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Focus on Fandom
Strange New Worlds Issue 10 - Oct/Nov 1993

The Man Behind SF-LOVERS Science Fiction Discussion List
An interview by Karen Ann Yost

In last issue’s Focus On Fandom column, Karen Ann Yost delved into the joys of the SF-LOVERS, a science fiction discussion group available through Internet. In the following interview Karen speaks with Saul Jaffe, the moderator whose task it is to spread the words of SF-LOVERS throughout the Net.

KAY: Why SF-Lovers? How did the discussion list originate?

SAUL: Originally Roger Duffy from MIT started the science fiction mailing list. The list was unmoderated and all the messages were transmitted to everyone on the list. Around 1980, the email traffic became too large. It was around the time of the Empire Strikes Back. Roger started the digest format where select messages were batched and then sent to all the list recipients. In 1982, a friend brought the list to Rutgers and I took over as moderator in October, 1983.

KAY: Ten years!

SAUL: Yes, I’m having t-shirts printed to celebrate our ten year anniversary.

KAY: How many subscribers do you have?

SAUL: I really can’t tell you. It’s hard to get an accurate count; futile, really, because some of the addresses are redistribution lists that send SF-Lovers to other users. I would guess we have roughly 1500 addresses and, of those, twenty to thirty are redistribution lists. SF-Lovers could have as many as 200,000 readers. No one can really tell.

KAY: How many countries are represented?

SAUL: I’m not sure now. I usually try to get a figure when I attend WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention). Last year, we had subscribers in twenty-five countries. I know of some in Europe, Canada, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and, recently, Japan.

KAY: You said the SF list needed a moderator because of the vast amount of postings. How do you decide what makes the list and what to discard?

SAUL: It was difficult to decide in the beginning. Sometimes it’s just what posting says it the best. Sometimes there are over 100 replies to one message, so why post several of the same answers? The traffic also varies when a big movie, like Jurassic Park, comes out. I try to avoid repetition.

KAY: Your list has several addresses that encompass writers, television, movies, and miscellaneous. What address gets the most postings?

SAUL: SF-Writers gets the most posting and it’s obvious why. Each year, only one or two SF movies come out. Television isn’t much better. But there are thirty to forty SF books coming out each month and it generates a lot of postings. I still try to cater to different interests, however.

KAY: Sometimes within one digest there is already an established discussion. How does that happen?

SAUL: There are three ways that can happen. One, you’re just seeing replies to postings in past digests. Another is that in addition to sending their replies to SF-Lovers, the writer sends a carbon copy of their message to other individual users. So, by the time I’m reading the postings, I have a discussion going. Also, some of the material might come from the Usenet newsgroups. A lot of the newsgroups were established in the early 1980s in an attempt to deal with all the heavy E-mail traffic. The newsgroups are electronic bulletin boards covering common topics that are usually batched and distributed via Unix machines instead of a university or government mainframe. The members include a lot of PC owners. It’s developed into what I call a "controlled anarchy." What I mean, is that, let’s say Quantum Leap is developing a lot of postings on one bulletin board and someone suggests creating a newsgroup just for Quantum Leap. Everyone can e-vote and a new newsgroup may be formed.

KAY: How much time do you spend each day working on the list?

SAUL: Only two to three hours a day. I know it doesn’t sound like much time, but it’s gotten easier over the years. I’ve established a pattern where I can tell if I can use a posting in two to three seconds.

KAY: What’s your position at Rutgers and does the University know you moderate a discussion list?

SAUL: I work in the computer center as a programmer. Yes, everyone knows what I’m doing. Actually, the friend who brought SF-LOVERS to Rutgers wasn’t affiliated with the university. The officials here thought it better that someone with the school should run the list, so I offered.

KAY: Do you subscribe to other discussion lists?

SAUL: I subscribe to two. One deals with SF and the other is job-related.

KAY: Do you know of other SF discussion lists?

SAUL: Yes, there’s one for Star Trek and Blake’s 7. I think there’s one for Red Dwarf, too. I know there’s a newsgroup for Star Wars. I used to use some postings from the Star Wars newsgroup, but some of the postings got too technical: like what kind of circuits did R2-D2 have. Most major SF films and television shows have their own discussion lists.

KAY: What other SF activities do you have outside SF-Lovers?

SAUL: I attend a few conventions each year. Sometimes I’m on computer-oriented discussion panels. I find myself mostly on panels dealing with electronic fan activities. I also do panels on fanzines because, let’s face it, SF-Lovers is essentially an electronic fanzine.

KAY: In closing, are you happy with SF-Lovers?

SAUL: I’d like to see more reviews; reviews of books, television shows, and movies from people in the know. I’d like to see more postings about upcoming events. A lot of the current postings are fun, but not necessarily informative. I’d like to make SF-Lovers as informative as possible. l


Focus on Fandom articles
by Karen Ann Yost:

bulletIn a Fine Filk
bulletSF-Lovers at
bulletSaul Jaffe of SF-Lovers
bulletThe Comics - Science Fiction Connection
bulletScience Fiction Fans and Charity
bulletA Fan by Any Other Name - Fannish Slang and Nomenclature
bulletAcademia Explores the Final Frontier - Fandom Theses and Dissertations

Karen Ann Yost wrote a regular column about media fandom in Strange New Worlds from 1992 through 1994. Ms. Yost has been active in fandom for decades and has been a frequent panelist at MediaWest and Vidcon.


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