The Fight to Save Science Fiction

Yesterday on this blog, I refered to a post by Richard Wheeler lamenting the demise of the western. According to an article syndicated by the Associated Press, the Science Fiction genre is also fighting for survival. They talk to author James Gunn, who heads the University of Kansas’ Center for the
Study of Science Fiction…

…which he started in 1982 as an extension of
the writers’ workshops he conducted and courses he taught to teachers looking to add science fiction to their lesson plans. These days, he and the center are gearing up for a new mission – to save science fiction, itself.

…The economics and social shift Gunn and his supporters face are daunting, however.

Andrew Grabois, director of publisher relations at Bowker, said the combined science fiction/fantasy category published 3,197 new titles last year and sold $484.8 million, its highest total in three years.

That’s dwarfed by romance novels, which sold $1.6 billion last year, and is even behind the production of mystery writers, who cranked out 4,181 new titles in 2004.

…Gunn, who considers "Star Wars" closer to a fairy tale than science fiction, says there’s less room these days for what he calls the "mid-level" books that may not sell as well but contain the most imaginative and thought-provoking writing.

"(Science fiction) has to change to remain relevant," he said."That’s harder to do today because the best seller needs to have broad appeal, so they’re less likely to be on the cutting edge. You need that to drive the genre forward."

It seems that every genre, with the exception of Romance, feels threatened with extinction. And yet Romance Writers, whose works outpace the sales of mysteries, scifi and westerns combined, complain (and rightly so) that they get no critical respect or recognition despite the enormous commercial popularity of their work.

The moral of this story? Writers are never happy.

17 thoughts on “The Fight to Save Science Fiction”

  1. If a moment of honesty is allowed, if a reality check is done, I would say not only is the Western circling the great drain, but so is Science Fiction, Horror, the Mystery. All genre work. All mainstream narrative work. And the basic, simple reason is because fewer and fewer can actually tell a good story.
    And why is that? Because storytellers are not given the respect and merit they are due.
    And why is that? Well, not to fan the flames of a recent fire in these parts further, but I believe this demise owes much to the fanfic crowd, which demonstrates an undeniable contempt for storytellers BY STEALING THEIR WRITINGS AND LITERARY WORKS AND BASTARDIZING THEM INTO PULP AND OTHER RELATED NONSENSE SUPPOSEDLY CREATIVE IN NATURE AND EXECUTION.
    But what do I know? I like to believe that there remain a solid, determined group of legit storytellers who can and do tell good stories.

  2. K just a quick comment for James.
    You do realize that almost all of the more famous Sci-fi series encourage fanfic to the point that some have even published it.
    I would however would like to put my two cents on the actual topic here.
    I think one of the main reasons Sci-Fi could be dying is that most of the “Miracle” inventions are relatively close to being real. Everything from flying cars and private space travel to nano-bots and the transporter(well only light so far but it is a start)
    However one could hope that the recent influx of great Sci-Fi in other mediums might lead to a revival of great literary versions in the near future.

  3. Jim Hess and I are miles apart logically s always. The idea that amateurs get equal billing is a downslide, but this is not a valid premise. I found two Wheeler books today at the store. They look like the flagship entries aside from Lamour. That’s good. I noticed in relation to an argument I’ve just had at Pod-dy-mouth about page counts, that Mr. Wheeler put over 300 pages into his efforts. Funny how I found no 105 or 167 page novels. The fanficcers and the POD people are definately related. In genetics, this isn’t good but predictable.

  4. SF is doing poorly in the marketplace because there are so few good writers in the genre. I can’t remember the last time I saw a SF novel in the story that made me want to buy it.
    Mysteries, by comparison, are doing much better in the marketplace because there are a lot of excellent writers in that genre.
    I’d go even farther to saw that the overall quality of writing in the mystery genre is higher than it’s ever been before. That is clearly not the case in SF.
    Good books by good writers will always sell. But if the talent isn’t there, then it’s natural that the sales won’t be either.

  5. I believe this demise owes much to the fanfic crowd,
    I believe that it is not widely enough known that fanfic also caused the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the decline in American sexual morality, and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  6. If creators of fanfic wanted to do the literary world a great service they would commit their time and energy to creating works that fill the ever-growing in mystery, science fiction, (‘sci fi’), horror, and other genres, instead of wasting their time and energy on bastardizing and perverting existing works by proven writers.

  7. Hasn’t science fiction been dying for decades?
    I realize that the numbers may be down, but I suspect that’s because sf has become so popular.
    That seems strange, I know, but look at it this way: There have always been fans who read the books because they wanted robots and space ships and aliens. They didn’t care about big ideas or cutting edge science. They wanted ray gun fights.
    Well, TV has bled off a big part of that audience. Those people can scratch that itch for free by watching Andromeda or Battlestar Galactica (two shows I don’t watch, myself). They don’t have to buy the books anymore.
    I don’t know what the heck is going on with Westerns.

  8. The children’s book market is very hard to break into. Requires a whole different set of writing muscles to accomplish and the age ranges make it difficult to target the product. (Has visions of people hitting on me for calling writing a product). Many established adult writers are trying their hand at it, celebrities get into the mix, making it even tougher to get into. But it’s a growing market, one that’s begging for solid story tellers who can get into the heads of their audience.

  9. While the bottom line of the number of titles and gross sales has the most interest for working and aspiring writers, perhaps a more useful statistic would be the percentage of total fiction publishing taken up by each genre and how that’s changed over time. Is the publishing pie expanding, contracting, or remaining constant? And what is each genres’s share of the pie over the same time period?

  10. Take a look at Thomas M. Disch’s “The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World” (2000).
    Disch’s last chapter considers the dire changes in the publishing of literary sf brought about solely by marketing considerations. As the review from Publishers Weekly says, “His concluding chapter, ‘The Future of an Illusion: SF Beyond the Year 2000,’ offers a bleak perspective. More than half the top 10 grossing films of all time have been SF, but the economics of filmmaking dictate action-adventure and dumb plots, contends Disch. Similarly, the economics of book publishing favor undemanding series.”
    I read the book several years ago and highly recommend it. It’s very entertaining and not pedantic at all.


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