October 11th, 2009, 12:55 PM
Fantasy whips SF's butt
I subscribe to Locus magazine to keep up with the news of the F&SF field. One of its many features is the annual February edition with its qualitative and quantitative summary of the previous year in publishing and how that relates to previous years. Among other interesting parts of this edition are the graphs of the numbers of books published in various categories.
One graph shows that the number of F&SF books has been very slowly increasing since the early 1980s. Then around 2000 they began to steadily rise, with a slight dip in new books in the last three years and a corresponding increase in reprints. The overall total stills trends upward, but suggests a shift of publishers from the more cost-intensive new books. That last might sound like bad news for new writers, but it does have the bright side of keeping pro writers bread-and-butter, their backlist, pulling in money and introducing new fans to them.
Another graph shows the relative numbers of fantasy and sci-fi books over the years. In the early 80s SF was clearly dominant, though not by much. All during the 90s they were even. Then in 2000 the number of fantasy books published began a steep increase. Today they account for almost twice as many as SF.
Looking at the two graphs it becomes clear that the number of SF books has remained essentially the same for the last twenty years. The rapid rise in fantasy in this decade is what accounted for the rapid increase in the number of F&SF books.
So why do you think fantasy is whipping SF butt so badly? Harry Potter? The popularity of urban fantasy and paranormal romances? Something else?
PS Here is the web site for Locus (in which I have no financial interest).
October 11th, 2009, 04:25 PM
It's because christianity only offers one godhead, Father as Patron. OK, two if you count the other guy, Father as Ogre. Although most people are not devout christians, they still have many of its myths floating around in their heads. Fantasy gives them a safe way to explore other godheads.
Today's world is a rapidly changing one. Most people are not sure how they fit in, and if they do, the world changes so quickly that they are no long sure. In this kaleidescope of change, people are seeking their self image. Who am I? Where do I fit in? Does my life have meaning and what is it?
Stories are dreams that make sense. Dreams are your brain's way of integrating what you experienced today with what you experienced before. Stories are a way to try on new ethics and morals to see if they make sense. The stories most loved are those that resonate with your soul. They are about the person you want to be, your new self image. The thing is that you cannot change your self image without confronting and absorbing the godhead.
I sure you been told, or at least read, that your protagonist must have an inner conflict. It is within that conflict that he confronts his godhead. Actually, he may confront several godheads, choosing to reject some and to absorb others. He changes who he is by accepting the "truths" revealed to him by the godhead.
Fantasy, unlike other genres, allows total freedom in expressing the godheads. Science fiction requires that everything be restraint by science, even if that science is speculative. In the immediate future, we are going to see as much rapid change as we are encountering now. In this world of change, people are seeking themselves. Fantasy, more than any other genre, allows them to explore new ways of thinking about themselves and how they fit into the world.
It has been said, that when you die, the gods will not ask, "Who are you?" They will ask, "What are you?" Fantasy gives you the tools to find out.
October 11th, 2009, 11:26 PM
Well, I can't say much about fiction and the godhead, or the rest of him/them, but SF might be losing it's luster because we're getting there, sometimes very fast. The 'new technology' one writes about could come out next month. At one time you could spend chapters describing how a spaceship looks and what makes it work etc. etc. --you do that now and hundreds of readers e-mail you to explain in infinite detail how that wouldn't work, including pages of mathmatical formulae, and what might work better. (Funny how few of the classic Sci Fi stories described their silent but strong characters texting each other, or checking their facebook, and never, never pausing live TV.) To write really good Science Fiction these days one has to be really smart, really up to date on a lot of current science, and able to write a really good story--that a publisher thinks will sell.
October 12th, 2009, 06:09 AM
I think the pre-supposition that there is a contest between SF and Fantasy genres, and that Fantasy is winning the 'race' is incorrect. That would only be valid if there was a fixed market for SF and Fantasy books and they were competing for the same readers. In fact, some read one or the other, some both, and some neither.
Originally Posted by Laer Carroll
One effect we are seeing is the introduction of a whole new set of readers to the genre who have read Harry Potter or Twilight and are looking for more similar material to expand their reading. This is lifting sales, particularly in Urban Fantasy where there are synergies.
It would be very interesting to subtract the sales for Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling and a couple of others and see how the comparison stands then. I suspect that there is a certain amount of 'bubble' that comes from their individual successes.
The questions remains, though, whether this will grow the genre. The first Harry Pptter novel was published in 1997 and gained widespread popularity in the years following. If you were in the target market of 9 - 11 year olds in 1998, then you would be between 20 and 22 now and you're probably not looking for tales of playground pranks.
Growing the genre means writing books that a grown-up can relate to and ultimately having books for that generation's children to read in ten years time. Success needs variety and diversity, so that there is something for every age and every type of reader. One of the great strengths of the fantasy genre is that it has that diversity.
What should not be underestimated is the impact of almost a generation of children putting down the games console, turning off the TV, going off-line and sitting down to read not one book, but a whole series.
The challenge for the next generation of fantasy writers is, can we keep them?
October 12th, 2009, 10:24 AM
SF got hid harder by the Great Paperback Depression in the 1990's than fantasy did (fantasy was the genre that best survived it,) while fantasy also got a boost around 2000 from the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings films. The latter also grew the YA and children's fiction markets, which have always relied on a core of fantasy fiction. (It would be interesting to see if Locus counted YA and children's numbers previously in measuring SF and fantasy, and if they do so now. If they didn't previously but switched, that may very well count for a good chunk of the increase. I'm surprised the figures say that SF and fantasy were even in the 1990's. I don't think that was true. I think a lot more fantasy was published, especially in the later half of the decade.)
Regardless, the big YA novel at the moment is a SF one -- Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire, the second book of her Hunger Games series. And a number of other major YA bestsellers are also SF. Meyers will get another burst of sales when the New Moon film comes out. Collins will get a new boost if the film of her first in the series, The Hunger Games, gets made. Both of those will help bring new younger readers to fantasy and SF.
The publishers are putting out more SF. Neal Stephenson's Anathem did very well and was SF enough that it's brought more folk into SF, as have the non-category efforts of writers like Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy. (It doesn't matter if media runs around saying those things are not really SF; it still brings some new readers into the category market.) There's renewed Hollywood interest in SF and adapting SF works, which will help, such as Sawyer's series turned into a t.v. show. British SF is doing extremely well. A lot of readers who got interested reading fantasy are now browsing over into SF territory, aided by many authors who write both.
Fantasy has a wider appeal because it can offer a greater variety of settings, not because of its plots. This allows it to appeal to larger segments of audiences, those who browse and those who want something specific. Unlike core fans, many fans don't distinguish that much between the two genres and read freely whatever interests them or catches their eye. The two genres help fund one another in the category markets, as does horror.
October 12th, 2009, 11:02 AM
If SF were a bad place to be, I would be writing Fantasy. I would agree that Fantasy allows for more possibilities - hence its lure to both authors and readers. I will probably sniff at it myself, but for now it seems that I've had more luck with the "space opera" type of SF, although I found out quickly that strong female leads do better on the market I'm in than strong male one. That may be a reflection of my own publisher, of course.
October 13th, 2009, 06:56 PM
Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
Even from a young age, I read freely from both genres, and still do.
Originally Posted by KatG
October 13th, 2009, 07:09 PM
^ Me too. I just wish science fiction had more "big releases" that fantasy gets. It seems like fantasy gets all the hype these days.
October 13th, 2009, 09:54 PM
I write YA science fiction, but I won't deny that fantasy has more to offer most readers.
Sad to say, but fantasy usually attracts more creative talent than science fiction. Too much science fiction out there focuses on the science, and not the fiction. Not enough believable characters having real dialog and living in worlds that don't strain the suspension of disbelief.
I'd still put the "top" SF books above the "top" fantasy books, but in the middle of both curves, where the breadth and depth are, fantasy is tops.
Of course, that is all about to change, in my opinion. I think urban fantasy is going to move to techno-fantasy, which will be indistinguishable from science fiction.
And, there's still going to be people like me out there, clinging to their SF and choosing to write nothing else.
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