Thursday, September 18, 2008

UFOs and SF

I got asked today whether a UFO novel might do well with a science-fiction publisher, or if flying saucers were a taboo subject. My response:
It's not that UFOs are taboo per se, it's just that (perhaps paradoxically) they're not considered part of science fiction. Rightly or wrongly, most SF readers and editors have decided that whatever UFOs have been reported have nothing to do with extraterrestrial life.

Science fiction has its own peculiar subset of things it allows and doesn't allow: it allows such magic as faster-than-light travel and time travel, for instance, but rarely has any truck with UFOs. Because of this, you'd probably have better luck with a mainstream publisher than an SF one.
My correspondent replied that this was odd, and said he was going to try his book at a particular SF publisher. My response, which I think articulates a good general principle about finding a home for one's book, was:
I honestly think your chances are very poor there. There's a whole subgenre of aliens-are-here novels, but they are not published by science-fiction houses. Find a publisher who is doing that sort of thing; don't try to convince one that isn't that they should be. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At September 19, 2008 1:01 AM , Blogger S.M.D. said...

I sincerely hope this person listens to you. While it's possible to twist a good UFO story and sell it to an SF publisher, when someone like yourself, who, well, should know what the hell you're talking about when it comes to publishing considering you've made a name for yourself and what not, tells you that your chances are better with a mainstream publisher, you should pay attention. I hope this person pays attention and does the smart thing. Sure, it's possible he/she could write a really great UFO novel that SF fans would love (there's one that's sort of a UFO novel that Tor released, but that book was crazy unique in my opinion), it's probably not a good bet, as you said.

But that's me talking and I don't know what I'm talking about.

At October 07, 2008 5:33 PM , Blogger drjon said...

Of course, who's to say that UFOs might not be the Next Big Thing in SF...? ;}P>

At October 07, 2008 5:40 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Well, I'll say it. :) I've gone to hundreds of SF convention, and spoken over the years with thousands of SF readers, and I've worked with many major and minor SF publishing houses. The antipathy toward UFOs is real, entrenched, and not going to change. It didn't change, after all, when Steven Spielberg made CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; it didn't change when Whitley Streiber's books became bestsellers.

The only thing that would change it is actual proof that aliens are visiting Earth in UFOs -- and if that happened, UFOs wouldn't just be the next big thing in SF, they'd be the next big thing, period, and the topic would be co-opted by mainstream fiction and nonfiction.

At October 14, 2008 6:26 PM , Blogger Paolo2000 said...

I had been always attracted by UFO stories, even I had readed some supposed non fiction stories (Strieber basically...) because of the thrills.

The problem here is that this subjectis covered by authors and readers that fall for the conspiracy field than somebody interested in reading a good history.

Such a shame...

Greetings from Spain

At December 02, 2008 5:28 PM , Blogger Matt Whitby said...

Of course UFOs are, by their nature, unidentified and I don't really see how you can hang a plot on something unknown. Sure you may resolve the mystery during the story, but then they're not UFOs. Presumably they become Identified Flying Objects.


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