Editorial – Sept 2015: Science Fiction In The Percentages,

Hello everyone

Let’s talk Science Fiction. I’ve been a little distracted in the past couple months but this is the right time of year to discuss this particular aspect.

Did you know that Science Fiction book sales across the board have reduced by 20% in the past three years? That doesn’t that mean there’s a collective 60% now because if it was, that would mean SF publications would be gone in about twelve years. What it really means is where there was 80% there is still 80% of the ‘normal’ expected output, at least from the expected publishers than what they normally produce.

more pulp

Of course, that also assumes there wasn’t a gradual reduction earlier and notice that word ‘expected’. I mean, just how does one come up with such an expectation or percentage that stays consistent 80% lower? I also doubt if every publisher is checked or whether the smaller publishers seeing a gap in the market don’t put something out there. Generally speaking, it also takes a couple years to get a new book written and published if the publishers realise this themselves, so changes should be happening about now for an upward swing, reflecting that the publishers are hopefully looking for new material or putting it into production. That doesn’t appear to be happening, neither.

All genres have their ups and downs. It might be a reflection of how well the super-hero movies are doing or that ‘Games Of Thrones’ series, redirecting sales or publishers to do more in those genres. Publishers are less inclined to release many less profitable books when there’s a downswing no matter what the genre. That also assumes the general readership has a limited attention span or limits itself to only the same regular books that are reviewed by other sites and magazines. I mean, those particular books have to be good if these reviewers pick them out, right? Not being exactly into that game of only picking up the certainties, SFC probably sees a better overall picture, especially as we get books from across the globe.

No doubt Science Fiction will get its comeback when we have the next successful SF film or TV series. There’s some film series revival coming back in December after all, although that’s only likely to garner more material for that fan base. Nothing wrong with that as we’re reviewing some of those books but it doesn’t spread across the entire genre.

However, it should raise a little concern because people like me have to wonder are we buying less Science Fiction because the product isn’t there or being innovative enough or is there some other reason? Either way, it becomes a vicious circle. Diehard SF fans don’t really read fantasy after all. Don’t forget also how much I’ve mentioned how much of an SF reality we’re living in these days. If aliens arrived tomorrow, SF would really be sunk, because it appears we’ve covered all the plot options. What are we doing that is either new or extrapolating the future. Nanotech has been fictionalised to death and we haven’t even got it working for real in our current reality yet. Advances in cybernetics and a reduction in cost has made true bionic people viable. We have the speed, just not the arm strength…yet but that can’t be too far off now neither. If scientists get their act together with robots and AIs, even that option is covered. Science Fiction might have promoted these things first but we certainly haven’t found anything significant to warn of the dangers or even the benefits beyond what has already been fictionalised. For all intents and purposes, Science Fiction as a genre is treading water, neither progressing or regressing.

Of course, a lot of new authors have also gone the digital route and, unfortunately, if the examples we look at and reviewed are anything to go by, were hardly inspiring. I gave a couple self-published novel authors I read earlier in the year the opportunity not to have their reviews on-line simply because they wouldn’t even qualify as being bad and they took it, which should speak for itself. Having unreliable material makes it more difficult to pick out an e-novel or self-published novel at random and hope that it’s something worth reading, let alone anything offered to us. The only advantage is that these ebooks don’t tend to cost too much and don’t clog up the charity shops. It also restricts people picking up such books at random as well. When the bubble bursts with ebooks, hopefully people will turn back to the paper variety. After all, SF fans are known by their collections not by showing a list of titles on an e-reader gadget to each other.

Things aren’t helped by many paper publishers relying on literary agents to recommend material which ultimately reduces the number of people looking at what’s out there and the inadvertent tastes and prejudices they might have. This isn’t meant to be disparaging, as this effect affects all people’s choices regardless of profession but it does reduce the number of people looking at new material and stagnating choices, especially if fewer people send to agents knowing they’d get turned down. Plus, if they don’t like a particular aspect of your ideas or writing, you’re sunk, even if you do write well and do good grammar. What you then have is a Catch 22 situation broken only by those who see going digital without restraint will get them seen. An oddity in this is many long-standing authors are also taking the digital route as its supposed to pay better financially and when you have them mixed in with the bad ebooks, you’re only attracting your own fan base and not necessarily new readers to fill the ranks. The number of ebook reviewers in my team has stayed relatively low and if this is a reflection of the readers amongst you, then it re-enforces my belief that most of you prefer books of the paper kind.

Meanwhile, agents inevitably rely more on those on the authors they have with a sales record and are prolific than risk their reputation on new talent. If you don’t quickly become a runaway success, your days can also be numbered and reduces your chance to develop a readership. If your expertise is in short stories or story mosaic like me, it’s not even worth bothering because the solo anthology writer is told they don’t have a chance outside of the smaller publishers. Odd that, when you consider how many of the bigger publishers release anthologies.

So, where does that leave us looking for new material to review? Probably better than most SF websites as I’ve never been afraid to look at the smaller companies nor in backlists. After all, there’s a lot of material that gets missed and deserves some attention. I’ve never seen release dates as an obstacle because when we buy a book to read you aren’t that bothered by that. You just want a book to read and entertain you. High Street bookshops might only have the latest books on show, but I bet most of you visit second-hand bookshops or even charity shops on the look-out for something different when nothing new is there to attract you. Some of the books we’ve recently reviewed have been expensive but if you’re buying less, then you might find some of these suddenly within your budget. With the Internet, there’s always an opportunity to buy a particular book at a price you can afford providing you know how to wander around the titles. Collectively, it boils down to we do have a need for new material whatever else is ignored or chucked out there and grab where we can.

Even so, it doesn’t ignore one important criteria, for all its thirteen sub-genres, prose Science Fiction has been coasting for some time now and sales are sliding down a bit because of it. The series books outnumbering the one-offs. In some ways, that’s understandable. If a reality is viable then it’s going to develop a fan base that likes to be fed with more of the same. Once upon a time, there weren’t that many realities. Now, there are so many. Fantasy is practically over-run with them. The people interest out-doing the differences in the reality so everything from space travel to technology relies on the standard tropes than anything innovative. It probably helps the newer readers because it makes things instantly recognisable but it doesn’t allow growth. Then again, what can you do that’s new with, for instance, space travel? Even those writers professing to only do hard SF, staying within accepted science rules, ie not being able to exceed the speed of light, haven’t exactly been prominent or at least not sent to us.

Have we reached a dead end? With the likes of my own story mossaics ‘Psi-Kicks’, ‘Snuffworld’ and ‘Limbo City’ (I’m working on a second story), I know I haven’t but I only write short stories and it’s easier to explore my ideas that way than get convoluted into a two year novel writing a single book project. Saying that, there is a need to put some more fire into the material that is coming out now. SF geeks like most of us here like to be challenged. There’s room for all sorts who read Science Fiction, but the higher end has to come first before it seeps down to the other sub-genres. The Golden Age of SF proved one thing. It does need more than one innovator to stir things into action and if you really want to throw a robot into the works, most of them started off in short stories that were collected into paperbacks. It wouldn’t do any harm for that to happen again.

I haven’t even touched on getting new younger writers and readers into SF. The loner geek mode that many of our age come from is growing smaller all the time because more kids are hooked into technology. This in turn is not helped by them playing with their mobile phones than developing their imaginations. Then again, they are living in an SF world so see this as the norm. Innovations grow quickly now and quickly absorbed.

Whatever, I hope I’ve given you food for thought and haven’t even asked if you’re interested in reviewing yet. You can look that up further down. It isn’t as though we don’t review the grey brothers of fantasy and horror. In the meantime, think about the nature of the choices of what you read in Science Fiction and see if I’m right or not.


Thank you, take care, good night and encourage publishers by buying something.


Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


Windows 10: Just in case you thought I had forgotten about it, two pieces of useful information. If you thought if you had W7 you’d be low on the list waiting for a download, you’re not. My back-up computer, added to the list in May, received the download this week. Although I’m going to wait a bit before installing that one, what was surprising was the file was only 2.2gB, half of what was expected for W8 to upgrade. When you consider that W10 has more of W7’s properties, it does make me wonder what is being sorted out with W8. Don’t even consider cross-matching them.


Observation: Do you realise it might actually be safer to live in Colombia than the USA??


Observation: Bearing in mind that the hybrid xenomorph/Ripleys had her personalities, does that also mean in the full xenomorphs that hidden behind their need to capture more hosts that there are facets of their personalities in the DNA.


Observation: In ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, the Monolith taught the man-apes to kill tapirs for meat and by extension, kill their rivals to gain overall control of the watering hole. Obviously, there is a need to ensure the man-apes survive and develop intelligence, even if it’s meant instigating war amongst themselves ever since. The man-ape jaws were obviously designed to chew meat so maybe this tribe hadn’t got the sense to relearn the habit, too. Anyway, so why at the end of ‘2010’, does Dave Bowman instruct the humans to find peace? Is this a change of heart or that game plan no longer viable? If so, how can they think mankind can rationalise something in-grown for four million years?


Personal Care Note: Hedge trimmers aren’t particularly good at cutting fingernails.


A Zen thought: Someone has to be proud of me.



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