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sunbeam
10-31-2006, 06:16 AM
As a young person I read absolutely everything that was even vaguely science fiction. Now I don't think I've read any story you would call science fiction in about 5 years. I still read fantasy. For escapism I guess. If I had the chance to be a successful writer, but had to write science fiction, I think I would decline the career.

I have a pessimistic view of the future. And even if the next hundred years were to lead to some optimistic, wondrous, secular humanistic wonderland I don't think it would be any world I'd care to live in. I have a terrible vision of being alone in a world of Richard Dawkins and Greg Benford types, while internally my soul screams "Not this sh*t again!"

I think the first web page has been discussed on this forum before, but here are a few related links. Though honestly the second could have been condensed down to one paragraph if you ask me.

I'm curious as to anyone's thoughts. Are you still interested in SF? What exactly is the sale discrepancy? Is it really 90% fantasy, 10% SF as I think Benford states? And if so what do you think the reason is?

http://benford-rose.com/blog/?p=3#comments

http://www.judithberman.net/sffuture.html

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-31-2006, 06:38 AM
I never read much science fiction, but I stumbled across your post and just wanted to welcome you Absolute Write. There will be others along, I'm sure, who can discuss the questions you've asked. 'Til then, hi! Good to have you here!

veinglory
10-31-2006, 06:48 AM
I don't read sci fi as a forecast, even speculatively, of the future -- but as a fantasy based on technology instead of magic. So I guess I never thought of it as you do.

ChaosTitan
10-31-2006, 07:53 AM
It's the ebb and flow of the tide, that's all. It happens in all genres. The times change, what people prefer to read changes as well.

And this bit from the benford-rose essay made me laugh (okay, so a lot of it made me laugh, but this bit stuck out):


Now, nobody really believes in an interstellar future.

I want to see the polling data on this. Seriously. How does the author know this? It seems such a silly thing to say as fact. Do I believe in an interstellar future in the next fifty years? Not really. In a hundred or two hundred years? Potentially. We have a lot of technology still to develop before we'll be out among the stars. Considering the AMAZING leaps that technology has taken in just the past fifty years, who knows where we'll be in the next fifty?

Is it a coincidence that the Golden Age of SciFi was back when we hadn't gotten to the moon yet? When it was still just a thing in a storybook? And that hard sci fi as a genre declined a bit in the last thirty years. No, I don't think it is. We've been to the moon, we've sent probes to Mars, we have a space station in orbit. It's no longer speculative, it's reality.

SF still has its place, and it will always have a place. Just because it sits in a smaller chair doesn't mean that it's no longer welcome at the table.

And to answer one of your other questions, I don't read very much hard SF, and I never have. I prefer soft SF or urban fantasy.

sunandshadow
10-31-2006, 09:45 AM
I write science fiction and prefer it somewhat to fantasy, but there just hasn't been much science fiction published in the last 10 years that I want to read. I want to see more sociological science fiction, preferably some sort of romantic comedy adventure with a happy ending. I'm so sick of all this grittiness and overly-serious drama with characters dying. Give me space academy students getting into mischief, give me tribbles falling on Kirk's head, take Enemy Mine and make the human and the alien fall in love and live happily ever after.

triceretops
10-31-2006, 11:42 AM
It was suggested that if a very good SF novel was penned by a JK Rowling type writer, then we might have a blockbuster on our hands. Heh, whatever that means. But it is true that we need another Star Wars type awakening, only in the form of a great breakout SF novel that finds wide appeal. We need something that will have a revitalization effect on the reading populace, much the way Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land had.

I've struggled with SF for 28-years and 16 un-bought novels. I've bassically seen the same writers in the same slots, year in and year out, since the time that I belonged in the SFWA. I cut my teeth on the SF magazine markets. I have one book out there now being shopped by my agent. I'm not giving up on SF in a reader sense. I'm going to give up on it because it has NO room for me in a writer's sense. I have not seen one, count em one major SF book sale in this AW group in my two years. I've seen one SF humor book sold in Australia---that's it.

It's the top-gun writers who I have to compete with in order to find a publishing slot. In SF there isn't any slots folks. The market is so small anyway, that chances for publication are out of average proportion for a first-time novelist. Similar to westerns, I think that the SF market is unacessible to new talent. It's taken me 28-years of abject failure to figure that out. Even when the great SF authors pass away, their books are instantly re-printed--those slots sewn up again. The crowd has become too elite for my blood. I haven't seen any significant new talent picked up by Tor recently, either.

Sours grapes? Naw, sad for the genre. Really sad. I'm switching horses over to urban fantasy. My fantasy book has garnered twice the attention of my SF books combined. I'll follow what the reading public wants from here on out--if it means becoming a capitalist hack, eh, so be it.

The one thing that always disturbed me about SF was the nerd factor stigma attached to it. Fact is, the average reader does not have a lick of science knowledge in their bones, nor do they want to feel like they're in a classroom listening to a disertation while reading a novel. Science YuK!
The vast majority of women flatly refuse to read it--which is very sad because they are primarily my target audience.

I don't understand why Benford said he walked out on the Hugo awards because Rowling won and, for a fantasy novel. THERE is that elitist mentality I'm talking about. I think he's upset because she out-sold him too. Benford's tired of seeing fantasy beat SF out of the market place and take awards. So he's leaving it indefinitely. That's a shame, he's one of SF's greats. But I think it's for the sake of pride. Is he pizzed because fantasy is taking market share away from SF? I think so. And this argument goes all the way back to when the fantasy writers wanted to join our organiztion (SFWA) and we did everything we could to keep them out. Now that they've joined forces with us in the newly christened SCEINCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITERS OF AMERICA, are we supposed to keep them down and in their place, or walk out on them because they snagged a Hugo?

Honestly, I'll always love SF. But if anybody has their hands on the toilet flusher, it's the SF writers and editors themselves. It's their decision on what to do to breathe new life into the genre.

Momento Mori
10-31-2006, 05:21 PM
I probably fall into the category of people who prefer fantasy to science fiction, but it's got nothing to do with having a lack of science education or a horror of the future or even a lack of belief in interstellar travel (whatever that means). No, the reason I prefer fantasy to SF is because fantasy fiction tends to be character led, which therefore makes it easier for me to get into the plot. SF fiction by contrast, seems to be largely technology based and I simply don't want to wade through 400 pages of how engines work or how a planet has been terraformed or how time travel is achieved through a variety of invented jargon.

The great SF writers like Asimov were popular reads because whilst they were firmly based in science, the authors made the science easy to understand or follow by laymen. By contrast, some SF writers today seem to be writing for astrophysics professors or quantum theorists! I don't want to have to do an evening class in chaos math in order to enjoy a book, and I suspect that a large number of other people don't either.

I also suspect that the popularity of SF ties in with what the population generally feel about science in general. For example, there was a lot of interest in SF novels about terraforming back when the media buzz revolved around explorations of Mars or the Jupiter moons. Similarly, when Gibson was leading the charge on cyberpunk in the 80s, newspapers were full of stories about computers and people were getting them into their homes for the first time. Apart from the furore over planet classification a couple of months ago, I'm wracking my brain to think of any science based news story over the last 12 months that's really grabbed the popular interest, which means that people are less likely to think about reading science fiction in general.

I'm currently trying to regain my love of SF by reading short story anthologies and buying more magazines, but in the main, it's difficult to love techno-jargon and heavy narrative. I'd love to see some good juicy novels where the science is the background to the story rather than the everything and where the characters don't come across like two-ply cardboard cut-outs because that's how you capture readers.

Higgins
10-31-2006, 07:12 PM
I'm curious as to anyone's thoughts. Are you still interested in SF? What exactly is the sale discrepancy? Is it really 90% fantasy, 10% SF as I think Benford states? And if so what do you think the reason is?



Pure Sci fi has never interested me. What is fun about Sci Fi is the alternative any-old-thing ethos: you can invent as much as you want, but you have to think it through.

The upswing in fantasy is due to the growing sophistication of the readers: they know the rules of assembling inventive things and they aren't particularly concerned about the machinery...they want a fun story with some interesting elements but various types of formulaic topoi are accepted and don't need to be "explained" by sci fi mumbo-jumbo all the time.

J. Weiland
10-31-2006, 07:45 PM
How about mumbo-jumbo in general?

spacejock2
10-31-2006, 07:59 PM
"Similar to westerns, I think that the SF market is unacessible to new talent."

Not entirely true, but I think you have to work your way up from the smaller presses and expect it to take a long, long time. People get a lot of their SF fix from TV & movies now, too.

Incidentally, did you know the first print run of Harry Potter 1 was 500 copies? The book sold for a paltry sum to a publisher who didn't think it would go anywhere, but word of mouth did the job.

I mention that because it's a stretch to remember a time when there wasn't a Harry Potter. However, it didn't hit the market with umpteen thousand copies in dozens of markets, with advertising to die for. In fact, people weren't queueing up at midnight until book four in the series.

Let's say success on a Potter scale is a score of 99 or 100. Getting published is a score of 3-5 depending on the size and influence of the publisher, and how much support they give your book. (Lots of support from a small publisher is way better than being a lost cause at a big one.)

Let's say moderate success is a 15 or 20. A bestseller is 70-85. Becoming a worldwide famous author is 90-93.

Heavy advertising might push you to 10. Being a celebrity could add another 10-30 points. However, the only way you or I would go from a 5 to anything higher is if the books take off with the public. Word of mouth.

ChaosTitan
10-31-2006, 08:07 PM
The vast majority of women flatly refuse to read it--which is very sad because they are primarily my target audience.


Tri, do you have numbers to support this? I'm not being snarky, but honestly curious. Most of the SF readers/fans that I know are women. :Shrug:

FennelGiraffe
10-31-2006, 08:18 PM
I prefer Science Fiction, but in recent years I find very little available that I want to read. The current swing of the pendulum within the SF/F spectrum has the definition of SF squeezed into a narrow corner that I don't particularly enjoy. I've even seen a few books which meet my definition as SF being published as Fantasy, merely because they don't have space ships or other high-tech accoutrements (and probably in expectation that Fantasy will sell better).

Higgins
10-31-2006, 08:25 PM
How about mumbo-jumbo in general?


I Don't find it very enlightening.

I figure good mumbo-jumbo needs to be a bit mystical and a bit soothing.

Sci Fi mumbo-jumbo tends to be tedious, irritating and just plain implausible. It usually does the very reverse of what it ought to and just makes the events it explains sound even less likely or real.

arkady
11-01-2006, 04:51 PM
As a young person I read absolutely everything that was even vaguely science fiction. Now I don't think I've read any story you would call science fiction in about 5 years.

That's about how it was with me. As a kid, and well into my twenties, I devoured every bit of science fiction I could get my hands on. But now I haven't the slightest interest in science fiction any longer.

I don't know whether the difference is in myself or in the genre, but I just don't find that science fiction stretches my imagination far enough to be interesting any more. Well-written fantasy does, which is why I both read it and write it.

Also, as someone else has already noted, as a general rule (yes, I know there are occasional exceptions), fantasy tends to be more character-driven while science fiction tends to be more technology-driven. And technology doesn't light my fire the way it did when I was twelve.

Those are my reasons and my experience; your mileage may vary.

Shadow_Ferret
11-01-2006, 07:21 PM
I was a huge sci-fi fan when I was much younger back in the 70s. I read everything. Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, James Blish, Alan Dean Foster, Andre Norton, Robert Silverberg, Clarke, Herbert, Asimov, and on and on.

Somewhere during the 80s I just drifted away and started reading more fantasy. No real explanation for it. It just happened. I can't think of the last sci-fi novel I've read although I do enjoy sci-fi TV and movies.

RG570
11-01-2006, 11:05 PM
I write science fiction. Usually I end up writing reactionary stories that address what I think sucks about science fiction. It's probably never going to sell, but I guess that's fine.

Science fiction sucks now because now everyone is going on several assumptions that really limit what you can do. The SFWA elitism doesn't help either. Whereas before SF was a lot like fantasy, now you have to do hours of pointless and stupid research to seem like you have "facts" to back up your lies, or else the junior Dawkins crows will cry foul and moan and ***** about how inaccurate your science was.

And now, if you want to be a big SF author, you have to convince the world that you're some kind of "scientician" with authority. I see Robert Sawyer flapping his gums on TV quite often, and last time I checked, he wasn't a freakin' scientist. He still makes up lies for a living. But I guess glasses, button up shirts, and a goiter will convince most people that you're a real scientist. Oh, and the whiny, condescending tone doesn't hurt either.

The fact is that the SF crowd is incredibly narrow minded and conservative. I used to think it was what all the radicals wrote, but nothing could be further from the truth.

JohnB1988
11-02-2006, 01:32 AM
now you have to do hours of pointless and stupid research to seem like you have "facts" to back up your lies, or else the junior Dawkins crows will cry foul and moan and ***** about how inaccurate your science was.



Yet the SiFi moves don’t even come close to “real” science. Most of them turn science into magic and as long as the special effects are good--no problem. Alas, books are held to a different standard, hence all the boring mubo-jumbo just to keep Junior Dawkins happy. However, I write stories with relatively accurate science and I have to admit that in today’s market it’s a (seriously) hard sell. One of the few agents who even gave me feedback wanted to know where the light-sabers and atomic blasters were! (sigh)

xhouseboy
11-02-2006, 01:53 AM
I'm a big Michio Kaku fan.

His work and views on string theory reads like science fiction. Mind blowing.

triceretops
11-02-2006, 01:26 PM
Tri, do you have numbers to support this? I'm not being snarky, but honestly curious. Most of the SF readers/fans that I know are women.

Hi, Chao. I guess my numbers are derived from general discussions among the many writing groups that I've visited and belong to. We do have a healthy population of female writers/readers in this group, and I'm more than delighted to hang with them. I only wish there were more women reading SF, and I wish SF would tolerate a bit more humor and romance in their books--I certainly have included these elements in my stories. I do write character driven SF with hard science elements, if that's possible. There's alway heaps of character conflict and irony too.

In just my case, I've been getting comments from editors about "pushing the tech base higher and farther out." I take this to mean you must be on top of the most recent science discoveries, and therefore show them something brand new, fresh, unique. I have no problem with that. But how far do you push the technical aspects before you start losing the general audience reader base?

As far as SF movies and TV specials verses what is generally being accepted today in literary form? There's the biggest contradiction!

Tri

JimmyB27
11-02-2006, 02:04 PM
I write science fiction. Usually I end up writing reactionary stories that address what I think sucks about science fiction. It's probably never going to sell, but I guess that's fine.

Science fiction sucks now because now everyone is going on several assumptions that really limit what you can do. The SFWA elitism doesn't help either. Whereas before SF was a lot like fantasy, now you have to do hours of pointless and stupid research to seem like you have "facts" to back up your lies, or else the junior Dawkins crows will cry foul and moan and ***** about how inaccurate your science was.

And now, if you want to be a big SF author, you have to convince the world that you're some kind of "scientician" with authority. I see Robert Sawyer flapping his gums on TV quite often, and last time I checked, he wasn't a freakin' scientist. He still makes up lies for a living. But I guess glasses, button up shirts, and a goiter will convince most people that you're a real scientist. Oh, and the whiny, condescending tone doesn't hurt either.

The fact is that the SF crowd is incredibly narrow minded and conservative. I used to think it was what all the radicals wrote, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Have a look at something by Iain M. Banks. Excession, for example blew me away.

Higgins
11-02-2006, 04:22 PM
Have a look at something by Iain M. Banks. Excession, for example blew me away.

Banks is fantastic. I like some Hard SciFi, but Banks is extremely inventive and very funny in a dark, ironical, deadpan kind of way.

Use of Weapons and the Player of Games are close to Excession in terms of style and invention.

evangoer
11-03-2006, 04:33 AM
Science fiction sucks now because now everyone is going on several assumptions that really limit what you can do. The SFWA elitism doesn't help either. Whereas before SF was a lot like fantasy, now you have to do hours of pointless and stupid research to seem like you have "facts" to back up your lies, or else the junior Dawkins crows will cry foul and moan and ***** about how inaccurate your science was.
Nah, nah, it's not so dire.

First, most SF authors do just fine by shooting for a certain minimal level of verissimilitude, and their audiences really don't care much beyond that.

Now, it's true that some authors do specifically target the "junior Dawkins" crowd -- but that's not much harder, you just have to throw in a few keywords that the junior Dawkins crowd is looking for, to make them feel like they're reading about Real Manly Science. Either way, you really just need to add enough "sciencyness" to make your particular audience happy.

Much more important to focus on is: you've created a strange / altered / future world and placed a bunch of characters there -- but why? What is your story saying, that it couldn't say if it were set in Sausalito, California in November 2006? The answer to *that* question is what makes SF fundamentally interesting. :) Not how "scientifically accurate" it is.

Pthom
11-03-2006, 05:20 AM
Well said, evangoer. As an (perhaps overly) avid reader of science fiction, it strikes me that very little of it has very much to do with science at all. (Science being -- simply put -- the methodical study of the world.) But instead has to do with A) the future (usually) and B) advanced technology.

In fact, most so-called science fiction stories fall apart when subjected to the rigors of scientific analysis. Larry Niven is the first to point out that his Ringworld is, as far as current knowledge goes, an impossiblity...and that he invented "scrith" to make it a little plausable. Did most SF readers throw the book across the parking lot because of this blatant bolognium? No. Instead, most of us devoured it and begged Mr. Niven for more.

And really, is the story in the novels about Ringworld about the ringworld structure? Not much. The story is about Wu and the Puppeteer and the former and current inhabitants of the place.

An even more egregious example might be Star Trek. Two major items of technology that all the stories depend on are the warp drive and the matter transporter, both of which are, according to the physics of this universe, impossible. But do we care? Not much, apparently, because it isn't those flaws that caused Star Trek to have such a huge following, but the stories about the people and how they use the technology.

And little in Niven's Ringworld or Roddenberry's Star Trek has anything to do with "science" at all. The stories are all about how people interact with the future and advanced technology.
________

Well, almost. Diana Troi's work as councellor might be considered science--social science.

ChaosTitan
11-03-2006, 09:10 AM
Well, almost. Diana Troi's work as councellor might be considered science--social science.

I thought it was comedy? :tongue

Pthom
11-03-2006, 10:12 AM
touché.

But it was supposed to be science.

Dave.C.Robinson
11-11-2006, 05:33 AM
I read both SF and Fantasy, I also write both. There's no question but Fantasy is doing better in the market these days. I think part of it is that it's easier to write a "comfortable" fantasy than SF.

What I find is that while I read and enjoy both, the very best SF does more for me than Fantasy. I get more out of an SF book than a Fantasy. Having said that I think I write better Fantasy than SF.

I don't think SF is gone, but it's getting harder to break into and that's a pity.