The OF Blog: wotmania closes its doors on the 31st; successor site, Read and Find Out, to open on the 30th

Saturday, August 29, 2009

wotmania closes its doors on the 31st; successor site, Read and Find Out, to open on the 30th

Eleven years is a long time for many people. A child can go from primary school to university in that span. Varsity athletes can find themselves waking up one future morning aching from injuries that occurred when they were 80 lbs. lighter and a whole lot less grayer. Eleven years can be the span of a marriage or the time between the last flush of youth and the beginning of old age.

For the internet world, eleven years is a near-eternity. Think back upon all those old Geocities freebie websites that opened up in the late 1990s. Remember those primitive layouts, funky fonts, and horrendous design choices? Viewing those things is similar to seeing a dinosaur walking casually down the street. And yet after nearly eleven years, one of those old sites (with the original site still preserved here), wotmania, is finally closing its doors sometime on Monday, August 31, 2009.

I have visited that site regularly since February 2000 and posted there since October 2000. I was asked to become a moderator and Administrator for the nascent Other Fantasy section (which gave its name to half of this blog) when it opened on October 22, 2001. I have seen and done a lot during my time there, learning valuable lessons about myself along the way. I've seen molehills rise to the size of mountains in the hearts and minds of many there, with some of those molehills taking on a sentimental value that words alone cannot express if one was not present to witness them. But I am not going to talk at length about the community aspect of that site. After all, choose any large internet forum and you'll find all sorts of relationships, some of them quite intimate in nature. Rather, I want to focus on the Other Fantasy section, as I add it to the the list of the Fallen (Napoleon and Steven Erikson's fantasy series being the other influence on this blog's name).

When I became an Admin back in October 2001, the Blogger/Wordpress/etc. blogging phenomenon had yet to take off. There were only a few authors who had begun pioneering the use of personal websites to promote their works. Promotion was oriented much more toward the newspapers and magazines, both genre and "mainstream" alike. And yet in 2001, there were a few forums that had begun to expand out of the 1990s Geocities/Tripod era. wotmania of course was one, as it and Dragonmount became the two largest fansites devoted to Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time fantasy series. I believe Westeros developed around this time and I believe SFF World became one of the earliest general fantasy/SF forums out there. But yet there was change going on under the surface of the discussions of what might happen in Volume X of Doorstopper Fantasy Y.

I was not the "typical fantasy fan" when I became an Admin in 2001. In fact, outside of Tolkien, I did not read any genre-marketed "fantasy" works on a systematic basis until 1997, when I read Jordan's series and thought it interesting enough that I would try using the newly-popular World Wide Web to find information about it. My reading interests back in my mid-20s were generally in reading the Modernists, the Southern Gothics, and a few so-called "postmodernist" writers like Pynchon. I enjoyed best stories that were atmospheric, well-written, with various thematic interpretations. If I had not taken my new job responsibilities seriously enough to investigate other sites that were off the beaten trail, I might have found myself abandoning this "fantasy stuff" within a year or two, as I did find myself quickly bored with the relatively simplistic narrative structures of the epic fantasy mode.

But in early 2002, I began hearing about the "Prime authors" and the "Nightshade boards." I heard about this enfant terrible writing columns on SF Site and Locus Online about the "Next Wave." A friend of mine and fellow wotmania Admin, Keith, began to urge that I investigate this China Miéville chap and this Jeff VanderMeer fellow. So I did. Loved them. From there, I began to hear whispers, far away from wotmania of the time, of this thing called "New Weird." The Zeitgeist was something else. It was the internet equivalent of being in Berkeley in 1967 or Seattle in 1991. And although the New Weird "movement" (I think "moment" would be more suitable) never rose to widespread commercial success (its core principles, if it can be said to have such, would always have a DIY ethic that makes popular embracing nigh impossible to occur), it certainly had a major influence on the new Other Fantasy section.

OF in 2002-2004 had a distinct identity. The New Weird brushing shoulders against the "traditional" fare, with some interesting new fantasies being released in Great Britain and Canada by the Canadian authors Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker beginning to infiltrate in. For perhaps the first time in publishing (and this was occurring in other places besides wotmania, mind you), global fan discussions of Author X and Author Y being available in Place A but not Place B began to lead to the use of that other internet force, Amazon and its international branches, to import books back and forth across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans (and maybe the Arctic?)

During this time, a few of us began discussing great plans, like a combination encyclopedia, review database, and interview depository, in a time before Wikipedia became big. Jokingly called the OF Fantasy Author Lexicon (OFFAL), this abortive project came to symbolize not just our ambitions, but also the first signs of the lapses that would lead to the eventual decline of OF and then the ending of wotmania itself. The spirit was strong, but the programmer(s) was/were weak. OF was, after all, the tertiary section of wotmania and while a lot of interesting discussions and, after January 2003, interviews were occurring with a huge range of authors, ultimately, the webmaster had no interest in putting forth the time to making this vision a reality (in all fairness, he was working on his Ph.D. then).

By August 2004, I had begun to become fed up with the delays, but I didn't want to voice my displeasure so frequently or so vocally, so I began this blog on August 25, 2004 in large part to give myself something to do. But due to going back to school and working a full-time job, this blog was mostly inactive until June 2007, while the OF section also began to falter due to the decrease in time that I and the other OF Admins could put into it.

But when I did have some time free up in June 2007, I began to see this blog as being the sort of "alternative" OF that I had wanted for years. Although I had done interviews and even received a few galley proofs back in 2003-2005, I never really thought of taking advantage of the possibilities that developing an editorially-independent blog could present. I again did the research, observed what worked and what didn't for the fledgling blogs out there and I worked to re-establish a "voice" in the larger community. At first, this Blog was limited more to the newer releases, but as I continued to discover older, less-promoted authors, I began to indulge in covering topics and books that interested myself more than it might others. The OF Blog, which originally was meant to be an OF team blog, had by default become virtually my personal blog, despite my original intentions for it.

Meanwhile, I almost totally neglected the OF section. I added the occasional interview and review, but all of those were just mirrors of what I had originally posted at this blog. I no longer helped set up and lead "book club" discussions. I rarely promoted new authors on OF. My fellow OF Admins went through a similar experience. One, Ken, had already established a blog, Neth Space, when he was asked to become an Admin during this time. Although he kept the discussions going for a while, at least in regards to new releases, the apathy/inertia was unfortunately too much to overcome.

If anything, the OF section and perhaps the wotmania site as a whole, should have been put out of its misery two years ago. This is as much an indictment on myself as it is on others, since I did help kill off the fun there by neglecting it in favor of this blog. Then again, perhaps it was just meant to be, as I certainly don't think I'd be as comfortable working within the confines of a fansite forum ever again. This blog certainly fits my temperament more than helping moderate/adding content to a book discussion website ever would.

But despite realizing this, it certainly was a numbing surprise of sorts when the webmaster announced seven months ago that wotmania would be closing at the end of August. There was that sense of betrayal, the sense that all that I and others had worked hard to do (from starting a general spec fic discussion message board to adding hundreds of quizzes and reviews, dozens of interviews, and eventually a few promotional contests arranged with publishers) was being taken away. Thankfully, this blog had been well-established by then and the few pre-2005 materials that I didn't have mirrored here, I was able to easily port in February and March.

However, it's not the same. That sense of ending, although in some ways a relief, also carried a bit of irritation with it. Yes, there was a fatal neglect across the board. Yes, more could have been done to preserve momentum. But there's always going to be conflict when one's work, shared as it might have been to some extent, is going to "disappear" and that the duty, onerous as it had become by 2007, of being an Admin/mod was now ending.

For some, the site meant more than discussing X or Y. For those who wanted the "community" aspects of wotmania to continue, some members decided to help fund a new server, with a new webmaster in charge of devising a layout that would resemble the old site while still adding innovations. Supposedly this new site (due to open Sunday as ReadandFindOut.com) will make a successor to the OF section the centerstone of the site. Supposedly, some of the spirit of OF would continue there. Apparently, some of the content that I and others created will be preserved there (I was explicitly asked if my personal interviews could be archived there; I said yes, with a bit of reluctance).

But it will not be the same. For starter's, I will not be participating in an administrative role, as I was not asked to be a part. Fair enough, since I would probably have declined due to my new responsibilities doing readings and selections for the Best American Fantasy anthology series, as well as the interviews I hope to continue to do for the Nebula Awards site and perhaps elsewhere. However, it would have been nice to have been asked. It certainly doesn't do wonders for the ego to discover that one's past accomplishments can mean so little to the new owners, although this emotion is more of a fleeting thought than anything that has consumed my thoughts over the past few weeks.

Will I participate in this new RAFO site? Right now, the answer is probably not, at least not in an active role like I had had at wotmania from 2000-2007. I'm like little Jackie in "Puff the Magic Dragon," as after a spell I have "grown up" and have "moved on." With some faint sadness and near-regret, but it was time to go forward and continue working on what I am now doing rather than trying to work in the past, thinking past thoughts. Still, it was fun when the scene was there, but this new site is not my scene. But for others, I think it will be. I do urge others to at least consider visiting/posting there, even if I won't be very active there. After all, there are still opportunities to discover new authors, learn about new trends, and perhaps the opportunity to learn things about one's self. Those things are better than just living off of the past, no?

So I guess this is farewell to wotmania and hello to...the real remnant of OF, or at least the alt-OF that could have been from 2002. But that alt-OF's final chapter won't be written for some time to come, so who's willing to stick it out and see what comes from our conversations here?

11 comments:

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Beautiful post that both illustrates the origins of your blog, its name and that bit of essence that makes it unique as well as acting a bit of a chronicle for a past era. I myself find it inspiring, since I see the natural cycle of things. One thing grows, evolves, reaches it zenith, touches so many people and then heads towards a descent, but in its wake so to say it awakens so many new beginnings and OF Blog of the Fallen is a fine personal legacy left to you from that site.

I haven't always agreed with your opinions, but your experience with this genre and this world that we book lovers share, I've always come to treasure and view as eye opening on many occassions. Fantasy and the speculative genres are vast, unending oceans and your guidance through the waters and discussions have always stirred me into a new course.

So metaphors and sentiment aside, what I am trying to say is, hopefully the alt-OF's final chapter doesn't come soon.

dacole said...

Wow. I am sad to hear you will not be joining us at the new site. Your love of intelligent fantasy I have always found interesting and you have turned me on to some authors I would never have read otherwise. I never would have slogged through Gabriel Marqueiz except for your recommendation and though it was not my favorite book I am glad I read it.

I am suprised that you came to fantasy thorugh "post modern" books. Usually as you know the readers of the more "literary" fiction don't ever come down to join us genre readers in the muck ;). Though I understand your opinons on the differences between the two now much better.

I took a similar route though I found fantasy earlier in my life (high school) and really never looked back. I tried to pick up a post modernist book the other day and couldn't get through ten pages (just to depressing).

I hope you do come and join us, if for no other reason than I want ot pick your brain on Gene Wolf some more!

Oh and as I haven't heard a no from you I am going to preserve your chapter by chapter parts of the gene wolf books.

machinery said...

vanin, dylanfanatic ... who were the other 2 who pissed me off there ?

Neth said...

well, it's sad that OF never became what it could have. It's sad that it sucked the enthusiasm from pretty much every admin who agreed to work there. and it's sad that it ended the way it did.

but oh well, life goes on.

Vanin said...

King maker, I'm flattered by the fact you still remember me...

Larry, as for not asking you to be a part of the new Team over at RAFO, please note that you've been expressing your disinterest with wotmania for months if not years. You've also mentioned on numerous occasions that you're not interested in working on new site. So, it's all just a consequence of your own words, my friend.

Other than that - I was on a long term hiatus, but I didn't realise I'd miss wotmania so much.

Larry said...

Harry,

Glad I was able to give you some insight into this blog's origins and why the old wotmania site has some meaning for several who didn't necessarily care about the "community" aspects.

Daniel,

I believe I said "mostly gone," meaning that I might post on a weekend every now and then, but it just wouldn't be the same. Now that I don't have the responsibilities of being a mod any longer, I don't feel the tug to stay. Besides, I was phasing myself out over the past two years; this will just hasten it by a tiny bit.

Glad that you understand where I'm coming from when I read/review books, as I've never really abandoned my postmodernist sentiments. Oh, and feel free to copy/steal that Wolfe walkthrough.

Ken,

In a way it's a mercy that it's gone, now that we can be free to have fun on a couple other forums and to develop our blogs without that millstone around our necks.

Maciek,

You're right of course. My past comments would certainly be a sign that I'd be a poor choice to ask to mod the new site, but sometimes that ego bit is just a bit peculiar, no? ;) But yes, it's funny what the end of something can do to someone. As I said in my final post there, sic transit gloria mundi. Amen. Nothing else would have been fitting, I think.

Anonymous said...

I just wondered who you were?

I seem to recall DF being larry, but that could just be bad memory and use of the name above!

So yeah. What was your s/n on wotmania?

Neth said...

I wouldn't say no if I was asked to be an admin over there, but I didn't reach out either. And I was quite public in my pessimistic belief on the RAFO's future. So, that didn't make me too many friends.

Though, I have been trying to help out now that it's open - I genuinely want to see it suceed. I've posted a few times and I'll try and help with the enthusiasm that the site currently has with all the old Comm Board people suddenly 'discovering' OF.

I've also been trying to contact the admins behind the scenes. I once again brought up the MB format issue, I'm not sure if they see the points I"m trying to make or not - but don't expect a new format anytime soon. I also reached out to Ben with a very informative post in one thread - I'm not sure he's even read it. But I gave him some advice on what he can do with the site if chooses and I offered to help introduce hime to a few people in the industry. He may or may not need that help.

kingofthenerds said...

I admit I was always a bit of lurker but I will certainly miss the site. My period of heavy WOT reading went hand-in-hand with frequent visits to Wotmania. The OF section in particular helped me branch out significantly in terms of what I read in fantasy.

Mielville, Erikson, Bakker are all authors I read based on recommendations in that forum and I'll be forever grateful for that.

Anyhoo, so long wotmania you will be missed.

-Mike, formerly known as the lurker Dragonsworn

Larry said...

Glad the OF section was of some help; shall be interesting to see if the successor section will be as valuable to people. Right now, I don't have plans to do more than make the occasional odd post before fading even more in the winter time when I begin reading all sorts of lit journals, genre mags, and similar short fiction sources for Latin American spec fic in English.

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