The fragmentation of science fiction

Miscellaneous sf novelsio9 picked out an interesting quote the other day; here’s Jacob Wiseman of genre small press Tachyon Books talking to The Rumpus about the fragmentary market for science fiction publishing:

You’ve got all these smaller groups in the field that are no longer able to really talk to each other, so there’s less of a central conversation… You can’t just stick a rocketship on the cover of a book and expect it to sell. That’ll work for the Hard SF readership, but that’s not going to sell thousands of copies. In the 1960s there were only 150 or so books published each year, so it was really possible for a dedicated fan to read 50 to 100 of them. Now, Locus lists something like 2,500 books published in the genre annually. No one can read that much.

Futurismic is quite obviously ‘part of the problem’ here, if you care to see it as a problem (and if you concede that the ‘smaller groups can’t talk to each other’)… and I must confess that I don’t. Indeed, I’ve compared the fragmentation and expansion of sf to the proliferation of rock music subgenres many times before; it may not make things easy for publishers to make money (which is not a good thing) but it produces a panoply of diverse iterations from a basic cultural idea… which is great for the end user because it means that there’s more likely to be something that really flicks your switches (though it may be more difficult to discover than the latest big-name thriller).

If you read Futurismic, I presume you have an interest in what might be described as ‘non-classic’ sf – but do you think the proliferation of subgenres have weakened the core appeal of the genre, or have they just distributed it more widely through multiple cultural structures? [image by yours truly]

4 thoughts on “The fragmentation of science fiction”

  1. Choices are a good thing, but (money wise) fragmentation isn’t. It’s the same in other industries too…there’s more movies, more books, more music that comes out now than 20 years ago, and its fragmented all those industries to a certain degree. It’s harder to have a crossover “breakout” hit in any entertainment segment.

  2. I’ll be honest with you folks: I don’t read Futurismic for the SF stuff at all. I read it because you guys bring up a lot of fascinating new science (soft and hard) and I find this blog to be particularly valuable when it comes to that. You guys have a tendency to take what should be overly complicated scientific mumbo jumbo and turn it into something that a non-scientist can understand and I’ve found a lot of fascinating things through you guys (some of which have sparked story ideas).

    I probably should read the fiction though…I just never really considered this blog an SF one as much as a “science is awesome” one.

  3. I think the fragmentation actually represents the way all genres are blending together around the edges. There’s a lot of fantasy in literary fiction these days, paranormals are the hot item in romance, and a lot of the ideas that underlay SF in the Golden Age are part of our daily lives.

    But within the science fiction and fantasy community, I think there’s a lot of room for multi-genre conversations. I know a lot of people who appreciate more than one kind of literature.

    Of course, as a writer I don’t like to be confined to one genre, either.

  4. The problem with the number “2500” is that probably 2350 of those are crap. You can have sub-genrefication, or as you put it fragmentation of the genre, but that doesn’t make every published book readable, enjoyable, or however you want to say it. I routinely get suckered into wasting my time reading a piece of crap sci-fi. I’ve taken to reading a paragraph in the store before buying now, instead of going by the description on the back, which is frequently whack. Actually, now I’m stuck with just reading the new stuff my “approved authors” list (stross, stephenson, reynolds, vinge [wtf vinge what happened]) publishes, lack of free time, etc, and don’t even try new authors unless they come highly recommended. Blegh I lost my focus.

Comments are closed.