But that’ll be up to us.

I tend to read both science fiction and fantasy from the opposite ends of the spectrum. I love new, avant garde, experimental (whatever you want to call it) literary SF and fantasy by the likes of Harlan Ellison, Iain Banks, Catherynne M. Valente, and J.M. McDermott. But I also love the classic pulp SF and fantasy of the Weird Tales/Amazing Stories era. I have a collection of Ace Doubles, and a small collection of pulp magazines from the 40s and 50s (and would love to be able to afford more). I read and love Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, and A.E. van Vogt.

This week, let’s talk a bit about the latter group, and specifically in regards to science fiction as opposed to fantasy.

I’ve been hearing for more than a decade now about the lack of audience for science fiction. Fantasy in its various forms from Rowling to Tolkien has taken over entirely, and the average SF title sells a slim fraction of what any given imprint’s fantasy titles sell. If you ask the publishing world, science fiction is dead as fried chicken.

But what happens if you ask Hollywood?

Time and again any given year’s breakout blockbuster is a science fiction movie. What was The Avengers if not science fiction? How’s Gravity doing at the box office? And this is hardly a new thing. Some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers have been science fiction movies—the Star Wars franchise, anyone? The Matrix? Alien?

So what’s with the disconnect? Why aren’t science fiction titles leaping from the bookstore shelves?

I think I have the answer…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Craig says:

    Maybe I’m poking a hornets nest, but in my opinion some genres are better for different mediums. I love sitting down and reading fantasy novels, but I like Sci-Fi on a screen (and I do like Sci-Fi, a lot). Maybe because I was born after Star Wars was made, and raised with Star Trek on TV, but a Sci-Fi book? For some reason it just doesn’t feel right.

    Could be that’s just me and my preferences, but it sounds like there are a lot of people out there who are the same way. If I think of all the guys I’m friends with in my age group (early 30’s), every single person reads fantasy, but only one reads Sci-Fi (and that guy only reads Dune books).

    Kind of like straight up comedy… yeah there are funny books, but no where near the sales volume of what’s out there in movies and television. I’m sure few people say, “I need a good laugh… I’ll go crack open a book.” It’s probably similar for when people need their Sci-Fi kick.

    But, if I want to escape back into a world where a man had to brave harrowing landscapes with nothing but his wits and the sword on his back to keep him alive, well no way I’m letting some Hollywood producer cheapen that experience!

  2. Having written an essay titled “Un-Die Sci-Fi”, I have already mourned the genre as the walking dead. Pun intended. Yet I have not lost hope…

    As much I still read paper based books and not eReading, Sci-Fi may not be in a death spiral to extinction. Where I am finding very interesting Sci-Fi is in video games. For instance, the “Mass Effect” and “BioShock” trilogies are every bit of world class Sci-Fi writing. With multiple endings and plots, same plot with different characters, many included side stories, and other related characters/stories continued in downloadable content, Sci-Fi might be the first genre of literature to go beyond the book form. Everything gets published in some of these video games: back story, world building notes, maps, etc. The next generations will demand this type of interactive multiple ‘read/play’ through. While literature will go the way of opera and modern art, so eclectic that the predominate culture will scarcely notice them, Sci-Fi may just be evolving. And wouldn’t it be Sci-Fi the best genre of literature to embrace technology?

  3. Pingback: WHAT PULP CAN TEACH US | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  4. Leonie says:

    Yes! This is such a good article! Having grown up reading Heinlein, Norton, McCaffrey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Asimov etc – Some of their ideas were ground breaking, but a lot of them were simply a good story. Readers crave a good story, and sometimes the story can get lost in the ideas, no matter how clever or amazing that they are.

  5. Charles Taylor says:

    I too like Space Opera and hard science so I have been enjoying Jack Campbells Lost Fleet. Big fleet battles but with the reality of manoeuvring at relativistic speeds. The problems of a fleet a long way behind the front line and an interesting lead character in Black Jack.

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