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Is the Science Fiction Reader Becoming Extinct?

A blog post at the University of Nebraska Press ponders the reason most science fiction is absorbed through non-book media like movies, games, etc. They refer to The Golden Age of Readers when sf fans turned to books for their science fiction fix.

I’m not sure what the basis is for saying that most sf is experienced through non-book media. Certainly, the large number of genre books published leads me to think that books do OK. I am one of those who prefer book sf over other forms, but many people don’t. As one SF Signal commenter (Dan) noted, even Revolution SF’s list of sf heroines is suspiciously lacking characters from books.

Why would readership be declining, the University of Nebraska Press post asks? There are other issues alluded to in that post that muddy the waters (sf as pop literature, for example) but the reason people might turn to other media, I think, is that there are many more choices vying for our attention these days. There’s less time to devote to books when the Internet, video games and movies offer alternate – and sometimes quicker – choices. In the early days of Asimov, the only place you could experience a worldwide network was in books. Video gaming was unheard of, let alone home video gaming with thousands of software titles. And the creation of the movie blockbuster pushed Hollywood in the direction of special-effects-laden sci-fi. None of this was around in the early days of sf. Today, our time and money is divided amongst more players.

Do you read less these days? Why?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

9 Comments on Is the Science Fiction Reader Becoming Extinct?

  1. Well, it doesn’t help when a well-respected SF blog asks what vehicles you would use to introduce children to SF. How about, “Which BOOKS would you use?” Personally, I think that movie and TV SF is merely OK. SF in books is far superior and there’s so much more variety. So let’s get out there and promote it! (Let Hollywood promote their own movies.):D

  2. Touche, Alexandra. ๐Ÿ™‚ As I noted in the other post, I did make the question a bit too open. We do try promote reading on this site, if the number of book-related posts versus other categories is any indication. It’s nice to see that our readers want the same.

    And by “well-respected”, I think you mean “well-respected and totally awesome”, right? ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Books are being published and read as always. It’s merely the media that has grown more prominent.

  4. In many ways, other mediums have caught up with the written word in terms of spectacle at least. I think, maybe, we’re seeing that erosion of SF as a genre in itself. The consumers of these wider representations of Science Fictional ideas probably wouldn’t define themselves as ‘Science Fiction fans’, but games fans, or comics fan etc.

    What would be interesting would be to see whether the interest is in the ideas or on the medium they are presented in: In other words, whether someone’s interest in Science Fiction would extend beyond the medium they were consuming it in. Would a Science Fiction games fan extend their tastes in Science Fiction films?

    I suppose what it comes down to is how you tag something ‘Science Fiction’. The debate about Science Fiction rages forever, because Science Fiction isn’t really anything, it’s a best fit term for lots of stuff that we instinctually decide is ‘Science Fiction’ at a gut level, not a head level.

  5. I honestly believe it is not competing media that is creating a decline in readership, but the simple fact of time management. Think about what you are doing right now. Twenty years ago, with no e-mail, no cell phone, no blog, no internet, there was only TV and movies to take away your lazy leisure time from reading.

    With all the “modern conveniences” life has become a lesson in crisis management from one moment to the next. You think you don’t have time to read? Try writing… I barely have time to sleep any more, with all the marketing, bloging, e-mailing, editing and networking I do every evening… Never mind the day job.

    Chris A. Jackson


  6. No, we are just gathering our strength until we are ready to take over the world! :-@ Fear your science fiction reading overlords! :-@

  7. The genre is vibrant. As a reader I’ve never had more choice for great new science fiction books and stories. In fact I can’t keep up with all the new stuff coming out that’s worth reading. Outside of the book trade science fiction has influences everyhere including a lot of it in movies. Hollywoods treatments of SF are usually not to my taste but you’d expect the afficianados of any kind of fringey media to be disappointed in a few things when it becomes more mass market.

    And the Matrix was cool, even if most of its conciets were silly from a SF point of view.

  8. I agree with Chris on the time factor.

    It’s not that I don’t want to read more — I just don’t seem to get the time.

  9. I am a new Science Fiction/Fantasy author. I find that there is a serious lack of request for this genre in comparison to all others. I know I am still new at this but when you look at the Writers Market which lists thousands of literary agents and publishing companies you think, “Wow at least one of these companies is going to love my material.” Then after widdling down the options you begin to notice how few are taking on this genre as opposed to a genre such as Romance. Non-Fiction is off the charts. I write fiction to escape reality and was surprised at how much more interest there is in ‘things happening today by so-and-so’s perspective.’

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