A Tunnel in the Sky

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20th Anniversary

Posted by Galen Strickland
On July 27, 2020

It was twenty years ago today…

Sometimes it is hard for even me to believe, but today marks the 20th Anniversary of The Templeton Gate. I have no idea what I was thinking, especially since it was less than a year after I bought my first computer in October of '99. I knew next to nothing except how to get online (dial-up squeeeeeeaaaal!) and type. Nothing about hardware and very little about software either, and that is still the case. I've generally used free software to create the pages, both HTML editors and FTP uploaders. Correction, my son designed the first version with a program he had, Corel Web Designer, which I think his mother paid for, or I might have, and he had an early version of Photoshop, and I copied both of those onto my computer. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that my son Alex helped me tremendously in the beginning (we worked on it during his summer visit in 2000), and at various stages afterwards when we changed the design. I still use that Photoshop program for the images even though I got Adobe Elements with my latest computer, but I haven't used that since I was so familiar with the other. I now use HTML-Kit to build the pages, using templates my son created. The first version of the site was free too, on Tripod, except I had to accept either pop-up or embedded ads. I later paid a monthly fee to eliminate the ads, even later decided to buy the domain name and pay for hosting, which has been handled by several different companies over the years, since the first and second ones went out of business.

Why didn't I just use WordPress? It didn't exist then, and while LiveJournal and BlogSpot had started a few months before, I'm not sure I knew that then, not sure I had even heard the word blog or knew what it meant. My first ISP was Prodigy, which no longer exists, but that was what was offered through Best Buy when I bought my first computer. I enjoyed their online community bulletin boards, posting on several with different usernames. On the Music community I was "ochsman," in honor of my favorite singer/songwriter, Phil Ochs, and I had to correct the pronunciation when a guy posted "Welcome, OX-man." On Books & Writing I was "severian," for Films I was "strangelove," and while they had a TV section I can't recall what name I used there. I may have been "ecgordon" on the Science Fiction community, or severian again, but that board was dissolved shortly afterwards and incorporated into sub-sections of Books, Films, and TV. Another member I encountered on the Films board had a site on Tripod, so that's what I decided to use. I began writing posts about some of my favorite writers and books on Prodigy, which were later edited and expanded into the first pages here. I've used the ecgordon handle on several sites since then, including our own forums, although sometimes it was "easygordon." On an old, defunct site devoted to Heinlein I signed in as "Oscar," but that didn't refer to the suit in Have Space Suit—Will Travel, it was another nickname given to E. C. Gordon in Glory Road.

I keep getting emails from people telling me they can improve the site (including for the old Tripod address which has been inactive for years), but that will only happen if their fee is $0. A few people have told me the white text on black background is hard for them to read, but it is the exact opposite for me. I have my Kindle set for black background too, and I have no intention of changing that, or the design here either. If I could afford to pay someone to improve things, it would be to make the site mobile friendly. I use a desktop computer almost exclusively, occasionally my laptop, not my phone like so many others. I can check it on my phone through the Chrome app, or my Kindle Fire, and I sometimes (but not always) get the prompt to switch to "Simplified View," but when I do that all the images are missing and there are no spaces between the paragraphs. Granted I have a very cheap Android phone, and I have no idea how it may look on a better Android or iPhone, including a larger screen. Since this is just a hobby for me I will not worry about it, even if it means I get very few views. Pretending I'm just talking to myself frees me to say whatever I feel, even if it doesn't coincide with the prevailing opinion. I have, after all, given negative reviews to several Hugo winners.

If you are viewing this on a phone you're probably missing a lot of the links, beginning with the banner image at the top of the page, which will take you back to the homepage, which lists updates for this year in reverse chronological order. You may also not see the "Archives" link in the News section to the left of this text block. That page contains a chronological list of every update from the beginning to the end of the previous year. Below that, in the "Articles" block, are links to the category updates; Literature, Films, Television, Comics, and Non-SF, the latter a recent addition that only includes two reviews so far. Below that is the "Site" section, and this page will feature on the About page as well as being pinned to the top of the mainpage, until at least the end of this year. To the right of this text box is a listing of our Affiliate associations; Amazon, Bookshop, ReAnimus Press, and below that is Google Ads, which I hope is unobtrusive. Any links on titles within reviews lead to Amazon, although the most recent also include Bookshop, but that's a new project still in progress, no telling how long it will take to edit all the existing pages. If my count is correct, and including this page, there are now 661 unique pages: 30 author profile articles, plus others that cover specific groups of books by those authors, such as Heinlein's juveniles and the Future History; at least 536 books reviewed on 358 pages; 155 film reivews; 32 TV shows; 13 comics. There are some that would be considered general blog posts, as well as miscellaneous category listings, and the Hugo/Nebula pages, which list all the winners and finalists from the beginning to the most recent. I'll start another page for the 2020s next year, if the site is still active that is.

In the beginning my focus was on biographical and bibliographical articles for favorite authors. Ones featured when we went live included Heinlein, Gene Wolfe, Olaf Stapledon, Cordwainer Smith, Edgar Pangborn, and Alfred Bester, and the first added after the debut was Harlan Ellison. I have not done as many of those as I had intended, shifting to individual book reviews for the most part, along with films, television, and just a few select comics/graphic novels, even though I intended to do many more of them too. It's a wonder I've done as much as I have since I'm hardly an ambitious person. I've given up on many other things before, but I do love SF and love to talk about it. Other than my son there is only one other person in my family, an in-law, who reads SF, everyone else cringes when I bring it up. I was self-employed at the time I started, building decks, fences, patio covers, plus general handy-man repairs. There were times I had a week or more between jobs, so I was able to write several reviews then. A move back to my hometown at the end of 2001 had me start one job, but I quit that soon after to help my younger brother build a new home for our mother on his property. She helped me with expenses and I lived in her old house until the new one was completed and the old one sold. Other jobs followed, with work hours sometimes not giving me time to read, much less write reviews. A couple of years in the middle had very few updates, but things changed when I retired in late 2013, and book reviews have increased every year since, last year being the most productive of all. I have not set any specific goal for this year, since I was sure I wouldn't be able to match last year, I'd just do the best I could. At the current time I'm 12 books behind last year's pace.

My reading tastes have changed over the years. For the longest time I was reading Golden Age writers, who were predominately white and male, although there were a few women in the mix: C. L. Moore, Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Vonda McIntyre. I had read Tolkein, but not much other fantasy, even Le Guin until recently. I did like her Hainish SF novels though. I also didn't necessarily read all the award winners, was never into fandom to any extent, and while I have attended a few Worldcons, I never voted for the Hugos until the Sad/Rabid kerfuffle of 2015. I now read almost as much fantasy as science fiction, many more women writers, many more people of color. Fantasy seems to be more popular, and it's recommended a lot by other bloggers and people I follow on Twitter. I don't always agree with the consensus opinion though, with some of my favorites failing to gain traction with more readers. My favorite 2019 novel is up for a Hugo this year, as it was for the Nebula, but I won't be surprised if it doesn't win. My favorite novel of the decade didn't make the final ballot for either award in its year of eligibility. Something that has surprised me is authors following me on Twitter, but that's because I said good things about their work. Will they drop me if my opinion of subsequent books is not as positive? It doesn't matter, just as it doesn't matter how many page views I get. My opinion will still be the same regardless.

What does the future hold? Both hosting and domain name fees are up for renewal at the end of November, and while I'd like to say I will continue doing this as long as I'm able, what happens in early November might persuade me otherwise. Worse case scenario, I may be too depressed to read much, as has happened at different times the past few years. I have books on my shelves and Kindle I want to read, or re-read, and with Net Galley and Edelweiss I'm able to keep up on current titles somewhat. But I'm not a fast reader; not slow either, about as fast as an audio-book narrator would read, and that's fine with me. I love the contemplation of brilliant prose, which can result in slower reading even when the plot might compel me to read faster. I've requested, and been approved for, more ARCs than I thought was possible when that phase began, but I need to scale back on that or else older titles I already have might remain unread. I'll be 70 in September, and while I'm in relatively good health now, there is no way to know how long that will continue. I am being as safe as possible in the "Time of Corona" but too many other people are not.

It has been almost 10 years since I decided I needed to review all of the Hugo and Nebula winners, although a few reviews had preceded that decision. Before that I said I would only review things I could recommend, but I've had negative opinions of some of the winners. That project is nearing completion, at least for past winners; only five more to go, although in some cases there are books in a series that preceded them that I need to read first. This year is covered; I've read all the novel finalists for the 2020 Hugos, winners to be announced in about a week. If I continue reviewing there will be at least one more of those each year to add to that list, but I probably won't feel compelled to read as many potential award finalists as I have the past few years. I want to go back to some of my earlier favorites, but wonder if I will view them differently than when I first encountered them, plus there are many, many classic and newer authors I've never experienced. Whatever I decide to do with this site, I will be reading as long as possible.


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