[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Science Fiction

The End of SF

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Science fiction is in trouble.

Sales are the worst they've ever been. SF magazines and bookstores are folding. Authors are being squeezed out of the game on a daily basis.

Some of my colleagues claim that it's all cyclical, that SF will swing back into popularity again.

I don't agree. Unless we do something, I think the current generation of SF readers is the final one. SF as a literature will go the way of horror and westerns.

When I've had a few too many Diet Cokes and start talking like this at parties, someone invariably chimes in that this has nothing to do with SF. Reading of any type is a dying form of recreation.

They're wrong. Book sales overall are up, not down. The Canadian book market, in dollar value of sales, has in fact doubled in the last five years.

Sure, SF is doing well in some places; at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, for instance, it's the top selling category of genre fiction in the store.

But that store is two blocks from Ryerson Polytechnic University, and university students have always been the prime consumers of SF. At other stores, the SF sections are shrinking like puddles under the noonday sun, or they're being shuffled to the back of the shop, like some disreputable uncle best kept out of public view.

Time to make a distinction: I'm talking solely about SF, not fantasy. Fantasy is doing fine, thank you very much; escapism is very much in demand. As I write this, the first nine books on the paperback bestsellers list published by Locus: The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field are fantasy, not SF.

So what happened? Why is SF sinking into oblivion? You'd think as we come out of a decade in which we discovered planets around other stars and putative fossils in Martian meteorites, in which we started cloning mammals, in which the World Wide Web was born, that everyone would be reading science fiction.

But they're not. Oh, they're watching it in movie theatres — crap like Armageddon and The Phantom Menace, and even the occasional good flick, like The Matrix and Gattaca. And they're playing it on their computers and GameStations.

But even on TV, SF is a niche player these days; with the exception of The X-Files, now in its last season, there's not one single SF program in production by the major networks — all the stuff you see is syndicated, meaning it's finding marginal audiences. You can only watch spaceships blow up so many times before it gets boring.

What can you do? For one thing, read some more SF. But more than that, introduce some new readers to the field. It's not too early to start your Christmas and Hanukkah shopping. Pick out a good SF book, and give that as a gift to someone who has never read the genre before. Lay some Spider Robinson on them: he writes SF anyone can read. Buy your brother a copy of Robert Charles Wilson's remarkable Toronto-based short-story collection The Perseids. Give your boss James Alan Gardner's latest, Hunted. Use David G. Hartwell's paperback Year's Best SF 5 as a stocking stuffer.

Show the world that there's more to SF than Jar Jar Binks and Neelix. Because if you don't, that's all that will be left.

Robert J. Sawyer is a Nebula Award-winning science-fiction writer living in Thornhill. His novels The Terminal Experiment, Starplex, Frameshift, and Factoring Humanity were all Hugo Award finalists; his latest novel is Calculating God. Visit his web site at www.sfwriter.com

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