Bill Bowler writes about...
Supply and Demand in Science Fiction
Kevin Ahearn’s letter on Sci Fi supply and demand is provocative and contains a great deal of truth. Who reads poetry? Who reads Sci Fi? You may as well ask who reads literature? Or better yet, who reads anything? Who reads? Reading itself, the printed page, is threatened with obsolesence or extinction by the visual and electronic media.
I’m not sure there ever was a large body of readers of poetry. In the history of Russian literature, for example, where poets are exalted like sports heroes or movie celebrities, the journals which published the greatest of the 19th-century Russian poets had surprisingly small circulations — some in the hundreds. One of the great ones, Zhukovsky, entitled one of his verse collections “For the Few.”
If so few are reading, why write the stuff? Writers write because they are compelled to do so. They are obsessed with the blank page, put pen to paper, and cast their bread upon the water. The consequences are not known. Let the chips fall where they may, but ars gratis artis (art for art’s sake) is one of our most ancient concepts.
And yet, poetry doesn’t disappear into the dustbin, as Kevin fears. It is resilient. People thirst for it without knowing. It morphs. It shows up in popular song lyrics. Smokey Robinson. Bob Dylan. Some of the best poetry today is no doubt in the driving couplets of good Rap which have the Pharisees up in arms.
As for Sci Fi, it seems to be thriving as never before. It is a dominant genre on TV and in the movies. We even get our own section in Barnes & Noble; and on TV, Star Wars and Star Trek, to name but two. A large number of people around the world apparently find Sci Fi interesting and entertaining.
But how to explain the dreadful erosion of subscribers to the big three Sci Fi magazines and the weak market in Sci Fi short story anthologies? I think it’s erosion to the electronic media. People are not subscribing to magazines these days; they’re watching TV, playing videogames, and surfing the web. But even a Sci Fi videogame needs a good back story. Have you played “Prey”?
Is the short story an endangered species? I don’t think so. “If it ain’t on the page; it ain’t on the stage.” It all begins with the story, the initial creative act, the something from nothing. “In the beginning, was the Word.” Before the Hollywood blockbuster, before the TV series, comes the story.
So don’t get discouraged. Keep writing the damn things, and reading them, and discussing them, and honing your art and, who knows, maybe a big Hollywood producer or network executive will be surfing the web one Sunday afternoon, looking for material...
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bowler