Archive for March 1st, 2011
Having dispensed with the state of the industry, let’s actually look inside the books.
A fairly predictable split between first and third person. A handful of authors wrote in both but no one was brave or mad enough to go for second person. Charles Stross is one author who has previously risked the second person; in The Fuller Memorandum, he cunningly deploys what we might call the hypothetical third person but I’ve put it down as first person. Similarly, Generosity is actually narrated by its author, Richard Powers, but I’ve put it down as the third person it more usually resembles.
So the good news is that women are well represented and only two novels have multiple male narrators but no female counterpoint: Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher (which focusses on a bunch of First World War soldiers) and Guardians Of Paradise by Jainne Fenn (which focusses on the male sides of a love triangle). However, male viewpoint characters still clearly outweigh female viewpoint characters and multiple female viewpoints simply don’t exist.
More troubling is what these statistics might mask. As I was noting down the stats for this I soon realised I should have been recording the number of viewpoint characters. For example, how often is that “Multiple Mixed” four men and one woman? It is clear that most authors believe a story with mulitple protagonists must feature a woman but it is less clear from these stats whether this is simply a tokenistic response. I do have another proxy measure though:
Whilst it is pleasing to see a majority of novels passing the Bechdel Test that is a pretty narrow margin. If the diversity of the characters is greater than the diversity of theirauthors then it still isn’t much to shout about. For example, the narrator of a science fiction novel is more likely to be an alien or a robot than gay or bisexual:
I would caution that all these stats should be taken with a pinch of salt because my primary purpose in reading these books was artistic rather than scientific. I may have missed things. However, I am confident that they are relatively robust.
Yesterday I wrote who was publishing and being published in the British science fiction industry. Later today I am going to be writing about what is being published. But first a bit of overlap between the who and the what.
There were thirteen debut SF novels published in 2010, including highly fancied debuts such as How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. At the other end of the spectrum, Stone Spring was Stephen Baxter’s 33rd novel. Baxter famously has been nominated seven times for the Clarke Award without a win. Baxter’s output is extraordinary, his nearest rivals are Iain M Banks and Chris Wooding on their 24th novels. Both have only been shortlisted once. It is also probably worth mentioning Ken MacLeod who in the past has had five nominations from just eleven novels (although, like Baxter, he is yet to win).
So it seems like there is quite a bit of new blood coming into the genre as well as some venerable warhorses plugging away. Perhaps science fiction isn’t quite dead yet. And what are these authors writing, in the broadest possible sense? Well, haven’t fully entered the age of the sequel yet:
Again, this would be an interesting one to watch over time. At the moment, the majority of science fiction is still published as individual standalone novels. But only just and there is a clear split between the publishers:
What about the other accusation levelled at modern science fiction, that they are all bricks? Again, it is a mixed picture that varies by publisher type. Overall, the mode is actually a modest 250-300 pages but page count creeps way up after that:
The real heavy weights and The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton (surprise!) with 726 pages and The Passage by Justin Cronin with 766 pages.