SF editor Lou Anders is talking about the sales decline of SF – from about one third of the mass market in the 70s to around 7 or 8 per cent now.
One of his readers suggests: “the answer is to bring back more complex, involuted, experimental stuff like the early 70s had when s.f. was something like a third of the mass market, not drive readers further away in an era where anyone can use fantastic material in novels in or outside of marketing categories.”
The thinking is that movies and TV have colonised the more populist form to such a degree that SF books need to move into more rareified territory.
To me, that is not the answer, but exactly the problem. It’s like saying, ‘Labour (or the Republicans or fill-in-political-party-here) has so successfully colonised the middle ground, we need to become more extreme’…
The real problem for SF, in my eyes, is that too much of it is failing in the art of communication. It’s written by scientists, for scientists. Every time this charge is levelled, the Big Machine Writers always talk about not wanting to do ‘dumbed-down fiction’ – SF is the genre of ideas, they say.
But they are confusing the art with the delivery of the art. If you have a fantastic idea, surely you want to communicate it to as wide an audience as possible. That means developing forms of communication – in this case, story, plot, and, most importantly, recognisably human characters with human concerns – that will piggy-back the idea into the minds of readers.
By becoming more esoteric, SF will only go the way of the Western genre: a tiny backwater for specialists and nostalgia lovers.