Sunday, March 06, 2011

People who used to read science fiction: Legacy fans and young adults

One worry that haunts me with regards to trying to revitalize original literary science fiction goes as follows: Is it too late? Our readership has been in decline for several decades, and that does leave us faced with the possibility that we've already passed a critical numbers threshold. So many have been disinterested for so long that we simply no longer a viable fan base to reconnect with. Or on a more selfish level, will there ever again be a body of readers who can symbiotically support of a corps of talented professional writers? Especially now that there are so many alternative outlets for speculative fiction gratification. Outlets in other media that are far more stimulating than books, such as epic video games with strong stories and high production values.

That and we're not just competing against individual works in other mediums anymore, but rather with whole bodies. When I was a child, I had about a dozen science fiction movies on ratty VHS tapes, which I watched over and over and over again. Who knows how many times I lingered over the worn cityscape opening of Blade Runner or watched a faded Ripley call the Alien queen a bitch right to her jaw popping face. The collections in the local video stores were pretty dismal, and all of this left me perpetually hungry something new in the genre. Something affordable, which was more often than not, books.

Nowadays, fans in all age groups have cheap or even free access to the collective cinematic best works of several decades, 24/7. And in high quality formats. Online game venues like Steam similarly make available an array of compelling, well-scripted older video games at prices ranging from three dollars to $9.99.

The worst case scenario is that we literary writers might be left with handful of individuals whom fellow WOTF 26er Brad Torgersen pithily termed "legacy fans." A relatively small group of long-time followers with a strong sentimental attachments to the genre, who continue to shift through new publications looking for something that reminds that of literary science fiction when it still connected with a sizable audience.

And while these are most definitely individuals with whom I'd like to reconnect with, they are small in number.

So, what hope for the future?

In part, a broad one that if we produce works that are entertaining, relevant, and engaging we can draw in fans from other media. Our value added comes from the introspection and ideas that are the strong point of literature. In other words, to be not only emotionally engaging, but intellectually fulfilling in away books are well suited to.

An even more specific hope lies in the success of Young Adult speculative fiction.

If nothing else, the success or the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and even Twlight series demonstrates that there are new generations who crave the intimate in-your-head storytelling style that goes with text. Legions of readers who enjoy stories set in alternate or future versions of our reality that are--in the end--optimistic in nature.

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