Hugo season is upon us and nominations for the 2023 Hugo Awards have opened, so my Fanzine and Fancast Spotlight project continues as well. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here. And if you need more Hugo nomination inspiration, also check out my series of Non-Fiction Spotlights and Semiprozine Spotlights.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy reading and discussing vintage SFF, particularly lesser known works. And so today’s featured fancast is right up my alley.
Therefore, I am thrilled to welcome JM, Gretchen and Nate of Chrononauts to my blog today:
Tell us about your podcast or channel.
JM: Chrononauts is a podcast that delves into the history of science fiction literature, and seeks to discuss more obscure works in tandem with or in relation to more well-known stories and writers. In the beginning, I don’t think we had a very precise vision of what we wanted to do, besides: “Hey, let’s talk about some cool sci-fi books! And maybe we can proceed sort of chronologically through the genre’s history!” As time has gone on I think we’ve gotten a more firm handle on this, but also adopted a somewhat relaxed approach, so that while we are still, roughly speaking, moving forward chronologically, we are also taking many tangential side-steps, and are open to including newer works “out of sequence” as it were, particularly if they match up thematically with something from the past. Since I’ve always been into hunting down obscure treasures, I think one of my goals, from the beginning, was always to highlight things that were lesser-known, either because they simply didn’t get as much promotion or, in some cases, had no exposure in the English-speaking world.
We’re also just friends who like discussing books, and I think that comes through in our podcasts. Also, when I was at university in the early 2000s, I did take a science fiction class, and the professor took an interesting approach, wherein the first half of each class discussed some kind of scientific principle or development, and the second half dealt with stories that were connected to that concept. I thought this was really cool and interesting, and I think a part of me wanted to duplicate, although not too rigorously, that approach. So that’s why sometimes we’ll include a segment of history or science background before we get into discussing a particular work. I think it really helps sometimes to add some interesting and informative context to discussing fiction.
Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?
Chrononauts is JM, Gretchen and Nate, we’re three fans who are interested in science fiction history.
JM: I’ve been a science fiction fan for my entire life, really. I also have a background in English literature studies and went to work for the library for the blind producing books in alternate formats. Now I do work in information technology, but stories have always been one of my primary interests. I first got into the Doctor Who television series when I was ridiculously young, and not long after that, my father introduced me to “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, by Mark Twain, and you could say I was hooked. I don’t read only science fiction and some of my favourite books are not considered a part of this genre, but it’s one of my biggest interests; always has been, and in early 2020, I decided I wanted to finally get in on this podcasting thing. The basic idea was initially suggested by another friend, who in the end didn’t have the time to participate, but Nate, whom I’ve known for years, was a natural fit for this and I knew right away that I wanted to ask him to join. It was always in my mind that we should have three hosts, and in late 2021 we were finally able to bring that to fruition again, adding my friend Gretchen to the group.
Nate: My background is in academia (history of electrical technologies) and I’m approaching the podcast from more of an “English major” reading background, despite the fact that I haven’t taken an English class since high school. My favorite authors are Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Proust, Joyce, Balzac, Eliot, Fielding, E. Bronte, Woolf, etc., and while I’ve read some SF/F before starting the podcast, it hasn’t been a huge percentage of my reading habits, and as such a lot of the stuff we cover on the podcast I’m coming to for the first time. I’m a native English speaker, but would consider myself at B2 proficiency in Spanish and A2 proficiently in Russian, so I’ve done a number of amateur translations of stories in these languages for the podcast, and made some attempts at some in Italian, German and Catalan (to varying degrees of success).
Gretchen: I have a background in literature and academia as well; I’m currently working on a thesis for English and will be working on a master’s degree in English and information science by the coming fall. My taste in novels, like my taste in pretty much all media, is pretty eclectic, though I definitely have a deep fondness for science fiction. I’ve been a fan of sci-fi franchises such as Doctor Who and Star Trek since I was young, and started getting into the literature around middle school after reading some Bradbury and Douglas Adams, but there’s still a lot out there I haven’t read, so I’m grateful working on this podcast gives me such an opportunity to do so.
Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?
JM: Put very simply and briefly: We all love stories, and are all science fiction fans to varying degrees. I think that 2020 will be remembered as a time when, among other things, many peoples’ lives changed; I was certainly going through a very rough personal crisis, and I needed something to do to keep my mind occupied and stimulated. I thought: Why not explore this area of interest, so I can share knowledge, have a good time with friends, and learn things, too.
Gretchen: As JM mentioned, I became a member of the podcast after he invited me to join in late 2020. Since then, the podcast has given me a chance to enjoy and talk about many works of sci-fi I haven’t had a chance to read before. As a college student, I get assigned a good amount of readings, but the podcast provides me with other stories and books to read that I can have fun discussing with friends, and all, of course, without the stress of being graded.
Nate: At the start of the pandemic, JM approached me with the idea. My normal reading was in a bit of a slump as I did most of it on my daily commute via train, which had been disrupted when the world shut down, so a new project to work on was just the thing to rekindle the fire. I’m a librarian by day and love doing these in-depth research dives, so discovering an entirely new world to me filled with hundreds of cool sounding stories from the early days was an absolutely fantastic process, as was trying to organize them in a logical fashion. Doing the interlude music also got me back into composing (also to varying degrees of success).
What format do you use for your podcast or channel and why did you choose this format?
Nate: Our format took a while to arrive at. Honestly, our early episodes are a complete mess. We had no idea what we’re doing. It smooths out as we go, and I think now we’re happy with the current format. We decided to approach science fiction history chronologically in the beginning, so we started off with Lucian’s “A True Story” written in the second century AD, and went through various proto-science fiction works through the Enlightenment before we arrived at Mary Shelley in our second episode. In the latter half of the 19th century, a lot more stories that could fall under the SF umbrella were being published, so from roughly episode 5 forward, we started to focus on the origins of various themes and tropes that play out throughout the genre’s history. We’re a spoiler podcast, but we’ve structured our latest episodes to include non-spoiler discussion at the beginning of each segment, so someone who hasn’t read the work can get a feel for if they’d want to or not. We’ll often include in-depth biographical or technical history segments where we think it’s relevant for the material we’re discussing. We like this format as it allows us to cover a wide range of works, and play similar works off of one another, often pairing a popular work with an obscure one.
JM: It’s definitely a work in progress, but I think we have found a really good groove, now. The format has sort of developed over time.
Gretchen: As a new addition to the podcast, I wasn’t a member while some of the changes were occurring, but since joining, we added, as Nate mentioned, the non-spoiler section for our listeners, and we have also started dividing topics and numerous works related to them over longer spans of time, which has, I think, given us a better ability to cover individual stories more in-depth. It is possible there will be more changes in the future, but for now, the format seems to work quite well.
The fan categories at the Hugos were there at the very beginning, but they are also the categories which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines, fancasts and other fan projects are important?
Nate: The media interests of my formative years were largely dominated by underground music (metal, punk, noise), where fanzine culture and independent releases were very much a part of the landscape, allowing a community to exist separate from the big corporations. I think its important to have that grass-roots, ground up voice, where people can exercise their creativity in expressing their own interests on their own terms, which can often lend a unique, authentic air in contrast to the top-down approach to fandom that comes from big publishing companies.
JM: It may be cliché to say, but fans keep things alive and thriving. The science fiction fan community started out, pretty much, in the earliest of the SF-oriented pulp magazines, and it gave people an opportunity to share ideas and enthusiasms. Many of these fans also became writers, illustrators, or found some other way to get directly involved. Like Nate, I also have some experience with more underground music subcultures, and I got my first science fiction fanzine when I was eight years old, from the local Doctor Who club. Science fiction seems a particularly appropriate place for fandom and fan outlets to thrive, because it always, at its best, promotes some really passionate discussions and, being a form that’s “obsessed with ideas and speculations”, it makes sense that it’s from these kind of grass-roots community-based initiatives flourish and, in a way, lead the proverbial charge.
Gretchen: I agree with my co-hosts that fan content is important for keeping things thriving and fostering independent communities. As a person born after 2000, I’m acquainted with fandom in the digital age, and I have been and am a part of fan communities in online spaces that create their own projects and content based on the media they enjoy. This is part of a long history of fandom, springing in part from the science fiction community.
In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online and fancasts have sprung up. What do you think the future of fan media looks like?
Nate: The media criticism sphere of Youtube has really expanded in the last five years, and in addition to the fanzines, websites and podcasts, I would expect to see a lot more SF/F content in the video essay area in the future
JM: I imagine we’ll be seeing more and more audio and video content, probably on all sorts of platforms.
Gretchen: I, too, believe in an expansion of online fan media in both video and audio formats. Besides more of a shift to online fanzines, there will likely be increasing efforts to find and digitally archive previous projects.
The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?
Nate: Jess Nevins’ “The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana” is one of the essential reference works we’ve used, which has now been made available online. “What Mad Universe” is a podcast that covers similar historical stuff to us, but more broadly focused on “genre” media, rather than just science fiction. There’s an awesome Youtube channel called “Quinn’s Ideas” that has these amazing dramatic plot summaries of the Dune books with some incredible fanart.
JM: In addition to the things Nate mentioned, there are other terrific genre literature-oriented podcasts like The Elder Sign, Apocalist Book Club, The Paperback Warrior, Hugos There Podcast, and the Dickheads Podcast. I also enjoy movie podcasts like The Projection Booth and Sci-Fi On Screen.
Where can people find you?
Our episodes: https://anchor.fm/chrononauts (also on Apple, Google, Spotify, etc)
Obscure texts, original translations, episode transcriptions: https://chrononautspodcast.blogspot.com/
Thank you, JM, Gretchen and Nate, for stopping by and answering my questions.
Listen to Chrononauts, because it’s a great podcast.
Do you have a Hugo eligible fanzine/-site or fancast or a semiprozine and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.