So WHO Killed Science Fiction?

Saturday , 11, March 2017 39 Comments

“Ah, Science Fiction, we have you now!”

Welcome back, true believers! It’s time for Part Two of my magnum opus! Doctor Warpig is in the house, and it’s time to play Diagnose that Disease! Let’s start with eradicating some fuzzy wishful thinking.

“Well, people just don’t read anymore!”

Dan Brown argues otherwise. As does JK Rowling. Also Stephenie Meyer.

Fact is, people read—if you give them something they consider worth reading.

Sure, books might have it tougher what with all the moving pictures and wireless television sets and home game arcade video machines, but once again I refer you to the sales chart. Even if the absolute number of readers has declined, Science Fiction is losing the competition for those readers. It’s the bottom of the heap.

See, people are buying books. They’re just not buying much Science Fiction. As my colleague Doctor Niemeier said

Literary fiction—books about shallow narcissists coming to terms with dying polar bears via hate-sex—is outselling science fiction.

Boring, stodgy, impossible to read “LITERARY” works outsell the genre of imagination, excitement, and the future. Hell’s sakes, people, that’s a problem. Quibbling about what you think are minute flaws in the argument won’t change that fact.

It also doesn’t help when SF bookshelves—real or virtual—are inundated with audience-repelling crap. And they are, and have been for a long time. And I don’t mean badly plotted or poorly written books. I mean absolute garbage written with skill and talent, that also happens to drive away the audience.

What exactly does The Doctor mean by “crap”?

We can start with boring “realist” Sci-Fi (seriously, read the linked article), pass through stories that outright insult the mainstream (including Christians, Conservatives, and normies), and finish up with the perverse or offensive. A vignette passed to me on the Facebooks:

“I can even name the sledgehammer-angry-feminism story that spurred me to drop my Asimov’s subscription because it was just simply becoming pointless for classic-style SFF… in 1988.

“That story was ‘BOOBS’ by Suzy McKee Charnas, about a girl who hits puberty, grows boobs, gets teased about them, turns into a werewolf and kills and eats her tormenters.

“It won a Hugo.”

In the middle of a cool little short story about the end of the world, an explicit sex scene. Because mainstream audiences LOVE reading Science Fiction magazines / anthologies filled with random, unnecessary explicit intercourse.

Heinlein wrote scenes of [family members getting way too close]. Then the same again, plus cannibalism. Not to mention group marriages, group sex, and a host of other skeevy stuff.

And let’s talk the first “Wild Cards” anthology, which features [forcible intercourse] with an [expired person’s physical form]. That’s right, a book about superheroes features [really nasty thing involving ex-alive persons].

Golly gee willikers, I wonder why normies don’t buy the SF magazines or anthologies? The mystery is so dark and impenetrable. How ever can we explain why the audience just went away?

Look, folks, you can write whatever you want. But if you set out to offend normies (or bore or insult them), then normies won’t buy your books. Or, after a while, anybody else’s—it’s too difficult to pick through the boring, offensive, or insulting stories to find the gems. Crap damages the market for everybody. And once the public’s preferences change, it’s really difficult to change them back.

For DECADES, Science Fiction has been churning out boring, perverted, or condescending books and stories by the truckload (hell’s sakes, look at the Hugos recently: boring, preachy, or perverted works as far as the eye can see), then congratulating each other on their insight and daring, all while the audience headed for greener pastures—places where they wouldn’t be bored, insulted, or offended. It’s killed short stories almost entirely—people got sick of boring stories, perverted stories, and vitriolic garbage that insulted their very existence.

Diagnosis? Perverts, bores, and jagoffs drove the mainstream audience away. They’ve made Sci-Fi into a literary ghetto, and very nearly killed it entire. If it weren’t for Amazon… well that’s too chilling an eventuality to contemplate, even for me.

Fortunately, there’s a cure for this cancer of the soul, and Doctor Warpig is here to prescribe it. Come back for Part 3: Curing the Disease!

NOTE—This is the second of a series: Part One. Part Three.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

39 Comments
  • ZekeofConfetti says:

    The _Hatered_ (it drips from their jowls when they mention the word) they have for “MUNDANES” has locked them into a loop that eventually poisoned the product. I was astonished to find out how many”fans” were nebbish gnomes of nothingness with combination god and persecution complexes.
    How in Sauron’s eye did they get from meeting on random weekends to running and ruining a part of the publishing industry?

    • Nathan says:

      “How in Sauron’s eye did they get from meeting on random weekends to running and ruining a part of the publishing industry?”

      It happened when John W. Campbell became editor. He published those writers who agreed with his vision. Coincidentally, most of those happened to come from the New York fan clubs and were personal acquaintances of Campbell. From this group came a staggering amount of people who would go on to be editors at other magazines, who would in turn publish writers that reflected the New York clique. Magazines that did not follow their lead, such as Amazing, got marginalized.

      • Wombat-socho says:

        This is an overly simplistic analysis of what happened in the 1950s and 1960s. New York fans may have become editors of SF magazines, but what Fred Pohl, Avram Davidson and the Fermans bought for Galaxy and F&SF was in no sense the kind of SF JWC was buying for ASF. What killed Galaxy (and IF) was Ejler Jakobssen, an editor who knew nothing about SF but was gung-ho for New Wave; likewise, Ted White combined crappy stories with poor rates to drive Amazing into the ground. You may not like Campbell (and you’d hardly be alone in that, he was widely loathed in his lifetime) but to hold him solely responsible for killing off SF is beyond unreasonable.

  • Anthony says:

    Boring, stodgy, impossible to read “LITERARY” works outsell the genre of imagination, excitement, and the future. Hell’s sakes, people, that’s a problem. Quibbling about what you think are minute flaws in the argument won’t change that fact.

    Alternate theory:

    Sci-fi for movies and TV is, taken as a whole, awesome.

    The TV and movies for lit fic is crap, and furthermore, nobody makes it anyway, because it’s boring to watch.

    So lit fic outsells sci fi simply because lit fic readers have nowhere else to go for their fix. Sci fi we not only have alternatives, we have awesome alternatives. All the really good sci fi writers went to TV and video games because that’s where the money is.

    • Nathan says:

      Oddly enough, lit fic’s salvation in the 2000s was through the adoption of science fiction tropes. Literary realism drives off audiences, adventure and the fantastic builds them.

      • Mary Thornell says:

        Are you speaking of this new pseudo fantasy the livid ppl are calling “magical realism”? Beacause there’s always been something very off about “magical realism” to me.

        • Mary Thornell says:

          And that should read Lit Fic, not livid, although that’s a word that pretty much describes the literati these days…

          • jic says:

            You shouldn’t have corrected that. Before I knew it was a typo, I thought it was perfect. “Livid people” sums them up.

        • Nathan says:

          Something similar, although magical realism had been around from 30 years prior to lit fiction choosing survival over style.

    • Jesse Lucas says:

      Sci-fi for movies and TV has different problems but still has them – heroes failing to get the girl since Luke Skywalker, Campbelline religious apathy festering in Star Trek and everything related, generally poor quality of story construction (Matrix especially).

  • Anthony says:

    (Now TV, movies, and video games are converging too, of course, as Jeffro has continually and correctly pointed out.)

    • Jeffro says:

      Man, I was starting to worry about you…!

      • Anthony says:

        Believe me, I agree with you about “The Flash” (I enjoyed season one for over the top silver age villains but the romantic arc was HORRIBLE. Season two just sucks).

        “Legends of Tomorrow” is even worse. I nearly broke something when, in the first episode, hero one had to convince hero two to become a superhero by exclaiming “Do you want to be a MECHANIC for the rest of your life?!?:

        Because apparently being a mechanic is a fate worse than death or something.

        • jic says:

          Not only that, but being a mechanic gives you the skills needed to maintain a timeship from the future, with almost no additional training. So, they are near-simultaneously denigrating and ridiculously elevating being a mechanic. It’s almost like people in the entertainment industry know almost nothing about how most people live and work.

  • B&N says:

    Forecasting the Campbell

    “The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is; marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural, which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity.”
    -Joseph Conrad, The Shadow Line (1920)

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    >>In the middle of a cool little short story about the end of the world, an explicit sex scene

    Damon Knight’s “Orbit” anthology in the 70’s had a story about a couple having sordid outdoor sex, with no SF elements whatsoever. Because non-SF is the new SF.

  • Mr Tines says:

    The “on-screen” sex that seemed to be obligatory from the late 60’s onwards was one of the most annoying overhangs from the Swinging Sixties/Permissive Society and its manifestation in SF as the New Wave. Around the turn of the century, though, I found it was becoming slightly easier to find some SF without the mediocre smut — I would attribute that to the easy availability of same on the internet.

    What hasn’t gone away, though, are the vast numbers of books that merely appropriate some of the surface features of SF and then get misfiled into the SF section of the book-store; the sort of stuff that I call “spaceship fiction”. It doesn’t help the genre when books I’ve scanned, and discounted as such “spaceship fiction” then go on to be celebrated with awards.

  • Sam says:

    What slows me down from reading a lot more SciFi is the blind, vitriolic hatred 9/10 authors harbour for Christians.

    You just cannot tell on commencement of a particular author, what form it will take, or how deep into the series you will get, but you know it’s coming.

    The bigotry is repellent, the intellectual narcissism is repellent, and the flagrant circle jerk of small-minded Very Modern Atheist Thinking is repellent.

    It’s pretty much why I’m not going to bother reading any more Neal Asher, for example; as of last year I don’t read sci-fi that isn’t from a known Christian or known (bear with my little joke) Ally. I’m just sick of waiting for the condescending sucker-punch in the middle of my entertainment.

    • B&N says:

      What slows me down from reading a lot more Literature is the blind, vitriolic hatred 9/10 authors harbour for Gun-owners.

      The bigotry is repellent, the intellectual narcissism is repellent, and the flagrant circle jerk of small-minded Totalitarian Gun-Control Thinking is repellent.

    • deuce says:

      You won’t see that in Gene Wolfe, Orson Scott Card or Dan Simmons, so you might give them a try.

  • instasetting says:

    Very well said, Warpig.

    I predict a similar experience to mine. I was a very good improv GM focused on a few games DnD one of them, and then I came across a game where anything was possible.

    The earlier games weren’t bad, but it felt as if shackles fell from my mind. My imagination was liberated.

    I didn’t have to do a dungeon or a city with thieves or superheroes, I could do….anything.

    I predict those who venture into pulps are going to find the same process.

  • Jasyn Jones says:

    Misha Burnett wrote a reaction piece here:

    https://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/a-spy-in-the-house-of-pulp/

    My comment on it:

    “It’s not written for you at all.”

    Sure, and that’s kinda the point. SF became enraptured with stuff that wasn’t for normies, and it became way too high a percentage of the market. If, let’s say, 5% of the books were only of interest to connoisseurs, and the normies had lots of options, everything’s copacetic. But if a short story market gets to be 25% or 50% or 75% that stuff, you’ll drive the mainstream away.

    The problem (so far as retaining and cultivating a mainstream audience goes) isn’t that such stuff exists, its that it came to dominate SF, and it became “too difficult to pick through the boring, offensive, or insulting stories to find the gems.”

    I’ve never criticized a specific New Wave writer, and I like several books and short stories from that era. (I own both Dangerous Visions anthologies.) But when your genre begins to cater to a tiny niche that turns off normies, the normies will leave.

    • Nathan says:

      To be fair, Misha comes across as “This is the stuff I like” and not “All SF should be like this.” And he also makes a point that New Wave is severely misunderstood – just as Campbell is to this day.

      But New Wave was never the hardcore of science fiction. As strange as it was, at least the British wing started as something more casual-friendly. (Beyond Ellison, I am not as familiar with American New Wave to make that assertion.) And it got ran out of SF by the hardcores of SF, just like the hardcores did to space opera, space westerns, movie SF, Star Wars, vidya, anime, and cosplay. Because only filthy casuals like those things. SFF since Campbell has been an otaku fandom, and has suffered because of it.

    • jic says:

      Judging from his comment on your comment, it’s almost like you and Misha are having two different conversations. He basically just states that his stuff isn’t for everyone, and he doesn’t mind if it’s not considered SF. It’s like he didn’t so much miss the point, as that, from his perspective, the point was never actually made in the first place.

  • Lauri says:

    I find there is very little science in science fiction except for bionic men and paranormal characters. Read
    d good romance writers if that is your thing.

  • Jim says:

    Writings like these are always weirdly devoid of actual information. It doesn’t answer its own question: who killed SciFi?

    One author is named as being undeserving of a Hugo. But who are some of the editors, publishing companies, agents and authors who contributed to the decline? What did they do? How did they do it? What are the names of some budding authors who were blacklisted or pushed out? Who is the problem right now?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Nathan says:

      Jim, the entire divorce of American science fiction from the world killed SF, starting with John W. Campbell; made worse by Fredrick Pohl, Damon Knight, and the Futurians; compounded by Tom Doherty and his cohort of editors, and currently led by Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

      • Jim says:

        Yeah. Sounds like the usual suspects.

        I never got “hard” or “golden age” SciFi. I’ve always felt I can just read a science book if I wanted to learn about physics. I read stories for entertainment and occasional philosophical insight.

        Also, the stories of the Campbell era were often good science but awful everything else. The idiot plot of “The Cold Equations” is my favorite example of this.

        But of course, nowadays we don’t eve n get the science.

        I miss the pulp era, for all its imperfections.

  • […] NOTE—This is the first of a series: Part Two. […]

  • deuce says:

    “Doctor, Doctor…gimme the news. I got a bad case of the SF Blues.”

  • […] NOTE—This is the second of a series: Part One. Part Two. […]

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