Visions of Paradise

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fantasy vs Science Fiction in the marketplace

Two topics I have discussed in this blog previously are Locus Magazine and the current dominance of fantasy over science fiction in genre publishing. The latter topic reared its head again recently while I was reading the November issue of Locus. One of the magazine’s ongoing columns is entitled Books Received, and it highlights a specific month each issue. The November issue highlights books received by Locus during September of this year. There are nearly 8 pages of books, each with a brief description, and I could not help but notice a similarity to those descriptions.

For example, here are the descriptions of books in one column which I randomly selected:

• omnibus of the five books in the young-adult quasi-fantasy series;
• young adult paranormal romance about a teen werewolf;
• adventure novel with SF/fantasy elements;
• young-adult fantasy novel;
• young-adult vampire novel;
• urban fantasy novel;
• Arthurian urban fantasy novel;
• collection of SF stories;
• historical romance with debatable fantasy elements;
• Young-adult fantasy adventure.

That is 1 science fiction book with 7 fantasy novels (one of them having only debatable fantasy elements. So why the heck is the book even listed here?). All right, perhaps that column was a fluke. Let’s try another random column:

• tie-in novel based on the collectible [fantasy] card game;
• reprint vampire novel;
• paranormal romance novel;
• collection of 20 [SF] stories;
• reprint archaeological thriller with supernatural elements;
• fantasy novel;
• urban fantasy novel;
• graphic novel inspired by Hal Clement’s Needle;
• anthology of eight stories of vampire erotica;
• original anthology of erotic SF and fantasy stories.

This is harder to pigeonhole: 1 SF book, 1 SF-inspired graphic novel, and ½ of an erotic anthology is SF. So count that as 2.5 SF out of 10 books.

At the end of the listing, the column keeps a running tally:

September Totals / 2010 Totals
SF: 26 / 162
Fantasy: 34 / 307
Horror: 21 / 133
Paranormal Romance: 24 / 213

Notice that the SF totals are surpassed easily by both fantasy and paranormal romance for the year. If you consider those four categories as the “genre” fiction published in 2010 to date, SF comprises a mere 20% of the total so far this year.

The good news is that 162 SF books have been published so far this year, but considering how varied the types of novels are which fall under the SF umbrella, perhaps 50% might fall into a specific reader’s comfort zone. That’s still 81 SF books, far more than most readers will buy in a single year.

In my case, I do read some fantasy, so long as it is neither contemporary nor urban fantasy (with an occasional exception, such as a Charles de Lint book). I prefer either historical fantasy or ones set in created worlds, since they provide more of the wonder similar to science fiction’s futuristic worlds. So while I am distrustful of the trends in genre publishing (paranormal romances will never appeal to me, nor am I likely to read any books featuring those overused fantasy tropes of vampires/werewolves/zombies), at least for now enough SF is still being published to satisfy my reading hunger.


  • I doubt science fiction will ever leave the market place. With the advent of technology, there will always be a place for that.

    Still, I am heartened to find that fantasy is finally coming into it's own. For a very long time, fantasy was considered "less" than other genres. I tend to read more fantasy, and even when I do read science fiction, it is "soft core".

    And I like romance in my fantasy and science fiction. ;)

    GA Lanham
    author An Unlikely Place

    By Blogger GA Lanham, At 5:33 PM  

  • Fantasy owes its strength right now to urban fantasy and Young Adult fantasy.

    Both of these owe their numbers to female readers, particularly romance readers who read an incredible number of books and are literary omnivores who can buys dozens of books at a time.

    The publishers and authors of UF and YA fantasy have been courting these readers in magazines like "RT Book Reviews" and online reading groups, and the numbers show this is succeeding.

    Meanwhile, some authors are writing sf with romantic elements (Catherine Asaro, for example) or sf romance (Linnea Sinclair), and they are doing very well indeed. They do a lot of promoting to female readers.

    Some of the more successful sf writers are beginning to market to women, and their numbers are improving.

    SF writers who still see their audience as male geek boys are losing out because that audience doesn't read or spends more time at gaming than reading.

    SF writers and publishers need to wake up and smell the female hormones or accept the fact that old-fashioned sf is becoming a footnote in publishing.

    By Blogger Marilynn Byerly, At 9:10 AM  

  • @GA Lanham

    Fantasy may be more published - even more popular - than other genres. This does not mean it isn't "less than" other genres depending on the standards a given audience chooses to apply. And from a hard SF point of view, a lot of supposed science fiction is just fantasy in space (Star Wars at the top of the list).

    By Blogger The Flea, At 11:05 AM  

  • While I do read some fantasy (Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion,and I plan on tackling George R. R. Martin's epic), most of my reading remains in the science fiction field. I believe there is room for all of the kinds of fiction mentioned in your article. And to be honest, although I like to see new works being published there are plenty of science fiction tales already printed to keep me reading the rest of my life.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 4:41 AM  

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