Science Fiction – too geeky, doldrums or what?

I love science fiction. Although I read and write science fiction and fantasy, and a bit of mainstream (shh, don’t tell anyone), my heart is in science fiction. Therefore, it pains me when agent Kristin Nelson says:

I just wish the market was stronger in SF right now. I did just sell an SF novel a couple of months ago but that wasn’t an easy task.

And she’s right. I haven’t read or bought any fantasy for a while, because I’ve been catching up on SF. There is some good stuff out there, but… anything that’s recently published is likely to be a work of an established author, or a collection/reprint of older work. Why? Why aren’t as new science fiction writers getting a break as there are new fantasy writers?

Here are a few points to consider or discuss:

1. Science Fiction may be one of the last bastions of male dominance (see also this excellent post by Alisa Krasnostein). Since the reading audience is female-dominated (how much – reply if you can provide a link, I’ll put it up here), this implies a reduced market.

2. Science Fiction seems to suffer an identity crisis. While some purists would like to see science fiction limited to works which extend the boundaries of known science, in practice, science fiction includes all those works that involve futuristic technology and/or concepts, extra-terrestrial intelligence or space travel, whether any of these things are intended to reflect reality or not.

3. Hard science fiction has become too geeky. Science fiction that extends the boundaries of known science is becoming both harder to write and harder to understand. Since the boundaries of science have shifted into regions few people without degrees in quantum mechanics will understand, the audience for this type of science fiction is shrinking.

4. Science fiction has the reputation to be all about the ideas and not about the characters.

To a certain extent, I would say bollocks to all these points. There are good female science fiction writers. Not as many as men, though. Frankly, I’m disappointed that at this day and age, such a stupid point should matter. I don’t care about the gender of the author of a book I read. But apparently, men are less likely to read a book by a woman.

Science fiction is a very wide genre, and readers embrace that. To argue that a book that doesn’t adhere to strict realistic facts isn’t science fiction is just plain silly. Ditto the requirement that science fiction should somehow push the boundaries of science. Ow-come on! Readers love McMaster-Bujold’s Miles books. Do they push the boudaries of science? No. Does anyone care? No. Does that make the Miles books ‘not science fiction’? Tell me where else you’d classify them.

We do see character-based science fiction on the shelves. Again, the Miles books are a good example. Again, this falls in the sub-category some people would classify as inferior science fiction. Soft science fiction, space opera. Not real. By the same token, Star Wars isn’t science fiction.

Tell me, if part of the science fiction community disowns part of its own genre, what hope is there the genre will grow? Do we see epic fantasy writers try to exclude books written about vampires from their genre?

I would like to promote ALL science fiction. Frankly, I’m sick of vampires.