AISFP 120 – Ian Tregillis

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Ian Tregillis, author of Bitter Seeds, joins us to discuss superheroes in fiction, why, as a working physicist, he’s not writing science fiction, how he came to be in George R.R. Martin’s “Wild Cards” writing collective and the reasons for the delay in book two of the Milkweed buy gabapentin overnight delivery Triptych trilogy (more updated details on his site). Two of his short works from 2010, “What Doctor Gottlieb Saw” and “Still Life (A Sexagesimal Fairy Tale),” made Locus Magazine’s recommended reading list.

Show Notes:

  • Shaun and Moses continue the discussion on fantasy VS. science fiction sales, and we focus mainly on listener feedback on our reactions. Remember, this is just a 20 minute segment! We can’t hit on everything, but we do a good job at raising some questions and beginning a discussion. Please leave your thoughts here or on our facebook page!
  • Win an iPad for a short story!

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  1. Andy Chamberlain says

    Scifi vs fantasy. Two points on this guys.

    1. I think scifi is not so popular in terms of book sales because scifi is not popular in the culture at the moment. There were some great scifi books out in the 50’s 60’s and early 70’s when it was hot to go to the moon, or explore the solar system, but not only is that visionary ambition currently out of fashion, but with the world the way it is, people want to totally escape ( via fantasy) rather than flex the science muscles of mankind (via scifi) – we just don’t think that, as a race, we can conquer the universe, perhaps we will again one day.

    2. The other point, maybe a lot of scifi there days is simply an excursion in to ‘weird’. Nothing wrong with that in itself, I love some weird fiction (China Mieville is a good example) but maybe we’ve been so keen to expand the genre beyond FTL and space in general, that we’ve now got a dearth of material that captures the vision of space exploration. I don’t think that vision is worthless as a source, rather I just think scifi writers need to step up their game and reclaim that vision with some really excellent stories.

  2. Shaun Farrell says

    Good points, Andy. Two days ago I went to the used bookstore and picked up some old Vinge titles, for some of the same reasons you just mentioned. Can’t wait for his new book this year.

  3. Andy Chamberlain says

    Shaun – Any recommendations for ‘old school’ scifi readers would be welcomed! Maybe your top ten picks would be good podcast material.
    Also, what I think might win back hearts and minds (and pocketbooks) to scifi would be if the Kepler mission found a planet that could sustain human (or alien?) life- in the goldlocks zone, right size, etc etc. I think that would fire some imaginations (I”m trying to write something around this subject at the moment).


  4. My own personal top ten. . . . I like it, Andy. Keep listening for that!

  5. I gotta admit, I was ready to claw the walls out after listening to the discussion on SF vs F on the most recent episode, for a couple reasons:

    1) You both said a number of times that Fantasy is more popular because it “is easier to grasp” and “is less demanding.” I don’t want to belabor the point overmuch, but this is both incredibly elitist and fairly obviously wrong–Fantasy (even Urban Fantasy) requires an extraordinary imaginative and cognitive capacity of the reader (and most readers of *anything* are above average in intelligence and sophistication).

    2) You say that Fantasy has a better literary pedigree, pointing out that Tolkien was very literary. Unfortunately, this isn’t much more than hindsight bias–Tolkien was considered LOW fiction, barely suitable for children, when he published The Hobbit and LOTR. The notion of “Literary Merit” is a highly political one, and fairy stories (being seen as escapist mind candy) were considered cultural clutter by those in the literary community until the mid-80s. Even since then, Fantasy has that rep, with certain works like Lord Of The Rings being exempted by default because literary scholars of the current generation grew up on them. (Contrast that with, say, Dune, which was considered literarily meritorious very early on because of its political and ecological elements).

    I honestly think that the great puzzle about why fantasy is selling more than SF at this moment in history shouldn’t be that great a puzzle. We’re standing in a moment in which three major historical trends are all momentarily reinforcing each other. Here’s what they are:

    Historically, Science Fiction (even dystopian SF) has always done well during periods of optimism, and poorly during periods of pessimism. During the 20s and 30s, it did really well. During the 40s (during the war), not so much. During the 50s and 60s, with the space race and the period the economists call the 30 Glorious Years, SF was REALLY popular and fantasy (including LOTR) was an afterthought. Come the late 60s, with the Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, etc., you see Fantasy again pulling ahead and science fiction becoming softer and more fantasy-like, and this trend continued through the 70s until the rise of Cyberpunk in the 80s. In the 80s, they two ran fairly neck-and-neck, but in the 90s with the internet, the end of the cold war, etc, SF did really well. Then, as the bubble burst, SF seemed to run out of steam again. This is a historically predictable see-saw in the genre of spec fic.

    Second, you have the horror bust of the late 90s–horror was HUGE, then suddenly it wasn’t. A lot of those horror novelists filed the “horror” off their nameplates, scribbled “urban fantasy” and “dark fantasy” in crayon, and kept working. Add this to Harlequin’s forays into fantasy (which added the romantic element in–always history’s most reliable readership), and you have authors and readers from two huge genres diving into the Fantasy pool during a time when, historically speaking, Fantasy *should* have been on the rise anyway.

    I really don’t think it’s more complicated than that–and it’s a trend that will swing the other way as the new tech booms of quantum processing, cybernetics, and biotech all start to enter everyday life (that swing may already be starting, with the rising popularity of “hard fantasy,” steampunk, biopunk, and authors like Stross and Mieville and Bagicalupi really hitting their stride).

    When the world is filled with problems to be solved, people like Science Fiction. When it’s full of demons and dark forces who must be fought (or who can’t be beaten), people like Fantasy. I really don’t think it’s much more complicated than that.

    For what it’s worth 🙂

    -Dan Sawyer
    author of Down From Ten
    the Clarke Lantham Mysteries
    and The Antithesis Progression

  6. Shaun Farrell says

    These comments are great, Mr. Sawyer. Thanks for taking the time to write them! The historical trend is not something we’ve touched on, and, only being 30 years old myself, I can’t speak to the rise and fall of sale numbers through the decades, based on world events, without doing some significant research. Fascinating connection, and one that makes sense. I think other listeners talked about SF being harder to grasp than we did in this episode. Moses, in particular, stressed how challenging fantasy can be in EP 119, so that is something we talked about there and acknowledged that fantasy’s vast world building can be a steep impediment, especially to readers new to the genre. Both genres can have a steep learning curve, and a talented writer can soften that curve and make concepts and magic systems more easily understood.

  7. Because I missed the discussion for this episode (and it looks as if Mr. Sawyer expands on several of the points on our first go-round of our discussion), I’ll share what I thought was an interesting review/article from the Wall Street Journal — the last line of it spoke volumes, “Some things only science fiction can do.”


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