The Incredible Shrinking Genre Presence
I would like to think that there is good news in science fiction
and in the associated genres, if you know where to look. But you have
to look harder than you used to. I recently attended the BEA (Book
Expo America, the largest gathering of publishers and booksellers
in the U.S.) and found to my dismay very little overt evidence of
the f&sf marketing genre in the displays. There were in fact many
fantasy books being featured, but without reference to genre, as if
the shame of genre had been somehow washed clean from the books.
There were many offsite events and private parties focused on
genre that were meant to attract the booksellers and occasional
librarians attending the big event, with some success. I particularly
liked the readings at the New York Public Library curated by Gavin
Grant. But the Javits show was a far cry from the big cover displays
on the floor of the BEAs featuring the genre imprints, and the
writers hanging around booths, of the not-too-distant past. The
Ballantine segment of the Random House booth did not, as far as
I could see, mention Spectra or Del Rey. At least on the floor of the
show, the battle for genre respectability has been mostly lost. The
forces of “it’s either too good to be merely genre—or it’s not good
enough to waste time on” are quite apparently in the ascendant in
high places. I brought my camera to take pictures of sf displays, and
found only a couple: Tor had one, and Orbit had one, each a small
part of a bigger corporate booth.
And yet the show was full of works that borrowed heavily from
genre, that could have been presented as genre, or that simply were
genre, without the marketing label. Tor alone sponsored an on-site
genre sf/fantasy panel with John Scalzi, Vernor Vinge, and Carrie
Vaughn. The Horror Writers of America, and the Mystery Writers of
America, and of course the Romance Writers all sponsored booths
with nearly hourly signings throughout the three days, but there
was none from SFWA, the week after the Nebulas.
There’s a picture of me here, in front of a steampunk art
book in a mainstream booth, having fun.
But I anticipate the sf conventions of July and August to be
more fun than BEA. We’ll see you at Readercon, Confluence,
and Diversacon in July. And then Reno in August. *
—David G. Hartwell
& the editors*
A PDF copy of the NYRSF issue in which this editorial first appeared is available for purchase at Weightless Books.