Saturday, August 18, 2007

Short Fiction and the Changing of the Guard

Alright. I have seen a variety of different Conversations of the Month ripping their way through the SFF message boards and websites and blogs which I read on a semi-regular basis. The first one which I remember had to do with the ratio of females to males in short fiction, then it went on to race, then to a Changing of the Guard where hot new novelists are supplanting the Hot Old Novelists, and then more race, and finally short fiction is dying. And race.

I see most of the same faces having these discussions, but that is because I go to the same places. Often there is a link or several to others who are engaging the conversation, sometimes to the person who really originated the current version of the conversation. Frequently I don’t bother clicking those links. Why? Honestly, because I do not have the time to spend online truly engaging the conversations and seeing what all is said.

With that said, just as I was seriously thinking of engaging the Short Fiction and Changing of the Guard conversations I’m not sure I need to. Andrew Wheeler (formerly editor of the SFBC) just pimp slapped the Changing of the Guard conversation down. John Klima, editor of Electric Velocipede, wrangled some good thoughts out on Short Fiction Dying and since he is all up in the middle of the short fiction market (being an editor of a semi-pro zine and all).

The one conversation I have spent the most time thinking about was The Changing of the Guard. As I mentioned, Wheeler pretty well killed that one for me. Patrick St. Denis over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist discussed the Changing of the Guard in reference to Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind supplanting the early 80's Guard of Terry Brooks and David Eddings, and wondering who the new Guard would be. Pat mentioned Steven Erikson and Scott Lynch as possibilities with Lynch as the strongest possibility in terms of sales. I believe this was all started by the A Dribble of Ink blog. Now, what I thought when I read Pat's post was that Terry Brooks hasn't gone anywhere. He's still selling as well as he ever had and continues to hit the NY Times Bestsellers list on a regular basis (yearly, I suppose) with each new book. I wasn't sure about Eddings simply because I thought The Dreamers blew chunks.

So Andrew Wheeler chimes in and just kills the whole thing for me. First, he mentions that the sales haven't slipped for Brooks OR Eddings, but also that Jordan and Goodkind are so far above the rest of the pack in terms of sales that neither author is going to be giving up their spot on the Guard any time soon. Further, Wheeler mentioned that both Jordan and Goodkind took several volumes to really come into their own in terms of sales. Something that Lynch has yet to do as he has only published one book. But where Wheeler really split with the conversation is that Pat and others, myself included, are looking for the new guard of fresh authors and Wheeler pointed out that the New Guard may not be from Epic Fantasy. It's paranormal romance type novels with Laurell K. Hamilton taking the lead.

And snap.

What I really wonder is if the Changing of the Guard conversation isn't a bit pointless. What I mean by this is are we measuring the Guard by Sales or by Taste? If by Taste, then by all means let's see who the New Guard is and who the fresh new authors are. Shoot, I LOVED The Lies of Locke Lamora and overall I am very impressed with The Malazan Book of the Fallen. In the last couple of years I have also discovered Octavia Butler, Carrie Vaughn, Glen Cook, John Scalzi, Mike Resnick, Stephen King (!!), Joe R. Lansdale, Lucius Shepard, Kage Baker, Karen Traviss, Brandon Sanderson, Peter F. Hamilton, Audrey Niffenegger, and Charles Stross.

Of these authors the Fresh (or New Guard) are: Vaughn, Scalzi, Traviss, Sanderson, and Niffenegger.

For me, any author I discover is New and Fresh, even if am discovering an author like Stephen King who has published eleventy billion novels and several works of nonfiction. He's new to ME. And right now, Glen Cook's Black Company series is one of the best things I'm reading. Steven Erikson may have taken fantasy tropes in so many different directions and created the legendary Bridgeburners...but I swear he cribbed them from Glen Cook and I think Cook tells a better story. Or maybe just a different one.

Other than the fact that it allows authors I like to earn a living and keep publishing novels, I'm not too interested in Sales. Jo Rowling sold 8 million copies in 24 hours? Great! Does that make Rowling the New Guard or does she just have her own Castle?

Don’t get me wrong, I want John Scalzi and Scott Lynch and Brandon Sanderson to sell like hot cakes (or better than hot cakes, even, sell like cheeseburgers!), but the only Guard I really recognize is the one I’m reading right now. When you publish often and with quality and tell stories that I want to read, you're the new Guard. For a time that was Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist. Right now, they're my Old Guard who I continue to read when they get around to publishing a new book. Today I'm reading what I'm reading. Novellas by Shepard and Lansdale. Novels by Vaughn and Traviss. Stuff that excites me.

What about the whole Short Fiction is Dying thing?

I think people are decrying two things:

First, comparing pay rates for short fiction in today’s dollars versus thirty years ago, short fiction pays less now than it ever did (same with genre novels, to be honest). So, it doesn't pay for John Scalzi to write short fiction. If it did, he would. I'll buy that argument.

Second, sales of the major magazines are waaaaay down. Nobody is reading Short Fiction, Nobody Cares! Waaaaah! Hmpf.

I think the second statement is both true and false. Yeah, sales are down in fiction magazines. One: There is a stupidly large number of magazines out there and if I'm going to shell out my money I want to KNOW I'm getting something good. Nay, I want to know I'm getting something GREAT! Two: I don't feel like I'm missing much by not subscribing to Asimov's. I can get excellent fiction for FREE online from reputable markets and since I'm not in the middle of an online conversation about Short Fiction, it is difficult to get recommendations...and even if I could get a recommendation, if I'm not already subscribing and there is no free content online, I'll never get to read the story anyway and I’ll just read my novel. But, I think plenty of people are reading short fiction...but with the proliferation of online zines and print semi-pro zines for cheaper rates than the Big Three, numbers overall are probably down but plenty of readers are out there.

But, go see what John Klima has to say.

Some links to the conversations (not meant to be exhaustive)

Neth Space
David Anthony Durham
Durham Interview
The Fantasy Review
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Short Fiction:
John Klima
Tobias Buckell
SF Signal
SF Diplomat
Velcro City
Torque Control
(other links are contained within these links)

Changing of the Guard:
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Andrew Wheeler
A Dribble of Ink
OF Blog of the Fallen


Anonymous said...

I personally did not understand the whole Changing of the Guard topic. I love reading works from older and newer authors and while newer authors will generate a lot of buzz, that does not mean they replace older works from talented authors. I find myself buying as many older works as I do newer works. Books aren't like music where fads come and go, I mean good SFF is good SFF regardless of the era.

Joe said...

Exactly, and if you're just now discovering Terry Brooks or Raymond Feist or go farther back and say Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance, then that's what you're reading and those authors and works are brand new to you. That's your new guard, if it needs a name.

I just finished the fifth Black Company novel published in 1990. Feels new to me.