Friday, October 24, 2008

The Halcyon Science Fictional Days of the Eighties

Since I got a huge unexpected readership for a long post about amazingly publishing-insider things last week -- and since, because of that, I haven't had as much time to think and write new stuff for the blog this week -- here's something similarly insidery and depressive.

Someone mentioned (on rec.arts.sf.written) in early August that golden time when "a whole bunch" of SF writers could command huge advances, and wondered if we would ever see their like again. As always, I disagreed:

Actually, your list there is almost complete, and a bit misleading. There was a short period, from the late '70s through the late '80s, during which a few SF writers got huge advances, but it wasn't all of them, and it didn't last.

The three writers who got huge advances no matter what they wrote -- the ones who commanded an large audience just due to their own writing -- were Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov. (And that was because they were the iconic, world-famous "Big Three" SF writers, with a stature and a popularity that no one else could ever match.)

Herbert got big money, but only for "Dune" books. Silverberg got a big advance for his return to the field with Lord Valentine's Castle (and sequels), but not otherwise, and not really after that. Pohl got increasingly good money for the "Heechee" books. Niven and Pournelle got big advances for their very mainstream thriller-y SF books. But that was pretty much it for clearly SF books (depending on how you characterize McCaffrey's Pern novels).

On the other side, Dick wasn't making that kind of money, and neither was Simak. Nor was just about anyone else of their stature and time in the field -- the big money was going to books in very popular series...much like it is today.

The center of gravity now has mostly shifted to fantasy, in part because fewer SF writers are trying to write big, unabashedly popular series like Dune or Heechee or Pern these days. (It seems to be mostly the Brits who are -- people like Hamilton and Reynolds. The Great American Hope in this area is John Scalzi, and his meteoric rise shows that there were people who really wanted books like that.) The big space opera series of our times is Star Wars, and we shouldn't be surprised that there's a larger audience for space opera than for dreary stories of loss and the inevitable destruction of mankind.

1 comment:

Adele said...

I love Scalzi. His blog is awesome so I tried the Androids Dream, love it. Looking forward to trying some of the others.

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