I read a post recently on SF Signal by Jason Sanford. The article questions the relative absence of science fiction readers compared to science fiction movie goers. Why is science fiction film so popular and yet science fiction prose not as popular? I agree somewhat with Sanford and many of the comments, but I think the reasons are multiple.
For one thing, people do not read books as much as they used. This is especially true of science fiction readers. Increasingly, the typical science fiction reader is migrating towards video games (which is also heavily science fiction). Now why is there a migration?
Who knows. I do not know if there has been a lot of research done as to why reading has declined among young people (and boys in particular). I think that if reasons can be found, then perhaps, we may see a positive change.
An issue that Sanford points out is that there is little YA or children’s science fiction currently being published. And of the current fare, a lot of it is dystopic. Now, I am not sure if dystopia is the best kind of literature for young people to read. I personally think a mixture of positive and negative is perhaps the best.
But what is science fiction anyway? I think a few comments had the right idea in wondering what types of science fiction are being read. How are mass appeal science fiction titles doing? How are the more intellectual or academic science fiction titles doing?
Are current trends in science fiction alienating current and potential readers? I can see how some recent trends can alienate certain kinds of readers. And given how insular and exclusive science fiction fandom can be, it would not be surprising that there are issues on the horizon.
But is this all, possibly, much ado about nothing? Like Gardner Dozois often points out in each summation of his long running anthology series: reports of science fiction’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
This reminds me of a post a few months ago about the death of fantasy. I was skeptical in that debate, and I am only a little less skeptical here. I do think that science fiction is in far greater trouble than fantasy. But I suspect this may be nothing more than a temporary downturn and gradual evolution of the genre.
The danger is, I think, of science fiction being split into two factions that do not read each other. One faction accusing the other of not being “real” science fiction and the other not even knowing the other faction exists. This needs to be avoided, but I fear the division has already begun.
So, is science fiction on death’s door? No. Science fiction is evolving. Now, does this evolution portend good or bad things? That remains to be seen. But no matter what happens, I believe science fiction will still be here, in one form or another, well into the future.