Visions of Paradise

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Science Fiction Book Club

I joined the SFBC for the first time in 1967 and my initial selections were Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light and Harlan Ellison’s anthology Dangerous Visions. In those early years, nearly all the choices in their monthly catalog were science fiction, with an occasional fantasy to break the monotony. There were always so many good choices that it was possible to maintain a science fiction book collection entirely through purchases from that club.

But now? I am sitting with the most recent SFBC catalog. Its cover is from David Weber’s latest Honor Harrington novel Mission of Honor, but when I scanned the contents of the catalog, it seemed that book was in a definite minority of sf books offered within. All I noticed were endless fantasies and contemporary and near-contemporary thrillers about vampires and such. But was that observation a fact or perhaps my prejudiced view of books I had no particular interest in? So I went through the entire catalog and categorized each book in it. There was considerable overlap, but I tried to select which genre each book fit best. Here are the results:

Genre / Total / percent of overall total
Fantasy / 65 / 44%
Science Fiction / 50 / 34%
contemporary & near-contemporary thrillers / 23 / 16%
Horror / 5 / 3%
Media/comics tie-ins / 3 / 2%

While I am not surprised that fantasy and contemporary & near-contemporary thrillers total 60% of the books offered, 34% is actually a higher percentage of science fiction than I would have guessed before I began my tallying. However, most of the books in all categories are not new to the catalog. So considering only new books, I found the following sf books which I believe appeared in the SFBC catalog for the first time:

Mission of Honor / David Weber
Ship Breaker / Paolo Bacigalupi
Deceiver / C.J. Cherryh

Can a science fiction fan still maintain a collection exclusively through the SFBC? It is unlikely that all three of the new sf books would appeal to each reader (I personally have no interest in the Weber military sf book), so 2 books per catalog seem a fairly skimpy amount. Thus, as the amount of published science fiction continues to grow (in total numbers, albeit as a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall genre market which grows even faster), the amount offered through the SFBC does seem to be shrinking.

How long will it be before the powers-that-be decide to rename it the Fantasy Book Club to better reflect their main concern?


  • I have been a member of the SFBC off and on for a couple decades, and their selection of decent SF (as opposed to vampire lifestyle novels and fantasy doorstoppers) has reached its nadir (I hope). I despair of ever being able to meet my obligation to purchase two more titles before this November, and I certainly have no intention of continuing as a member after that point. I don't think it has all that much to do with SFBC itself, but rather the state of genre publishing itself. Most of the stuff that can be strictly defined as "SF" being published these days seems to be multi-volume space opera or military SF, with an emphasis on it's "hardness", which I think is and always was a nonsense concept/category. Needless to say, what little of this there actually is doesn't appeal to me.

    By Blogger dhowarth333, At 3:43 AM  

  • I joined the SFBC around the same time as you, and also got Lord of Light and Dangerous Visions. Back then I'd usually buy both of the featured books and an extra each month, but then I was new to SF. I stayed in the bookclub for years, quitting and rejoining to get the intro package. But in recent years I prefer audio books and so I've mostly stayed out of the club. Whenever I see it, I'm depressed by all the crappy vampire books, and how it doesn't feel like it's about SF anymore. But on the other hand, it always has plenty of SF titles that are getting the buzz from reviewers.

    By Blogger Jim Harris, At 4:44 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10:25 PM  

  • I dropped my SFBC membership years ago when the fantasy and horror content crowded out the SF and the SF started leaning more in the direction of MilSF (much of which I perceive as little more than high tech fantasy). I'm not sure which aspect of that bothered me more. I am usually lukewarm to fantasy, with a pronounced aversion to thus-and-blunder and Tolkein rip-offs. But I really detest the whole Vampire craze in which genre seems steeped of late.

    By Blogger Mark, At 6:40 AM  

  • 沒有目標而生活,恰如沒有羅盤而航行 ............................................................

    By Blogger SigridNolen1志正, At 12:13 AM  

  • I've been looking for some of the recent catalogs going back a couple 3 or 4 years that I missed... if anybody keeps old copies, please contact me....

    By Blogger raverr123, At 8:43 PM  

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