Saturday, July 29, 2006

The State of Science Fiction, Part II

Comments on my previous post "The State of Science Fiction" inspired enough of a response on my part to warrant spinning off a second blog entry out of the burgeoning comment thread.

Specifically, in response to Paul Cornell's comment that "movie producers don't mind being 'science fiction', while TV producers do. That's because: movie audience, lots of young men. TV audience: lots of old women," Ian McDonald offered the following:

"Paul's right about the difference between TV and Film production, in that film is very much a medium of genres whereas TV always has it's eye on overall network viewership (there's an immediate 'defect' mechanism on every remote control: there's always an immediate alternative, and increasingly TV is splintering into a long tail of niche digital channels) and network demographics. Asimov's hasn't put Kirstin KatherineRusch's article on where she sees the future of SF going --she sees the salvation of the genre in YA-style 'Star Wars-esque' space opera with cheerable heroes and booable villains (OK, I'm not being whiolly objective here). Me, I see the very thing you're talking about in your post as the future for SF: the genre I feel is going through a period of uncertainty --fantasy is kicking its butt all over the bookstores-- where core question are being asked: what is SF? What makes it SF? What is it for? What is it for now, in July 2006? What is a 21st century SF like --and I, for one, don't think it's necesarily back-to-basics space opera (though there must always be some of that, because it's fun) because that has been so well colonised by the visual media. Things are moving, I think, when you can quote something like JJ Abram's comment. There is a mainstream audienceout there who will enjoy SF minus the geek factor --how do we write books for them?"

Which prompted my long-winded response:

Ian, you are speaking at the heart of my primary concerns these days. The disparity between SF cinema and SF literature has been one of my chief obsessions for years, enough so that I edited a nonfiction anthology on the subject. But I think that - do in part to the Long Tail economics that you reference, in part do to the decreased cost of filmmaking, and in part to the increased importance of secondary markets like the DVD boxes set (see Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, we're seeing the rise of the niche and an increase in "narrative complexity" - as well as a general increase of everything, which means that quality SF&F is beginning to emerge - whether we're talking about accurate blockbuster renderings of The Lord of the Rings on one end of the scale, or low budget "low-fi, sci-fi" like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Primer on the opposite side.

There's a great quote from David Foster Wallace which I encountered in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail which says:“TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.”

And I think we're seeing, if not the end of that - Fear Factor isn't going anywhere - the end of the era where that is everything and all. In the same way, perhaps the macro-category of science fiction will survive by migrating into niche categories - I haven't seen Rusch's article (when is it out?), but the Space Opera which she endorses (and which John Ordover claimed was the future in his Campbell conference talk) may be one end, mainstream appropriate of SF into works like Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife may be another, and rigorously extrapolated, 21st century relevant SF such as your latest represents may be a third. I think that, in edition to the Star Wars style space opera that Rusch mentions, writers like John Scalzi and Chris Roberson also represent the future of the genre. I see both writers as good "gateway" authors, stepping stones between Star Wars and more rigorous fare. Roberson, in particular, always underpins extremely rigorous physics to his adventure tales, while the upfront narrative is grounded in accessible prose and engaging characters.

Star Wars will, of course, take care of itself, but the million dollar question is how do we drive consumers who enjoy films like Gattacca, Primer, Eternal Sunshine etc and readers of Time Traveler's Wife, Never Let Me Go etc. to writers like yourself, Paul McCauley, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Michael Swanwick, China Mieville, et al.

I'm personally feeling very vindicated by the new Batman Begins, because this is the Batman I've been insisting I've been reading about on and off since I was six, but it's taken decades and decades for the rest of the larger world to see the Caped Crusader as anything more than Adam West, Super Friends, and Michael Keaton. There are, of course, two Batmen - the Dark Knight that 30 plus year olds read about, and the kid-friendly cartoon character used to sell a buttload of plastic toys.

In the same way, there are at least two SFs, conflated in a good deal of the minds of the wider world with the lesser SF. But, as I said in the post, I think the tides are turning. It hasn't been that long - merely a few decades - since rock stars appropriated the titles and themes of SF novels for their music and SF writers were respected authorities in news shows and documentaries. The perception that it is purely escapism is a recent phenomena, one end of a pendulum that probably swings back and forth, back and forth, beginning with HG Wells on one end and Plan 9 from Outer Space on the other. I see the pendulum swinging back our way now, coupled with a rise in interest in the space program (re: the recent Titan probe), the dot com billionaire's with their own rockets (Virgin Galactic, et al), the aforementioned USA today article, the increased "gadgetization" of 21st century life, and the growing political/environmental awareness of the bloggosphere. All of which leads me to conclude that science fiction shall rise again, yee-haw.

Update: The amazing group blog Meme Therapy, which is fast becoming my favorite blog on the web, weighs in on the debate retro-preemptively, with a Brain Parade question, "Science Fiction often gets a bad rap. Do you agree with this statement? And if so, who or what is to blame?"

As always, the brilliant John Scalzi demonstrates that rather than going to all the trouble to formulate my own opinions, I can shortcut the labor by just appropriating his: "What I would love to see is SF lit make a play for mainstream readers, by any means necessary. Put the books in covers the mundanes can grok; give them some stories they don't feel like they're missing the joke on; fight to get stories where people are instead of where we wish they would go. Of course, it's easy to say this and more difficult to do. But the fact is: SF has a fine image. It's up to SF literature to get a piece of it."

Excellent opinions also from Paul Levinson, Jeff Patterson, and Suan Marie Groppi.

31 comments:

Michael L. Wentz said...

Hi Lou,

I think it again comes down to story. Fantasy is smoking because it’s a genre filled with strong heroes, evil villains, and epic adventure, and doesn’t require detailed knowledge of quantum physics or wormhole theory. Just about anyone can pick up Harry Potter or Eldest and enjoy the heck out of it. In Fantasy, the focus is almost always on story.

In order for SF, even the hard variety, to gain some mainstream traction is not to cheapen the story for the sake of science, but instead interweave the science in a strong narrative with heroic characters, slimy villains, and high adventure. Does that mean Space Opera? Maybe, but I think it important to write the story, put all the elements together, and let the publishers and marketing people figure out how to label it.

This is a hot topic, and I really hope they have a panel on the future of SF at WorldCon. I’ll be sure to be in the front row.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Michael,
I hope I'm on that panel, since it's the one I requested (and is the one I request at every con).

This is indeed a hot topic. On the one hand, a personal favorite of mine, John Meaney's Nulapeiron Sequence, is everything you describe and more. It has an (initially) young protagonist, sword fights, Lords and Ladies, cool chase scenes, karate, weird aliens, epic battles, etc... and is one of my favorite works of the last 10 years. As is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age which has some of those elements as well. Both books also have rigorous science and SFnal speculation too.

But on the other hand, I don't think you need - as others have suggested - to sacrifice science fiction's core elements in order to save it. What I see happening, and what I hope I've expressed, is not SF remaking itself to accomodate the wider world, but th wider world starting to come around to SF. Ian asks how he can write books for "the mainstream audience out there who will enjoy SF minus the geek factor." But I think the answer is that he is already writing such books. The question is not how to write for this demographic. The question is how to market to this demographic. In this regard, both this post and the subsequent and previous posts on book illustration, can be seen as ruminations on what I consider to be a key concern.

Nor, in this age of blogs, podcasts, and easy net access is this a question only for the marketing departments of SF houses. It is a question central to the cause of everyone who enjoys science fiction and wants to see it grow and remain healthy as we enter the 21st century, the true (I feel) science fiction age.

RobertJSawyer said...

Fascinating discussion, Lou! Thanks for drawing it to my attention, and inviting me over.

We often hear references in discussions like these (as echoed by the new SF reviewer at the New York Times) about today's SF requiring a degree in physics to understand it. The conclusion often wrongly drawn from that is that, therefore, hard science is what's bogging down SF. I disagree. It's eminently possible to write about hard science -- including quantum physics, string theory, brane theory, nanotech, subtleties of evolutionary theory, and so on -- in an inviting fashion. The nonfiction bookshelves are full of such things: Brian Greene, Stephen Pinker, and recently Seth Lloyd are all doing that to great success.

And the problem isn't infodumps being antithetical to fiction, despite what the MFA-derived workshopping movement wants to tell us. Michael Crichton and Dan Brown have outsold us all by orders of magnitude without ever once worrying about whether the reader will sit still for background information.

Aside: Lou, I almost title my story "Flashes, " which is in your Futureshocks anthology, "Infodumps" instead, so that I could use that as the title of my next short-story collection -- reach out and tweak the critics right on the nose. But my wife talked me out of it. :)

Rather than infodumps being a problem, I think the real problem in a lot of books is a deliberate attempt to keep out outsiders. It started when we all thought it was cool to co-opt Ursula LeGuin's term ansible for any faster-than-light communication system, but it's gotten way worse than that.

Enormous numbers of SF novels whose plots hinge on nanotech or quantum physics fail to make the needed background self-contained in the book, and therefore exclude readers. Fantasy has to include all needed background in the book; perhaps to survive, science fiction should do this (with wit and charm and elegance, of course).

Instead, SF has become the leetspeak of pop literature: we like the outsider/misfit/subculture label, and set up linguistic barriers to keep newcomers out. Woot! $(13|\|(3 ph!xo|\| 12|_|73z! [Science fiction rules -- and maybe it does, but it's a pyrrhic victory if no outsider can read it. TANSTAAFL, and all that.]

For my own part, I've bet my career on trying to write accessible SF -- stuff that can be read with pleasure both by those who are intimately familiar with the genre and by people who've never read it before. You were there last month, Lou, when I won the "John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year -- and I was thrilled to get it, as I was thrilled to get the Hugo and the Nebula before that. But in all my career, the following are the two honors that mean the most to me, and they're what I call juxtapositional honors:

First, I was thrilled that my 2000 novel Calculating God hit number one on the Locus bestsellers' list -- meaning it was doing well with habitual SF readers who shop at the SF specialty stores that provide the bulk of the datapoints for that list -- and that Calculating God hit the national top-ten mainstream bestsellers lists here in Canada (in Maclean's: Canada's Weekly Newsmagazine and The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper -- meaning that it was being scooped up by people who don't traditionally read SF.

Second, I was thrilled that last year, my Hominids was chosen as the "One Book, One Community" reading selection for a Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada, and was warmly embraced by huge numbers of readers who'd never read SF before, and that Hominids was serialized in Analog, the bastion of hard-SF. Note that none of this requires downplaying the term "science fiction" -- I make no bones about who I am and what I write.

Some of my British colleagues have similar experiences with both mainstream and genre acceptance, but not nearly enough American authors -- or publishers -- are even making a token effort to try for it.

It is possible to cater to both audiences with the same work, but it takes an understanding that this is what's being undertaken not just by the author but by the publisher as well. Yes, call it science fiction, but don't put an alien or a spaceship on the cover. I personally happen to like Robert Charles Wilson's Blind Lake better than his Spin -- although both are excellent -- but Blind Lake didn't get nearly as much notice, or, I'd wager, as many sales, because it has, literally, a bug-eyed monster on the cover, whereas Spin has a very mainstream look, and was reviewed widely in and out of genre. Or look at Charles Stross's Accelerando (US edition) -- wonderful packaging that works both in and out of category.

Again, I'm not urging people to escape the SF category; rather I'm urging more at least try to do that tricky walk along the top of the fence around the category. Because it's only by making new readers feel comfortable in our field that SF will survive.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Rob,
Thanks for the thoughtful post. You were one of the writers I had in mind when I was thinking about hard SF innovation plus accessible storytelling, and I'm in total agreement with you there. Great point re: Crichton and Brown. Which dovetails with my contention that what NY thinks people can handle and what they can actually handle are often vastly different.

I remember years ago being amazed by the complexity of Disney's Gargoyles narrative, and, in contrasting that with the then-contemporary SF prime time television shows, which were significantly lacking in complexity by comparison. It was then I realized that the average saturday morning cartoon far outstripped in sophistication any adult faire (this was pre-the rise of HBO, of course).

I take your point on Blind Lake vs Spin, and, in fact, wasn't a fan of the former's cover, though I think sometimes the move away from SF goes too far. Re: my other post about artwork, I prefer work that incorporates the genre elements, but does so in a sophisticated light. The artwork of Richard M. Powers made a big impression on me as a youth, because it suggested material within that was sophisticated, modern, and adult. And so it is in these terms that I have always regarded SF.

But lately I've been hearing from artists that they are being given direction from publishing houses "not to look like science fiction" and I think this attitude is defeatist as well. If you try too hard to look bland, you may find that your book still doesn't escape the SF&F section at B&N, so fails to attract that wider audience, but also fails to appeal to the core. I like covers which incorporate their genre elements, but which do so in a modern, sophisticated manner. Just as you say we don't need to salvage SF by losing the science, I don't think we need to lose the imagery as well. Only take a care with how it is presented.

Paul Cornell said...

I agree with Robert entirely. We, as a community, often give the impression that we want more mainstream readers, but *on our terms*. We want Margaret Atwood not to be welcomed into our city with a parade to honour her success, but to be dragged back to our ghetto in chains.

Also, there's the problem that what we SF readers tend to live for, that moment of cognitive estrangement, when we're plunged into the deep end of a strange culture or physics, is the very opposite of gently showing the reader what's going on. It's extreme sports reading. Are you flexible enough to handle this? A great writer, like Robert, can do both, but it's a striking feature of the course.

Excuse my metaphors this morning. I'm only a writer after 10am.

If there is a Worldcon panel about this, I want to be in the front row, being annoying.

Lou Anders said...

Was it Colin Greeland who described science fiction as "the literature of estrangement." I remember reading a consumer review of one of our recent works, where the reader complained that the world in question was slowly revealed through the course of the book and not totally explained up front in an infodump so they wouldn't be confused / have to wait, and I thought - "What genre are you reading?"

Again, I cite Neal Stephenson, who in works like THE DIAMOND AGE, takes you through a lot of math, but not at the expense of character or story.

As to the front role - I'll pull you in buddy. But if I'm not on the panel, we'll both crash it.

Cheryl said...

Paul is dead right. Estrangement is something that we SF fans love, and which mainstream readers find it much harder to cope with. That's why the hapless Iztkoff for off to such a bad start by saying that estrangement was bad. And as Rob Sawyer says, it isn't necessarily science that is off-putting, it is often how it is presented.

But the thing to remember when people say "I don't like science fiction" is that they are probably making a statement similar to someone saying "I don't like Indian food" because the only such food they have had is something spiced to the max and covered in grease in a cheap English curry house. You'll never get someone like that into a top class Indian restaurant. What you might be able to do is get them into an "Asian fusion" restaurant that serves a variety of Asian cuisines and doesn't label where the dishes come from. Then your problem is that after having wolfed down their curry and praised it to the skies, if you then tell them what it is, they will then say, "Oh, that wasn't Indian food - it wasn't too spicy or too greasy."

Or, to put it another way, when Margaret Atwood says that all science fiction is "talking squid in space", she doesn't mean that all books Lou Anders like all have talking squid in them, she means that the books Lou Anders likes that do not have talking squid in them are, by her definition, not "science fiction."

David Louis Edelman said...

Maybe there's some truth to what the advertisers say: go after the young people.

Fantasy started really heating up and taking off with the Harry Potter books and the LOTR films. And while both can certainly be enjoyed by an older crowd, their core audiences are predominantly young. Like, teenage young. MySpace young. YA and pre-YA.

Do we have anything like that today in SF? Is there a healthy YA market for SF? So many of us were hooked to the genre by those Heinlein and Asimov books. Is there a J.K. Rowling for the SF crowd? (Terry Pratchett?)

Hook 'em while they're young, that's what I say. And as they grow, the market will grow with them.

Cheryl said...

Sorry David, go look at the YA special that Locus did a while back. There has been a massive boom in YA publishing in the past few years. All of it is fantasy. YA SF hasn't grown at all.

I'd be tempted to look at movie tie-ins. Obviously they appear to the movie-goers, and with people like Karen Traviss and Sean Williams writing them they can't all be rubbish.

David Louis Edelman said...

But is YA SF not growing because the publishers aren't focusing on it? How much of it are they buying and how much effort are they spending promoting it?

Lou Anders said...

Some but very little. In fact, a writer I know who worked up a middle-reader SF series was told by at least one publisher that they would buy it if he would change the technology to magic.

ENDER'S GAME is the last thing I can point to that's been a really successful SF in the YA market. We need a JK Rowling of science fiction desperately, IMHO.

Though if you look at ENDER'S GAME, you have an underdog in a special school waking up to the fact that he is special.

David Brin has pointed out at great lengths the dangers of the Joseph Campbell "hero's quest" in his STAR WARS vs STAR TREK analysis, and I think there is some truth that while the egalitarian philosophy of the latter is closer to the SF world-view, at heart we readers still love our knights and princesses.

Derryl Murphy said...

My kids (especially the older one, 10, since he's reading more) love fantasy, but they''ve also been reaching around trying to find SF as well. It's been frustrating to see what's out there and what isn't; yeah, I've enjoyed writing stories for Julie Czerneda's YA fantasy books, but I'd sure like to see equivalents in SF. Hell, the kids I've gone and talked to at schools want the same things.

There are plenty of people out there who will never know the "language" and will therefore always be out of the loop anytime you try and get them to read SF. But you know, I've had friends that wouldn't even read fiction of any sort. You shrug your shoulders and move on, try and identify the people who maybe will go for that ride.

D

Lou Anders said...

And the time to hook them is when they are 10 - 12. SF is a drug like any other, get them on it early and you've got them for life.

A.R.Yngve said...

I am writing a series of SF novels for young adults, and it is being published in Sweden, and a book club has taken it up... this is happening as of now.

But Sweden ain't America. Just sayin'.

JP said...

"at heart we readers still love our knights and princesses"

Since we're talking about YA SF, shouldn't SF for YA focus more on the Campbellian hero's quest rather than trying to describe a more egalitarian setting? In other words, are teens and pre-teens more accepting of prince and princess type stories? Harry Potter, of course, being a good example of the 'prince' story. At what point will the publishing field realize that the media tie-in gravy train that is Star Wars is actually a 'prince and princess' story set in SF trappings and that adapting this for young readers might actually be a really good, and profitable, thing?

Tamara Kaye Sellman said...

RE: Scalzi (and you!) "What I would love to see is SF lit make a play for mainstream readers, by any means necessary. Put the books in covers the mundanes can grok; give them some stories they don't feel like they're missing the joke on; fight to get stories where people are instead of where we wish they would go. Of course, it's easy to say this and more difficult to do. But the fact is: SF has a fine image. It's up to SF literature to get a piece of it."

Bravo!

To add a slightly different twist on the selfsame subject matter:

Is there room for children's perspectives and science fiction tropes in magical realism?
A discussion about the Spanish film, "Spirit of the Beehive."

Lou Anders said...

Hi JP, Tamara - again, I think ENDER'S GAME comes the closest.
I think John Meaney's Nulapeiron Sequence does this for adults, though it subverts the elitist nature of the traditional fairy tale (unlike STAR WARS - the narrative is very concerned with class, as is, for that matter, Harry Potter).

JP said...

Lou,

I agree that Ender's Game comes closest to what we are talking about, it failed to generate the hype, and interest, in the wider audience that Harry Potter has. I think this has to do with the fact that it is SF (and comes with all the negatives associated with that by the mainstream) and, possibly more important, the ending is not really a happy ending. Ender basically commits genocide and carries that guilt with him, even though he was tricked into doing so. In HP and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry is victorious at the end and everyone goes home happy till the next time.

I think SF is going to need something that people in general don't necessarily see as SF and is generally upbeat. Either that or SF needs a massive shift in perception from something geeky to something good to read. I hope either, or both!, of these things happen.

Lou Anders said...

Hi JP,
Time magazine recently called Battlestar Galactica the best drama on television. This and the USA Today article that distinguished between SF in the tradition of Wells and Bradbury from Star Wars are both signs that the wider world is starting to come around to the "science fiction isn't just geeky" perception. And since Hollywood reaches millions to our thousands, all it takes is a few such macro-memes to shift perception.

Meanwhile, I think you underestimate Ender's Game.. 1977 and it still sells something like 100,000 copies a year.

Aaron Hughes said...

And Ender's Game may have another resurgence in popularity, if they get the movie finished and it is done well.

A couple well-made films that are true SF, as opposed to science fantasy like Star Wars, could be all we need to generate a surge of interest in SF in the mainstream -- just as Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings films have done for fantasy.

Lou Anders said...

Even a bad ENDER'S GAME film will boost the booksales. After all, Michael Moore's film boosted Bradbury's sales and the only connection is the title.

I do agree with JP that it needs to be epic, but I think you can do epic without incorporating the sins of STAR WARS. Me, if I had a few hundred million, I'd be filming John Meaney.

Bob Lock said...

Hi all,

Unfortunately, I think it isn’t a matter of tailoring your SF story to fit the psyche of let’s say ‘a normal reader’ i.e. one who would gladly pick up and read an adventure story, thriller, detective etc. I believe to really appreciate and understand SF you have to be gifted with a certain mindset and desideratum to be lifted from the mundane and taken to places, times, events that ‘normals’ have no hunger for.

Perhaps some themes cross the boundaries e.g. Star Wars, ET etc but I wonder how many non-SF readers would have bothered to pick up the book and read it if they hadn’t been able to see the film version?

Another thing that I think precludes people from reading SF is that, more often than not, it demands a higher attention span, and ability to suspend belief in all that you know and believe true and go with the story to see where it takes you.

People in general seem to require ‘the quick fix’ more and more in every element of their lives. From foods they can just throw into a microwave and then into their mouths, to entertainment, whether it be films or books where somewhere along the line the dreaded ‘info-dump’ or ‘idiot’s explanation’ where you’ll have one character explaining to another what has just happened (incase the viewer or reader didn’t work it out for themselves).
Usually in SF, the writer knows that his reader is prepared to go that extra mile and work out the plot twists for him/herself, it is part of what I’ve mentioned before, our mindset.
We aren’t averse to looking up a word in a dictionary if we don’t understand its connotation, and probably become enthused by the challenge.
However, non-SF readers I believe would quickly become fatigued by the trial. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to condone the use of, ‘why use two words when ten will do’, attitude, for even the most avid SF reader can flag under the challenge of some books, (for me it was Appleseed, sorry John if you read this, it’s only my personal opinion, and what do I know!).

I’ve been lucky enough to have a SF novel of mine Flames of Herakleitos hold first position in the SF Genre of www.youwriteon.com , which is sponsored by the Arts Council of England, since the beginning of the year. It’s received one hundred and ten reviews (mostly favourable… thank goodness!) but it has also had remarks that start with, ‘SF/SFF isn’t really my genre’, and usually lead up to, ‘why use words like thaumaturgy, legerdemain, hex and glamour? I don’t know what some of them mean.’ That can be disheartening because they are words chosen for their particular meaning and to substitute them with say, magic, sorcery or wizardry would (IMHO) weaken what I was trying to convey, but the non-SF reader would have understood.

So, to sum up, I think it would be extremely difficult to write a ‘catch-all’ type of SF/SFF book which would appeal to hard-core SF readers and ‘normals’ alike, both types of readers have different hungers and to satiate one you’ll probably starve the other.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Bob,
Charles Stross once said that trying to win over the literary mainstream to SF was like trying to convince classical music purists of the legitamacy of jazz, and was a pointless excersize. And I do think some people like apples and just can't grasp that oranges are real fruit too. But that's a snobbery between genres ("literate" being a genre too), and not what you are talking about, which is the broader, more mainstream reader's ability to grasp or not grasp an SF trope. To this I point to the huge success of SF in other media - film, tv, videogames, cartoons - and say that there is a huge, untapped audience that are perfectly capable of being receptive if we can reach them.

My mother is a mystery reader, everything from sophisticated historicals to feline sleuths, and she keeps a dictionary by her reading chair. A willingness to look up words isn't just an SFnal trait!

Now, I do find that the category of SF&F book that tends to be nominated for awards (as opposed to more adventure-oriented SF books as typified by Baen and related), does tend to be written with a higher quality of prose & present a greater challenge to the reader than the average mystery, but in this case, the comparison - in terms of the quality of the writing - is not to the mainsteram but to that aforementioned apple genre. And there, the problem may not be with the subject matter, but with the dwindling pool of people able to appreciate a rarified taste. More people eat hamburgers than sushi, after all.

Who was it that said that writing is the only job where the better you get, the worse your sales are?

Aaron Hughes said...

I strongly disagree with the Stross comment. Most listeners of classical music have heard enough jazz to know it doesn't suit their tastes. In contrast, most readers of literary mainstream fiction (your "apple" readers) either have not read any science fiction, or have read it and liked it but did not realize it was science fiction.

Some portion of those readers would not care for science fiction even if they gave it a fair chance -- they do not have the suspension of disbelief in them to appreciate fantastic literature -- but I believe most of them would enjoy plenty of SF/F, if we could get the word out to them how much well-written work there is in our field.

Lou Anders said...

We are arguing at cross purposes. I think there is a percentage that will never understand, get or be willing to set aside prejudice enough to get SF. But I think the vast majority of people simply haven't been exposed and aren't as neophilic as some think. Ordinary people surprise me all the time. I live in the deeply conservative south and am often surprised at how many people defy the stereotype that comes with the territory.

Meanwhile, from the latest Ansible: How We Used To See Ourselves, 54 Years Ago: `The average British fiction reader needs no introduction to "science fiction", although he may not have consciously applied the term to some of the stories he has read in the past, for Britain has been more the home of the scientific romance, pioneered by H.G. Wells, than any other country, despite developments elsewhere. Most of our prominent novelists have entered the fantasy field at some stage of their career, usually with highly successful results, and with the current Hollywood cycle of futuristic films, no doubts can be entertained by the man-in-the-street as to the meaning of the phrase.' (John Carnell, 1952)

Farah said...

There is a rennaissance in sf being produced for the 11-14 range (after that just let them loose on the adult stuff).

Top recommendations:
Philip Reeve (the Mortal Engines sequence)
Conor Kostick, Epic (and Saga is due out next year)
Oisin McGann, The Harvest Tide Project and Small Minded Giants which has just been released.
Rhiannon Lassiter, Outland
Jan Mark, Useful Idiots
K.A. Applegate, Remnants (brilliant, despite their unlikely status as a "packed" book)
J. B. Stephens, The Big Empty (ibid)
Susan Price, Odin's Voice
Ann Halam, Siberia
William Sleator (anything frankly)

You will find reviews of many of these at The Inter-Galactic Playground. Posts have slowed a bit recently but I'll be posting a review of Kostick's newest book, _Saga_ by the end of the week.

Aaron Hughes said...

Thanks for those recommendations, Farah. I've been looking for something besides media ties to give my 10-year-old son to transition him from Harry Potter to science fiction.

Goodness knows I won't be giving him your forthcoming Glorifying Terrorism anthology. What kind of nuts do you get to write for a project like that? ;-)

RobertJSawyer said...

Lou wrote, "Even a bad ENDER'S GAME film will boost the booksales. After all, Michael Moore's film boosted Bradbury's sales and the only connection is the title."

'Tis true. Kevin Costner's film of The Postman, which made many critics' lists of the worst films of the year, put David Brin's novel on the USA Today bestsellers' list more than a decade after the book's first release.

Lou Anders said...

Am I the only one who liked that film?

Anonymous said...

From a fan's perpective: I liked both versions of The Postman. As a fan I'm totally at ease with whether the critics or the mass audience get the point of the story or are even entertained, or, not. For me the fact that a "Costner" did Waterworld or The Postman is the important thing. He did it because he could - that's art baby.

Craig.

Lou Anders said...

Brin wrote an article at the time about the fact that - irrespective of the actual merits of the film - a lot of the critics couldn't get behind the film's spirit of optimism and that this was a sad statement on the cynicism of our times and, therefore, the necessity of such a film.

Sadly, WATERWORLD cost Costner a lot of the love POSTMAN gained.