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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 Nor have they been replaced by a sufficient number of girls and young women who have entered the genre over the years and greatly transformed it.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.


  1. To all young boys who are reading this: if you are not reading Verne, Welles, Orwell, or Huxley, you are doing yourself and society a huge disservice. You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

    Comment by Ryan Harvey - March 30, 2009 3:00 am

  2. Well, what they are missing out on is a prose style that will probably strike them as stilted in situations where technology is quaint, in some times just scientifically wrong, with cultural references with which they are unfamiliar. And nobody texts or uses facebook.

    Which is not a criticism, necessarily, of those works or those young boys (and, hey, what about those young girls, or do we just relegate them to bad vampire take-offs?). Just that they’re not “entry drugs” anymore.

    Comment by Soyka - March 30, 2009 8:10 am

  3. That’s a good point. In a recent post on John Scalzi’s blog, a commenter noted that the library near his house didn’t even carry Asimov or Heinlein, much less any of the less-influential science fiction writers that many of us grew up reading.

    Scalzi seems to think that the YA market is a reasonable substitute, but I’m less skeptical that a teen Twilight lover who reads books about fairies and uglies and whatnot is going to go for SF/F in the long run. I think they’re more likely to end up in Romance.

    I don’t think we can relegate either the young boys or the young girls. I tend to think that they’re the ones who will decide who gets relegated where. My solution is to write High Fantasy for a very small and select literate market, knowing that it won’t sell well, while designing an Urban Fantasy game – complete with sensual, stylish vampires – for a largely non-literate market.

    The interesting thing is that the game requires about 35,000 words of text. So, it’s still writing, it’s still fantasy, it’s just a different medium.

    Comment by Theo - March 30, 2009 11:33 am

  4. I remeber readin around 15 years ago an editorial by Robert Silverberg stating the same thing. SF and Fantasy readership is getting old. Look at the books shelves. mostly media related books (Films, TV and gaming related.). I’m 47 and I cut my teeth on Wells, Verne, ERB. Most of what I read before Jr. High was either victorean of a little bit later. Most “Fantastic” antholgies for “young people” were full of Wells, Hodgson, Saki, M. R. James or early Weird Tales or Astounding writers. This was a different kind of writing than what we see today. I’ve seen bloggers on the web complainng that this stuff is “unreadable”!! Hell, I know plenty of people over 30 who’ve never heard of Harlan Ellison, Clifford Simak, Jack Williamson or any other famous “older writers”. I define “older writers” as those who were still in print or in the libraries back in the 1970s and not just goleden age authors from the 1930/1940s either. The world has moved For better or (most likely) worse. I’m depressed. sorry for rambling.

    Comment by doug - March 30, 2009 1:07 pm

  5. […] recently been a bit of discussion here about kids reading sf/f. I spent some time this morning looking up sales figures for […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Children Are Reading Fantasy - March 31, 2009 3:40 am

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