Speaking of Death Knells

September 15th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

If you are looking to us for breaking news, we have a confession: sometimes we hold back on stories for days or weeks. Like last week, when we heard that science fiction was given last rites. Oh yes, we could have gotten the news to you right away, but our intensive research (yes, we went into a bookstore and looked around) indicated the situation was not nearly as dire as indicated. We made the decision, perhaps it was a bit too parental of us, to hold the news back from you. If this affected your life in any way, we apologize. Sort of.

When books are successful, publishers immediately seek out more of the same. Sometimes this works, mostly this doesn’t. Book publishing being what it is, getting more of the same onto the shelves could involve a delay of a year or more. People move on quickly, so this approach has much potential to backfire. Having a book that is similar to another bestseller ignores the fact that it was a combination of story, universal appeal, author’s voice, and timing that propelled the original work to the top of the charts (or lists, we suppose, since we’re talking books). The copycat syndrome is not exclusive to the publishing world.

As we examine the demise of science fiction and the potential disaster for fantasy created by market saturation, we think about the fact that human tastes in fiction seem to be cyclical. This is why it is simultaneously suggested that you jump on the bandwagon while not writing to the market. It’s all very confusing if you’re in this game for a quick buck — but if you write science fiction, you write science fiction. The market will not change your path. Like those of us who prefer classic clothes with slightly modern twists, books with universal appeal will always be in style. Sales are often slow and steady, but to quote Marge Simpson, “Slow and steady. That’s what wins the race*“.

Science fiction, the straight stuff, has yielded ground to fantasy. Fantasy is about to collapse under the weight of its own success. The chicklit phenomenon cannot possibly last. Romance is dead, long live romance. Let’s face it, nobody reads courtroom thrillers anymore — lawyers? Get real.

And wait until tomorrow — the public’s mood will be entirely different.

By the way, congratulations to Booksquare favorite Lois McMaster Bujold for her Hugo Award. As noted before, she has the distinction of writing the single best chapter we have ever read. Bold words, yes, but we have yet to find anyone to disagree with us.

* – Possibly, we have not gotten the quote precisely right. It’s the sentiment that counts, not the words.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

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