Robert J. Sawyer knows a thing or two about the future. "It's here," says the Hugo Award—winning author of 18 science fiction books. And that's not necessarily good for the science fiction/fantasy category, in his view. "The genre is having a hard time retaining readers who see that today's world is in no way related to the visions SF was peddling in the last century." Today's world was supposed to be about "living in outer space," says Sawyer, "not living in cyberspace." And the cyberpunk world envisioned by William Gibson was wrong—"that world is not underground and malevolent, but above ground and universal."
Sawyer's own writing (he publishes with Tor) vies for timelessness by plumbing eternal philosophical and ethical questions, albeit in a futuristic setting. But Sawyer is also a publisher, with his own imprint at Red Deer Press in Calgary, where he is challenged to find other writers with strategies that can attract readers in a tough market. Sawyer points to several "metrics" that spell the dire situation for traditional SF/fantasy, such as the closing of specialty bookstores and the steep drop in circulation at magazines like Analog and Asimov's.
Sawyer is not alone in seeing the SF/fantasy label as something of a liability. Today's bestselling science fiction is outside the genre—Atwood, Niffenegger, Crichton. As a result, publishers (see below) are looking to situate their genre across genres, morphing into graphic novels, shared world environments, or covers that don't read SF/fantasy.
An expanding universe for the genre is not for everyone; there's the alternate world in which SF/fantasy is in a steady-state. Eos, Ace and DAW are three imprints that stay loyal to the hardcore fans. The overall effect: something for every humanoid text processor.
PUBLISHER: Wizards of the Coast
HOTTITLE:The Great WhiteWyrm by Peter Archer (Mar.)
"The fantasy and SF genres will continue to be spread out over fewer and fewer authors and series as the traditional genre 'midlist' continues to shrink," says Philip Athans, managing editor of Wizards of the Coast. "The readership for shared world, game and media tie-in fantasy and science fiction, however, continues to grow." As a result, Wizards of the Coast, which publishes fantasy books rather than traditional SF, is making a big push into shared-world genre fiction. For Athans, the objective is to publish books that "get people reading. People who are reading are thinking, and people who are thinking are growing," he says. The Great White Wyrm, according to Athans, is "an epic high-fantasy novel inspired by Moby-Dick and written by a descendant of Herman Melville."
PUBLISHER: Tor Books
HOTTITLE:The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Apr.)
SF writer and popular blogger John Scalzi, who has written about the need for more "entry-level SF," offers just that in a new Tor release, The Last Colony, the sequel to Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. Says Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor/manager of science fiction, "I've been encouraging SF writers to try to imagine their target audience not as the traditional hardcore genre readers but as intelligent readers who read a little SF as part of a broader reading diet. I think there are more and more of the latter all the time." Nielsen Hayden believes that far too much of the best work in the genre "has become hermetic at both its literary and its adventure end." If publishers knew how to attract new readers to SF, he says, "It'd be a different game." Nielsen Hayden's colleague at Tor, David Hartwell, is Robert Sawyer's editor (Sawyer's Rollback is due this month). "He aspires to a transparent prose style for a large mass audience. He's the kind of writer Asimov was, and very generous to young writers."
PUBLISHER: Bantam Spectra
HOTTITLE:Baltimore by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola (Sept.)
Baltimore is a collaboration between bestselling author Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, the award-winning creator, writer and artist of the Hellboy comics. "It seemed natural to try to expand the boundaries of this particular genre," says Spectra senior editor Anne Groell, "given the sheer richness of its imagery and inventiveness." She sees Baltimore both as "a unique twist" on the graphic novel and "a harkening back to the old days of the Illustrated Classics many of us grew up on." SF, she adds, has always been "a genre that speaks to relevant social issues, and seems to morph and change as those issues morph and change—and most strongly able to hold a mirror to society, and show us both the positive and negative consequences of continuing on a certain course of action."
PUBLISHER: Orbit Books
HOTTITLE:Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley (Sept.)
Giving Hachette a presence in the SF/fantasy market is the goal of the ready-for-launch Orbit imprint. Begun in the U.K. by Tim Holman in 1974, Orbit will debut here this fall, followed by an Australian launch in 2008. Orbit's new approach centers on presentation—no dragons on the covers, for example. Says Holman, "We have 11 authors in our fall/winter launch season, and every one of them will be published in a way unique to them; the cover designs will be their own. The problem with putting a painting of a dragon on a book is that it means you are publishing to a niche market within a niche market." No dragons can be found on the jacket of Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth, one of Orbit's first titles, which Holman calls "a great big fantasy blockbuster with blood and guts—fresh and original, but hugely commercial." And no magic spells, he adds, will be saving the day.
PUBLISHER: Pyr Books
HOTTITLE:Keeping It Real by Justina Robson (Mar.)
Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books, is moving toward a hybrid of SF and fantasy. Editorial director Lou Anders says, "It's something we've wanted to do all along. I've just had a hard time finding the right books." Anders points to one he is particularly excited about: Justina Robson's Keeping It Real. "It mixes the world of secret agents with that of demons and elves just as Stross's The Atrocity Archives and sequel The Jennifer Morgue (Golden Gryphon/Ace) marry the tropes of spymasters Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming with those of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft," says Anders. But Entertainment Weekly may have said it even better, calling Keeping It Real "Tolkien, had he gone electric."
PUBLISHER: BL Publishing
HOTTITLE:Helix by Eric Brown (May)
"Mass market and small genre presses each have a purpose for the publishing market," says Vincent Rospond, U.S. marketing director for the Nottingham, England—based BL Publishing, which has just launched its Solaris imprint. "At Solaris we capitalize on the strengths of both sides. Like the small genre publishers, we have the luxury to pick up great undiscovered authors, but we have the infrastructure to get their work out to a greater audience. Also because we are not limited to the huge volume print runs of the mass market publishers, we have more scope to publish a wider range of titles for a variety of customers. Since we publish our books simultaneously in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, we have access to the wider market and support from the SF community as a whole." Coming next month from Solaris is Helix, an updated version of Ringworld by the award-winning author Eric Brown, which combines, says Rospond, "all the elements of classic science fiction."
PUBLISHER: Del Rey
HOTTITLE:Harm by Brian W. Aldiss (June)
Editor-in-chief Betsy Mitchell has an interesting take on some of the out-of-genre SF-like or fantasy-like bestsellers: "Essentially, SF or fantasy titles that are published in a mainstream way so that readers who don't identify with a particular genre don't feel alienated." What can publishers do to mitigate readers' feelings of alienation regarding genre? One thing is to continue to publish high-quality SF and fantasy under imprint names, says Mitchell. "We won't be doing our genre any favors to spin off all writers of exceptional quality onto our house's mainstream list!" A "classy look," with covers that don't incorporate too many genre elements and blurbs from nongenre writers also help, she says. The best science fiction, she adds, "contributes something to the worldview of its readers." Brian Aldiss's Harm, says Mitchell, "takes an unflinching look at the connection between religious belief, oppression and violence. It made me think long and hard."
PUBLISHER: Robert J. Sawyer Books/Red Deer Press
HOTTITLE:Birthstones by Phyllis Gotlieb (July)
When asked if traditional SF has "jumped the shark" by venturing outside its genre for different effects, Robert J. Sawyer responds, "If it had just jumped the shark, that would be fine—at least people would understand what that means. But no. SF has instead executed a parabolic maneuver with an exemplar of the cartilaginous order Selachii at its focus, which amounts to the same damn thing, but in modern SF fashion it is said in such a jargon-laden, exclusionary and unwelcoming way that newcomers simply aren't let in." In Birthstones by veteran SF writer (and poet) Phyllis Gotlieb, Sawyer hopes to have a book that will break out of the genre box into the mainstream. It concerns a planet where all the women have mutated into only wombs and toward which men can only fitfully teleport.
PUBLISHER: DAW Books
HOTTITLE:The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Mar.)
While DAW Books, a respected source of traditional SF and fantasy, may not be exploring uncharted territory this year, copublishers Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert say, "One of the best things about our genre is its extraordinary diversity, and we try to represent all aspects of the field in its ever-changing guises" One facet of the line is dark fantasy, which DAW calls "the fastest growing subgenre in the field." Tanya Huff's contemporary urban fantasies with a supernatural bent (e.g., her Blood Books and Smoke series) are important, as is a new author in the arena named P.R. Frost, whose novels Hounding the Moon and Moon in the Mirror will be released in September. A current title for which the publishers have high expectations is The Name of the Wind, the first volume in a trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss that, according to PW's starred review, "is the type of assured, rich first novel most writers can only dream of producing."
PUBLISHER: Ace/Roc Books
HOTTITLE:All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris (May)
by Charlaine Harris (May)
"At Ace/Roc," says editor-in-chief Ginjer Buchanan, "we are using various approaches to grow the sf/fantasy audience." These include an Ace/Roc page on the corporate Web site (www.penguin.com) and an increased use of the Internet for marketing—with video trailers, podcasts, author blogs on the corporate site, buzz mailings, etc. Buchanan notes that, in the fantasy genre, "we've had great success recently with anthologies done on the Berkley list that feature both romance and fantasy authors." Last year's bestsellers, she adds, continued to be noir contemporary fantasy, such as Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, the latest of which, All Together Dead, is due out next month. The booming subgenre, Buchanan reports, continues to be noir contemporary fantasy, along with a growing interest in postapocalyptic/alternate history.
HOTTITLE:For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison (Mar.)
"We have a mix of titles on our list, from epic fantasy to space opera, from gender-bending historical adventure to dark supernatural suspense," says Diana Gill, senior editor of the Eos imprint of HarperCollins. "In addition to genre stories, we've been widening our list, including more horror and near-future thrillers, etc., in our upcoming seasons." Eos is trying some new promotional tricks, too; in addition to a MySpace page, there's an Eos blog (www.outofthiseos.com), which includes contests for books and ARCs, author roundtables, guest author blogs and more. Gill says that Eos loves "mainstream genre-based fiction," and that the imprint is known for "taking SF authors and breaking them out to the mainstream audience, like Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman." She adds that while presentation depends on the book, "We're always looking for ways to update covers for the widest audience... and trying to expand our audience overall." Gill expects that publishing author Kim Harrison in hardcover for the first time—For a Few Demons More, which lands today on PW's bestseller list—is one way to grow that readership.