to post in spurts over there as opposed to a steady stream of stuff.

Have any of you thought about pursuing a career in writing?

Me? No. I could, except that I lack the perseverance, desire and skill. I'm not sure, but I think they are requirements or pursuing a career in writing. We're not aspiring writers, we're just fans who are enthusiastic about sf.

JP: Ha! No. I'm just a fan.

How is work divided among you? What's your "schedule" when it comes to posting on the site?

The primary mantra of the SF Signal, if we have one, is that it's supposed to be fun. Nobody is required to do anything. Feel like ranting about the crappy Flash Gordon pilot? Go for it! Want to write a review of the book you read? Great! We've settled into routines of course. The tidbits and tube bits posts stemmed from a desire to cut down on one-sentence posts, for example. Rather than not mention it at all, we still wanted to convey the information, so we collected them up into a batch post. We have no set schedule, yet we collectively post every day. That says less about schedule and more about how we find it enjoyable.

JP: I don't have a 'schedule' either, although I'll try to get my stuff posted during the week. I'll try to post something every weekday, but it doesn't always happen. Lately I've been adding stuff on Sundays so people can watch something if they want. As long as Hulu is free, that will continue.

How do you come up with the links on our site? Is it just Google-fu? Or maybe you guys are from the future...

I subscribe to an inordinately large number of RSS feeds that I troll daily. Yes, some of those are Google searches.

JP: It's all about RSS feed trollage.

What sites pique your interest? What are your favorite websites?

Really it's just a matter of personal taste. I write tidbits about the things I find interesting and so pass them along thinking others may as well. I know others see SF Signal as a news site, but really the things we post about match our interests. We don't post about every single news item out there, because that would be work, not fun.

JP: I read SF and tech/science related sites. Too many to list here really, although I tend to stay away from the Gawker sites as I find their tone to be tedious and juvenile, even if they are absurdly popular.

Can I ask how many hits you get per day? Are you "earning" from the site?

Yes, you may ask. :) We are just now dabbling with advertising.

JP: We've seen a slow but steady increase in readership over the years. If you care about Alexa, we've been averaging out at about 112,000 the past month or so. If you look at our feed reader numbers (on the left hand side of the blog), you'll see that's been going up too, with a bigger uptick recently. We've topped out at just over 1600 readers there. Of course, not everyone reads the blog via RSS feed. You'll see us dabble more with advertising in the near future as there are things we want to do that will cost us a bit of cash to accomplish.

What's your book review process like? Enjoying it?

In a nutshell, I choose a book that looks interesting (why read something that doesn't?), then I read it, and I try to write something that will help me remember what it was about and what I liked or disliked about it. A while back, I documented my thoughts on reviewing ( http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/002851.html) and they pretty much still hold up today. I suppose when I stop enjoying it, I'll stop doing it.

JP: Like John, I read what interests me. Apparently, what interests me also interests the Hugo voters. Go figure. Do I enjoy reviewing? I can't say that I really enjoy writing reviews as the free time I have to really polish one up is non-existent. Usually I have to make do with one or two passes over it.

Anything else you'd want to mention or plug?

Just that I'm very appreciative of the folks who take the time to comment at our site or link to us from theirs.

JP: Not really, other than : Thanks for reading, we get a kick out of all the comments and tell all your friends!

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