April is the cruellest month, said a poet who was uncannily aware that I'm undergoing one of those fearsome round-numbered birthdays in April 2013. It wouldn't be so grim if, as promised in all the best SF when I was a lad, the occasion were marked by getting a free jetpack pass.
Thanks to the joys of magazine publishing schedules I'm writing in December 2012. (Sudden memories of the AA Milne skit in which author and editor thrash out the details of a snow-covered, holly-wreathed, robin-infested story oozing with Yuletide sentimentality like an overstuffed mince pie. Editor's parting words: "Rotten weather for August, isn't it?") It's been a hell of a year.
I've already banged on about the online SF Encyclopedia, which hit 3.8 million words in November and seems on course for 3.9 million by the New Year. This has been driving me mad for so long that I only dimly remember what sanity was like. The trouble is that I've somehow painted myself into a corner of total power whereby all new and updated SFE entries are plugged into the master text by me, after which the chore of website uploading is passed to skilled technical staff consisting of, well, me. Nearly 1100 new entries in 2012; and either our target of monthly uploads was slightly exceeded or (according to the software record) the year had 207 months. Wibble, gibber.
On top of this general 24/7 insanity and my regular deadlines for Ansible, Interzone, SFX and the Sunday Telegraph, I inexplicably took on a new project just for the sake of variety. This was spawned by chatter at boozy convention parties, the kind of unreliable venue where someone may at any moment say "Wouldn't it be nice if so-and-so got reprinted?" and someone else, probably me, babbles: "Let's do it right here in the barn!"
So-and-so, this time around, is the late SF author Algis Budrys – whose classic novels like Rogue Moon are regularly reissued, but not his award-winning genre criticism. Now the lunatics were on his case. In our copious spare time and a padded cell, the team scanned and OCR-processed the hundreds of "Books" columns Budrys wrote for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and – with the blessing of his widow – tried to arrange it in book form using my secret skills of preparing print-on-demand editions.
Again we found ourselves facing Big Numbers (title of a serialized graphic novel that Alan Moore never actually finished). Good news was that the Budrys columns were still readable and witty – you see why he won the Pilgrim Award for life achievement in SF criticism. Less cheering was that they totted up to roughly the same total word count as The Lord of the Rings. Surely the SF-reading public won't stand for a nonfiction tome that long? We realized we'd have to do a Tolkien, or a Peter Jackson, and split it into three volumes....
The first instalment is out, to the delight of the two dozen people in the world who are still interested in these things. Long ago Algis Budrys collected his reviews for Galaxy magazine in a fat book titled Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf (treasured by the two dozen alongside other pioneer SF critical works like Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder and Kingsley Amis's New Maps of Hell). So with stunning lack of originality, our new follow-up of the collected F&SF magazine columns opens with Benchmarks Continued: Volume I. We did it! And the SF Encyclopedia passed 3.9 million words before Christmas.
Meanwhile, as some cynical non-poet said, there's one reliable way to make a small fortune in specialist POD publishing. Start with a large one.
David Langford is too gentlemanly even to dream of beginning to consider the possibility of a hard sell, but if you're interested see http://ae.ansible.co.uk.
Later: four million words in January.