Thursday, March 13, 2008

Marketing Space to Science Fiction Fans

This might sound like a slam-dunk. After all, "sci-fi" fans are all into Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly, right? Well, yes and no.

I made the transition from SF fan to space advocate around 1997, when I attended a space advocacy convention--which is different from an SF conference in that it is smaller, more technical, and slightly more focused in its emphasis. An SF con encompasses anything from paranormal activities and UFOs to fantasy writing, costume designing, and hard science/engineering topics. A space advocacy conference is almost entirely the latter, with a little politics, philosophy, and networking thrown in. SF cons tend to have more businessmen and political types, somewhat fewer unemployed or fantasy-worshipping people. Not that space advocates don't suffer from their own fantasies, occasionally--they do. But to their credit, most space advocates want to see their visions happen a) in the real world and b) within their lifetimes.

I've talked to fellow SF fans who, while captivated by Trek or Galactica, have little to no interest in the actual space program or even "New Space." It is even possible to encounter individuals who are major fans of space-spanning epics filled with all variety of unusual settlements, but are, on a personal, voting level, against the notion of sending human beings to explore other worlds. "Why screw other planets when we've already screwed this one up so badly?" When I hear such comments, I grind my teeth to talc and try not to use foul language.

Screwed up the planet? Have they compared the state of the environment today to what it was in 1970? We've brought lakes back to life. Rivers in Ohio no longer burn. Compared to the former Iron Curtain nations, even with our higher petroleum intake, the nations of the free West are cleaner in air and water quality. And where did we get the brilliant idea to clean up this great globe of ours? By seeing it against the blackness of space from the perspective of human astronauts circling the Moon in Apollo 8. Why is that fact left out of their pamphleteering?

But I digress. The SF community tends to be--and here I stereotype based on personal experience and some of the reactions of fellow space advocates that matched my own--more "artsy," more inner- and fantasy-directed, less reality- and progress-related. The magical worlds of their favorite stories are simply that--magical. The notion of trying to bring about any of the space-minded utopias or solutions in the here-and-now seems to elude them. My "take" on this, from a marketing point of view, would be to appeal to their interest in "origin stories." How many favorite SF episodes from TV or movie chains revolve around the first time X happened or the first time X met Y? Well, we are at the beginning of the settlement of the solar system. I can ask my audience if they would like to participate in those opening chapters or let the drama pass without notice.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a science fiction writer. After my first advocacy convention, I wanted to be (if such a thing exists) a space marketing writer. I wanted to apply my talent forwriting toward my interest in space activities.

And yet I am going off to OmegaCon to reach back to my roots--my "people," if you will--in an effort to bring them to where I am now: an advocate for space exploration and settlement in the here and now. I might fail. I might get ignored. I might make an impact on one or two people. Whatever. I have to try. There are more SF fans than space advocates, so the effort is worthwhile. And if this trip does prove to be successful, maybe NASA will be more willing to send their own people to speak to them. Of course I'm not sure how I'll define "success," but escaping with my hide intact is setting the bar a little low. We shall see what we shall see. I might blog from my hotel room this weekend, I might have to wait until I get home. Stay tuned. I might even find some marketing answers that work.

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