SF Miscellany: Magazines/Books, WorldCon Kerfuffle, Grand Masters

Over the past month or so, I was struck by the discrepancy between magazine and book content, aspects of book marketing, the latest in the interminable line of WorldCon fights, and the deaths of great and honored SF luminaries which prompted thoughts on who remains to be honored. I thought these might become detailed and considered posts but, as usual, I just went with a hodge-podge. I am sure about the last section, though.

Where the Readers Aren’t

With “How Do You Buy Your Science Fiction in 2018?Auxiliary Memory brought us another fascinating post, this time about the science fiction market. I was also most struck by slide 35, though for my own reasons.

Slide35-1024x768

(Before I even start, I have to note that there are several problems with the slide. First, I have no idea how temporal/qualitative descriptions like “Classics,” subject genres like “Military,” source categories like “TV… Adaptations,” structural categories like “Anthologies,” and formal genres like “Short Stories” are treated as equivalent. Second, I have no idea why “Anthologies” and “Short Stories” appear twice, the second time combined with each other. I also have no idea what the difference between “Alternate History” and “Alternative History” could be. So the slide has to be taken with a grain of salt but I still think it demonstrates some general truth.)

Here’s the question prompted by the slide which should occur to all SF magazine editors and lovers of short fiction: if LGBT, Alternate History, Steampunk, “Metaphysical & Visionary” and Time Travel sell so little and Military, Adventure, Space Opera, First Contact, Genetic Engineering, Galactic Empire, Hard Science Fiction, Colonization, and Space Exploration sell more, why does the vast majority of magazine (especially webzine) science fiction I read deal with the former categories (or similar) more than the latter and might this be a contributing factor in the increasing irrelevance of short fiction? (The sole reach for a wide readership I see in magazine SF is the negative and probably incidental one of Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian.)

There are probably many answers of various kinds but one that occurs to me is that, in these days of low overhead and a market of dozens and dozens of magazines, all that’s needed is a fanatically loyal niche readership, much like a cable TV show vs. the shared culture of the pre-cable era. But if people want short SF to compete in the general marketplace and get it something like the honor it had and deserves (which is admittedly tough for several reasons), it might be better to go where the general SF reader’s hearts and minds are.

Variety Is the Spice

If all is not ideal in short fiction, there are issues at book length, too. As always, I was struck by the nature of the books listed in Locus’ “New Books” posts. Saying that I’m looking for a non-YA SF singleton doesn’t sound too restrictive. According to the last two posts from the 17th and 24th (which are very typical in these matters) this is what I have to choose from:

  • Satirical fantasy novel…series
  • Steampunk fantasy novel…third in a series
  • Epic fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, third in a trilogy
  • Alternate history fantasy novel
  • Contemporary fantasy novel
  • Horror novel, first in a series
  • [YA] SF novel… first in a series
  • [YA] Short SF novel
  • [YA] SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult sf novel
  • Humorous space opera novel, third in a series
  • Military SF novel, third in a series
  • SF novel, second in a series
  • SF thriller
  • Collection of [a series of] 18 stories…about a giant mountain man in the Old West
  • Collection of [a series of] five stories about a post-apocalypse ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter
  • Collection of 16 stories

If I get a little more restrictive and say I’m not interested in a “thriller” or the Old West or a post-apocalypse, I’m down to one book. If I want it to be a novel and/or in mass-market paperback, the counter hits zero. And so it goes…

WorldCondemnation

I’m not involved in fandom in any way except, y’know, being a fanatic about SF and reading and writing about it constantly. I’m sympathetic to some of the Sad Puppies’ desires for more “fun” in SF and a broader reach for it. I’m not sympathetic to some of their non-literary excesses, though (nor those of their opponents). Either way, it turns out the Sad Puppies were right about one thing, at least. Now that they’re not there to kick around any more, the Worldcon folks have turned on each other (as they used to do before the Puppies). Currently, a lot of people are complaining about the vast evil right-wing straight white male conspiracy which is keeping them from their entitlement of being on important panels and I was reminded of a video of a panel I’d seen while mourning Gardner Dozois. So I thought I’d point out how people like Dozois, George R. R. Martin, and Howard Waldrop were treated. I hope the video goes straight to 19:41 or so but, if not, you can fast forward there. The relevant segment ends at 24:55 or so. (Note that, at one place, Martin says “1985” and “1986” when he meant “1975” and “1976.”)

Grrr. Since it turns out the site owner has inexplicably disabled playback on other sites, you can either click the youtube button on the “unembed” above or this link.

Help Me, SFWA Prez, You’re My Only Hope

From one award to another.

As the last section relates to Gardner Dozois’ recent death, so this one was specifically triggered by Ellison’s (and there were a couple of Ellison anecdotes in the clip above). I got to wondering which of my favorite authors from earlier decades were still alive. I have several (overflowing) cases of SF books which contain an “era” per case. People who started in the 30s and 40s are in one case. They are all dead now. People who started in the 50s and 60s (with maybe three who started in the 40s but really started in the 50s) are in the next case. With Harlan Ellison’s death, they are now all dead except the Grand Masters Larry Niven and Robert Silverberg, the Author Emeritus Katherine MacLean, and… Ben Bova (b.1932), Carol Emshwiller (b.1921), and Norman Spinrad (b.1940). This leads me to again make a plea I’ve made several times before in various ways.

Please, SFWA prez’s, make Ben Bova and Norman Spinrad (two peas in a pod, there) Grand Masters next year and the next! Please, SF fans, pester the SFWA board to make this happen! (Carol Emshwiller may win a Nobel for Literature someday but doesn’t seem to have made quite the impact on the field that might be expected. If anyone wanted to give her a Grand Master, I’d be delighted. Surprised, but delighted.)

As a life-achievement award given to authors who must be living, seniority should be and usually is a major factor. The last time someone older than Emshwiller was given the award was Phil Farmer (b.1918) in 2001. For Bova, it was Wolfe (b.1931) in 2013. For Spinrad, it was just this year but Delany, Cherryh, Haldeman, and Willis are all younger and have already received it. Time’s a-wastin’!

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