Author Topic: Don't you guys be complaining this is not Scifi!  (Read 8466 times)

Andy C

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on: April 21, 2013, 12:07:17 PM
Hi all

I wanted to respond to a comment that came in the review from Nathan in the last episode. This is a general rather than episode point.

In the review Nathan says:

"Can we please stop the 'it wasn't science fiction' arguments the vast majority of Escape Pod stories are sci fi, so when a marginal one gets through who really cares? Is it that important to people that you be right to point out that this isn't science fiction. Who does it help, what does it accomplish? Just give it a rest."

Actually, I think anyone is quite within their rights for listeners to make a comment about the content and style of EP stories, BUT I'd say this with some caveats:

1. They do it respectfully - to the authors, the editors, the other readers
2. If possible they say why they think this is the case
3. They recognise that the editorial team are also within their rights to put whatever story they like up here, that is their decision
4. Sci fi is a pretty broad tent these days and we all have to get our heads around that
5. If you really don't like what the editorial team are putting out there then you, the listener, are able to simply walk away.


All that said, I'd like to address Nathan's admittedly rhetorical questions.

Who cares if a marginal story gets through? A: Some of your listeners do. That's why they post comments, and I think it's reasonable for them to do so - subject to the above. Maybe some people don't get what EP is trying to achieve. Perhaps at the start of one episode soon the EP crew could articulate what their vision is for Escpae Pod, What kind of stories they want to present. Then it's up to listeners to decide if they want this or not.

Who does it help? What does it accomplish?  A: What it accomplishes is what the forums as a whole accomplish - it allows people to say what they think, and that's a good thing so long as everyone plays nicely. Why shouldn't people be able to express their opinion on what is a relevant topic? The listeners should be able to say what they think, and the editorial team need to be able to hear what people have to say.

So I think my plea is that we have respectful debate, where the EP team are prepared to hear appropriately presented comments, and the listeners accept that EP has an editorial strategy and the editors have every right to pursue that strategy.

A








Fenrix

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Reply #1 on: April 21, 2013, 02:07:40 PM
I think a thread like this is a better place to discuss genre than in the individual story threads. When it starts we can just point over here and keep the discussion corralled.

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matweller

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Reply #2 on: April 21, 2013, 04:38:36 PM
TL;DR version: Stick to the facts, don't flex your internet muscles. Speak like you would if the author had asked your opinion and is sitting in front of you


FULL VERSION:
Let's be frank, though. I'm speaking in generalizations here, I don't have the spare time to fully research this, but I honestly cannot remember a story without a spaceship in the past year that didn't get the "not really sci-fi" or "not sci-fi enough" complaint from somebody. And half the stories that did have space ships got that old charmer, "this is not a sci-fi story, this is a story about people that happens to take place in a sci-fi environment."

Here's the deal: if it's on here, it was agreed by at least four people (author, slush reader, editor, producer) that it qualifies, and the fact is it's a subjective judgement call by nature, which only requires one vote in the whole universe to be true. Therefore, if you're going to fire out a subjective statement like "it's not sci-fi" you're already wrong: you were outvoted before you listened. If you wanted to say, "this is not the kind of sci-fi that I prefer," or "as somebody who only accepts sci-fi that's mired in techno-babble, this story was not to my liking," then those are factual statements worth voicing because enough of them creates a consensus worthy of an editor's attention. "This isn't sci-fi," is a confrontational statement that -- right or wrong -- will be read by the editor with the connotation that "you are obviously a fool because you failed to notice what I so brilliantly recognized with no effort." Sometimes how you frame a statement drastically changes the meaning. Learning this is the difference between using your opinion to shape an outcome in your favor, and just being some ranty dude.

The, "this is not a sci-fi story, this is a story about people that happens to take place in a sci-fi environment," argument always leaves me speechless. You could make that argument about all good stories in every genre, but at the end of the day, there's a reason why some people watch BSG and some watch West Wing. Setting isn't always the sole determining factor of genre, but it can often be a very big part. Similarly, themes are transcendent of genre. "Man's struggle to survive" is a theme that plays just as powerfully in a war, in the porn industry, on a football field, in a mob encounter, and in a leaky spacesuit to far away from help. Some themes may touch you more than others, but that doesn't make it less valid for a sci-fi story.

I don't want to squash conversation and critiques. All I ask is that we realize that the inherent goal of any critique is to suggest how something might be improved; it's the very essence of what makes a 'critique' not a 'rant.' And with that in mind, let's remember that we are stating opinions and that those opinions will likely be read by the author, the narrator, and maybe the editor. Therefore, if we want to make critiques and not just empty rants, we should approach from a position of humility and avoid being unnecessarily oppositional and combative.



eytanz

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Reply #3 on: April 21, 2013, 05:36:55 PM
I'm going to break down my opinion here into bullet points, since there are several aspects to this:

1. As both a forum member and a moderator, I think it is very important that all members feel welcome to express their personal experiences with stories, as long as they do so in a civil manner. As people who feel like wading through my posting history will no doubt be able to confirm, if I listened to a story and it did not feel like SF to me, I have pointed that out. I have no plans to ever deny anyone else the opportunity to do so.

2. However, there is a big difference between saying "This story did not meet my definitions of SF" and saying "this was not SF", just like there's a big difference between saying that "I did not enjoy this story" and saying "this story was terrible". Expressing one's experience and reaction to a story framed as a subjective viewpoint is a valuable contribution to a discussion and something that is of interest to the people involved with the podcasts. Expressing one's experience and reactions as if they were universal truths shuts down conversation and does not give the podcast editors any way to use your feedback.

3. Both Steve Eley and Mur Lafferty, in their days of editing the podcast, have stated that just because Podcastle and Pseudopod exist, that will not stop them from running non-SF stories when they wish to. Norm has yet to say anything overtly on this (or really, any) topic, but I don't think he plans to differ from his predecessors in this regard. If you sign up to any sort of edited fiction publication, be it a podcast or a website or a magazine, you are signing up to the vision of the editor. Unless you are the editor, you have to accept that sometimes their decisions won't be the same as yours. If their decisions often aren't the same as yours, then maybe it's time to abandon this particular editor's work. Insisting that the editor always make the same choices you would have makes no sense and will not get you anywhere.

4. That said, there is a place for feedback on editorial policies as well. But it's important to realize that feedback on editorial policy is not the same as feedback on an episode, and just because an episode is an example of an editorial policy you dislike (for example, because it is not SF enough), pointing that out is still arguing about editorial policy, not about the episode. I'm not going to get into this in depth because I've posted on this recently in a different thread, but as a moderator, I will intervene if I feel an episode's thread is getting dominated by general editorial critique.

5. Sometimes, interesting criticism becomes less interesting because it is framed as a genre argument. Take Mat's example above: "this is not a sci-fi story, this is a story about people that happens to take place in a sci-fi environment" - that's a rather pointless thing to say - as I said above, it doesn't really give anyone anything to work with. Compare this to "the story's setting is not really related to its themes, and the two distract attention from each other". That is something substantial to say about the writing of the story, and is a basis for a discussion. It could be what the first statement was trying to say, or maybe not, but it's definitely a lot more interesting.

6. As a summary, I disagree with Mat's assertion that the inherent goal of a critique is to suggest how something be improved. The inherent goal of a critique is to exchange opinion and discussion of what a work of art's effect was on its audience. This may lead to something being improved, or not, but critique is inherently part of a discussion. The discussions on these forums aren't always perfect, but they're at their best when people post not just because they want to state teir view as strongly as they can, but when they're both open to being exposed to other views (which doesn't mean that they'll be convinced, but that does mean they'll take them seriously), and are willing to state their own views in a way that encourages discussions rather than attempts to win some sort of non-existent competition.



Andy C

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Reply #4 on: April 21, 2013, 07:05:13 PM
Thanks guys, some quick responses

 - Obviously I'm happy for this post to sit where ever you guys think is best on the forums
 
- I accept the distinction between saying things like "This is not scifi" or "this is scifi" on the one hand and "for me this story didn't fall in to the kind of genre I prefer" (for example) on the other, I guess that's why I talked about people being respectful and trying to argue their point in a coherent manner. It tru that simply saying "it's not scifi" is like saying "I don't like it therefore for that reason alone it's rubbish" -  which is patently wrong.

- I guess for me it's about a partnership between EP and those who comment. Those of us who listen and form opinions should be able to make comments, but with that privilege (on refelection it's not a 'right' to post comments) comes some responsibility; to be courteous, to argue coherently, and to be as straightforward within that as possible.

- As eytanz says, people should feel welcome to express personal opinions, if that welcome is withdrawn I think we'll all be the poorer for it.

And finally, I'd like to show some gtratitude as well - so  'thank you' to all you EP workers who bring us this podcast. We appreciate it. ;)








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Reply #5 on: April 21, 2013, 08:12:50 PM
A further point:

Although I freely admit I agree with them, those are fellow listener Gamercow's rhetorical questions, not mine, and a request to not discuss a fruitless topic is not the same as a prohibition, insinuations that contrary opinions will somehow be banned in the future notwithstanding.  Thanks for playing, though.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2013, 08:25:47 PM by Scattercat »



eytanz

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Reply #6 on: April 21, 2013, 10:00:05 PM
- As eytanz says, people should feel welcome to express personal opinions, if that welcome is withdrawn I think we'll all be the poorer for it.

I should make it very clear that there are no plans to change any policies here or tell people to shut up. As a general rule, most people posting in these forums understand what's appropriate, and while there's an occasional slip here and there, that's natural, and most posters are quite gracious when I need to moderate something.

The "is it SF" is a slightly problematic topic because it has to do with people's expectations, but it's been a topic that has been coming up again and again in EP episode feedback since before these forums were established, and it's not going to go away anytime soon. It flared up a bit in a recent thread which is why it made its way into the feedback segment, but there really is no need to read too much into that.

(That said, and speaking of posting in a polite tone, it's also wise to perhaps not speak for more than oneself when posting about how to behave on the forums, too. That, too, is a domain in which feedback and opinions are quite welcome, but at the same time, unless one is a forum moderator, it's best to leave the actual moderating of the conversation to the people who are).



olivaw

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Reply #7 on: April 22, 2013, 12:46:04 PM
I can see how 'is it sci-fi' can easily turn into a dull reiteration of the same discussion without giving any fresh insights into the story in question.

That said, if there is to be discussion about the opinions raised in the forum, rather than just bald assertions, then genre expectation is bound to play a part of that discussion.
For example, if somebody raises an objection about hard physics in relation to Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, then it's relevant to discuss exactly what kind of SF (or non-SF) the story is and what kind of scientific detail we expect in it, versus if someone raises a similar objection in relation to 2001: a Space Odyssey.
But I'm sure everyone here has enough exposure to different styles of SF and near-SF to recognise such subtleties quickly without requiring pages of analysis.

And there are a number of stories where working out whether it is SF or fantasy (or other) is a major part of the fun.



Scattercat

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Reply #8 on: April 22, 2013, 05:42:31 PM
Indeed.  What we (the editorial "we") are objecting to is the people who pop in, announce "This isn't science fiction!" and leave that as the sum total of their observations.  As you note, discussion of what genre expectations a story brings with it and how that impacts a reader can definitely be relevant to a story thread; announcing what constitutes science fiction or doesn't is often irrelevant at best.  A better approach might be to aim the question more squarely at the stories.  ("What does it do to this story to position it as science fiction instead of fantasy/horror?  How would it change if you looked through another lens or another set of expectations?")



Scatcatpdx

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Reply #9 on: April 24, 2013, 04:28:20 AM
I am guilty of blurting out "this is not science fiction  mostly I get into twitter mode.. Keeping my post short instead of  explaining in a reasonable argument why the story is not science fiction. Trixie and the Pandas of Dread is case in point  It interesting  take on mythology but about  as science fiction as  a kosher pork sandwich. The story is a modern take of Greek and Roman  Mythology. Do I need to say more? Is that not relevant to my criticism  of the story?
Where I start having serious problems with a podcast  is when we object and  we get response "I ran the story berceuse I like it tough" attitude . Then my impression of the editor is one  being  arrogant prick. Now I would not say this out loud on any forum but it dose affect me to when I lose interest in the podcast very fast. I am a bit hard and unforgiving customer  and that's my story and I am sting to it.  
« Last Edit: April 24, 2013, 06:16:14 PM by Scatcatpdx »



matweller

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Reply #10 on: April 24, 2013, 01:44:01 PM
I am guilty of blurting out "this is not science fiction  mostly I get into twitter mode.. Keeping my post shot instead of  explaining in a reasonable argument why the story is not science fiction. Trixie and the Pandas of Dread is case in point  It interesting  take on mythology but about  as science fiction as  a kosher pork sandwich. The story is a modern take of Greek and Roman  Mythology. Do I need to say more? Is that not relevant to my criticism  of the story?
Where I start having serious problems with a podcast  is when we object and  we get response "I ran the story berceuse I like it tough" attitude . Then my impression of the editor is one  being  arrogant prick. Now I would not say this out loud on any forum but it dose affect me to when I lose interest in the podcast very fast. I am a bit hard and unforgiving customer  and that's my story and I am sting to it.   

I like to keep my post short too. You will often see me check in just enough to say, "I really liked this one," and then bail because I don't want to influence other listeners and because my enjoyment of something is rarely as intellectual as many of our listeners. I do like to register a thumbs up to encourage the editorial direction, but I don't need to say a lot else. If I don't care for a story, I generally don't say anything, again, so as not to sway other listeners in their enjoyment.

I get your opinion from your sentence fragment on "Trixie...", you weren't the only one to express it. But the fact is the computer driven godship was a sci-fi element. A society where certain people are given powers based on their rising through a religion's ranks so that they may be the techno-powered police is VERY sci-fi and not even uncommon. In fact, Cory Doctorow has built his career on similar stories and he's considered one of the foremost voices in cyberpunk sci-fi. I'm not saying your opinion is invalid for you, but if you're unwilling to acknowledge that someone else might have grounds to feel otherwise, then this may not be the place for you.

And lest we forget, in ancient times, science, myth and religion were all intertwined. Myths were religious stories, often to explain their understanding of science. Therefore, arguably myth IS sci-fi.

I don't think you'll ever get an out of hand rejection from an editor here on the forum. Norm rarely comments on the forum and Mur rarely ever read the forum because the quick, empty negative comments were hard to bear as they stacked up week-to-week. 95% of the time, all any of us do is take a deep breath and realize that a handful of negative comments are not even a recognizable percentage of all of the downloads we get, so somebody must have liked it.

Personally, I got involved this time around because it was getting to be too much for me to take. The same people were making the same comments for the 6th month in a row, and you can't read that without wondering, "If they hate EVERY episode so much, why are they subscribed?"



Fenrix

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Reply #11 on: April 24, 2013, 02:01:00 PM
Another item worthy of discussion is Escape Pod may attract more submissions that stretch the boundaries of the sub-genre than the other two podcasts because they pay pro rates. A sale to EP counts as a pro sale, whereas a sale to PC or PP counts as semi-pro. Don't authors need a certain number of pro sales for certain special memberships or certifications or something?

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DKT

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Reply #12 on: April 24, 2013, 02:04:55 PM
Yeah, they need three pro-sales to become a full member of SFWA.

And indeed, we at PodCastle encourage authors to sell their stuff elsewhere first as we primarily do reprints. If it even has a glimmer of SF, we have even encouraged authors to try and sell it to Escape Pod instead, because they pay more. Though generally not in submissions.


Windup

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Reply #13 on: April 25, 2013, 03:28:46 AM
I think I understand the criticism "this is not a science fiction story, it's a story in a science-fictional setting," though I seldom share it. 

I most cases, I think it springs from a view of SF that's embodied in the Writer's Guidelines for Analog:
Quote
Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without the science and you'll see what I mean. No story!

I think it's a pretty widely-held view -- at least widely-held enough to keep Analog going, anyway.  And though I can't find a source for sure, I think Isaac Asimov used to distinguish between fantasy and science fiction based on the scientific plausibility of the story world, so it's not held exclusively by basement-dwelling fanatics, either. 

Myself, I find it an overly-limiting approach that throws out too many things that seem to "belong," but if you share it, stories like Star Wars definitely break the rules, and that bugs some people.  George Lucas or Disney might not listen, but Escape Pod might...

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matweller

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Reply #14 on: April 25, 2013, 12:03:45 PM
By that standard, you'd eliminate a huge chunk of sci fi including some Azimov and almost all Bradbury, not to mention anything pulp or space opera, which is what half of our audience wants all the time anyway.



Fenrix

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Reply #15 on: April 25, 2013, 04:45:13 PM
Take a Weird Tale like A Voyage to Sfanomoë by Clark Ashton Smith, which involves two Atlantean scientists flying in a nuclear powered space bubble to Venus and then turning into flowers. I would totally support Escape Pod if they produced a story like this.

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flintknapper

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Reply #16 on: April 25, 2013, 06:33:50 PM
I find the discussion of pro-rates a topic I was not aware of. It makes sense that people are going to push for Escape Pod if it counts as a "higher value" market. In archaeology we have the same issue, acceptance in peer-reviewed journals is of greater benifit than local historical society publications. Hence some people will push to have their article in some place that it perhaps does not best fit, because they are looking for the notoriety.

However, that being said, there has always been a huge amount of overlap between scifi, horror, and fantasy. So I do not have any issue with one podcast doing something a little outside of its usual comfort zone. I have heard stories on both podcastle and pseudopod, I would have labeled scifi. Escape pod can go into horror and fantasy from time to time.

I think most of what escape pod does is sci fi. They do it well. Just like Podcastle does fantasy well and Pseudopod does horror well.

Just think, all of this was brought on by a story about farting pandas.




Windup

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Reply #17 on: April 28, 2013, 07:37:55 PM
By that standard, you'd eliminate a huge chunk of sci fi including some Azimov and almost all Bradbury, not to mention anything pulp or space opera, which is what half of our audience wants all the time anyway.

Like I said, I regard the definition as way too limiting, but there are clearly lots of people who buy into it.

At least on the popular level, I think "science fiction" is as much a matter of trappings, setting and atmosphere as as anything.  I agree with Orson Scott Card's famous quote, "Science fiction has rivets, fantasy has trees." 

I could invent a scientific-sounding explanation for Tolkien's "straight path," seeing-stones or bioluminescent swords at least as plausible as anything used to justify warp drive, but because Tolkien opts for the language of magic, myth and religion, his works are seen as fantasy.  Conversely, I don't think anyone involved with the movies ever really cared how the technology of the Star Wars universe was supposed to work, or how plausible it was, as long as it looked good visually.  But, since the props were spaceships and ray-guns, and the explanations were (mostly) made with the language of science and technology, it's normally seen as science fiction. Though I note there is a group out there who holds out for the term "space fantasy."

I suspect the SF community may attract a disproportionate number of people to whom categories and classification are important, though I admit i can't back that up with any statistics.   ;)
« Last Edit: April 28, 2013, 07:42:02 PM by Windup »

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childoftyranny

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Reply #18 on: May 23, 2013, 12:48:44 AM
I think I'm a bit of an oddity in that I've never been a huge fan of genre labels, I do see a use for them but are also limiting when it seems like writing a good story ought to be the end goal over writing a good story that hits these bullet points. It might be even odder in the sense that folks with English degrees tended to be very into describing this or that sort of literature! It also helps that I quite enjoy fantasy, such that what I expect from a story is internal logic over rigorous external logic. I can enjoy both, but the latter isn't a requirement, which I know is a major reason, that something isn't science fiction isn't a question that often pops into my mind. Although, I have to say that if a story is trying to sell its science as rigorous it ought to be accurate for its time.

Mostly this seems to me to be the never-ending battle between hard and soft science fiction, with accuracy of science and procedure being of utmost important in the former, and science being more setting and style in the latter. I find those two concepts to be fairly useful. I offer up Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke as a fine example, I doubt if this story was done on Escape Pod we'd see any question of it being science fiction or not. Despite it being story with pretty much zero actual science too it, I suspect that you could write the same story taking place  underwater, and could make it clearly more fantasy-related, but the fact that its a flung space-ship, that people fly to on another space ship does seem like it would be enough to clearly demarcate its place. I discuss because I've see that very idea brought up over and over again that in some stories the science isn't really required. Thinking on it, beyond the initial book of the Mars Trilogy, which is mostly a colonization procedural you could prolly write that just as easily as something between a real country and then Atlantis and while you would lose some of the Mars imagery it could very similar.

  Trixie and the Pandas of Dread is case in point  It interesting take on mythology but about as science fiction as  a kosher pork sandwich. The story is a modern take of Greek and Roman  Mythology. Do I need to say more? Is that not relevant to my criticism  of the story?
Where I start having serious problems with a podcast  is when we object and  we get response "I ran the story berceuse I like it tough" attitude . Then my impression of the editor is one  being  arrogant prick. Now I would not say this out loud on any forum but it dose affect me to when I lose interest in the podcast very fast. I am a bit hard and unforgiving customer  and that's my story and I am sting to it.   

I know this comment was a while back, but I think its worth suggesting that perhaps as opposed to objecting it'd be more worthwhile starting a thread in this forum about what you would like to see in future selections, obviously the editors aren't really held to it, but that seems like a more constructive approach. As well as its been before, in this thread I think, that its more a criticism of story selection than a comment on the story itself, except perhaps if one wished to insinuate a very certain style that must be held to for something to be sci-fi, but I suspect that would be really tough to jam things into!

As well as I cannot help but think that the insinuation of godhood being based upon popularity and as I see it, social networking, certainly seems more sci-fi-ish than fantasy related, but I might argue that The Wiz by Rick Cook is sort of sci-fi, because of fascinating mash-up of spellcasting as computer programming, so its fair to say that I set fairly loose standards.





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Reply #19 on: May 24, 2013, 08:03:20 PM
childoftyranny  hit  my problem  on the head  my problem is story selection.  Then again I have the solution I stop listen to it .  I already  drop Clark's World  and  I do try to scan the stories her  before deciding to download them. Of course there is the person who thinks I should  listen to some sentimental fantasy pap because blah imagery, blah style, blah sentimentalism. I would respond I am big boy now who puts big boy pants and   can decide for myself what I like ort not. 

Perhaps we need another podcast, we play Science Fiction and only Science Fiction  and bun the sentimental fantasy pap with fire and send the remains to Escape Pod ;)



Windup

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Reply #20 on: May 25, 2013, 02:36:49 AM

Perhaps we need another podcast, we play Science Fiction and only Science Fiction ...


Well, there is nothing stopping you from doing that, as long as you're willing to put in the time, money and effort to make it work.   ::)

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SonofSpermcube

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Reply #21 on: May 27, 2013, 09:39:43 AM
Robots and/or ray guns pew pew pew!

If not, not sci-fi.