Tuesday, July 18, 2006

State of Novel

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:19 PM
Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
Robin Wayne Bailey
Bradley Dention
James Gunn
Kij Johnson
Chris McKitterick
Pamela Sargent
Robert Sawyer
Diane Turnshek
Fran Van Cleave
George Zebrowski

CMcK (has read many of the top fifty novels for the past several years for the Campbell award): Many good novels published. Thinks getting better.

GZ: Think battle for better SF has been won. Lem thought more new, intelligent writers. Summer Isles beautifully written.

PS: Problem is not the WRITING of the novel but the publishing.

GZ: Opposition and confrontation has led to competition.

JG: In the past 8-10 years [of judging the Campbell], more than half [of the contenders] came from Australia, UK, Canada.

RS: Elizabeth the II is the Borg queen. [laughter] If there is an issue with American publisher: American endings are happy, Canadian are sad, and British have no endings at all. US conquers problems. Canada does not have that feeling (We hope Americans will solve that problem.) Australians and Canadians congregate in dark corners. RS has to go back and forth with American publisher. The only SF [publisher] in Canada are small press, not considered an economic force.

LA: British Space Opera now has exuberance. Britain has gotten over dreams of empire, and ready to join EU. US writers have little hope for future, have a hard time imagining a good one

JG: Problem with Hugo electorate (happening more in Nebula, too) is that voters have only heard what is good as opposed to having read [the nominees]. Campbell award judges may prefer downbeat endings. Farah may feel strongly that this is the way it ought to be.

CM: We’re a diverse group. Nobody can set out to write a Campbell award winner.

RWB: Think it’s because of lack of participation [in the voting of awards]. Until increase participation, results will be skewed.

RS: Only a few dozen actually even nominate.

LA: [If I can] get 12 of my buddies to nominate, then we can dominate SFWA. [laughter]

GZ: Can we do something about campaigning. Don’t institute rules, but a [SFWA] president could say, “We’re watching.” State the code of conduct. Publish a shame list.

PS: State of SF novel? People always pushed themselves [on others] in SFWA, but the number has been increasing. It’s a function of the competitive marketplace. But now the awards [have been messed up]: [now it's] used to build resume.

RWB: The SF I see is increasingly safe. No Stand on Zanzibar. Good but not challenging. SF will strangle itself. SF is 6-8% of market. Jingoistic military SF. Jim Grimsley -- publisher canceled his child abuse story. Less willing to offend. Michigan mother complained Asimov’s story.

RS: Hartwell will write in margin: “You will lose your readers here.” But not forced to get rid of. [In other words, publishers are aware of ways they might lose readers, point them out, but leave it up to the author to decide upon.]

KJ: This causes an economic downturn but it comes back around.

JG: $10,000 paid for Zanzibar, not intended to be a bestseller. Won awards, controversial. The notion of selling a lot of books is a recent one.

GZ: Notice the direction of this discussion. We discuss all the reasons why we fail.

CM: Not a good first novel but difficult.

RS: [His small press is] publishing writers away from TOR. Nick DiChario had been waiting for market conditions for a less plot-driven novel. Still waiting, so RS published. Our writers aren’t living on these quality books.

JG: Susan Allison: average mass-market pb sold 15,000, down from when Gunn first started writing. Need more young readers. Few of his students have read outside of mass-market. Hard to even get a response from editors, which Gunn suspects it is the commodities of the market.

Reader: Generic dumbing down. Readers don’t want to be challenged: want simple, fun.

KJ: Disagrees somewhat. The roots of SF were bad. It isn’t the readers that changed, but SF,

LA: We’re publishing literate, challenging SF. Our best book is Resnick’s space opera.

Reader: $150 will only buy you 6 to 10 books/month. May spend on lattes instead.

JG: Income spent on books probably less.

Reader: What’s the demographic [for SF]?

JG: Has grayed considerably. May be why SF has had bestsellers in 80s.

KJ: Don’t have anybody who is recognized excepted Kevin J. Anderson

GZ: Isaac said THEY [the publishers] decided who would be a best-seller.

RWB: DelRey created the Terry Brooks best-seller. David Eddings.

GZ: Not a level playing field.

JG: Maybe we need more Judy Lynns.

GZ: Judy Lynn was getting idealistic.

JG: She always was idealistic, but also had business acumen. Baen was willing to try something new. SF no longer has its center anymore. In 50s, field felt like it had enthusiasm with readers and writers.

PB: My sense of SF is that it’s clubby. Speaks to itself with common language. History is wonderful but inward-focused. Asimov will not work with his wife. It’s not because story quality. [Thinks lack of ] “Why is there a camera in the eye? That’s just glitter,” a non-SF reader asked of an SF story. SF also white. Like environmentalism. What is future of groups if only one racial quality.

PS: Women have been trying to reach a broader audience. Jane Austen Book Club incorporates SF people. Sheree Renee Thomas doing Dark Matter anthologies. Seems to be going on mostly among women.

RS: Your representative sample is based on Wiscon. The core reading audience doesn’t reflect country population. A few anthologies are not going to address problem. Baen made distinctive packages in order to attract US military. It's a "bank job": In and out of the bookstore and nobody gets hurt.

GZ: We like to think SF readers can go to any section. But we don’t. Some readers read nothing other than space opera, get arrested in one kind of thing. Model of fluid, omnivorous reader is rare.

RWB: Published popcorn fiction. Tasty but not good for you. Doesn’t challenge you. If you read too much, probably not thinking. Some books will make you stop and think.

CM: Hard to know field reading for Campbell award. [i.e. his sample is presumably skewed toward the higher end]

RS: We can have complex adult novels.

PS: Hand to literate reader who can be challenged

JG: Paolo objects to what’s inherent to the genre. Field already playing down idea-content. We’re already sacrificing ideas in search of something we may not get anyway: More readers. Aboutsf.com is supposed to address that, to have readers grow up reading SF. Fred Pohl: novel is a lesson in how to be more like me. SF tropes used to talk about failure of human condition, as opposed to talking about human change. We need to educate SF readers and not dilute product.

PB: Worried about shrinking genre. Why? Readers often say: Oh, that’s not as dumb as I thought it would be. Sometimes [the image of fans?] just speaking Klingon interferes with reader enjoyment.

GZ: What do you do about an art like opera where audience doesn’t want all this singing?

RS: NY reviewer. We have a deflector shield. We say, Itzkoff is mistaken. Mystery fiction does not set out to use arcane knowledge or puzzles to separate the wheat from chaff of SF readers. People go to opera to feel superior. We’ve contrived an art form to feel superior.

Reader: That’s why we use term “mundane.” [We pause for station identification--a different definition of "mundane" is referred to.]

Reader: Mystery reader not lost; it’s not exclusive.

RWB: Why did Anne Rice sell so well? Because they don’t require prior knowledge of Stoker, of history and vampire novels. If it eschew jargon, better seller: It doesn’t require.

Reader: Novel is dying form. Why not interactive with computer? Graphic novels are popular.

RWB: I prefer more active art forms.


[Trent quits semi-transcribing to interject that SF is estrangement, and to remove this is to remove the SF-ness, but no pause in conversation occurs. He decides he is tired of transcribing, anyway--he'd been at it for an hour and a half--except for a few interesting notes. He missed transcribing, for instance, the voices of a few young people in the audience, as the topic veered toward enticing the younger reader to explore science and science fiction.]

BD: Teachers, tell your students not to buy my books. If all teachers did that, I’d be flying here in my private jet next year.

KJ: Bring new readers in by seeing what they nee.

FVC: To be in Mensa, people perceive smart are missing something.

Reader: Anti-science.

Reader: Make science fun.

JG: [People tend to] read SF because student is poor (likes story) or because student is bright.

DT: Julie Czerneda has closed anthologies for young, but includes reading guides. Accelerated reader programs -- no juvenile SF.

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