In my recent entry on why I like Fantasy and SF, I ended with a tease: I had a theory on why Fantasy is currently ascendant over SF.
And here it is…
Fantasy is ascendant over SF as a matter of the changing reading demographics in the F/SF field and our educational system.
To put it short and bluntly, more and more readers of the genre are women, and women read less science fiction. The reasons for all this probably would get me a Master’s thesis at least, if I could defend it. Or perhaps pitchforks at my virtual door. I haven’t pissed off the Internet since I tried to defend Patricia Wrede at RaceFail.
First, I think the videogame generation has reduced reading among the classic population of people who read SF from the Campbell era on forward: young males. That population is aging and aging out, and they are *not* being replaced in replacement numbers. Can I honestly say that, if my 12 year old self was transported to today, that I would be playing CRPGs, Halo and the like rather than reading Ringworld or Planet of Adventure? The atomization of media is apparent to anyone who pays attention to TV ratings. It applies across all media–we have lots more choices, and very appealing choices, too.
Videogames is another field which has done poorly by the fairer gender. Too many assume a male player and a male player’s sensibilities. Some games do make efforts to make female players welcome and part of the experience–Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect series comes to mind. But they are the exception. So, in general, less women are picking up the xbox 360 controller and *are* picking up a book.
So, there are less men becoming dedicated readers, the classic audience for SF readers. And the proportion of women reading in general is ever higher.
Next, our educational system, although it has made great strides, still does not encourage women to enter into the sciences (especially the hard sciences). Science is something that the female gender is horribly underrepresented in as career choices. Trying to solve that problem is far beyond the bounds of my blog post, even if I did have any answers.
Plus, what is uncharitably called the “women’s genre” of Romance has been expanding, lately. Speculative and supernatural elements have been creeping into novels in the Romance section, and romance elements have been showing up in SF and fantasy. This is a tendency that has been going on for years, and I know some cranky fans decry “romance cooties”, but I remember when the stuff Catherine Asaro does in her books was unusual and a rara avis. Not so much anymore!
And really, is Sherrilyn Kenyon writing romance novels with fantasy in them, or fantasy novels with lots of romance? How do you even make that distinction? To allude to a famous Gene Wolfe essay, the kingdom of fantasy has the Romance Empire looming on its borders and more than a little overlap has occurred.
So, when women are drawn to the genre, they are not drawn to the Alistair Reynolds novel or the Karl Schroeder novel, they are primarily drawn to the fantasy novels. Perhaps at first, and primarily overall fantasy that is not so different than the romance novels-that is to say, Urban Fantasy.
One more thing. I think D&D has influenced a number of young writers to choose fantasy over SF. There are exceptions of course–Charles Stross created stuff for the Field Folio, but I think that fantasy comes more naturally to the “Children of Gygax”. Thus, more F/SF writers are drawn to fantasy, and more fantasy gets written. And as this becomes obvious, authors switch gears to write fantasy instead of SF.And the vicious cycle continues…
Thus, Fantasy, and in particular, Urban Fantasy, dominates the genre at present.