Science Fiction Readers Demographics

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  • #3419

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    Science Fiction and Fantasy readers traditionally range from the well educated to the very well educated and coincidentally from the highly intelligent to the very highly intelligent.  According to some figures I’ve read, around 50% of sff readers have a Bachelor’s degree or higher and around 25% have graduate degrees.  These figures, of course, differ from those who enjoy only watching sff movies and television shows without being avid readers of the genres.  People often think that sff readers are mostly science majors, but the second largest educational major among sff readers is English, followed by history.  With all this in mind, why is it that so many English professors do not regard science fiction as “real literature” ?

    #3420

    Gloria Lee McMillan
    Participant
    @gloriamla

    Hello,

    I have the history that explains this bias.  In Victorian London, Henry James took up H. G. Wells and hoped to mentor the younger man, even collaborate on a Mars novel.  When Wells–a Cockney from a lower social strata–chafed at the great man image that James cultivated and (horrors!) parodied James in his novel Boon, James broke off their friendship.

    This James-Wells feud was the green light that James follower Virginia Woolf had been waiting for.  She pilloried H. G. Wells, his fiction of ideas and such “ephemeral things,” in her text Modern Fiction.  Woolf’s set of rules made up the values of the Modern movement and they meant “No dogs and science fiction writers” allowed.  College surveys of modern British fiction still routinely omit H. G. Wells.  Stylistically, everything that science fiction values (extrapolating from current scientific concepts, trends, and ideas) was dismissed by Woolf as “ephemeral.”

    URL:  http://liverpool.metapress.com/content/u5123r1u25v7/?sortorder=asc&p_o=10

     

     

    #3423

    Patrick Whitmarsh
    Participant
    @pwhitmarsh

    Great topic, and good comments!

    I may be incorrect, but I feel as though the stigma against SF in literature departments is gradually decreasing, especially since publications like Carl Freedman’s Critical Theory and Science Fiction and Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future.  That said, I certainly agree that we still see the effects of long-term neglect in departments across the country.

    I’m not sure how much I can comment on “why,” but there is some interesting backlash from those who write SF.  I’m particularly thinking of Peter Watts’s recent claim that “SF has become more important than Literature”; this comment is directed specifically at the contemporary fiction of Margaret Atwood, whom Watts has a beef against for claiming that she doesn’t write SF.  It looks, to me anyway, that even as certain “mainstream” or “Literary” authors begin to infringe on the territory of science fiction, those SF authors who consider themselves “true” resist this infiltration, spiraling out into more obscure subgenres (hence the creation of all the “-punks”).  The relationship between academic departments and SF writers is interesting, and it isn’t entirely one-sided; SF authors appear to resist absorption just as much as scholars do (or did).

    #3424

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    Gloria:  That reminds me of Galileo as the poster child of the oppressed scientist when he brought a lot of it on himself by making fun of the Pope, calling him Simplicio in a dialogue.  I’m not saying what Galileo’s exile was right, but experiencing negative effects from tweaking the nose of the most powerful man in Europe is as unsurprising as Wells’s exile from respectable literature as a result of tweaking the nose of a powerful figure (in a different way) like Henry James.  Petronius wisely had his list of the emperor’s male and female lovers with explicit details of sexual debauchery published posthumously.

    Patrick:  I suspect many sf writers enjoy the status of the Few, the Proud, the Science Fiction Writers!  This isn’t unearned by a long shot because so many English departments disdain science fiction (as I said in my original posting), but sff writers need to realize that mixing genres and subgenres is common and perfectly acceptable and to assume that writers of one genre cannot write in another genre is narrow-minded.  Isaac Asimov submitted a science fiction murder mystery to John W. Campbell, iirc, who rejected it because of the mixture of genres.  Asimov parodies this in an introduction to the story in one of his many anthologies by writing a brief mock story that went something like this (I’m making this up but imitating Asimov):  Ah, my dear Watson, you know that the murderer must have come from Planet X, but, as everyone knows, Planet X had a revolution in the year 2794 when it was renamed Planet Y.  Therefore, Joe Blow told the truth when he said he was not from Planet X, so it is still possible for him to be the murderer, and he is, as I will prove thus…. etc.  Campbell apparently thought that authors would cheat this way when writing science fiction murder mysteries, and this was the reason he rejected the story.  I think this is the reason a lot of authors decline to be labeled science fiction writers:  They are afraid they will lose their respectability in “real” literary circles and be labeled a sci-fi hack (note my disparaging use of the term sci-fi, knowing that true sf fans use sf or sff) in much the same way that some actors are not necessarily typecast but, if they’ve starred or become well known in a science fiction movie or television series, they get job offers only for sff movies and tv shows.  Many writers seem to fear that, if similarly labeled, only sff publishers will be willing in the future to publish their stories, and then, publish sff or perish, their careers would be over.  Do you think this fear is in any way well founded?

    #3425

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    Gloria:  That reminds me of Galileo as the poster child of the oppressed scientist when he brought a lot of it on himself by making fun of the Pope, calling him Simplicio in a dialogue.  I’m not saying what Galileo’s exile was right, but experiencing negative effects from tweaking the nose of the most powerful man in Europe is as unsurprising as Wells’s exile from respectable literature as a result of tweaking the nose of a powerful figure (in a different way) like Henry James.  Petronius wisely had his list of the emperor’s male and female lovers with explicit details of sexual debauchery published posthumously.

    Patrick:  I suspect many sf writers enjoy the status of the Few, the Proud, the Science Fiction Writers!  This isn’t unearned by a long shot because so many English departments disdain science fiction (as I said in my original posting), but sff writers need to realize that mixing genres and subgenres is common and perfectly acceptable and to assume that writers of one genre cannot write in another genre is narrow-minded.  Isaac Asimov submitted a science fiction murder mystery to John W. Campbell, iirc, who rejected it because of the mixture of genres.  Asimov parodies this in an introduction to the story in one of his many anthologies by writing a brief mock story that went something like this (I’m making this up but imitating Asimov):  Ah, my dear Watson, you know that the murderer must have come from Planet X, but, as everyone knows, Planet X had a revolution in the year 2794 when it was renamed Planet Y.  Therefore, Joe Blow told the truth when he said he was not from Planet X, so it is still possible for him to be the murderer, and he is, as I will prove thus…. etc.  Campbell apparently thought that authors would cheat this way when writing science fiction murder mysteries, and this was the reason he rejected the story.  I think this is the reason a lot of authors decline to be labeled science fiction writers:  They are afraid that they will be accused of cheating somehow by pretending to be “mainstream” writers (though I think sff is mainstream) when they are really sff writers, and they will lose their respectability in “real” literary circles and be labeled a sci-fi hack (note my disparaging use of the term sci-fi, knowing that true sf fans use sf or sff) in much the same way that some actors are not necessarily typecast but, if they’ve starred or become well known in a science fiction movie or television series, they get job offers only for sff movies and tv shows.  Many writers seem to fear that, if similarly labeled, only sff publishers will be willing in the future to publish their stories, and then, publish sff or perish, their careers would be over.  Do you think this fear is in any way well founded?

    #3426

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    Hmm, I received a 504 error and thought it didn’t post, so I re-submitted, but apparently both posts went through.  I edited the second post a bit for clarity.  I’ve also noticed that a lot of sff writers and readers believe that science fiction and religion don’t mix.  This, of course, is nonsense.  I have a list of religious science fiction stories and stories written by religious authors that I collected over the years in prep for a Master’s thesis but chose to write my thesis on a specific sf novel instead:  _A Canticle for Leibowitz_ by Walter M. Miller, Jr.  I still have the list somewhere, though.  I’ve argued that the Book of Tobit and stories about Elijah and Elisha are examples of early fantasy just like Lucian’s “A True Story” and Homer’s “The Odyssey.”  I think that Tobit and the Elijah/Elisha tales are didactic fiction just like the parables of Jesus.  I say with some trepidation that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythical, but see Father LaVerdierre’s definition of myth as applies to the creation stories in the Bible.  Many Greek and Roman myths are early examples of fantasy also, and I would especially include Ovid’s Metamorphoses in that list along with the Gilgamesh Epic.  And let us not forget Somnium.  I would also argue that the John Carter of Mars stories by Burroughs are just as much fantasy as a _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court_ by Twain because Twain’s main character is hit on the head, sending him back in time, whereas John Carter walks into a cave and is similarly magically transported to Mars (there was no real science involved in either story).  As should be obvious, some stories are clearly science fiction and others are clearly fantasy, whereas blends are common.  Some hand it to Houdini for creating the first killer robot, but I would argue that the Golem is the first robot, an artificial creature made to defend the Jewish people but that got out of hand (see the narrative of Judah Loew ben Bezeli, the 16th century rabbi of Prague).  The mad rabbi was later replaced by the mad scientist.  My favorite mad scientist creates a dangerous robot story is still Metropolis, a silent film that is one of the greatest films of all time.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 6 months ago by  Cindy Smith.
    #3427

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    Why is it that every time I post here I get a 504 Gateway Timeout message?

    #3431

    Gloria Lee McMillan
    Participant
    @gloriamla

    Hello, all,

    I agree that the stigma against science fiction in the classroom seems to be decreasing but the widespread teaching of science fiction in college lit. classes also is declining.  I may be wrong, but I believe  that the number is down.  The number of science fiction course sections any given year or period of time may be keyed to the level of interest in science itself.

    Anybody know about that demographic?  Or any causal remoarks about what may have led to a decreased resistance to teaching SF?

     

    It might also be worth checking if H. G. Wells is being included in survey classes of Modern British Fiction.

    Glo

     

    #3432

    Gloria Lee McMillan
    Participant
    @gloriamla

    Sorry for the typo marked and corrected at **.  I never know if correcting a typo is worth an extra post, but I felt embarrassed here because of the company of English professional colleagues.  Glo

     

    Hello, all,

    I agree that the stigma against science fiction in the classroom seems to be decreasing but the widespread teaching of science fiction in college lit. classes also is declining.  I may be wrong, but I believe  that the number is down.  The number of science fiction course sections any given year or period of time may be keyed to the level of interest in science itself.

    Anybody know about that demographic?  Or any causal **remarks about what may have led to a decreased resistance to teaching SF?

    It might also be worth checking if H. G. Wells is being included in survey classes of Modern British Fiction.

    Glo

    #3433

    Silvia G. Kurlat-Ares
    Participant
    @silviakares

    Hi, Everyone.
    In Latin America there is still a very serious disdain for sf, despite a very healthy readership, a long history, and many very well-known writers. There are many reasons for the stigma. However, the issue can be traced to an academic misunderstanding of sf as the byproduct of popular culture for the masses as well as a distrust on both scientific research and methodology. Political and ideological issues have also played a part. SF writers in LA have usually gone against the political grain of high modernism and have been very critical on main assumptions at the center of the cultural field. There are other reasons too, but I wonder if some of what I stated above cannot be a common hypothesis for a North-South conversation on the issue.

    #3451

    Cindy Smith
    Participant
    @cindysmith

    In Georgia the only college or university that I know teaches science fiction literature as a class is Georgia Tech.  As far as I know, it isn’t taught at Georgia State University or the University of Georgia.  If it’s taught anywhere else, I don’t know about it.  I’d like to take an online course in science fiction.  In fact, I’d like to get a Ph.D. specializing in science fiction, but, since I live in Georgia, I’m doomed to mediocrity.  Science fiction is the meat on the bones of great literature.  Instead of steak and potatoes, science fiction is gourmet cooking.  I love science fiction.  Even so, I have read in English classes 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, etc., and have been informed that these novels are not science fiction because they are great literature with important social commentary.  I’ve tried to point out that science fiction specializes in social commentary, but it typically falls on deaf ears.

    Silvia:  Perhaps due to social commentary Latin American countries are afraid of science fiction for the same reasons that Animal Farm was received so warmly in the Soviet Union, which is to say the government burned every copy they could find.  I have read a book of Soviet science fiction, some of which was official and parroted the Communist Party line and some of which was underground science fiction literature that often had very different eye-opening perspectives.  When government fears literature, it tends to suppress it unless it cannot as in America.  When government fears the people, there is usually more freedom; when people fear the government, there is tyranny and oppression.  Science fiction in the 19th century started out a lot as satire, and people in oppressive governments hate satire because the devil fears ridicule.  Who in Latin American countries have disdain for sf because of distrust of scientific research and methodology?  In America, scientists usually love science fiction, and science fiction writers are often, though not always or even usually, scientists.  Are English professors/teachers or politicians or both afraid that science fiction will corrupt the youth with bad science or something?  That would be a serious misunderstanding as good science fiction uses plausible science to develop scientific ideas and engineering principles that many scientists have said inspired them to make discoveries and invent things themselves.  In America Newt Gingrich, a politician from my home state of Georgia and the former Speaker of the House, has said that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series had a tremendous influence on his political thought.  Perhaps this conversation could be the beginning of a dialogue.

    #3452

    Tarshia Stanley
    Participant
    @tstanley

    Spelman College in Atlanta GA, has had a science fiction course on the books since the 1990’s. Just this semester I developed a new course called Butler’s Daughters: Imagining Leadership in Black Speculative Fiction. I team taught this course with speculative fiction writer Tananarive Due.

    I only recently began to incorporate my love of speculative fiction: science, fantasy, etc., into my academic work. Prior to Octavia Butler’s passing in 2006, I thought of it as what I did to get away from my regular work. I spent my sabbatical on fellowship at Duke University in 2010-2011 developing a background in speculative fiction. While there I facilitated a conference on teaching Butler in the Academy and learned that scholars were using her in courses from Economics to Bioethics. As a result, I submitted a proposal to the MLA Teaching Series and I encourage anyone who uses Octavia Butler specifically to take the survey and/or submit a proposal for an essay.

    http://www.mla.org/publications/publication_program/approaches

     

    #3453

    Gloria Lee McMillan
    Participant
    @gloriamla

    I think the SF from Central and Eastern Europe is a bit more varied than one or two anthologies exposure will credit.

    The countries other than Russia have a variety of writers.  In the older generation Josef Nesvadba is one of the later generation of Czech writers after Karel Čapek, the creator of the word “robot” in his 1922 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots.)

    Our friend Forry Ackerman (“Mr. Sci-Fi” from “Horrorwood, Karloffornia”) knew Nesvadba quite well and introduced us.  My husband and I visited him and his family on two visits to Prague, one in the late 1970s and in 1982.  There are Czech feature films out of several of Nesvadba’s novels, such as Tarzanova smrt (Tarzan’s Death) (1958),  Einsteinův mozek (Einstein’s Brain) (1960), and (Zítra se probudím a opařím se čajem) Tomorrow I’ll wake up and scald myself with tea…  I am working on a translation of  Peklo Beneš (Beneš Hell) (2002), which was Nesvadb’as last science fiction novel.

    You can read about him at Wikipedia–the biography isn’t bad:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Nesvadba.

    I am working on an essay at present called Nukes’ Old Sweet Song:  Karel Čapek’s Krakatit and H. G. Wells’ The World Set Free. If anybody would like to see a draft of this in-progress essay, I would welcome comments.  My friend Alex Eisenstein,a Chicago big name fan expert on Wells, says that in all the literature, he has not seen more than a couple analyses of Krakatit and no comparisons to The World Set Free.  Anyway, Alex, said it seemed well worth writing.

    Cheers,

    Glo

     

    #3454

    Gloria Lee McMillan
    Participant
    @gloriamla

    Speaking of “Uncle Isaac” Asimov, I used to be one of his many pen pals.  He was a kind and generous man.

    Glo

    #3455

    Anonymous @

    My soon to be submitted thesis is on Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. The Gunslinger series by King and his earlier Tommyknockers are definitely sci-fi. While in the part of the globe I inhabit, there is zero acceptance of any literature but the kind that sounds like Faulkner is thought to be a waste of time, both teaching or learning. I fought against this and now see a possibility to bring these into the core syllabus etc. What today happens in the global academy is a rehash of Derrida and postcolonialism. We often forget that Derrida and Gayatri Spivak are truthfully speaking, just minor philosophers. Science fiction is literature not because it is amenable to Derrida and Said and Irigaray; but because it is a pleasure to read Clarke over Virginia Woolf.

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