Children Are Reading Fantasy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

There’s recently been a bit of discussion here about kids reading sf/f. I spent some time this morning looking up sales figures for children’s and YA speculative fiction, to discover that the most detailed information is in market reports that you have to pay for. Still, a few points.

First, no argument that gaming is a huge and growing market. I recall hearing recently that it has now surpassed movies in the entertainment hierarchy, but whether this was in terms of total dollars or percentage of people who consume, I can’t now remember.

The percentage of kids who read is still in decline, though I haven’t seen recent figures. As population grows, the total number of kids who read seems to be going up, however, or the kids who do read are reading more, as book sales are rising.

“In recent years, children’s books have emerged as a welcome bright spot in the world of general bookselling”; children’s books are helping to keep indy bookstores afloat.

And here is relatively recent publishing market data: “Total unit sales fell 6.7% in the week ended Dec. 7, 2008, compared to the week ended Dece. 9, 2007, according to BookScan. The adult segment had the worst week; adult nonfiction units were off 20.9% at the outlets that report data to BookScan. Juvenile fiction continued to be the strongest segment, with units up 24.1%.”

The most recent overview I could find was a couple of years old; the gist is that kids are not getting tired of fantasy and in fact are demanding more. “HarperCollins children’s publisher Susan Katz points out what she sees as a key difference. ‘It’s not our experience that the kids are saturated [with fantasy],’ she says. ‘It’s more that book buyers are.'”

The most recent children’s bestseller lists show a bunch of fantasy titles in every number category. Read More »

Monsters vs Aliens

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Monsters vs Aliens: An IMAX 3D Experience (2009)
Directed by Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman. Featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, Stephen Colbert.

Monsters vs Aliens disappointed me. “Disappointed” isn’t a term I normally use regarding a DreamWorks CGI-animated film. Or any CGI-animated film that doesn’t start with the Pixar logo. I’ve come to expect that computer-animated fare from anyone aside from Pixar means overused celebrity voice-acting and tiresome, unrelenting pop-culture references placed over the needs of story and character. So why would I feel disappointed when Monsters vs Aliens ended up in the same DreamWorks ballpark of the mediocre?

Because the trailers looked good. Because it was going to play theaters in IMAX 3D (not actual IMAX, but a blow-up for the larger format). Because it was an homage to one of my favorite genres, the 1950s science-fiction ‘B’-movie. Because it has giant monsters and robots.

For all its possibility, Monsters vs Aliens still ends up a stale non-Pixar ‘yuk-yuk’ festival. The filmmakers could have striven for something higher. They could have gone for Coraline—or even Monster House. Instead, they ended up with a movie somewhat superior to Shrek 2, Shrek 3, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shark Tale. That’s a victory, of sorts. And the 3D in the IMAX enlargement is, at the very least, breathtaking.

Read More »

For the most part, the answer is no

Sunday, March 29th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

Fallout 3

Fallout 3

Yesterday, Soyka wondered if people still read Verne, Wells, Orwell or Huxley, as he considered Bruce Sterling’s assertion that they still did so. While a few literary elitists still do, the fact of the matter is that the boys and young men who once made up the vast majority of science fiction readers no longer read SF/F or any other form of literature. Nor have they been replaced by a sufficient number of girls and young women who have entered the genre over the years and greatly transformed it.  Today, it is clear that the primary form in which SF/F finds an audience is either the movie or the electronic game. I would argue for the latter. Not only do games draw more revenue than novels and movies, but they are played by far more people than actually buy them. Consider the current numbers on the Pirate Bay, where games, movies, and ebooks are all available for download.

The top game download today is Fallout 3, with 3727 active downloaders. The top movie download, unsurprisingly, is Twilight, with 7531 downloaders. The top SF/F-related ebook is not actually a novel, but the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules with 58 downloaders. However, the Fallout numbers are more significant in terms of audience size, as chances are that most of the Fallout downloaders have not played the game yet, while most of the Twilight downloaders have already seen the movie in the theatre. While movie prices are lower, it’s also important to note that far more games than movies are produced every year; the top seven publishers released 880 games between them from 2005 to 2009. Since many of these games are set in SF/F environments, it’s apparent that most young SF/F enthusiasts are far more familiar with the orcs of Azeroth than the Morlocks of the Moon.

Whether one regards this as a positive progression or a lamentable one is really irrelevant.  The post-literate world is here and it is not going to disappear this side of the Singularity.

Nebunovels II: The Final Nebulation

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Apologies to David Soyka and all for posting off my usual day, but I thought I should keep finish what I started (for once in my life). It’s been a busy week, but I did finally manage to acquire and read the remaining Nebula-nominated novels.

And I’m glad to say that my preliminary generalization in the first installment of this post holds up: these books are not all created equal, but they are, in their way, all worthwhile reads. And none of them is genre-lite. Space squids could get freaked out reading some of this stuff.

Below the jump you’ll find the usual what-passes-for-thoughts.

Read More »

Do people still read this stuff?

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

The March/April Intertzone has a short interview with Bruce Sterling in promoting his latest novel, The Caryatids (haven’t read it yet, but sounds intriguing). Here’s one question: “Couldn’t it be argued that SF itself is a long running ‘War on Wonder’? Is our tolerance for spectacle increasing with each passing year — we’re demanding more eyeball-kicks for the bucks?” To which Sterling replies: “If that were the case, why would anybody read Verne, Wells, Orwell or Huxley? Yet they do.”

Now, I’m not all together certain I understand either the question or the response. I think the point is that people who watch SF-inspired movies may not read SF because it isn’t as exciting. Well, maybe, but those folks don’t read in the first place. I suspect readers are, for the most, disappointed in most cinematic SF, Battlestar Gallactica, notwithstanding. Of course, I’m guessing that’s the case based on my own perception as a reader of SF.

But as far as Sterling’s response goes, I wonder if people still read Verne and Wells. Orwell and Huxley are typcially assigned in school (and I once assigned The Time Machine to an eighth grade English class), but do people still read these guys for entertainment, let alone to consider their ideas, outside of  academia or people who really care about SF as a genre and seek to be knowledgeable about its historical development?

And my guess is that most people who went to see the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds (a flick I never bothered with) didn’t pick up the source material. Or, if they did, wouldn’t have finished.

Or am I just being a snobbish elitist?

Nebunovels I (The Nebulation Begins to End)

Thursday, March 26th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

I haven’t actually read all the novels on the Nebula list yet, so this can only be Part One of the Final Nebulation (which began forty two billion subjective years ago with a look at the Nebula nominees for short stories, continuing with the novelettes and the novellas). But I should be able to post on the rest of them in a couple of days (assuming John and Howard and you don’t mind me making an extra post this week).

Not having read them all, I probably shouldn’t make any global comments about the group. But it does seem to me that the novels are by far the most impressive set of nominees this year. Maybe this just means I like novels better than short fiction (though I don’t think that’s the case). Maybe it’s just a so-so year for shorter fiction, or maybe it’s all due to AIG.

Anyway, here are my thoughts (if that’s not too strong a word) about three of this year’s Nebula-nominated novels: Schwartz’s Superpowers, Doctorow’s Little Brother, and Le Guin’s Powers.

Read More »

Pastiches ‘R’ Us: Conan and the Treasure of Python

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Conan and the Treasure of Python

By John Maddox Roberts (Tor, 1992)

My first post on Black Gate’s blog was a review of a Conan pastiche. I would feel untrue to myself if I didn’t return to this rich vein of material from time to time. This go-round, I’m paying a visit to one of the most interesting of the Tor novels from the most consistently successful of its stable of authors, John Maddox Roberts. Even if you’re not a fan of Conan novels that don’t come from the pen of Robert E. Howard, Conan and the Treasure of the Python has something to offer you: a take on one of the classic adventure novels of all time.

The editors should have renamed this book Conan and the Treasure of King Solomon’s Mines. This isn’t a case of borrowing or inspiration the way that, for example, Forbidden Planet borrows from The Tempest, or The Warriors draws inspiration from Xenophon’s Anabasis. No, this novel is literally King Solomon’s Mines: John Maddox Roberts copies the exact plot of the classic H. Rider Haggard 1885 adventure novel and recasts it as a Conan story, with the legendary barbarian starring in the Allan Quatermain role. The story similarities are striking, pervasive, and go far beyond coincidence or subconscious borrowing. The overall structure of both books is beat-for-beat identical.

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Maps, Doors, Dreams

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

I love maps.

I’m not talking about the Tolkein-esque pseudo-quaint maps that seem required in a certain kind of fantasy. I mean real maps, new, old, or ancient, representations of the things in the landscape that had meaning for their makers. I love maps of places I know and places I don’t know. When it’s a place you know, I suppose the pleasure lies in re-experiencing the familiar in a new way. Like looking at a Google Earth view of your neighborhood: hey, there’s the park, there’s the coffee shop corner, there’s my front porch. When it’s a place you don’t know, there’s romance in visualizing it, there is charm and mystery in the unfamiliar place names, you can feel transported to a new land in the way the best fantasy does. Maps both tell you where you are, and take you to a place you’ve never been, sparking your longing to explore. Read More »

And if you liked the New Weird…

Saturday, March 21st, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

I just reviewed Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s The New Weird anthology, and if you’re interested in varying offshoots and antecedents, you might want to check out my reviews of:

  • The New Wave Fabulists
  • Paraspheres
  • Cyberpunk
  • Slipstream
  • Should be enough homework for today.

    Short FictionReview #15: The New Weird edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

    Friday, March 20th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

    It might seem weird that people once got worked up about this stuff (and, maybe they still do and I’m just not paying that much attention anymore), but about five years or so ago (that’s 35  in dog years and  paleolithic ancient history in Internet reckoning), people were getting worked up about “The New Weird,” whether it was a bona fide genre subcategory and/or movement, who its practitioners were, and who the hell cared.   At least it was better than arguing about whether cyberpunk was dead and whether slipstream was literary science fiction, or literary fiction that stole from science fiction.

    Now, along come the Vandermeers —  both of whom have dogs in this hunt, Ann as editor of the presumably now defunct Silver Web magazine and currently at the helm of Weird Tales and Jeff as the author of City of Saints and Madmen, among other works, associated with The New Weird milieu and, if recollection serves, one of those who at the time thought the whole discussion about  the classification kind of pointless — with  The New Weird anthology. Theirs is an interesting approach.  This is more than a compendium of stories that tend to share a theme; rather, it is a kind of snapshot of a fixed era (with one exception) of excitement  — possibly mixed with some confusion —  of authors breaking ground from traditional fantasy and horror and mixing it up in very intriguing, though sometimes incomprehensible ways, whose time, the editors seem to suggest, has past.  “New Weird is dead.  Long Live the Next Weird.”
    Read More »

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