It’s here! Or: Ah, the irony …


Had a lovely surprise in my mailbox this weekend: the actual, physical book!

Yes, yes, of course I’m quite happy with it.  Annoyingly smug, in fact.  But I can’t resist mentioning a trivial background detail that might be a little surprising … to anyone outside of academia, that is.

This book went through the usual cycle.  It actually started out as an article:  an sociological analysis of steampunk.  It took a while to find a home for it, being neither traditional anthropology nor “science fiction studies.”  Finally, I sent it to the journal Public Understanding of Science.  It went out to peer review, and came back with positive comments and good suggestions.  Then there were the required edits and rewrites, before finally being accepted for publication in March ’13.  Understand, I was never working on that article full time, and this was probably a year after I finished the first full draft of the article.

Even those outside academia are probably aware that academic success requires — is often facilitated by — publishing your work in peer reviewed journals and books.  Since in many fields we’ve been producing many more PhDs than there are jobs for, competition for space in these journals can be fierce — especially in journals with a good reputation for competent peer review, and most especially in the most widely read journals.  As Richard Fortey wrote, “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

A few side effects of this unsustainable business plan:  there is often more than enough academic work (even good academic work) to fill impossibly specialized journals, facilitating the old stereotypes of a handful of specialists who are only read by each other.  Asimov (1992: 192) reported an urban legend:  a newly minted PhD was so moved to see his dissertation in the library that he slips $20 inside as a reward to the first person to open this labor or love — but then, years later, consults it himself, to find the $20 untouched.

Also, there’s a glut of less rigorous journals with little or no peer review … including not a few scams.  I get e-mails daily from “editors” who were so impressed with my work, that they’d be happy to publish anything I chose to submit on-line … for a fee, of course.  Note, there are some very reputable on-line and “open access” publishers, too, as well as quality work self-published by academics who don’t want/need to jump through the traditional hoops.  It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish legitimate alternative publishing from the scams.  (Here’s a good place to start:

But what I’ve finding amusingly ironic at the moment is the backlog.  Since there are more really solid articles being written than can possibly be published in the traditional outlets, many journals have a backlog of articles that have already been accepted, but are waiting for there to be space in the actual journal.  Some of these put these up on their website in the meantime, as “on-line first” publication.  It’s a reasonable compromise, but rather like being in publishing limbo.

This lovely book now in my hands went through the requisite stages for volumes like this.  I  wrote a few sample chapters, submitted a proposal to a suitable series, waited for peer review, then spent most of a year writing — then several rounds of editing, proof reading, page proofs, final proofs.  Finally, it’s here, and in a month or so will be available on Amazon (UK, then US).

But preceding all this was that steampunk article, which went through all its own stages before finally being accepted by Public Understanding of Science well over a year ago.  That is still in publishing limbo.  You can read it hereif you can get past the paywall.


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