On Sunday, I told my wife that I needed a run to Barnes and Noble to stock up on some sci-fi. My haul included Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (which I am enjoying immensely), Calculating God by Robert Sawyer, and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. (I know, I know, they've all been in stores for years, but reading peer-reviewed science articles and technology policy papers gets in the way of my sci-fi pleasures.) In any case, it turns out that I far from alone in my need for escapist literature.
An article this week in Publishers Weekly finds that financially depressed Americans are snapping up escapist titles of all types, including sci-fi:
While some readers look for dark fiction to reflect dark times, others just want to get away from it all. This has led to strong sales on all sides of science fiction and fantasy, from pulpy escapist romps to grim dystopian parables. “In down times, escapism is more important and necessary than ever,” says Diana Gill, executive editor of the Eos imprint at HarperCollins, “and genre sales reflect that. We saw this after 9/11, and it continues to be true now. Urban and supernatural fantasy are unquestionably the strongest sellers in the genre.”
Seale Ballenger, group publicity director for Eos, concurs: “We are seeing the trend toward escapism across the board in all areas of publishing right now due to the faltering economy. People really want to focus on something other than the nonstop woes of the world. The escapist nature of SF and fantasy gives readers a doorway into a world very different from their own.”
Publishers Weekly further notes:
Readers of both fantasy and science fiction seem particularly drawn to books that connect with their real-world experiences. Postapocalyptic fiction has been selling well for years, says Ginjer Buchanan, editor-in-chief of Penguin's Ace and Roc imprints, and it's not because of the economy. “I'm not sure that the increasing market for apocalypse stories has much to do with the current state of the world,” she says. “It's science fiction that's accessible to a wider readership. The singularity and nanotechnology can be hard to grasp, but people who have experienced a natural disaster or loss of electricity don't find it so hard to take the leap to thinking about the entire earth flooding, or about electricity not working anywhere.”
While it is obvious from my latest selections that my tastes are eclectic, in general give me high tech sci-fi, rollicking space operas, and fraught encounters between alien cultures. But if zombie stories help get you through these confusing times, enjoy!
Whole Publishers Weekly article here. See superb articles by my colleagues Brian Doherty on sci-fi master storyteller Robert Heinlein turning 100 here and Katherine Mangu-Ward on the publishing house Tor's anti-authoritarian sci-fi here.
Kudos to frequent H&R commenter Sugarfree.