Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dying? Or Diversification...?

Alright, this is going to be a short post, but I am hoping it might generate some discussion.

At Fantasycon this afternoon I listened to a talk with Peter F Hamilton, who was asked his opinion on whether science fiction is actually dying.

His response is that it is not so much dying as diversification. Alright, "space science fiction" is becoming rather a lost art, with Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds two of those who are pushing it forwards. However, science fiction is embracing as diverse authors in terms of subject as Chris Wooding, Ian McDonald and Tony Ballantyne. All science fiction authors; all writing very different types of science fiction.

What struck me is that the same could be said for fantasy. Epic fantasy in its traditional form is fading. We no longer see the Tolkien clones. Instead fantasy has been diversifying for many years. Have we ever said that fantasy is dying? Or have we reached out to all those authors writing fantasy - from China Mieville, to Joe Abercrombie, to Brandon Sanderson - and included them under the same banner.

Why is it that science fiction is said to be dying (by some) but fantasy doesn't receive the same criticism, when both genres are merely following the same path of allowing different aspects of SF/F to be included?

Please discuss!


  1. That's because he's wrong. SF actually is dying. It's always been a diverse field. But less and less people are reading it, and less and less people are writing.

  2. I'm so tired of hearing that a genre is dying just because it is changing. Neither science fiction or fantasy is going anywhere - look at the financial successes of some of the biggest books and films lately - Harry Potter, LOTR and Twilight plus the huge rise of urban fantasy.
    Science fiction isin the same boat - look at the rise of games and films inception was at the top of the box office, while Avatar raked in billions. To any producer or publishing executive, this is a lot of money and worth investing in.
    Tolkien and space epics don't define speculative fiction- they're just one publishing trend that might be meeting it's end, or slowing down.

  3. Personally I thank the Gods that there are no more Tolkien clones - today's fantasy is more diverse and more imaginative - but epic fantasy is far from dying, read Brent Weeks 'The Black Prism' if you doubt it. I do however think that the lines between fantasy and SF are much more blurred these days (steampunk, I'm looking at you..) and so it's difficult to claim that one or the other genre is dying (a popular thing to do, incidentally) when it's easy to place a some books in either genre, and the sales of fantasy books in general are as good as they've ever been.

  4. Hehe, I made exactly that point about Fantasy the other day on a Dutch language Fantasy forum and they thought I was daft. I agree though, there are still Tolkien clones and no doubt they'll be around for a while yet, but it is not just Tolkien clones any more.

  5. I see it as more of a transitional phase for Sci Fi and Fantasy into something more complex.

    As they say: Destruction is a form of creation.

    So the old Sci-Fi has to go in order for the new Sci-Fi to emerge.

    Same goes with Fantasy.

  6. It's hard to speak of a genre as dying when it occupies large swaths of territory on the best-seller lists. So no one is saying that fantasy is dying. Science fiction has more of a problem.

  7. There are still plenty of Tolkien clones, let's not get too excited about their early demise. It is just cyclical - sometimes the trends favor feel-good epic fantasy, sometimes they favor the gritty stuff.

  8. I hardly think that fantasy is dying. Just as I don't think SF is dying. I do think that there is way more diversification in to subgenres and sub-subgenre's these days. But there's also a growing commingling of the two, as Rob said steampunk is an example of this.

    Maybe it is just that the terms Sci-Fi and Fantasy are becoming less meaningful with so many subdivisions and it would be easier to just call it speculative fiction.

  9. I agree completely with Mieneke, in fact that was exactly the point I was going to make... the boundaries between SF and Fantasy are becoming so blurred, why not stop trying to define what is or is not SF or Fantasy and refer to all as "Speculative Fiction" The increasing space given to SF/Fantasy fiction in bookshops indeed shows that neither genre is dying, just diversifying, as previous comments have said.

  10. Someone should tell Neal Asher sci fi is dying so that he can have a nice holiday! I am nowhere near short of new exciting stuff to read whether it be more Spatterjay from Asher or getting into Paul McAuley. I'm also interested to see what Mr Hamilton has next and to see whether Charles Stross decides to come back to straight sci fi.

  11. Book sales would probably indicate that Fantasy isn't dying - Harry Potter, Twilight if you can include that, Brisingr, George RR Martin, Neil Gaiman and plenty of others have done very well in recent years.
    Also, if you look at the sheer number of titles being published, it's huge.
    Perhaps a problem SF has to deal with is that the golden age of space exploration is over - or at least we're in a period where things are on hold. If Nasa sent a man to Mars (probes just don't capture the imagination in the same way) then I'm sure interest would rekindle.
    In 1969/70, everything - from clothes to music, books and film, was SF.
    Also, technology itself advances so quickly today that we can feel swamped by it. Hence the popularity of historical fiction and, I think, to an extent YA stuff. There is a longing for a simpler world. Fantasy, of course, is well placed to exploit this longing - though not all of it does, of course.
    Also, along with a million tiny changes in technology, we haven't had a step change like t'internet in a while. When we last did we got Neuromancer and Cyberpunk. Plus, the nature of the apocalypse is not so easily understood nowadays. It was once nuclear and came from Moscow. Now total destruction hovers in a million shifting shapes at the edge of our minds. It's a feeling, rather than a thing, we fear now. Fantasy is very able to deal with that as it's something visceral and nameless that crawls in the dark.
    None of my ideas are backed up by much other than an impression of where things are at. They also don't mean SF is dying. It's very healthy in the cinema, for instance. Maybe what's required is a 'reinvention' book - one that might not be cutting edge, one that might even be hugely derivative but that in some way catches the wider public attention and revitalises the genre. Fantasy had this with Harry Potter. You can argue about chickens and eggs but it's a fact that fantasy was in the doldrums in terms of sales in 1995 and was very popular again by 2005. The LOTR films helped, of course.
    What I'm getting around to saying is that these things are cyclical. SF will have its day again and (god forbid) fantasy might fade in popularity. The appetite for SF is there - you only have to look at the film industry. All it will take is a spark to ignite interest again. Hmmm, Harry Potter in space. There's an idea. Oh, they called it Star Wars, didn't they?
    On speculative fiction as a title. I'm not sure it takes in a lot of Fantasy. I don't think there's anything speculative about what I write. I'm not saying the world I write about could have existed. I'm just creating a world to interest and, hopefully, excite people and - as is the case with most writing - watching as a whole lot of other things pour out of the Pandora's Box of the subconscious onto the page. I could sit thinking up 100 terms for this but, in the end, Fantasy is understood, in popular use and apt. I can't really see a reason to change it.

  12. Mark is MD Lachlan, by the way!