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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?


  1. I think people still read Wells. His work is still in print, in multiple editions: that, itself, is indicative. And some of that might be for English classes, but I bet most of it isn’t.

    Keith Phipps reviewed The Invisible Man this week in his regular “Box of Paperbacks” feature and it seems like a few of the commenters might have read the book. (Though more have apparently read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen II.)

    Comment by James Enge - March 28, 2009 11:09 pm

  2. Maybe the relationship between SF/F and film is somewhat like that of Jane Austin – her novels have inspired all these feature film and television adaptions, most of which only hint at the underlying satire that is oblivious to modern audiences anyway, but I tend to doubt a significant spike in book sales results from the latest version of Sense and Sensibility.

    Comment by Soyka - March 30, 2009 8:17 am

  3. Verne is in a very serious boom, with new English translations coming out, and books that have had only minor release at the turn of the century in the U.S. getting their first wide releases. His most popular days may be ahead of him.

    Wells, I find, is still immensely popular, and I’m always surprised at how many of my reading students were reading both him and Verne. Pleasantly surprised.

    Comment by Ryan Harvey - March 30, 2009 8:58 pm

  4. Well–you might want to look into this, if you want some encouragement about people reading. Austen sells very well. Are people reading the books that they buy? What’s the age range of the people buying the books? That I’m not sure about. But they are buying the books, in multiple editions, in significant numbers (according to a drift through Amazon sales ranks I just made).

    Comment by James Enge - March 31, 2009 12:53 pm

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