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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
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
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
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,
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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