The Voice That Killed Sci Fi As We Knew It

Don’t get me wrong.  Science fiction isn’t dead.  It’s alive and well, and Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, and many others not quite in their stratosphere are entertaining hundreds of thousands, and often, hundreds of millions worldwide.

Written science fiction as was practiced by, say, Robert A. Heinlein?  So embarrassingly dead it’s almost not worth mentioning.

Did this happen because people aren’t interested in sfnal concepts any more?  Hardly.  They’re so interested that Optimus Prime is a household name and this week’s episode of Numbers could have been written by Amy Casil on a bad, hungover day.  I have to say that Bumblebee is my favorite though, even though he doesn’t every get any lines (I think it’s because he doesn’t talk).

What could have caused such a thing?  How could what were “fringe” ideas only 20 years ago be so inextricably woven in the fabric of our lives that half the TV lineup and more than a third of movies are basically sci fi?  At the same time, the few books of science fiction still published with that label on it sell in numbers that make self-publishing look like a viable alternative.  More than 95% of the current Amazon “science fiction and fantasy” top 100 books are about vampires, werewolves, fairies or fae.

It has been forgotten, among the small group that still publishes written sci fi for adults, that people generally want to be entertained by what they read.  They want to feel engagement, they want to be able to follow a story, and most of all, they want excitement, reward, and that all-important “sense of wonder.”

Take for example, the simple, crass, commercial idea that a decent, semi-cool kid’s first car is in fact, an ultra-sophisticated alien-created metal-organic living hybrid, engaged in interplanetary warfare for the fate of the universe.  Take the other crass, simplistic idea that a rich second-generation arms manufacturer and mechanical genius suffers an epiphany of life after almost losing his, that makes him create the gnarliest exo-fighting suit ever known, thus becoming Iron Man.  It helps if you cast Robert Downey, Jr.

The more confused and screwed up our world becomes, the more appealing hero vs. villain stories become.  The more imaginative and inventive the landscape in which the hero and villain contend, the greater the entertainment.

At the same time, all the Usual Suspects were, for decades, publishing opaque work of uncertain provenance, and while many things had literary merit, there were few with simple, comprehensible ideas, relatable characters and comprehensible conflicts like the two I just mentioned.  Transformers started out as toys, and Iron Man comes from the Marvel factory, which knows that which it makes and why people like it.  At best, print fiction sci fi stories in the past two decades were told well, by writers of skill and craft.  At worst?  F’an’t’s’y and S’C1-F1.  In the past ten years?  I cannot count on the fingers of one hand a written science fiction book for adults that I found compelling.  I can name a number with excruciating characters, bizarre premises, and especially bad voice – bad, bad, bad, bad, bad voice.  There’s a peculiar sort of tonedeaf sci fi voice sung with chalkboard scratch “wrong” notes, and then there’s a separate, cheap tonedeaf knockoff of noir film narration that I think got its start during the “cyberpunk” years.  That one won’t die, and I think over time, it has been a very big nail in adult-oriented written science fiction with that label on it. Now, this flies in the face of “above the title” fiction that’s plenty sci fi – from Michael Chabon’s humane, well-written books to The Road by Cormac McCarthy to J.D. Robb’s futuristic detective series about Eve Dallas.  It was picking up J.D. Robb’s books that indicated powerfully to me that sci fi as in “stories about the future” or “stories featuring technology that’s not quite here yet” was anything but dead.  J.D./Nora Roberts’ stories feature things that we know well from TV and film, and somewhat from predictive news articles and magazines.  They’re suspenseful thriller/crime stories about a strong heroine with a lot of personal baggage.  If anything, they’re a little Blade Runner-ish, and there’s no “new” sci fi in them at all.  Meanwhile, this bothers her legions of readers not one bit, and I am sure it isn’t bothering her a bit either.

The reason these books are successful is that their authors know how to tell stories.  They know what a story is.  For at least ten years, and more like 20 to 25, the great majority of sci fi writers I’ve run across wouldn’t know a good story if it smacked them in the face, and that’s not the problem, really.  The problem is that the people who were charged with buying and offering the material to the public didn’t know, either.  They knew so little, and were so fixated on their single-minded involvement in the hermetic, endless sci fi community “debates,” that they let the bad “voice” creep in.  They promoted “the voice” as good, gave awards to it, and through the combination of low pay, poor treatment and social cooties-by-association drove off anybody with any sense of storytelling, talent or gift.

Here’s an opening line for you.  It’s current.

Sidibé Traoré ended up as Earth’s diplomatic representative because she was an astronaut who loved to pop the blisters on a sheet of bubble wrap.

Maybe some of the bad voice could be derived from a grave misunderstanding of a few of Cordwainer Smith’s stories.  A legitimate cold warrior, he wrote with peculiar grace and understood innately the strange stories he told and how to communicate them.  So, the opening of “Game of Rat and Dragon.”

Pinlighting is a hell of a way to earn a living. Underhill was furious as he closed the door behind himself. It didn’t make much sense to wear a uniform and look like a soldier if people didn’t appreciate what you did.

The problem with the bad voice is rooted in rhetoric.  First, in order to say anything of worth, a point needs to be clearly understood before it is made.  Then, after the point or purpose is clear, in telling the story, writers need to remember that people best understand new things presented one at a time.  Today’s successful film and TV sci fi is capitalizing on years of familiarity with what once was unusual and new.  Meanwhile, written sci fi continued down a path toward an uncertain destination and along the way, it seems to have lost its way.  And the gravest failing is the ideas, which are increasingly incoherent, and the writing, which veers too often into the clumsy, incoherent, uncertain bad voice.  The borrowed voice; the bad, bad, bad multi-copied and translated file with every third word substituted, every name just off (and often, not just a little “off” – majorly off), and worst of all – nothing of import happening.

As I said in a slightly different venue, it’s the bad voice that killed sci fi.  The subject matter that drove sci fi into the ground, and that meant that there is no appreciable new adult sci fi right now – for a very good and understandable reason.  It’s the voice of an angry nerd with no life and no heart who screamed what he thought was a story at the world until they finally turned his channel off.

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The Voice That Killed Sci Fi As We Knew It — 80 Comments

  1. Paul, I think you should publish “Hello Kitty” as a limited edition chapbook and if I ever get some time off, I would be thrilled to illustrate it. Hello Kitty has always been one of my favorites. Now – she doesn’t have a mouth! Sly dog, you.

    The most recent depressing bookstore trend has been the one-shelf truncation of the SF/F/H section in Borders to make room for an expanded manga section. Now that’s huge, and all the books so tightly-packed that it’s obviously grown beyond its natural status.

    Re: J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer – dang. J.K. Rowling is probably the best plotter I’ve ever read, most definitely over a long story arc. I just saw where Stephenie Meyer put up covers for her books that she had made herself over a long period of time, including some she’d put on 3-ring binders and given to friends and family. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.

    And I had to laugh seeing from Jonquil – the eventual novel version of Cory Doctorow’s Salon story did change the bad character name of “Andrea Fleeks” to Suzanne something. But Chapter Two? “The Mexican burrito wagon was a rolling advertisement for dysentery . . .” LOL!! The fat people in the first chapters thing is a sci fi trope dating back to the 80’s. It’s a tell; part of what I’ve been saying is that there are writers that are nothing but one big, giant tell, but there’s a person in there (Stephen King, frex), so it’s a tell others go along with and they keep the pages turning. There are others who are tell, fidget, explain (“asyouknowbob”), bleh. I wonder if to this day he could say what Andrea/Suzanne was like, or why he featured her other than the obvious decision that his axe would grind better with a girl than a guy protagonist.

  2. I have that What If? book too . . . I think I missed that chapter. As to high-fructose corn syrup, it seems to contribute a plot point such as they are (not necessarily something OTHERS would see as a plot point) to the expanded, improved Cory Doctorow novel. It’s connected to the marshmallow fat people.

    I really did finish a book last night, and looks like IMAGO is going up some other day. Sometime???

  3. Also, I’d like to say that, even though I did criticize Cory Doctorow’s fiction and point up some bad trends that I don’t think represent professional or positive behavior affecting the creativity of the field or help to bring in new readers or keep current ones, I’d like to ask Tyson to reconsider his harsh statements regarding Ursula Le Guin. Surely he must know that she is one of the founding members of BVC, and that we had a big birthday celebration for her 10 days ago or so. He can say whatever he wants about me, but I don’t appreciate that type of statement being made about someone who should command respect automatically. She is very much alive, very much creating and still growing, learning and teaching.

  4. Paul, my attempt to be clever didn’t come off. I was trying to suggest that absent the potato, the yam/sweet potato filled that niche, being not from Peru. Unfortunately, climatologically this obviously doesn’t work. “Yam”, like “turnip”, is an overloaded word; what it means depends on where you are. Correctly the yam and the sweet potato are two different things, but I grew up using the words interchangeably.

    Thank you for the book rec; I will go off and buy What If?

    Tyson, re Rocannon’s World, if you Amazon it, you’ll see editions from ’66 (when it was an Ace Double), 67, 75, 78 (both hardcover), 80, and 96, still in print, and that’s only the first page of results. The hardback of Rising Sun is out of print; there’s one paperback edition, from 92, still in print. I know which one I’m betting on for longevity.

    “Obviously children’s books sell more now partly because said children aren’t as advanced in their reading as previous generations ” Obviously? I’m not sure I’m following you. If anything, children’s books ought to be selling less if this were true — children would be reading with difficulty, thus reading less. The YA I’ve been reading — Megan Whalen Turner, for one — is rather more sophisticated than the last six adult fantasy novels I pulled off the shelf. In any case, if you despise YA, surely you’re throwing away Heinlein’s juveniles?

  5. (returns from Amazon) Which What If? do I read first? I’m not terribly interested in the military history one.

  6. Apropos of young readers, I think they’re much more sophisticated now than in previous generations. I always quiz my students (and I teach English so they have to read for my class). They definitely read. As to the common slag on YA fiction, it’s just wrong. The writing is wonderful and since it has grown so rapidly in recent years, now there is a lot more high-quality fiction in YA than one can find in shelves containing fiction marketed to adults.

    Then there’s the boredom factor . . . If it’s entertaining, it’s selling out. If it’s accessible, it’s selling out. If it’s relatable, it’s selling out. If people take it unto themselves and create fan art, fan fiction, fan websites, meet together and dress up, etc., is it selling out?

  7. Amy and Jonquil – the book I am referencing is The Collected What If? which includes What If? and What If? 2. Although it does include some military history, Jonquil, it is military history every educated person must know.

  8. it is military history every educated person must know.””

    Thpbbbtpht. My objection to mh is that every damned alt-history I read is based on “What if Patton had won the battle of Thermopylae using mechanical exo-armor???”, not that I don’t read military history in itself.

  9. Jonquil, I agree that alt-history based on the military impact of high tech against low tech is tiresome. However, the alt-history discussed in What If doesn’t do that and, as a consequence, is much, much more interesting. The essays that discuss military history ask, instead, questions like “what if Charles Martel did not win the Battle of Tours?” Our world as we know it was shaped by Martel’s achievement – which very easily might not have occurred at all.

    These are questions different from “what if Napoleon had a B-52 Strato-bomber at the Battle of Waterloo?”

    Forgive my lack of political correctness, but most of the alt-history stuff being written is written by men who enjoy “explody goodness” as my friend John Birmingham often says. If women wrote alt-history fiction, then the focus might be a bit different.

  10. Women like, for instance, Madeleine Robins, in her Sarah Tolerance alt!Regencies? Or Elizabeth Bear’s alt!Marlowe and alt!Shakespeare? Or Joan Aiken’s quite thoroughly plotted out alt!England with no Hanoverians? Or, more to the point, Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire series has a quite carefully thought-out answer to “what does Napoleonic sea warfare look like with air power?”

    There’s a very active subgenre of alternate history, impeccably researched, with and without warfare, written by women.

  11. Check the New York Times best-seller list from earlier this summer. Naomi Novik won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, so she’s quite real. The first book is His Majesty’s Dragon; the airpower, as you may guess, is supplied by the dragons, but Novik is responding to Patrick O’Brian, not to McCaffrey.

    You may be unaware of alt-history written by women because it’s apt to be positioned as fantasy, romance, or mystery –or indeed YA– rather than as science fiction.

  12. No, that’s not the reason. I am not aware of it because I am not part of the subculture that pays close attention to such things. Where it is placed on a book store shelf has nothing to do with my ignorance.

  13. Amy,

    It’s not a harsh statement, it is fact. As far as reaching and entertaining people then Le Guin is insignificant compared to Crichton, in both numeric and financial terms.

    If Rowling is the best plotter you ever read, then you haven’t read very much. 🙂

    I never said anything about being entertaining being selling out, ever. Getting 13 year olds stuff that is fun to read is good, rather than inflicting James or Carey or Solhenitzsyn on them, certainly.

    As far as relatable goes, there’s plenty of Star Wars books, or Halo, or whatever. Also entertaining and accessible. You should be advocating stuff like that, then.

    Jonquil,

    Why would not being as good at reading now mean they read less? It is just in the past people went from books for younger children to adult material. There was no retarding intermediate stage.

  14. Tyson, you’re a dick. I did come to understand that a lot of people associated with SF/F had Aspergers or something like it, or other limits in understanding or working with others. You came on here and aggressively insulted me, and said Ursula would be dead soon by way of defending your inclusion of mid-20th century random writers, several of whom have passed, because you saw me mention the name of a boy that was a character in a popular series of kids’ books later on – by comparison to the main character in Little Brother. You said nothing cogent except insults, and when I asked for a decent apology, you’re proud of your assholish, rude crap. I never thought that was a big value down below, but more fool me.

    If it’s that important to you to “win” an argument, you’ve now put yourself up into the august category that did fuck up what was once a decent, positive, creative field. William Sanders is probably out there insulting people somewhere, and there’s probably a happy home for you in several other locations as well.

  15. Sometimes alternative history is quieter than the What if so-and-so won XYZ? I published two alt hist back in 1996 & 1997 that took place in the early 1800s in the Michigan territory. No exoskeleton suits.

    (Although the most culture-altering tech of the 1970s was the microwave. If you can’t see that, you’ve never watched how long it takes for real food to be created.)

    If you feel like you’re reading history with a drop of magic, the drop should be tinting everything, or why is it fantasy? Is that fair to ask?

    One reason I leaned toward fantasy and SF as a medium was because people would examine an idea in a made-up world that they would not even crack the cover of in a “real” novel. Yes — entertaining SF & fantasy will reach more people. Another reason to write it.

    Back to the writing….

  16. “One reason I leaned toward fantasy and SF as a medium was because people would examine an idea in a made-up world that they would not even crack the cover of in a “real” novel.”

    We are so very different, Kathi. The reason I lean towards fantasy and SF is because it is way cool.

  17. Paul —

    Of COURSE it is way cool! And since I can see the magic, why not write about it? But later on, I realize I also had a few things to say about stuff some folk might never have expected in a fantasy or SF book.

    I never get tired of real magic. And I’m glad that fantasy and SF have become part of the norm. Because the more people who appreciate it, the more open our minds and hearts. It’s hard to discriminate when you meet trees older than the hills with a language that puts your own to shame.

    One thing I do strive for in my writing — that it should become clean and graceful, so it tells a story on many levels. Something for everyone. I get younger every year, so the next story should be wondrous for all ages and kinds of people. I think of the Allie books as for ages 8 – 88. That’s good. I believe stories become more True, if you will, the more people who can take away something from them.

    I’m sorry to see some “traditional” genres dissipate, but remember that Tolkien was published as general fiction. I have always loved books in other genres, and have repeatedly warned fledgling writers that if you only read SF or fantasy or horror, your work can become shallow and inbred. Third generation fantasy must return again to the well.

  18. Believe it or not, I, too, am often in the position to give advice to fledgling writers, and I give them the same advice I give aspiring actors and screen writers: keep your day job.

    When all is said and done, writing is about passion. Everyone should write what moves them personally. But they should never, ever, so much as consider that what they write has any merit. There is simply no way of knowing until time has applied its test to see if any particular story transcends the mundane and achieves lasting value and importance. Brave New World and 1984 are still being read today because they communicate to the reader in ways that the Pern novels, for example, do not.

    Monetary success is no measure of value, either. I assure you that 50 years from now Robert Heinlein (whom I simply adore) won’t be read as widely as Huxley, Orwell and/or Wells because Heinlein’s work is tainted by Heinlein’s own social/political prejudices and because his work didn’t transcend his time and place. Quite the opposite is true: Heinlein’s work projects the common mundane prejudices of his time.

    One more point: SF, Fantasy and every permutation in between is about escape. Writers create new worlds to escape into them and readers buy their stories to join them. Traditional genres dissipate when they stop providing that escape primarily because the audience has grown up emotionally and intellectually and no longer wish to escape or, just as likely, writers cannot adapt to the audience’s new level of sophistication.

  19. Oy, was that a slog in the comments section.

    I read Makers. Past chapter 2, any editorial control being exerted was loosed, and the infodumps came hard and without lube. Sadly, they didn’t come fast.

    Doctorow knows one sentence length. Everything he writes reads as if he’s never actually re-read it, and I think his ‘success’ in being the Screeching Idiot With A Bullhorn is doing more to hasten the end of conventional publishing than anything else.

    Hell, his use of technology isn’t even consistent. If the frickin’ laser-beam..er, pointer can do real time transcription and translation, why the hell can’t the protagonist’s MacBook do the same thing?

    As to the main crux of your argument:

    We live in a world where everything is marketing to demographic slices. As this market fragments, each individual submarket gets smaller. The major exceptions are YA books, largely because YA can get to a fairly homogeneous market: 10-14 year olds who want Escapism, a Hero to Cheer For and a Villain to Boo.

    This, plus Thor Power Tools, has meant that there is no such thing as a midlist author making a living any more, short of working through micropublishers (like my company, and Book View Cafe).

    I have long contended that YA books are the place where craftsmanship is honed and forged. When you write for adult ‘readers’, you’re writing for a small subset of readers, and the temptation to get into Olympic-level navel gazing is vast.

    FYI – here’s the writing advice I give new writers:

    1) Write your story from beginning to end. Get to the end of the story before you do anything drastic.

    2) Once you get to the end, throw away the first six pages. Nearly every writer lards the first 1000 to 1500 words of their story with the authorial equivalent of throat clearing. Anything that doesn’t make sense without something in that first 1500 pages should have a brief explanation inserted.

    3) Do a find and replace for *ly and ‘very’. Replace them with ‘poodle’ (or some other noun that isn’t integral to your story). Read your story aloud – any place where you can scratch out a poodle and the sentence still reads, do so. Particularly if it’s not in dialog. You’ll wean yourself of the Curse of Excessive Adjectives.

  20. As an adolescent I read what I consider the staples: Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, Bradbury, Tolkien. As a young adult I began reading Niven/Pournelle, and McCaffery. As a college graduate I discovered Gibson. In graduate school I discovered Kim Stanley Robinson. Now I’ve been an attorney for 20 years, am a law professor, and I define my recreational reading preferences by what I tend to read over and over again: Dan Simmons Ilium, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, John Birmingham’s Axis of Time series; S.M. Stirling’s Nantucket series, Alan Steele’s Coyote series and bits and pieces of Eric Flint’s 1632 series.

    I don’t really fit into any demographic I can determine, but the sales records for the books I end up choosing to buy show that I am not alone. I am hoping that new writers can figure out what I like and give me more of it.

  21. Ken – what a collection of excellent advice. “Remove Poodle” is particularly brilliant.

    I’ll make one caveat – if this is aimed at beginning writers, they tend to see things in stark terms. They’ll ruthlessly remove the adverbs and “verys” and want to fudge on advice bits #1 and #2.

    One sentence length? Let’s see . . . an Amazon Kindle, $259; a Sony eReader, $199; getting Cory Doctorow to pay attention to what he writes? Can’t be had.

  22. Amy, I’ve found that I’ve got two kinds of writers submitting material to me:

    Those who are wordsmiths, and fall madly in love with their writing. They meander all over the place, but never actually come up with a story.

    Those who can tell a story, but really should not be left unsupervised with a keyboard.

    I’ve found that my best results are to have the writers of the second sort write their story, then hand it to one of the writers of the first sort to rewrite in something resembling English.

    I also have a setting with some fairly tight rules and solid background material to explore, which some writers find constraining. My answer is that I can take a good story and work the background details in.

    I do pay on publication, and am looking for a regular set of writers. I try to publish a ‘bookazine’ of game material twice a year, with an A story and a B story, one of which has to involve some sort of military action within the setting; the other can be nearly any kind of story imaginable that takes place in the setting.

    I’ve published fiction ranging from a space battle told from the perspective of a damage control crewman to a three way race to grab the hulk of a main battle tank with airships, fending off Pushtun air pirates trying to hijack an airship in midflight, to a very nice Casablanca homage.

  23. Hi Ken – just reading your message and visiting your Ad Astra site puts me in mind of a hybrid between TV writing, game writing, and prose fiction writing. I’ve worked on scripts (not game). “A story” and “B story” is definitely used in television scripting. There’s no way to do that type of work and not get that to most people, story isn’t just a series of events, it’s the result of conflicts and how the characters resolve them. How the characters resolve them has to come from who the characters are, and their context (this is part of my story creation model). Solid storytelling is probably a natural gift. Writing skill can definitely be learned. I truly believe that while in years past, people thought it was all “talent,” and so forth, that it’s a matter of time and concentrated work, solving individual problems as they arise. As to what type of problems are presented? That’s where Paul’s triple-cloned bisexual (I forget what she/he was . . .) comes in. The problem with this type of idea is – what do you do with it? The existence of this type of character is a problem that no amount of missing potatoes can solve.

  24. Amy – what I call an “A” story and a “B” story is that the “A” story is longer (20K to 35K) and the “B” story is shorter (5K to 15K). It’s not the A/B story technique of television dramas.

    You may find this amusing or interesting. It’s a 4-page Role Playing Game I wrote that strongly emphasizes storytelling as a skill, and gives it mechanical support. I’ve found that when I go to ‘regular’ SF conventions rather than game cons, the writers in attendance go “Neat!” and buy a copy.

    http://www.adastragames.com/downloads/RPGs/Minimus.pdf

    It’s my experiment with donation-ware. If you find it useful, feel free to send some money my way via PayPal.

  25. Just for what it’s worth: ANATHEM was an NYT #1 bestseller in hc. While the NYT numbers have dropped, that’s at least sales of about 250k.

    LITTLE BROTHER’s sales in hc were, two months ago, 90k. These are sales, not shipping numbers.

    I have no idea what anyone else’s numbers are like, but it’s something to consider.

  26. I just read the discussion, which was quite interesting. However, as an impartial person I want to point out that Amy went much more ad hominem on Cory Doctorow than Blue Tyson ever did on Amy.

  27. Maybe you’d better review the hundreds of personal attacks on any writer who dared say/do anything different from Cory Doctorow’s ever-varying advice and orders to others to do what he said over the course of many years. I never objected to anything he ever said that he wanted to do, any project he wanted to pursue, any idea, etc. I object to the cult of personality that has nothing to do with selling books; if considered among the larger body of children’s books published each year, Little Brother is not very successful. In fact, it’s a “midlist book,” the exact type of writer, lacking blog support, that has found it impossible to survive in adult SF/F/H in the past 20 years, downward spiraling. That book sold less than one of my favorites of last year, Lisa McMann’s WAKE – for sure. And her book was just plain popular with young readers. It was not heavily promoted in any way. It was published among the midlist of Simon Pulse, the young adult division of Simon & Schuster, where more editors work in that one office than do in entire other publishing houses that are on those sad, out-of-touch, dwindling “lists” that pass for “market lists” for aspirants.

    The fact remains that these books are not successful. An NYT adult fiction hardcover bestseller isn’t 250,000 any longer.

    And: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010233.html

    Debuts at #9 on the children’s list.

    To put this in perspective –

    http://www.nancyholder.com/2009/10/23/wicked-the-movie-thank-you-dreamworks/

    Most of the people reading here were not qualified, competent, or did not care that I was fundamentally saying and accurately and truthfully, that people I knew in the adult sci fi book business, I believed had either lost the ability, or for other unknown reasons, no longer desired to select and publish a book/story/author that would appeal to large numbers of people.

    Anathem is published by William Morrow, which specializes in “above the title” writers, though they may be writing in ways thought to be mystery, science fiction, etc. To wit: “William Morrow upholds its 80-year legacy of bringing the highest quality fiction and nonfiction to the broadest possible audience, including bestselling authors Bruce Feiler, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Lehane, Neal Stephenson, John Grogan, Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Christopher Moore, Sena Jeter Naslund, James Rollins, and Cokie Roberts. ” I would venture to say that ANATHEM is NOT the top-seller off that list, which the careful reader will note is quite a mix between nonfiction, fiction, and includes folks like my friend James Rollins, who some might know as James Clemens – who is very very successful and I should note – was definitely an in-genre writer as James Clemens aka creator of W’it’ch World.

    I’ve never been known for mincing my words, so I’ll just say my opinion now, same as what I said to begin with. Science fiction and fantasy are everywhere. People of all ages love the story. It’s gone “mainstream” and it’s the people who still think it should be “special,” etc. who are not “getting it.” Not the audiences and the readers – or the writers who are writing successful work, and the publishers who are finding ways to select and present to the public things that readers do enjoy and will buy.

    If readers thought I was insulting Cory Doctorow, then either I am a way worse writer than I thought (or have achieved, sorry dorks) or they just don’t get my context. I’m insulting Tor Books, not Cory Doctorow. I’m insulting them for thinking that their narrow taste has even a remote chance of competing with the plethora of work out there that’s being bought by people who don’t share their peculiar prejudices or habits, and that do have aspirations to selling more than 90,000 hardcovers. That’s not BAD – but it is not ginormous bestseller. Not by a very, very long shot.

  28. And, I am also saying as I did before – what’s being put out in the adult “in genre” SF/F/H section is not, for the most part, material that’s going to attract a lot of readers, either adults or young people. The dwindling readership has been discussed for years.

    I’m willing to grant that it may be a vicious cycle, because it certainly is that with short fiction. When I returned to writing short fiction in 2006 and suddenly realized that I could publish the BEST STORY EVARR in F & SF, and basically, the readership had dwindled to the point that BFD, it gave me pause. I was OK with 40,000 subscribers. I was OK with the payment of 7-10 cents a word and fine with 40,000 or even 30,000 subscribers. I was no longer OK with 10,000 subscribers, no matter the payment.

    Pursuant to that, let’s just say I sent another story in to an editor in the genre, also, and let’s just say in a very great aberration and probably accident, this story sat there for over 12 months and even I, who am very patient and low-compression about this stuff, got a little torqued after a year and did inquire. Furthermore, it was not cracked off and was not returned to me for ANOTHER six months at which time I received what I guess was a revision letter, but by then, I hated the devil story so much, I just never did anything with it, and there it sits – gathering dust. After one submission is it a trunk story? Or another waste of my time and life?

    Do you understand what I am talking about, by saying “combination of poor pay and lousy treatment?” This didn’t happen because I’m a shitty writer and don’t deserve better – it happened because in the meantime, the circulation of the publication that was my favorite site had dwindled to a tiny amount, like – in my absence. Then, time, money, life pressures – suddenly, hey, that old story was just sitting there and these things happen. But it’s the RULE, not the exception. I haven’t heard of anybody getting a quick novel response for years. I have friends who’ve written 6-7 good novels who can’t even come close to selling them. I have other friends who were Hugo and Nebula winners in the 80’s and 90’s (novel and short story winners, both awards) who cannot sell a book, who have been turned down MULTIPLE TIMES for current or recent books, or who were offered so little money for a book that they said “no” and are holding onto it.

    This is “in genre” and I am not sure any of those authors could do what I decided to do, which was to not even consider sending work to Baen, Tor, et. al.” – I know that sounds bad, but I know they won’t look at what I’m writing now and I am writing things that are good for me, and will work for other publishers, where hopefully I can have a shot at some success.

    Part of this decision is personal, because unfortunately, there are some book editors whose behavior I don’t care for on a business level. And make no mistake, selling a book is a business transaction and business partnership. There are some people who I believe have shown behavior and attitudes – yes, primarily online, but also not exclusively – that mean they are people whom I do not think are going to use successful business practices in general and who I don’t think have their priorities on the #1 business priority in publishing: SELLING BOOKS TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.

    And then you got somebody who I guess is permaunpublished who took what I said, the way he said it. Thanks for the read.