…And a few other thoughts.
The following essay pertains to mostly science fiction. It’s an opinion-based essay and nothing more than that. These are my views, take it for what it’s worth. It derives from something Harlan Ellison originally wrote on his Webderland Website a few days ago, a paragraph which can be found here: http://harlanellison.com/home.htm
Harlan Ellison thinks SF is dead.
He might be right. Here is what he wrote:
“Literature is dead. Civility is dead. Ethical considerations are dead. Common sense is dead. Dignity, respect, responsibility are dead. It is a cheapshit spur-of-the-moment tawdry and empty-headed congeries of societies, here, there, everywhere. It is a universally cheapjack time in which a steadily more ignorant and venal species has become drunk on notoriety and the scent of Paris Hilton’s thong. Science fiction is dead? You just noticed? You come late to the literature party; the hyenas have long since been attracted to the stench of stupidity; text them for me: bon appetit.”
HARLAN ELLISON / 28 August 2009
Did you know there are over 100,000 readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror out there? At the same time, in any given year, there are around 100,000 submitters of genre fiction out there. Worldwide, that is a rough estimate. I was surprised to learn from one hobbyist publication that during their quarterly reading periods, they receive anywhere from 300 to 500 manuscripts. And they only pay 25 bucks. So the next time you get a publishing credit or get shortlisted for a story slot, give yourself a pat on the back, because getting published in genre fiction nowadays is sort of like trying to win the lottery. Actually, if you live in New York, it’s probably easier to win the Take Five or one of those Loose Change/Bingo scratch-offs. Or you could just pay-to-play (many esteemed venues such as F&SF are doing it, even though for years such places advised against it). That’s code for broke. Still, there are much more writers than there are magazines (it’s sad), and buying something as simple as a sample issue or two can help a magazine stay alive and keep slots – part-time and full-time jobs for those who struggle – open and afloat. Then you have the whole e-revolution and how prices just went down on X-BOX 360’s, Nintendo Wii’s, and Playstation 3’s. Now that makes it a whole lot easier to introduce a new generation to geek-a-ture.
Everybody has a story to tell, but not everybody wants to listen. People are laughing now at devices like the Kindle, the iPhone, the Sony eReader. I’m thinking way ahead of that, wondering what will replace those devices in twenty years time.
Remember the days of Jack Vance, Frederick Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, Fritz Lieber, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and yes, guys like Harlan Ellison? Remember the days of Richard Laymon, Robert McCammon, Hugh B. Cave, Charles L. Grant? Remember female authors such as Vonda McIntyre, Connie Willis, Ursula K. Leguin, and Octavia Butler? And yes, there are some notable British names I’m leaving out, that should be included. Nowadays Stephenie Meyer is the NEW Stephen King, and I still don’t know what to make of Margaret Atwood all these years later. Eventually I’ll have an answer. In 2009 we can’t wait to read about vampire Bill Compton sucking on little Sookie Stackhouse’s titties—yesteryear it was Spike humping Buffy—or tuning in to the next great classics: Fringe (yesteryear it was The X-Files). Everywhere there are zombies, werewolves, boogeymen or things that go bumpity-bump in the night. And vampires. From TV to movies to comic books to graphic novels. Zombies, werewolves, vampire crossovers. Zombies, werewolves, vampire subgenres. It’s kind of like the Measles, but without the vaccine.
Before all the clichés, before all the contrived storylines and slightly more mainstream pieces with beginnings but no middles and ends… before the slice-of-life vignettes which were supposed to relate to us, our inner demons (grrr!), or be politically daring and poetic to our ears and somehow symbolic, but was actually crappy and confusing rather… You had character-driven stories, plot-driven stories, protagonists you cared about, antagonists you cursed beneath your tongue, and most of all, innovative ideas. Some of those ideas would eventually become what you see before you today. Some of it yet to make its debut in society.
FACT: 75% of genre writers will die poor, starving, or rely on insubstantial bank funds as their nest egg. Most don’t want to believe change is happening, or that evolution is impossible, and that it is going to stay that way. A vast majority already have one foot in the coffin. Otherwise, older, former editors and writers are about eight to ten years away from being maggot food regardless.
“Ah ha, Mr. Dagstine! But I have a Limited Edition of 500 copies from such-and-such-a-press in hardcover dustjacket. It’s science fiction literature at its finest!”
No, trust me. It isn’t… Paging Adam Roberts, paging Adam Roberts…
There are six-billion human beings on the planet Earth; most are from Asia. There are more books than there are people. Out of that 500 Limited Edition run from that Small Press, you might sell 250 to 300. Perhaps more, and those will be to your colleagues. It’s a race against time to write and get read (if, even after your death, technology has not evolved yet again and you are preferably read). The other day I stared at a non-fiction check for $400.00 (Dagstine is my nom de plume for horror and scifi). Then I looked at a micro-press pub and said I must be holding my prick in my hand. My advice: take any money you make in this profession and fucking run!
Maybe Harlan Ellison is right. Maybe science fiction is dead. And maybe horror is just one big keg party where you get to check in but you don’t check out. Maybe fantasy is for the LARP’ers who refuse to abandon ye’ olde dungeon. Better yet, maybe we should save ourselves the glum silences and troubles of the clinical depressions that await us twenty, thirty years down the road. What do you think? Should we start filling those Zoloft prescriptions a little early?
Lawrence R. Dagstine
P.S.: If you still enjoy what you do, naturally, just go with the flow. Me, I guess I’ll still keep on submitting, keep on trucking. After all, what else is there?