Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.


It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled ‘Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature’, it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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9 thoughts on “Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

  1. Great post Danie, particularly so given that the hand that feeds you is perhaps not at the bleeding edge of the new. Remember that the new connectedness is not just a way of getting content to readers/viewers, but it’s also a way of finding new authors and creatives. All is not doom and gloom mind you- there are decent sci-fi collaborative forums out there.

  2. The hands that feeds me is equally reluctant to reach out and grasp – but at least I can grab its wrist and tug *grins*Yes, there are collaborations and you’re absolutely right about new ground opening out to encompass new people and new creativity. I remain cynically idealistic – I know it can happen… we just have to make it!

  3. heya!Very well put!!!I am a FIRM believer in the new media taking over most of everything…I mean… our phones are now substituting TVs, computers etc etc in many aspects…I know e-books are not the success they were supposed to be… but give it some time and you will see… U gotta admit tho… Paperback still has that “charm” into it. :) hehehe

  4. Yes, there is absolutely charm to a paperback, I do know what they mean. I’m sure, in time, there will be paperback enthusiasts in the same way there are vinyl enthusiasts.And I think comics lend themselves to the iphone format more than does plain text… I guess the changes in skills for the writer, going one way, will met advancing technology, coming the other… and we will have an e-reader with almost as much charm as your favourite, dog-eared copy of Neuromancer :)

  5. Hey Danie, Great post and great to see you at NewCon. I could not agree more with your points and there are some under the radar people gathering some interesting ideas on content delivery. So I am also hopeful for the future…But on the point of the panel…I have produced a LiveAudioCast here at of the entire panel. Hope you enjoy reliving it.

  6. Hey Del – it seems there are more of us than you might think, dragging future fiction into future fact :)And Dave – I promise I will never take a picture of you before half-past beer again!!

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