Visions of Paradise

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is enough good original sf being published?

It has become commonplace in recent years for people to lament how few science fiction books are being published compared to fantasy and horror. For somebody who remembers how little sf was published 40 years ago by comparison, that lament is almost ludicrous. According to the February Year-in-Review issue of Locus, in 2007 2,723 genre books were published, of which 1,710 were new and 1,013 were reprints. That is the highest number of genre books published in any year ever. By comparison, in 1997 1,816 genre books were published, 999 new and 817 reprints.

Breaking down the original books only by category, in 2007 250 original science fiction novels were published, compared to 460 fantasy novels and 198 horror novels. There were also 90 anthologies and 100 collections published, which combine all three categories. Assuming the latter followed the same percentages as the novels, that breaks down to approximately 50 science fiction anthologies/collections to 140 fantasy and horror, for a total of 300 original sf books and 800 fantasy/horror books.

In 1999, the oldest year listed in Locus, 251 original sf novels were published compared to 275 fantasy novels and 95 horror novels. So while the latter categories have basically doubled in popularity, science fiction has remained steady.

300 original science fiction books published in 2007 is a lot of original science fiction. While I don’t have any records of publications 40 years ago, I suspect it was far less than 100 original sf books published the entire year. So while the total number of original sf books might pale besides fantasy and horror, how many of those 300 sf books can a single person read in one year (assuming they read zero fantasy/horror books, which is probably a rare occurrence among genre fans)?

That does not take into account quality, of course. Using Sturgeon’s Law as a guideline, if 10% of the original sf published in a given year appeals to an individual reader, that is 30 new books, admittedly not a lot for most avid readers. But surely some fantasy must appeal to those same readers. If only 5% of the fantasy appeals to that same reader (and no horror), that would be another 30 books.

Nor do these figures include all the short fiction available in prozines, semi-prozines and online, an estimated 2,109 stories in 2007 according to Locus short fiction guru Mark Kelly. So if 300 books is not sufficient reading for one year, surely an average of nearly 6 pieces of short sf per day would augment that reading considerably.

Overall, there is not much doubt that a sufficient amount of original sf is published each year to appeal to any genre fan, perhaps requiring a bit of work to find some of it online. Overall, that sounds like a good deal to me though.


  • My problem isn't with the number of science fiction books published each year, but with the number I can find and read, and the number that I really admire. Usually that number is 1 or 2. I just don't have the time to read a lot of science fiction anymore. I'd like to, but there is so many other kinds of books to read.

    I do think SFFMeta is a big help in finding new books.

    I'd liked it better back in the 1960s when the SF field was small and it was easier to know about most of the books published and which were the ones everyone liked. Now it takes a lot of work to find the hit books.

    By Blogger Jim Harris, At 4:56 AM  

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