Editorial 2004

Concatenation background

The Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation aims to be a site of interest to those with an enthusiasm for both science and science fiction.

Concatenation began as part of the BECCON* 87 UK National SF Eastercon celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the first Science Fiction convention ever. BECCON 87 (Birmingham) marked this 50th in a number of ways, and the production of Concatenation was just one. It appeared as a freebie fanzine distributed mid-convention with articles and reviews on topics of interest to science fiction fans. This hotpotch mix bemused some, and even outraged two, but was received with the enthusiasm of many: the pick-up rate at subsequent UK natcons through to the mid-1990s quickly grew to, and stabilised at, in excess of 80% of convention attendance. Soon after our 1987 launch Concatenation started receiving SF books for review from publishers and invitations to attend press showings of new SF films. It even began to take advertising that after two editions covered our print costs. We were also pleasantly surprised when some SF notables offered to write articles. The following year the organisers of, as it was then, both the two UK Easter national SF conventions (the book and film Eastercon and the cinematic and TV SF Elydore) offered to transport copies to their respective events for distribution...(We wont go into the distribution confusion that was caused by the score of fans visiting one event the first half of Easter before moving on to the other convention: those were the days when the UK SF community was more united) And so we found ourselves working on subsequent editions.

Concatenation soon acquired somewhat of a mission. It always was intended to cover the principal topics that hard 'science fiction' fans are interested in, and this includes science and exotic science. In the late 1980s Concatenation team began to be a focus for the inclusion of a solid element of science within the UK Eastercon as well as helping to promote the event. And so we worked with Eastercon organisers (from the late 1980s through to the early 90s) helping identify possible programme participants, and a number of the team regularly gave presentations on aspects of astronomy, physics, biology and environmental science. We even provided scientific information to a few authors and assisted SF publishers. The team also ran the press liaison operation for a number of conventions including the UK-hosted 1984 and 1993 European SF conventions. We aimed to secure good coverage on radio and in the press from local to international level (and not "look-at-the-geeks" reportage SF has been known to attract). Meanwhile Eastercon organisers were beginning to take the science part of their events seriously and the 1990 and 1993 both had a solid body of science events, as independently did the 1995 UK hosted World SF Convention (Glasgow). So Concatenation's role here began to look superfluous and we stopped getting involved with helping organise UK national conventions.

Of course there is a cost to producing what became a typeset, glossy zine with a four-figure print run. A couple of profitable Eastercons kindly provided some initial sponsorship, as did a couple of other generous conventions, and publishers took out advertising. We were fortunate that this, together with the donation of SF fan resources (such as transport) enabled us to cover our costs. For this we remain most grateful. Though the first edition (1987) was not, it has to be said, of particularly high production standard, subsequent editions improved markedly. These, though, were pre-desktop publishing days without home computers, Microsoft, and where usually the typewriter ruled. We became inventive in ways to get typesetting done and for a few years the BBC home PC was the starting point for copy generation. (If you are aged under 35 you probably will not know of this IT landmark.)

The 1993 Eastercon cum Eurocon began a new chapter. The Iron Curtain that had separated the former communist Europe from the West had fallen in 1989/90. We had already received letters from former Iron Curtain fans who had read about Concatenation from reviews in other fanzines. Consequently we were already open to the idea of meeting Eastern Europeans so when a delegation of 50 from Romania turned up at the 1993 Eurocon the Concat' team simply had to do something. That 'something' was the basic decision to take a different Romanian out for dinner each of the convention's five nights as well as to invite half a dozen or so to the Concat' room party. Soon all 50 of the delegation had heard of the Concat' team and we were told (note the 'told'), "you will come to the Eurocon in Romania next year and bring your zine...!" And so we did, (complete it might be said with copious quantities of AIDS awareness material on behalf of a UK medical organization). And this began our relationship with Romania and Eastern Europe that continued to involve a joint annual project - be it eastern or western based - each year for the rest of the decade.

Having produced a Eurocon Award-winning edition (our second) of the zine in 1997, we found hard copy production getting a little too much for us. Three of us had lost half our Christmas break each year for the decade we produced the paper magazine and this was not something we wanted to continue. Furthermore computer technology made desktop publishing so easy that many others were producing publications as glossy as ours came to be if not, dare it be said, produced to a higher standard. It was time to bow out. Fortunately though, the internet came along enabling us to continue, albeit at a more leisurely pace.

These days we are more active on the European-wide SF scene than the UK, but members of the team can regularly be found at a number of British events as well as involved in a variety of Concatenation's esoteric SF-related projects. The Concat' site reflects this with its regular coverage of non-Anglophone SF, and a take on science that reflects the fact that many of the team members work in grass roots science and technology-related jobs. With this site you can delve into our perspective on science fiction and science. We hope you enjoy it. If you do, then don't be bashful, e-mail a link to a friend...

* BECCON stood for the 'Beccon EasterCon CONvention'. BECCON 87 was the fourth BECCON, the other three being biennial London region summer conventions where BECCON stood for the Basildon Essex Centre CONvention.

Welcome to the Concat' website. If you are new then check out 'What is Concat'. Meanwhile for everyone else we are pleased to report progress on a number of fronts since our last editorial in 2002, though saddened at the loss of our team member, Harry Nadler whom we greatly miss. Echoes of Harry's love for the genre, be it as book, film or TV, resonate in a number of our activities and we can only hope that we begin to do the man proud. Also since 2002 we have got into the habit of producing a thrice-yearly news column (spring, summer and autumn) covering both science and SF news. This has more or less brought the website's content in line with that of its old (pre-1998) print incarnation (minus photographs and artwork). We have further developed this with new regular listings of forthcoming SF and science books published in the UK. Rightly or wrongly British publishing dominates western European SF, much in the way that US SF publishing dominates that on the other side of the Atlantic, and there is currently a gap in the on-line advance notice of SF novels, and even popular science books, being published in the UK. Hopefully then we are providing a valued service enabling our regular visitors identify future titles they may wish to collect.

Of course, whether or not we are realising our aim of providing a valued service is not for us to say, but we are pleased to report that our quarterly (the average time between site updates) statistics for 'unique visits' have more than doubled since 2002 from 8,000 to 18,000 (and there are far more 'site hits' than that as a single visit usually entails viewing a number of pages with each view counting as a hit). We note that compared to a few SF sites, especially the commercial ones such as SciFi.com (380,000 registered subscribers), our site traffic is decidedly small beer (but then we don't have a European-wide TV channel behind us). Conversely there are over a million SF sites Worldwide and the little information available on site traffic suggests that we are attracting considerably more attention than many of these. In short, in boxing terms Concatenation is middle-weight contender. But will it always remain so? Well, currently this growth in Concat's site traffic continues to increase, so we will just have to just wait and see. Search 'science fact and fiction' (or permutations of) on Google and in early 2004 you will find that that search engine identifies some 800,000 sites, and Concat' was in the top three! Since 2000, we have been monitoring visitor statistics on a monthly basis. A third of site visits hit three of more pages, and in turn a third of these hit 5 or more pages. 5% (1 in 20) of all visitors hit seven or more pages, but equally over half of all visitors spend more than 20 minutes viewing the site (which is probably what you would anticipate the average person to spend dipping into a magazine and reading two or three articles at a sitting). We would expect few visitors to visit much of any website, so 5% hitting seven or more pages not an unreasonable rate, but for three quarters of visitors to spend more than 7 minutes on the site, and over two thirds of visitors to spend 20 minutes or more, is encouraging and suggests that the few pages hit per visit are properly read and not given a cursory glance. Given that the average duration of a visit is nearly two minutes we assume that the 19% who spend less than a minute are actually accidental visits (say due to someone checking the site by happenstance) and clock up just a few seconds. This reduces the number of genuine visits per quarter from 18,000 to just under 16,000. I perhaps should point out that Concat's core team do not spend much of their own time visiting the site, indeed I myself work off of a CD provided by our webmaster and not the web, while the web master works off line until it is time to load up and we note these dates when looking at the site statistics (so the team does not unduly inflate visit data).

Regarding where in the World visitors are based: 62% are in the UK, 30% US and Canada, 2% Australasia and 6% the rest of the World of which Central and Eastern Europe are the majority (not surprising for even though non-Anglophone we have engaged in a number of projects there).

Running a website is in itself a fairly sterile activity, not to mention a relentless hassle fitting it in on top of life's other distractions. Most of the Concat' team have their own SF interests separate to whatever we do together, but one thing has always marked Concat's history and that is that we have always evolved, moved on and undertaken special projects. For example, being the principal patron to the recent (2003) 2nd International Week of Science and SF in Timisoara was one such: a heady mix for a small group (c. 50) from several countries of cultural exchange, SF, socialising, and science, all wrapped up for many in a week's holiday. Another venture is the guide to Essential SF which (hopefully) will be published early in 2005. This has been an arduous project necessitating considerable research. After all what is 'essential' SF? John Clute's (excellent) encyclopaedia of SF is very much a catch-all and so an extremely worthy but a voluminous tome. Consequently it would be unreasonable for the average SF enthusiast of book collector to have on their shelves all of the many works he cites. Something more manageable, if not portable, is required. There are a number of SF guides currently on the market but either these are poorly researched or, if they have been compiled with some care, they tend to focus on one aspect of the genre, such as TV science fiction, and not cover the range from film and TV to books and even fandom. We wanted something that would recommend the works we should have in our book and video collections. Of course it would be completely presumptuous of us to define what is 'essential SF'; who are we to make that call? We considered SF academia as an information source but it is currently in its early stages of development and still finding its feet, so not surprisingly there is no clearly defined cache of work that academics generally accept as being 'essential'. We had to determine some way of benchmarking SF works for inclusion in the guide. In the end after much debate, a couple of false starts (including one start from scratch after completing what we thought was a third of the work) and numerous late night discussions, we took 'essential SF' to be the science fiction that SF enthusiasts rate, and not our personal choice or whatever 'they' tell us is good. And so we devised a set of criteria based on SF fan-voted awards, surveys and polls, but excluding non-fan or SF market criteria (such as whether a book won the Nebula or the Clarke Award as a smaller group determine these - though we frequently cite them en passant). The criteria we have come up with may not be perfect but they are the best pragmatic thing we could devise that systematically gave meaningful results. Anyway, you will soon be able to judge for yourself with Essential SF's publication by Porcupine Books. Coincidently, one of those associated with Concatenation's BECCON roots (see left hand column) was thinking along similar lines for Beccon Publications produced a list of SF Award winning books: The Beccon Publications Collector's Checklist: (Re)Commended SF (1997). The differences between this worthy list and our Essential SF (2005) include: that Beccon P's list is a list whereas Essential SF's is a list with cross-reference paragraph entries; that the Beccon P. list is solely for books whereas Essential SF includes films and TV series as well; and finally with Essential SF if an author's works has more or one entry then the author gets an entry citing their principal works and related film and TV work. Having said that, because the Beccon list contains things like panel-based award-winning works, it has a more comprehensive coverage of the genre solely in its written form post-WWII to 1997: it is in its own right a good resource. Conversely because our Essential SF also contains multiple award-winning author entries, it also features a supplementary list of worthy works. Clearly Essential SF is not, nor attempts to be, the last word in highlighting good SF. Different guides to the genre do do different things. Even with our systematic appraisal of the genre we fully recognise that the job we have done could be improved. For instance, one of us, Graham was most disconcerted to see that Essential SF omitted Cordwainer Smith! His works simply did not meet any of the criteria to which we were working. Notwithstanding these pitfalls, our work hopefully has some merit but we fully accept it is by no means definitive. Others (we are sure and sincerely hope) will in the future accept the task of doing a better job. Indeed there is a case for similar work being undertaken for fantasy, horror and other forms of speculative fiction.

Looking further to the future, there is some discussion, not to mention a few enquiries, as to whether or not to hold a 3rd International Week of Science and SF? Though hugely fun and with a number of participants engaged in activities arising out of their encounters over the Week, the core organisers (in three countries) have found it a bit of a strain running this project especially as so much depends on both a) the demand, and b) the active and dynamic involvement of all members of Timisoara's (and beyond of many key folk in Romania's) SF community. Apparently there were a few key players in Romanian SF noticed by the locals for their absence the last event. This may well be historical luggage from the pre-revolution days when all SF events in that country were controlled by the state, conversely the International Week's represent the country's first purely SF-enthusiast organised activity with a major international dimension, but without state or international agency support. The organisers will listen out to see if there is any demand for a third event, and those in Timisoara will ascertain the level of help they can expect. If, and only if, Concat' gets a clear signal for both a) and b) will we proceed to sponsor the organisers. Otherwise we will bow out while the going is good and consign the International Weeks to history as interesting interludes that have had their time. This is not churlishness on our part (or the organisers with whom there has been some preliminary discussion) but an acceptance of the fact that we (and the organisers) can only engage in a certain number of projects in any given time. There is simply no point in repeating effort, no matter past achievement, simply for the sake of it. Progression is the name of the game and surely this is not unexpected for anyone with an interest in exploring new horizons, brave new worlds, etc., as true SF folk are wont. If we do get encouragement (and feel confident) then we may well be looking at late 2006 or early 2007 for the 3rd Week, which coincidentally may well be when I next get the time to provide you good people with an editorial update. So if you have been involved in a past International Week and would like another, or are an intrigued regular site visitor, or reside in the Timisoara area then do send a message to our webmaster. We can then get back to you with information when a decision is made. If, though, you are bemused by all this talk of International Weeks then you can check out the past advance progress reports for 2003, the timetable for the 2003 event and even a photo album of the goings on.

On the personal front in 2004 sees a number of us on the team move house. In this age of an electronically networked planet, our being more dispersed is of little consequence. However, what it does do is remove Northumberland Heath, Kent, UK, as a focus of operations and as a hospitality provider for visiting overseas SF personalities. Having said this, team members are active in more ways than ever before, so Concat's manifestation in the real world is, again, simply evolving. And, as that other Kent resident, Chaz Darwin, no doubt says, there's no harm in a bit of evolution.

Finally, while the core team behind Concat' have a clear stake in the venture, it is important to acknowledge the past, present and (importantly in genre terms) future contributions of the others (the non-regulars if you will) on the team. Without these the print editions would have not been typeset, distributed and occasionally translated into three languages. Nor would the electronic incarnation receive so much news, promotion, and cyberspace development, or for that matter Concat's special projects get off the ground. Many thanks and much appreciation to all these good souls and, indeed, others (too many to mention) in the SF community in several countries who oil the wheels in a myriad of ways.

Jonathan Cowie

Tony Chester (Co-Editor)
Graham Connor (Co-Editor)
Alan Boakes (Webmaster).

And for others, who either currently give regular assistance or have made a major past contribution over a number of years, see the Concat' team page.

For previous editorials click on Editorial 2001 and Editorial 1997.

[Home page: Concatenation]

[Updated: 04.04.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]