Friday, July 18, 2008

More About the Future of SF

Yesterday, we talked about where SF is going. I'd like to continue that discussion today. But first, I want to show you a picture.

This is a very long exposure photo of the moon taken with my digital camera. The exposure is on the order of two to three seconds. I love how it lights up the clouds, but I don't like the small reflection from the inner surfaces of the lens.


Now, onward to the Future of SF.

In yesterday's comments, I posed a question to ^jr^ . Why is fantasy sell better than science fiction?

Let's consider some points.

1) Fantasy's popularity largely stems from The Lord of the Rings.
2) J.K. Rowling, regardless of what you may think of her work, is responsible for bringing a lot of new readers to the genre.
3) Fantasy has evolved and matured more recently than SF, stretching its own boundaries into cross-genre diversions.
4) SF has dominated the silver screen since 1977. (What happened in 1977?)
5) Fantasy gained popularity in written fiction about the same time SF gained popularity in the movies.
6) Despite the success of the Lord of the Rings movies, SF still dominates the movies.
7) Fantasy is creeping into television (Heroes, for example).
8) Harry Potter kids will grow up. Where will their reading tastes take them? I read every Hardy Boys book as a child, but I don't read mysteries as an adult. Still, I read whenever I can.

With that, I open the comments area to opinions of why fantasy outsells science fiction in print.


^JR^ said...

The question: Why is fantasy selling better than SF?

The short answer (my answer, anyway)-- Marketing. All of the entertainment industries (TV, print, and film) picked up on the fantasy's easy appeal to the market and the flood gates opened.

In my opinon--and this my OPINION--its easier to produce fantasy than SF. SF has that pesky science to be concerned with so it can still be called "science" fiction. The science can be hard to read and still be entertaining. This is sometimes the fault of the SF writer being more over indulgent in their knowledge of the subject and paying less attention to telling the story.

Let me preface this next point by saying that I don't read much fantasy and what I say about it based on limited personal experience.

Fantasy seems to be less constricted by requirements of the genre. Using magic and supernatural forms as the major plot elements is easier to do when they are not bound by the laws of physics. To me, its wide open to whatever the writer puts down on the page and no one will (or can) question it. The "average" reader (or viewer) is wowed by the slinging swords, the shiny armor, and the drooling fantastical creatures that populate a world that isn't their own. If their lucky, there's a good story to go along with it.

That's not to take away from the crop of very talented fantasy writers. A good writer, is a good writer, no matter what the genre. But the commercial success of the fantasy market has put all of the attention ON the fantasy market. A great many people who watched LORD OF THE RINGS or HARRY POTTER came out of it thinking they could be the next Tolkein or Rowling.

Hence the slushpiles on the desks of editors everywhere grew exponentially. Tons of fantasy magazines sprouted up into the marketplace almost overnight, giving the would-be fantasy writer many more opportunities to break in. With all of the new manuscripts for publishers to choose from, the Fantasy side of the book rack started crowding out SF. This movement was well underway before the LOTR or POTTER movies, but I thought that was an easy point of reference.

Another issue I have with it all is the SF genre label. The current way of things is to hang the SF tag on anything set in space and this isn't necessarily correct. I'm a huge STAR WARS fan, but even I don't call that most glorious of events in entertainment back in 1977 science fiction. Its much closer to space fantasy, I think. But I'll take it over most of the fantasy slush that's out there. :)

To summarize, and I hope it came out making sense, the easy, prepackaged nature of modern COMMERCIAL fantasy have made it easier to appeal to the masses.

SF is harder for people to appreciate given the "geek" stigma attached to it.

This is why I think Fantasy outsells SF.

*If I've done a poor job explaining myself, I'll happy to try to clarify.

^JR^ said...

Looking at that last comment of mine, I need to edit more closely before I hit that PUBLISH button. :(


Rick Novy said...

I want to key in on something you said:

>> Fantasy seems to be less constricted by requirements of the genre. Using magic and supernatural forms as the major plot elements is easier to do when they are not bound by the laws of physics. <<

That statement comes with a big caveat. The magical elements may not be bound by the laws of physics, but they had better be bound by some kind of rules.

The magic system(s) in a fantasy story must have rules in order for the reader to suspend disbelief. The best stories are generally when the protagonist is not the all-powerful mage. They work better when the antagonist is apparently all-powerful and the protagonist limited but resourceful. Part of the fun can be in learning the true limitations of the antagonist.

Maybe I'll post a full discussion on this tonight.

^JR^ said...

>>That statement comes with a big caveat. The magical elements may not be bound by the laws of physics, but they had better be bound by some kind of rules.<<

You make a good point, as I expected you would. While the magic SHOULD be bound by rules, I don't think the genre REQUIRES it to be. This, and what you said about the all powerful anatagonist vs. the resourceful protagonist, is what seperates a good fantasy story from a palatable one.

At least George Lucas offered a biological explanation for why some people are stronger with the force than others. I thought that was fantastic and made sense. Then he ruined it by suggesting that Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO. But let's not open up THAT can of worms. :)

I just think that its easier to B.S. your way through writing fantasy than it is SF. You could write a hell of a SF story that uses lots of scientific elements that are important to the plot, but as soon as that editor at ANALOG or somewhere else sees that the science is all wrong, your great story is going to be a tough sell. Your story might not be well received by your target audience because they likely will have a hard time seeing past the flawed science. As I recall, Rick, bad science in SF writing is one of your chief complaints.

I don't see it being that way with Fantasy.

That's why sooooo many more people go the fantasy route. That's why sooooo much more of it is out there. That's why is sells sooooo much more than SF.

Could I write good fantasy? I doubt it. I'd be too wrapped up in having make sense and seem plausible--a chronic failing, on my part that slows my production.

Is all of my own science right? I'm sure it isn't. But I research and try to get as close to right as I can. Plausible, at the very least.