Where has all the science fiction gone?
I do read in genres outside SF, especially when I’m in the midst of writing SF. But I’d prefer a good space opera on my screen—book, TV series or movie—any day of the week.
Except, lately, they’re getting hard to come by.
Amazing Stories has been reporting for several weeks on the growing penetration of genre stories on streaming services, but when you study their reports, you find that the big two categories are horror and fantasy.
Yes, Star Wars is adding to the pile – I’m waiting somewhat impatiently for the last episode of Andor to drop so I can dive into it. But, to be frankly honest, the big franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek are rare and most non-franchise SF offerings aren’t SF at all.
When I browse through the backlists of SF on the streaming services in search of something to watch, I always check out any series or movie that looks remotely interesting…and of those I end up starting to watch, most are disappointing. Frequently that is because it’s a non-SF genre story with a SF setting. I’ve lost count of the number of small-crew-trapped-on-ship stories that are horror in disguise. There’s no science that wins the day. It’s brute force and violence that prevails.
Ditto stories that are set “in the future” and therefore classified as SF…but could be easily set in our current times and not miss a beat. Chris Pratt’s Tomorrow War is a good example of a story that could have been easily set 100% in contemporary times, and still include all the violence (which I frankly got very sick of by the end), and the main character could have emerged with the same insights and determination to change his life. The time travel and aliens had zero unique impact on his character.
Then there’s books.
My public library has over 93,000 ebook titles. A mere 2,900 of them are science fiction. The big winner is romance, at 18,000 titles, but even Fantasy, which tends to be joined at the hip to SF by non-SFF consumers, has 7,300 titles.
Of the SF available, most of it is superficial franchise titles – Star Wars, Star Trek, WarHammer… I do read in series, but I have never been able to sustain my reading of the TV & Movie franchise novels. The quality of story-telling from book to book is too uneven, or the story itself requires that you know not just the primary story world, but all the arcane backstories and histories built up from non-primary sources.
Plus, my biggest objection to most franchise SF is that it is traditionally published, which means the book must reach a preset word count, usually at the high end – 100,000 words is pretty standard for trad publishing. Stories that would have been entertaining if they’d got right down to just telling themselves are slowed down by unnecessary backstory and side stories and all the padding and other techniques that authors use to hit a required word count.
I occasionally and hopefully browse through the SF categories on the retail sites, but browsing on any site now is an exercise in frustration. I could go straight for the space opera category, for example, but the category has become so corrupted with non-space opera and non-SF titles, that browsing more than a page or two is discouraging. Besides, I already own most of the books in the top 100. To find books ranked lower than that, I have to spend several minutes setting up search parameters or figuring out how to display anything but the best sellers.
Even the really big newsletters like BookBub have lately offered up dubious SF, if they have a single SF title in their newsletter at all.
All in all, I’m finding myself going back to classics and favourites more and more often, because they’re safe.
And I wait for favourite authors to announce new releases before falling on them with cries of relief.
What do you do to find good books/stories? Tell me in comments.
In the last couple of weeks, my Iron Hammer series has been enjoying a huge surge of popularity. Galactic Thunder, the first book in the series, reached #1 in Space Opera on Amazon and held there for over a week.
One of the things I wanted to point out was that the first series, The Imperial Hammer, was also discounted…and still is. This series was discounted for the pandemic and we haven’t yet got around to returning the prices to full retail, even though the pandemic itself is nearly in our rear view.