Is It Time For SF And Fantasy To Split?

Over on the Borders Babel Clash blog, I’ve been putting forward the idea that it’s time for fantasy and SF to go their separate ways:

It makes me wonder, though, if it’s time for fantasy and SF to dissolve the marriage of convenience. They came together in an age when there was a limited number of speculative fiction books on the shelves and the two genres huddled together for support. But as Charlie Stross points out, they’re very different in outlook – one stares out to the world, one peers into the unconscious.

When a good number of authors and readers of one genre openly sneer at the other genre, that’s probably a good time to disentangle them at the level of marketing, conventions, societies and the rest. Fantasy has more in common with horror, and urban fantasy which straddles the two. And that would leave SF to be “pure” which a lot of its supporters seem to want.

Of course, members of the SF community who speak openly about that kind of thing might find it a double-edged sword. Fantasy thrives in sales terms, and those big secondary world epics that Charlie Stross mocks give a lot of bookstore cover to what may be perceived as the more challenging of the SF fare – especially at a time when three senior editors (two in the US, one in the UK) tell me they’re no longer really in the market for SF for sales reasons.

0 thoughts on “Is It Time For SF And Fantasy To Split?”

  1. As a reader I’m in two minds. I’d like the separation because I prefer fantasy to SF and I’m a little fed up of local bookstores filling their fantasy/SF new book quotas with SF. For example I’ll go into my local Waterstones and see a decent amount of new spines on the shelves, only to browse through them and see they are all SF. HOWEVER on the other hand, I’ve read some SF that I really enjoyed but only came across because it was side by side with fantasy.

    I always think of SF as less accessible and therefore less popular, so I can see it suffering if there is a separation. Or maybe it will open up a lot more room in bookshops for SF writers that are otherwise ignored, ditto fantasy writers. But I also think perhaps it’s just a case of labelling and how petty a reader I’d be if that really mattered, regardless of whether I enjoyed the book. I think the situation is going to have to become a hell of a lot worse anyway before bookshops or the publishers do anything about it. But I can see where you’re coming from.

    Now I’m not sure if I’ve made any sense and I’m questioning that dirty martini. But there’s some logic in there somewhere.

  2. Interesting to read that you sampled SF after searching for fantasy, Christopher. I’d love to know if it worked the other way. From what I hear, there’s not a lot of crossover from SF to fantasy so no benefit to fantasy in commercial terms from being racked in that way.

    And if there *was* crossover from the hugely-selling urban fantasy books to fantasy that would make a better match, imo.

  3. In the current market I agree that Fantasy is carrying SF, but that may shift. All it would take is the next Harry Twilight to be a SF story and everything would change. As much as a SF nerd lament being shelved with fairies, it’s really one of the few things providing them with new SF books at the moment. In the minds of marketers/publishers the two have become so inseparable that I think a split would be damaging for both.

  4. I went on in the next post to move beyond marketing reasons and try to suggest why the two genres need to be in lock-step for bigger reasons.

  5. I started reading fantasy by picking up the first of the Age of Misrule books when I couldn’t find anything good in SF at the time.
    (SF and Fantasy were jumbled together in the shop)*
    It seems to me that a lot of the lumping together is done for marketing reasons by people that don’t understand or appreciate the difference between the two. I agree with Justin Blazier Fantasy has a higher profile at the moment because of ‘Harry Potter’ would be interesting to see what happens now that series is finished.

    * Glad I did find it, maybe I was meant to pick it up I’ve always believed that certain things are supposed to happen that way.

  6. I tend to believe that too, George.

    What I think SF needs is a book or sequence of books that connects with the mainstream, but over the last few years the genre seems to have been fleeing from the mainstream.

  7. As a lover of space opera of Galactic proportions and the occasional dynastic , dunesque , jihadist SF novel , I still tend to head for the fantasy shelves first : why ?
    Easy ………fantasy rocks my boat ; and my head loves totally uncharted waters to get lost in .
    A richer and a deeper and an uncharted , fantasy Universe take you to places far off the current space – lanes of today’s SF novels .
    For me , and naming no names , the majority of the current crop of SF authors are too dry and far too blinkered ; too exclusively one tracked , to attain any but a select few of the readers who really want to avidly consume their books.
    My own view is that fantasy writing is the very origin of all fiction genres ……crime through to love – pulp ….above and beyond .
    But , in all honesty , it`s the great houses ( and I don`t mean Atriedes or Harkonnen . ) who dictate what and whom we read .
    Money makes this publicist inspired conspiracy theory go around .
    I love SF and I adore Fantasy as I love and adore my niece and nephew : two equally wonderful members of my family , but each so very , very different and unique .

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