The relationship between science and science fiction is a set of complicated multiple links. I have, as a first draft, tried to put the principle ones on what people call a mind map. See the picture below:
It needs further work to develop the intricacies, but I’m sure you can think of where most science science fiction novels and stories fit in this scheme.
The interesting thing about this diagram is that there are loops which you can go round multiple times. Some a simple like ‘Human Wish List’ to “Serendipity’ and back again. Others are very complicated with oodles of steps.
What does this mean for new science fiction? [I’m not talking about repeats on a theme here.]
It means it can have a feedback loop that builds up momentum to a crescendo or sinks momentum until there are no more new stories or, exceptionally rarely have a momentum that is stable.
As we have seen from statistics provided by Locus Magazine via the Best of SF by Gardner Dozois, new science fiction novels have been on the rise since about 2009 after being produced at more or less a steady rate.
2009 was when the films Avatar and Star Trek Reboot hit our screens. Both turned out to be very popular – one for its incredible graphics and message of hope, the other because it delivered on old themes with very much a modern look that people tuned into. This, in my opinion, started the interest in science fiction novels. But why has the graph continued to rise since then, especially as there was no follow-up to Avatar and a lot of films have veered to the fantasy end of speculative fiction?
There must have been some positive feedback loop at play. It may be one that I’ve identified in the mind map. It may be something completely different. Without doing the legwork of identifying theme threads through those years, it is difficult to tell.
However, there have been hints on the science fiction grapevine that science fiction novels are going to be curtailed in the near future. Adam Roberts for one has stated that he will not have a novel published this year and his short novel due out next year will be more commercially based. See here for more information. Added to this comes the news that SFF market is slightly contracting – see here for reference. Judging by the above graph, I suspect this is more to do with the fantasy end of the SFF spectrum than the SF side. Nevertheless, if does not bode well for SF as fantasy novels may take more of the share of the SFF market, because they have the bigger segment anyway and are more likely to produce powerful new novels to be published. Which means a dent in new science fiction novels should be expected over the next couple of years.
The question has to be what is the new feedback loop that has come into play here. I have my suspicions, but until I have the definitive proof, it would be pure speculation. My guess is that the wave of dystopias has started putting people off science fiction. You only need to look at popularity of Anne Leckie’s novels in comparison to others, to see this is a distinct possibility. This could easily lead to a detrimental feedback loop impacting the number of new novels being published.
But I have hopes that after a few years this trend will be reversed… but we’ll have to wait and see.