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Nothing Like A Small Town. by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial  ISBN/ITEM#: 0703ELNLAS
Date: 26 February 2007 /

Small towns are drying up and blowing away, but some are being revitalized by festivals, quirky attractions (Salado Texas bills itself as the killer bee capital of the world...and has a twenty foot bee scary enough for any fifties sci-fi flick to prove it) and artist communities. Isn't there a lesson here for fandom to learn? Just think of the town library we could stock...

My family, on my Mother's side, comes from Vermont, and throughout my childhood I spent a fair amount of time up in the small town where my Grandparents had returned to after many years living in or around New York City. I had friends at both ends of the trip, and sometimes brought my geekiest pals up to the see the country and go hiking in the Green Mountains. Rural Vermont is a beautiful place, and I've always been fond of it...but I never wanted to settle down there.

After about a week in Vermont I'd start feeling cut off from the world, and suffering from serious information withdrawal. But that was before there was an internet, and well before I met fandom.

I was reading an article in the Economist ("Reviving America's Small Towns" P41, Vol. 381, No. 8509) which talked about how local festivals and arts communities were stemming the flow of young folks from small towns, or at least bringing in new ones. When Salado, Texas, found themselves smack in the path of the killer-bee migration pattern they co-opted the varmints by building a twenty foot replica bee and declaring itself the Killer-Bee Capital of the world. Every Fourth of July, Bristol, Vt, where my family homestead was, holds its own festival; the annual Great Outhouse Race which draws quite a bit of attention to the town...at least locally. Small town festivals are very much like cons, only without the hotel problems and without the us/them vibe that's hard to miss whenever fans congregate en masse.

Maybe we should all get together and find ourselves a small town to co-opt. Just think of it as colonizing a distant planet inhabited by aliens. I'm sure whoever is there will be willing to debate who's an alien, and of course they'll have a point.

But we've got a lot to offer a small town. Speculative Fiction authors and readers are well educated and creative, and believe in romantic ideals. We may be aliens, but if we're willing to share our advanced technology with the folks already there, how long will we be "the other"? Ok, we'll always be the other, but we can still be friends. How much impact could we have on a community if we offered free tutoring sessions?

Though a Sci-Fi town would be an easier sell than a literary community, I'm not talking media stuff here. I want a community of writers and readers that can host workshops and annual festivals and build the world's greatest Speculative Fiction library. I suggest that the library be a non-profit organization rather than trying to find a home in the town library, as those things tend to be part of a state and federal scheme, and the first thing you know, it's Fahrenheit 451 all over again.

After teaching for thirty or so years, my mother retired to Otisville, NY a while back, where she was able to build a house off the money she got from the property I grew up on in lower NY State. She's now the editor of a monthly newspaper, the Otisville Voice, (www.otisvillevoice.com) there and I get up to visit her from time to time. When I do, I have the option of taking the train down to NYC, though it's close enough that there are plenty of folks who commute in by car or bus. Maybe that makes it too close, but it's a nice area in the Hudson Valley and more or less what I have in mind.

Is that where should we go? I'm open to suggestions, but it should be affordable, not more than two hours away from a major city and airport, preferably by public transportation. I'd rather be taken to a small regional hospital than one in the city any day, so its not like access to health care is a problem. How good their internet access is is important of course, but it's also something we could affect. SFRevu webmaster Paul Haggerty and editor Gayle Surrette live in moderately rural Maryland, and though they don't have either cable or DSL access, thanks to Sprint's high speed wireless network they've actually got good connectivity. The middle of nowhere is a lot closer than it used to be.

Anyone want to colonize the planet?

Ernest Lilley
Sr. Editor - SFRevu
February 1, 2007


Our Readers Respond

From: Arlan Andrews, Sr.
OK - why don't you all come down here to North Padre Island on the Texas Gulf Coast? We get enough fen (say 8000 or so), we can squeeze out the mundanes, secede from the City of Corpus Christi, put a toll gate on the JFK bridge, and earn enough there from Winter Texans and Spring Breakers to provide public works and a defense force.

Why North Padre Island? you may ask -- today (3/2/07) we had a cold snap, and the temperature only got to up 75 degrees F. The last ice on the ground (save a tiny anomaly or two in the 1980s) was during the global freeze, ca. 10,000 BCE.

Compare that to your own temperature anywhere north of Texas.
See y'all soon!

From: Ernest Lilley

    Arlan,
    That sounds like fun...but how far above sea level are you folks again? Don't mind me, but my family comes from the hills.

    Another nice thing about small towns is the impact a small group can have on infrastructure. It's one thing to fight the media companies and find city money to provide free wifi, but its a lot easier to just get it done in a small town.

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