Monday, November 10, 2014

The Paradox of the Sci-Fi/Romance Fandom

Over the weekend I had the treat of seeing the just-released motion picture, Interstellar. I've been looking forward to it hitting the theaters for months now, and it didn't disappoint. (Although I don't think Donna got as much from this epic feature film as I did, but hopefully she'll be blogging a detailed review later.)

I went to a very early afternoon matinee, thinking we'd miss the huge evening crowds...and it was packed. Packed! True there's been a lot of hype about this film, but to see it pulling in the crowds at 1:10 PM on a spectacular New Mexico fall afternoon was amazing. And the audience was a smorgasbord of young, middle aged, elderly, female, male, single viewers, couples and large families. The draw seemed to cover the entire spectrum.

Though this film was decidedly Sci-Fi (with no meaty Romance), human love was a powerful motivator in the story, and the hero's ultimate decision is made for love. I don't want to dish out too many spoilers, but the heart of this story is about staying with those you love, or leaving them to embark on a dangerous mission that may save not only them, but all of humanity.

The choices the characters must make are heartbreaking (yeah, it's one of those films where you hope the lights don't come up too soon) but the final choice the hero makes reflects a metamorphosis for his and other characters.

But the movie isn't the subject of my blog. What I've been left to ponder is why blockbusters like Interstellar, Star Wars, Avatar, the Star Trek franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy garner the rabid fan followings they do when SF with or without the "R" struggle so miserably on the small screen and in literature.

If it was ONLY the books that fail to have a large following, I'd say it's because the visual sensawonder fans see on the screen doesn't translate to print, but that doesn't explain why quality SF/R never seems to get a foothold in the ratings and--even when it's a great show--being canceled before it can even complete its first season.

You all think you know what show I'm talking about, don't you?

Well, you might be surprised. I'm talking about Defying Gravity.

DG had everything that Interstellar has, except perhaps a mindblowing journey into a wormhole. It dealt with a dying Earth, human connections, the power of love, a mission in space fraught with danger, deep space mysteries and a secret that's kept from the astronauts.

And, IMHO, it did it all with a far superior sound track and equally impressive, if not better, sets.

Want to see what I mean? Here's just a little taste:

And here's a longer tribute someone did for the ship, Antares (yes, the same name as the rocket that just exploded on launch from Virginia). I think the effects are eye-popping. Better than Interstellar or Gravity by a long run.

The creator of this tribute went a little overboard on length and repeated shots of Antares, but do check out those strikingly real scenes of Earth and space and astronauts going about their work. Note the Landing Vehicles (ALVs) for Venus, Pluto and other planets, the communication dishes, the airlocks, the storage pods. The detail is simply amazing.

Yet despite great characters, a riveting plot and state-of-the-art special effects, this TV show was canceled before it could even complete it's first season. (Though the entire first season, which at least ends with a bit of a resolution, is available on DVD.)

So the big question I've been asking myself is what does the big screen have that books and small screen don't?

I think the answer is most likely a massive promotional budget. The audience shows up in droves because they've seen the trailers and promos and their interest is piqued.

A monster promotional budget is something we're never going to have as authors, but that still leaves the underlying paradox. If there's such a massive audience out there interested in space, science fiction and the future, why are they only attracted to the big feature films? Why aren't these millions of fans equally interested in watching SF/R on television and reading about it in books?

It truly is a paradox. But one I'm going to spend some time on as I put some hard thought into what new ways there may be to promote a SFR series.


  1. >Why aren't these millions of fans equally interested in watching SF/R on television and reading about it in books?

    My guess is most aren't voracious readers. So the 1-2 books a year they read are books with the highest of profiles. In that regard, most genres are low priority.

    I think time is a factor, too. It's only within the past what, 10-15 years that SF has experienced more mainstream success? So there are still many people getting better acquainted with it.

    >a massive promotional budget.

    Budget, and another factor is that movies cut across different cultures and languages more easily. Frankly, it'd probably be easier to sell a global audience on an SFR film than a book, which is ironic given how challenging it is to get a movie made!

  2. Heather said: "My guess is most aren't voracious readers. So the 1-2 books a year they read are books with the highest of profiles."

    Hmm, you have a great point there. And one I hadn't considered. Movies are much less of a time investment, so a couple of hours spent to passively observe a movie vs. the 4-6 days on average a reader would invest in finishing a full length novel may be a major factor. As a society, we seem to have acquired collective ADD when it comes to entertainment.

    "Frankly, it'd probably be easier to sell a global audience on an SFR film than a book, which is ironic given how challenging it is to get a movie made!"

    Sadly, I think you nailed it. I'd love to see some popular SFR hit the theaters, especially if it had a big budget and promo campaign behind it. (*sigh* Wishful thinking!) I'm hearing rumblings that Dragonriders of Pern is coming to the big screen...and in spite of huge appeal and a rabid fan following, look how long that took!

  3. >look how long that took!

    I know, right? But if they're made, and are successful, it might bode well for future films.

    >collective ADD when it comes to entertainment.

    I'm uncomfortable with the idea of applying a mental health diagnosis to the state of how consumers approach entertainment. Technology has led to more entertainment choices because artists can exploit more mediums. Consumers don't have attention deficits as a result--they are simply trying out new things or migrating to new mediums (e.g., network television viewers who now watch shows via streaming).

    Print books can be limiting and inaccessible for many readers (some can't hold physical books or have trouble reading the text for one reason or another. Then there are things like prohibitive prices or difficulties traveling to brick and mortar bookstores.). I'd like to see SFR expand into things like podcast stories, more audiobooks, comic books, video games and the like because it'd mean more consumers could enjoy this genre in more accessible ways. In other words, if SFR could tap into more mediums, it might find more fans.

  4. Lots of valid points but, as a bookaholic foremost, who also loves SFR, my preferred medium will always be the written word. I strongly dislike the book-to-film trend, especially with YA books. The book is always better than the movie, as they say. I don't think that's a pure and honest way to get people to embrace either the particular genre or the act of reading itself. And the latter will come out second best anyway, I believe. The target audience can often still be restricted no matter what media are used, but even then technology will invariably be the majority winner. I "discovered" Twilight in a wonderful but now no longer extant book shop long before anyone had heard of Stephenie Meyer. I bought The Hunger Games and Maze Runner trilogies long before they became part of the current YA vocabulary. It really saddens me that it's come down to opportunism and profit yet again. No paradox, just the way it's manufactured and manipulated. I really think more media options actually erode and taint the potential for genuine fandom.

  5. We've noted before that there is a disconnect between genders when it comes to books and (presumably) television. COUPLES go to movies; individuals read books and choose TV shows. It's much harder for writers and producers to come up with something that draws in both sexes when they don't have to share that space/time for entertainment.

  6. Thanks so much for your perspective, OzMerry. I wish there was an easy way to effectively reach more readers like you. The problem most authors deal with is the "voice in the wilderness" syndrome. There are so many books out there, it's difficult to find ways to make your work stand out and catch readers' interest. This is particularly daunting for an author preparing to debut.

    Good points, Donna. Demographics. Genders. Limited fan base. The more thought I give to this dilemma, the more questions it seems to raise.

  7. >I really think more media options actually erode and taint the potential for genuine fandom.

    >I don't think that's a pure and honest way to get people to embrace either the particular genre or the act of reading itself.

    OzMerry, I'd love to hear your ideas about how people with visual impairments or reading disabilities could be included in SFR fandom. Reading can be arduous for many people and accessible technology isn't always available/affordable--which is especially disheartening if they *want* to be fans of written SFR. Same goes for people with physical disabilities who have trouble just *holding* a print book or e-reading device.

    I'd hate to think many potential SFR fans could be left out in the cold simply because the SFR stories they could more easily consume aren't available.

    1. Sorry for delay in replying! Hmmm, I guess we're looking at the issue in different ways. I was taking a bigger-picture view, which was largely influenced by what's happened with the better-known examples I mentioned in an earlier post (Twilight etc.). Essentially what amounts to manipulating a target audience (i.e. young people) via media saturation is what I'm against. If that leads to people starting to read more, that's great. I just can't help being concerned about young people being led in a particular direction as opposed to them finding their own way as individuals and not as a pack.

      Hasn't access to all reading material always been an issue for those with any disabilities? I agree that it's very unfair that they often haven't been able to read what they want, when they want. Opportunities are now available with e-books and audible books, but more still needs to be done to cater for everyone. Audible books, for example, are at the moment prohibitively expensive IMO, and this option is still not available for all books automatically when they are first published.

      The profit margin is unfortunately often the only language spoken by the very organisations that could potentially provide solutions, and catering to a minority isn't (and never has been) high on their R&D agenda.

      As for spreading the news to potential SFR (or any other genre) to visually/reading impaired readers, all the technology in the world can't beat non-electronic word of mouth, I guess.

      I'm fairly new to SFR myself, but I own quite a few books now and they're all e-books. I spend a lot of time on the internet and one thing leads to another, which is how I discovered the joys of my now-favourite genre. Sadly not an option for some and I'm afraid I don't have any answers.

      My very first and still favourite SFR books are C.J. Barry's Unforgettable series, followed closely by Catherine Spangler's Shielder series. How about you, Heather?


Thank you for chiming in! We love to see your comments. (All comments are moderated so spam can be terminated!)