Discussion: Dickens in Space
Is it just me, or is the serial approach to posting stories working really well? It’s a great way to keep a story in front of people’s eyes over several days, and posting what’s done is a strong encouragement to finish what’s not. It helps Oort Cloud by ensuring there’s something new to read every day. And it helps the author by calling close attention to each part of the story, which is the best way to find out if that part needs work.
Seeing this happen brings me to a (slightly non sequitur) prediction: the net will prove to be the best environment for the serial novel since the nineteenth century, when Dickens and his contemporaries wrote for Victorian magazines and newspapers.
Of course, the twentieth century had its serials too, though most of them were not as written text. Instead they thrived on radio, film, and—after the pilot episode of Hill Street Blues, if not before--on TV as well. True, there were also the pulp magazines, and it's hard to overstate their importance, especially to science fiction and fantasy. But the potential online audience dwarfs even the largest pulp print run, and all the installments of a story posted here will stay where readers can find them far longer than a month. I’d say the future looks bright for the online serial.
People are experimenting with online serials already. Before Overclocked became a book, Cory Doctorow read all its (great) stories in installments on his podcast, Craphound. And a few authors have posted chapters of unfinished novels (though in some cases those chapters have been taken down once the story is published).
Oort Cloud might be able to raise this to another level. A community of writers can offer a more sustained and varied experience than any one author. (Of course, those authors are more than welcome to join the fun.) And a community of readers can offer feedback or collaboration, recommend books for inspiration, and put stories in the context of discussions about science fiction and fantasy as genres, as engagements with ideas, and as ways of understanding the world we live in and the worlds we might live in some day.
More to the point, though, serials keep 'em coming back for more.