Science Fiction Is Mainstream; Genre Must Die?

Last week I found myself in a discussion about the stigma of Science Fiction/Fantasy being the realm of nerdy males only. I think that the genre is changing and continuing to describe SF/F as a nerdy-male-only interest pretty much guarantees that the general public will continue to see it this way. I cited Carol Pinchefsky’s interesting take on why people eschew SF/F to shed light on some of the genre’s misconceptions.

Then this morning I read 2007 Hugo Award nominee and Prometheus imprint Pyr editorial director Lou Anders making the same point, and not surprisingly, much more articulately than I have:

The challenge for us now—and by us I mean authors, publishers, booksellers and journalists—is to recognize the obvious; quit purveying and subscribing to outdated stereotypes and stigmas that are in no one’s best interests; and find ways to connect readers who are already consuming genre in other packaging and other media directly with the source. When an entire industry’s quarterly fiscal reports fluctuate in direct relation to whether or not the period contains a book with a boy wizard in it, it’s time to admit that science fiction and fantasy are mainstream and quit worrying about whether or not it’s literature. Just as the whole notion of what a geek is has altered from the image of the classic nerd with thick glasses and a pocket protector to goateed, pierced & tattooed kids with PSPs – have you looked at the real Comic Con audience lately? These geeks are cool! So it’s time to acknowledge that it’s a hell of a lot more fun to actually, well, have fun than it is to pick on those who are enjoying themselves. The stigma applied to the genre books relegated to the back of the bookstore is nothing less than money being left on the table. Quit looking down your nose and pick it up.

If you click over, be sure to read the discussion in the comments on how genre can potentially limit both writers and readers. While I agree with Anders that audiences ingest SF/F much more often then they realize, I also agree with Pinchefsky that some people just don’t “get it:”

When I ask acquaintances and relatives if they read science fiction, and they say they don’t care enough to do so, I find this answer frustrating. But it is a viable one. Sports do not engage my attention for more than a few minutes, if at all. If a sports fanatic explains that baseball is a metaphor for life, I may appreciate the thinking behind it, but I do not share his passion.

About women who read (and write) SF/F, in 1999, SF/F only made up 7.3% sales of the popular fiction, while Romance made up 38.8%. However, there’s a whole subgenre of Romance that uses SF/F settings and it usually gets lumped into Romance. Add to that as Anders points out the SF/F that’s marketed as mainstream fiction, and I think the SF/F reader base is larger than the statistics show. Also, in 2000 SFWA membership was nearly 40% female. I think the market is in the process of switching over to a more gender neutral one and with that change we’ll see the demographic expand.