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Thread: Things I Have Noticed
January 22nd, 2007, 12:10 PM #1
Things I Have Noticed
My local chain superstore has separated fantasy and science fiction from each other. The sf section is smaller, but the ratio of non-category sf is increasing.
Norman Mailer's latest -- and possibly last novel -- "The Castle in the Forest," is a fantasy about Hitler. The narrator is the devil's assistant.
Emerald City, a website that reviews sff, has apparently gone under.
January 22nd, 2007, 04:11 PM #2
My local B & N hasn't changed a bit. I wonder if yours is a test case.
Emerald City shut down the week before WFC and Cheryl didn't come to Austin this year.
January 22nd, 2007, 10:50 PM #3
I haven't noticed any particular change in B & N stores; to me their SF/fantasy section (all intermixed) has seemed fairly stable for a while. They used to have a lot more Star Trek/Star Wars materials, but with the source shows for those now drying up those sections have changed from nearly an entire rack to at most about two shelves worth.
Borders seems a bit more interesting; at least their manga/anime sections seem to have grown tremendously. There are at least four full racks of this stuff at the stores I go to (including graphic novels and a host of related things). The actual Japanese language stuff is all grouped together and there seems to be nearly a whole rack just of it.
Most of the independents I go to have a much smaller selection of SF/F, and so far all I've seen there is the same big name stuff you can get at the chains. Nothing that you would go to an independent for to seek out something new and different. There are some exceptions, but they are driven more by the individual enthusiam of the particular buyer at that store, not necessarily by an overall buying philosophy toward SF/F genre material.
As far as other things I've noticed, a popular blogger named Bookseller Chick, who was an assistant manager at a chain and posted great insider info on how such stores actually function, is losing her job as her store is closing. This is a great loss, I think, for authors and others to hear about the day to day happenings in stores and what they need to do to penetrate them. The good news is that she's considering offering consulting services to authors with info that she's learned, which should be helpful at least in the short term while her knowledge is still fresh. She's a very funny lady and writes a nice blog, which I hope she continues with even if it's no longer 'Bookseller' Chick but becomes something else.
January 23rd, 2007, 01:14 PM #4
About ten years ago, Michael Swanwick wrote an essay in Asimov's magazine about how category fantasy had come up under the umbrella of sf and now stood on its own, about how more and more sff authors were going to end up chosing one or the other genre, and how bookstores were separating sf and fantasy into different sections and the two markets would be permanently divided.
I thought the idea that authors who wrote both sf and fantasy having to chose one was unnecessary. (And sort of funny, as Swanwick said he'd go with sf, and this wasn't long after "The Iron Dragon's Daughter," if I remember right) If anything, the trend was going in the opposite direction, with authors dabbling in all sorts of fiction areas, and in childrens and adults, etc. And with a lot of non-category sf and fantasy being published.
But the separation of category fantasy and sf into separate markets has long been an issue of debate -- would it come, what would happen if it did. Some stores were beginning to separate them, but this usually only occurred in large chain stores which had really large sff selections, and they still kept them near each other. Would this occur more frequently?
As it turned out, it didn't. Most stores find it much easier to keep category sff together, and sff publishers have not reproduced into multiple imprints to handle them separately, except for the occasional experiment with horror lines. At one point a few years ago, it looked like the entire sff market was going to shrink, but they've rebounded, more or less. The prophesized split never really materialized.
Which is why it was a surprise to walk into my local Chapters store and discover that they'd done it. Now, it may just be a temporary store re-design. They like to do that -- move sections around, change the shelf alignment, move books in and out of categories. Then they move them back. I think it makes the head office feel that they are properly making use of store staff or something. And even if it's permanent, it may just be the one store or so.
Still, it did re-raise that old issue for me -- might there be a split coming down the road, and if so, what would happen.
January 23rd, 2007, 01:57 PM #5
It has always kind of bothered me that they are lumped together. I almost never read Sci Fi. I don't think of it as the same genre, no more than I do mysteries or thrillers. All novels are fantastic in some sense. They are the products of imagination, not fact.
KatG, you would probably know this: Were they always together on the shelves? Who made that decision and when? What is really so similar about them?
Both are speculative, but in very different ways. I suppose you can combine them and blur the boundaries, but then the stores like to come up with new categories for them anyway like steampunk or new wierd. So why not just keep them as totally separate categories? Do the same people who shop the fantasy shelves then turn around and browse through the Sci Fi shelves? I don't. I never did.
January 23rd, 2007, 02:07 PM #6
...and if so, what would happen.
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But, before the end, consider that the distinctions at the moment can be viewed as sheer marketing convenience, like locating all the dairy products at the furthest corner of the store from the main entrance. Book stores locate books by category to make them convenient to find even though they have no idea what the categories are and/or what should be in them. Consider:
(1) You want to write an alternate history story such as a certain Lady of the Shire is currently engaged with. Now, she is adding magic to her story so it won't become science fiction, it will be come modern fantasy. Perfectly sane and reasonable, yes? Then, I ask you why doesn't "All Quiet On the Western Front" fit into science fiction? It is most certainly an alternate history of WWI because the events in the book did not happen to the character in the book in real life, only between the covers of the book. So, it is a WWI that could have happened, may have happened to other people composited into the hero of AQOTWF, but did not happen as written. And, there is in my memory, an element of magic in the story so I think it merits a place in scifi.
(2) Suppose you wanted to take current events, say as described by Woodward in "State of Denial." and extrapolate a few years hence using the trope "if this goes on." You might get a version of Orwell's "1984" but, that book, you see wasn't science fiction because it was literature, so you must be careful that your version is not too well written or it might become literature and never make it to the scifi bookshelves.
(3) Suppose you wanted to address the interconnectedness of everything and how death doesn't really sever the connection. Some folk might think you were writing a modern fantasy but not the booksellers because they know Amy Tan only writes literature so you will not find "Saving Fish From Drowning" in the fantasy section.
(4) Suppose you think ERB didn't get it write with his Tarzan series, and besides, tigers are much more interesting than lions, you could write a book of self-discovery that would definitely be literature. "The Life of Pi" will never end up in the fantasy section.
(5) Say time travel is your thing, and working out a plot how the present affects the past and the past the present is the kind of fantasy you want to explore. Make certain your name is not Tracy Chevalier and your first novel is not "The Virgin Blue" because you will never make it to the fantasy section.
(6) Is Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" a fantasy or a time travel story? Then why isn't it found in sff shevles?
(7) Isn't "The Iliad" a fantasy?
(8) Isn't Christine de Pizan's "The Book of the City of Ladies" a fantasy?
Actually, instead of beating this dead horse, how about proposing that all literature is fantasy of one kind or another just as dairy products are a kind of grocery store staple. Separating them makes some things easier to find - or some things easier to sell - but is a purely arbitrary notion. You could just as easily arrange a grocery store in alphabetical order and be as efficient as they currently are and you would still be selling groceries.
January 23rd, 2007, 02:20 PM #7
instead of beating this dead horse, how about proposing that all literature is fantasy of one kind or another
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