Sunday, October 29, 2006


From time to time, people in the science fiction community start to navel gaze about the state of the genre. I’m probably picking on science fiction when I say this, but the fact is that it happens fairly frequently. And why not? The genre itself is predicated on speculation. If an author is qualified to speculate about the future of technology or society, why can’t that same author be qualified to speculate about the state of the industry that he earns his living in?

The number of manifestos about the future of science fiction can approach infinity, but if the people who control the means of production do not feel that excessive experimentation is warranted (or, even worse – not marketable), nothing significant will ever come of them. For this reason, there is now and will always be an upper limit on the amount of experimentation that science fiction can tolerate.

It is all very well and good for Charlie Stross to advocate that writers pioneer a new field of science fiction, but without the support of the industry (which is not necessarily the same thing as the support of the market, mind you) this suggestion might as well be so many tears in the rain.

Despite assurances to the contrary, the publishing industry is concerned with profits first and new ideas – in so much as they do not interfere with those profits – second. From an economic viewpoint, this makes sense. However, this attitude does not tend to create the kind of environment that lends itself to experimentation.

To some extent, the comics industry has the same kinds of problems. However, the comics industry has created a healthy environment for experimentation: self-publishing. In the world of self-published comic books, experimentation is encouraged. The audience wants to read new and different things and they show their support for this process through the buying of new and different things. On the whole, it’s a win-win situation.

After all, this is the reason why healthy self-publishing environments exist. And, with the death of so many science fiction magazines, there is an even greater need for a safe place to try new things. Of necessity, most of these new things will fail (and fail spectacularly), but someone will always be willing to try stranger and stranger things until something clicks. This is generally referred to as “progress.”