Pixel Scroll 11/20/19 Scroll The Size Of A Planet And They Ask Me To File Up A Piece Of Pixel

(1) LOTS OF PLOTS. Vanity Fair’s Anthony Breznican gets Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to share secrets about how the biggest film in history was assembled—including alternate and abandoned story lines that might have been: “How the Avengers: Endgame Writers Made Life-and-Death Decisions”.

Was Marvel ever like, “There are too many dollar signs in this scene?”

Markus: No, it was, “You better damn well have a good story for us!”

McFeely: You actually try not to leave the five-dollar-signs on the sidelines.

So you’re popping those cards on there, drawing a timeline for the story. How does it look?

McFeely: In the beginning stages it’s a, Oh, wouldn’t it be interesting if Groot and Rocket and Thor went on a journey together? What kind of chemistry could you get from that? But also, we took this job because it scared the hell out of us, because that first movie has 23 [main] characters in it.

First movie meaning Infinity War?

McFeely: If you know that movie, and you know how we ended it, it was in large part just so the second movie would have fewer characters. And we could work with that! [Laughs] We started with 65 characters. I mean, it’s just everyone who was vaguely alive. And when we narrowed it down, you don’t want 23 people in a scene—ever. So that’s what the cards were for, to sort of—

(2) BESTSELLER STATS. [Item by Dann Todd.] I found this analysis/graphic of the 300 top NY Times bestselling novels from 2011 to 2018 and you might find it to be of interest. The chart shows the novels by genre, whether they were stand-alone works or part of a series, and the respective Goodreads ratings.

Of those 300 books, 11 were science fiction, 12 were fantasy and 10 were horror.

  • The science fiction works spent a cumulative 72 weeks on the NYTimes bestsellers list. Four of the eleven works were from a series.  The Goodreads ratings ranged from roughly 3.2 to 4.3.
  • The fantasy works spent a cumulative 93 weeks on the list.  Eleven of the twelve works were from a series.  The Goodreads ratings ranged from 3.3 to 4.4.
  • The horror works spent 69 weeks on the list.  Only two of the ten books were from a series.  The Goodreads ratings ranged from 3.8 to 4.8.

(3) FOURTHCOMING TREK FILM. Inverse seems pleased: “Noah Hawley’s ‘Star Trek 4’ promises to boldly go to trippy new worlds”.

Fans of the 2009 Star Trek cinematic reboot universe were let down last year, when news broke that the planned fourth film in the franchise would not be moving forward. Initially rumored to feature the return of Thor actor Chris Hemsworth as Captain Kirk’s father, negotiations reportedly broke down between the studio and Hemsworth (as well as series star Chris Pine). After box office for the reboot’s third installment, Star Trek: Beyond, fell short of expectations, it seemed the new Trek universe was dead, despite being a box office juggernaut just a few years prior.

That all changed today when news broke that not only will there be a fourth Trek film, but that it will be helmed by visionary TV director Noah Hawley, who’s responsible for both Legion and Fargo on FX.

(4) FIRST STEPS. The Writer offers “Pro tips for writing and publishing speculative fiction” of a rather general nature.

Science fiction versus fantasy

…“There is a little bit of a gray area there,” says [Daniel José] Older, “but I think of science fiction as generally and mostly focused on the technological aspect and fantasy focused on the magical aspect.” Yet he notes that this separation is a “little too easy.”

Perhaps a science fiction expert could give us a definitive answer.

“One answer, per science fiction scholar James Gunn, is that science fiction is about things that could happen or could have happened, and that fantasy could not happen, at least in our consensual understanding of what is possible,” Johnson says. But this definition is somewhat problematic, she states, since “this disregards a lot of things,” one being that “our understanding of what is possible changes regularly.”

(5) NEXT STEPS. Fortunately, more pro tips are on the way.

(6) ZINES AND MUSIC. Boo-Hooray profiles the “The Lenny Kaye Science Fiction Fanzine Library at the University of Miami”.

Lenny Kaye (b. 1946) is the guitarist for the Patti Smith Group and also a music historian and journalist. He compiled the 1960s garage rock compilation Nuggets in 1972, which had a profound impact on the development of Punk rock. Lenny’s early influences as a writer and enthusiast in music developed during his time in science fiction fandom. This collection of approximately 2100 fanzines is Lenny’s personal library.

Science fiction was one of the early subjects that spawned a substantial network of self- published magazines and newsletters, done primarily via mimeograph. Ranging from 1941 to 1971, the fanzines in this collection represent ground zero for the zine explosion that was to come years later in rock, punk, skate, fashion, and art. They are the origination of modern DIY publishing.

…Lenny’s own fanzines (Obelisk, Sadistic Sphinx, Hieroglyph, and Pharaoh) are a perfect example of how many SF editors transformed into music journalists and performers. The connection between SF and music fandom may seem an odd gap to bridge, but a number of big names in music journalism, such as Lester Bangs, Paul Williams, and Greg Shaw wrote for science fiction fanzines.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • November 20, 1964 — A U.K. adaptation of H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon was released into theatres, this one complete with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer and Lionel Jeffries, the British press loved it, the American press not so much.  It’s got a 75% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. 
  • November 20, 2007 The Wizard of Oz Munchkins received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born November 20, 1929 Jerry Hardin, 90. He’s best known for playing Deep Throat on The X-Files. He’s also been on Quantum Leap, Starman, Brimstone and Strange World, plus he was in the Doomsday Virus miniseries. And he made a rather good Samuel Clemens in the two part “Time’s Arrow” story on Next Gen.
  • Born November 20, 1932 Richard Dawson. Usually one appearance in a genre film or show isn’t enough to make the Birthday list but he was Damon Killian on The Running Man, a juicy enough role to ensure his making this list, and twenty years earlier he was Joey on Munster, Go Home! He’d voiceLong John Silver on an animated Treasure Island film in the Seventies as well. And he had a one-off on the classic Fantasy Island. (Died 2012.)
  • Born November 20, 1933 John Gardner. Grendel, the retelling of Beowulf from the monster’s viewpoint, is likely the only work he’s remembered for. Gudgekin The Thistle Girl (and Other Tales) are genre fairy tales as are The King of the Hummingbirds (and Other Tales)A Child’s Bestiary is, well, guess what it says it is. Mickelsson’s Ghosts, his final novel written before his untimely death, is a ghost story. (Died 1982.)
  • Born November 20, 1954 Richard Brooker. Actor and stuntman, likely best known for being in Friday the 13th Part III as Jason Voorhees. He certainly did some other genre films too, such as the Argentinian Deathstalker (Cazador de muerte) and being the lead in Deathstalker. (Died 2013.)
  • Born November 20, 1956 Bo Derek, 63. She makes the birthday list for being Jane Parker in Tarzan, the Ape Man. Ok, it’s a really bad film redeemed only by her showing lots of skin. There’s also Ghosts Can’t Do It and Horror 101 as wellas the two Sharknado films she just did. 
  • Born November 20, 1959 Sean Young, 60. Rachael and her clone in the original Blade Runner and the sequel. More intriguingly she played Chani in Dune. A bit old for the role, wasn’t she? She was the lead, Helen Hyde, in Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. And she’s a Trekkie as she was in the Star Trek: Renegades video fanfic pilot as Dr. Lucien. 
  • Born November 20, 1963 Ming-Na Wen, 55. She‘s best known as Melinda May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but she was also Camile Wary on Stargate Universe, and had an intriguing role as Senator Michaela Wen on Eureka. I see she’s going to be Fennec Shand on the new Mandalorian series.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Foxtrot illustrates the ways a shape-shifting demon can help you study.
  • Cul de Sac shows how you know when a book series is coming to an end.

(10) COMIC RECOMMENDATION. [Item by N.] Der-shing Holmer’s webcomic Mare Internvm is about to end (5 pages left). Pre-orders are open for physical copies. I really do recommend it, it’s a fine read.

(11) SOMETHING TO SINK YOUR TEETH INTO. “The archaeology of plaque (yes, plaque)” at The Harvard Gazette.

Not many people can get excited about plaque, but Christina Warinner loves the stuff.

The recently appointed assistant professor of anthropology in [Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences] and Sally Starling Seaver Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, Warinner was among the first researchers to realize that calcified plaque, otherwise known as dental calculus, could shed new light on everything from ancient diet and disease to the spread of dairying and the roles of women in society.

“It’s like a time capsule,” she said. “It’s the single richest source of ancient DNA in the archaeological record. There are so many things we can learn from it — everything from pollution in the environment to people’s occupations to aspects of health. It’s all in there.”

And it was a discovery, Warinner said, that happened almost entirely by accident.

After receiving her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Anthropology Department’s archaeology program, the Kansas native took a postdoc at the University of Zurich in what was then the new Center for Evolutionary Medicine. There she set out to investigate whether it would be possible to identify pathogens in the archaeological record to study the evolution of diseases. She chose dental caries, or cavities, as a case study, because they are visible amid skeletal remains and abundant in the archaeological record. She set out to examine whether the bacteria that caused caries in ancient teeth could be identified genetically.

“I started to notice all this dental calculus, which is very common on teeth, and was always getting in the way,” she said. “Most people would just take it off and throw it away, but I thought it could be interesting, so I turned that thought around and looked at it from a different angle.

“As a side project, I started applying genomic and proteomic techniques to it, which hadn’t been done before,” she continued. “It’s not perfect, and not everything preserves … but it turns out we can say an awful lot about the past through calculus.”

Applying genomic tools has allowed Warinner to get the clearest picture yet of not only ancient genomes, but ancient microbiomes as well.

(12) HAVE YOU SEEN THE LIGHT. The Harvard Gazette also explains how “New laser paves way for better imaging, communications”.

The terahertz frequency range — which sits in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and infrared light — offers the potential for high-bandwidth communications, ultrahigh-resolution imaging, precise long-range sensing for radio astronomy, and much more.

But this section of the electromagnetic spectrum has remained out of reach for most applications. That is because current sources of terahertz frequencies are bulky, inefficient, have limited tuning, or must operate at low temperature.

Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Army, have developed a compact, room-temperature, widely tunable terahertz laser.

…To understand what they did, let’s go over some basic physics of how a laser works.

In quantum physics, excited atoms or molecules sit at different energy levels — think of these as floors of a building. In a typical gas laser, a large number of molecules are trapped between two mirrors and brought to an excited energy level, aka a higher floor in the building. When they reach that floor, they decay, fall down one energy level, and emit a photon. These photons stimulate the decay of more molecules as they bounce back and forth, leading to amplification of light. To change the frequency of the emitted photons, you need to change the energy level of the excited molecules.

So, how do you change the energy level? One way is to use light. In a process called optical pumping, light raises molecules from a lower energy level to a higher one — like a quantum elevator. Previous terahertz molecular lasers used optical pumps, but they were limited in their tunability to just a few frequencies, meaning the elevator only went to a small number of floors….

Also see the Science report: “Widely tunable compact terahertz gas lasers”.

(13) BIG ROOMBA. BBC wants to know, “Would you rent a vacuum cleaner for $499 a month?”

Vacuum cleaning is a chore many people are happy to outsource, but one company is trying to persuade firms to swap an automated service for human cleaners.

Softbank, the Japanese firm behind WeWork and Uber, has launched a self-powered machine, dubbed The Whiz, at a hefty price tag of $499 (£381) a month.

Softbank says its robot is meant to replace “over-worked janitorial teams.”

The Whiz is not initially automatic, as a human has to lead it around until it can learn the cleaning route.

It has been developed by Softbank’s US robotics arm and Hong Kong-based firm Intelligent Cleaning Equipment.

The three-feet-tall (0.9 metres) vacuum was initially only offered for rent in Japan and Hong Kong.

The machine sends an alert if there is an issue, such as bumping into a wall. After three hours, it can cover 15,000 square feet (1,394 square metres) but then will need a battery change.

(14) BAUM’S AWAY. Andrew Porter tuned in last night to Jeopardy! and witnessed this:

Category: Authors’ Fictional Places

Answer: “Loompaland.”

Wrong Question: “Who is Baum?”

(15) LOSE RESPONSIBLY. BBC reports “UK gambling machines loaded with AI ‘cool off’ system”.

Every gambling machine in the UK’s betting shops is being updated with software designed to detect and prevent problematic behaviour in players.

The system locks gamblers out of machines for 30 seconds if erratic or excessive play is detected.

While the brief lockdown is in effect, warnings about safe gambling are displayed on the machines’ screens.

One expert said the enforced break was “probably not long enough to have a positive effect”.

…Among the behaviour patterns it tries to detect are chasing losses, spending too long on a single machine and playing a succession of games rapidly.

(16) NUMBER TWO. “50 Years Ago, Americans Made The 2nd Moon Landing… Why Doesn’t Anyone Remember?” asks NPR. Maybe it’s the crappy dialogue?

Fifty years ago, astronaut Pete Conrad stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.

His first words were: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

…Conrad[‘s] first words as he stepped onto the surface were actually part of a bet with a journalist, Muir-Harmony says. She had asked Conrad whether the U.S. government had dictated Neil Armstrong’s first words. “And he made a bet (I think it’s about a $500 bet) saying, ‘No, we can say whatever we want. We’re not being told what to say by the government.'”

(17) VASTER THAN LIBRARIES. Atlas Obscura explores “The Uncertain Future of the World’s Largest Secondhand Book Market”.

At the College Street market in Kolkata, India, independent booksellers fear the arrival of a massive mall.

…College Street, known by locals as Boi Para (which roughly translates to “Book Town”), spans more than a mile and covers a million square feet. Bigwigs of Bengali publishing coexist with makeshift stalls hammered together from wood, bamboo, tin, and canvas, in a chaotic matrix that runs from Mahatma Gandhi Road to Ganesh Chandra Avenue.

College Street has every imaginable type of text, available in Bengali, English, Mandarin, Sanskrit, Dutch, and every dialect in between. Precious first editions and literary classics sit cheek by jowl with medical encyclopedias, religious texts, and pulp fiction, often precariously stacked in uneven piles that resemble jagged cliff faces. Wily booksellers peer from raised wooden stalls; bearded collectors rifle through stock; mothers drag first-year university students through the aisles to collect their required reading.

[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Mike Kennedy, Cat Eldridge, Dann, Darrah Chavey, Martin Morse Wooster, N, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

33 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/20/19 Scroll The Size Of A Planet And They Ask Me To File Up A Piece Of Pixel

  1. (1) I do remember when watching Infinity War how simple the first Avengers movie seemed in retrospect – only a half dozen heroes: how mundane.

  2. 8) John Champlin Gardner (not the same as the thriller writer) also wrote Freddy’s Book, which I’d argue is genre, and The Sunlight Dialogues, which has a definite slipstream feel to it, if there’s anything definite about slipstream, which I guess there isn’t. Not to mention a lot of other stuff which is worthy of your discerning attention, genre or not. IIRC, I’m not the only Gardner fan around here, so hopefully others can chime in with their favourites.

  3. 6) Lenny Kaye was a fan? How cool! Also I can see that today’s pop music criticism may have been influenced by fanzines, given that all the other critics/fanzine writers mentioned were also highly respected music critics.

  4. @Steve Wright: I’d definitely call Freddy’s Book genre. I’d also call it brilliant, even though most critics at the time panned it, IIRC. He also wrote a terrific short story, Julius Caesar and the Werewolf, which is exactly what it says on the tin.

    (8) A very young Richard Dawson also had a significant role in the Outer Limits Season One episode, “The Invisibles”.

  5. Technically, Rick Hill was the lead in Deathstalker, and Richard Brooker was the charming rogue. But Brooker looked like he was having more fun. His armor included what one fan called the Halter-Top of Awesomeness.

  6. @2 is interesting; I’ve heard Modesitt (among others) say that fantasy sells much better than SF, but the numbers suggest the margin is not huge. (The observation may apply specifically to his works.) But it’s hard to be sure without knowing where on the list the works appeared during their tenures. I think I’m not surprised at the imbalance in what’s a series; ISTM that a larger fraction of fantasy is series works, but I haven’t tried to make a hard count.

    @17: so Hay-on-Wye isn’t really the used-book capital of the world? Well, well. I’m just not traveling much any more, but it certainly seems a sight.

    @Darrah Chavey: welcome to the world of contributors. Facilis est descensus avernus or “You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

  7. Even if you think you’ve seen enough reviews of Frozen II, Glen Weldon on NPR hits new heights of snark discussing the soundtrack: Karaoke nights just got … so. Much. Worse.

  8. (16) That was the Apollo mission where the camera failed after the LEM landed on the moon. So there were a lot fewer visual memories. No surprise it’s less well remembered than other lunar landing missions.

  9. (8) Ahem, he said again. The comments above on John Champlin Gardner are quite right, and there are extended discussions of him, including a personal reminiscence by Russell Letson, in the July 21 comments (scroll down to page 43 or so), since July 21 was his actual birthday. Well worth reading, even if one of them is mine. Today is the birthday of British thriller writer John E. Gardner, some of whose books border on sff genres.

  10. 7) Not my favorite Harryhausen — too much time spent on wacky Victorian hijinks — but it did have some unsurprisingly nice stop-motion animated creatures.

    8) Sean Young would’ve been about 25 when playing Chani in Dune so a bit on the older end for the role, but not what I’d call unreasonably so — at that point, other people her age were still playing high school students in, e.g., Christine.

  11. Dear Chip,

    Re: (2) From the number of books, the durations on the list, and the association with sales, I would guess we are talking about hitting #1 on the New York Times list, or close to that. It’s hard to argue with data, but the results surprised me — if I were asked (before this report), I would’ve guessed that SF hardly ever made the list, relative to fantasy.

    This seems related to (4). Gunn’s observation echoes (precedes?) the same suggestion made by Joanna Russ in the late 70s — that science fiction was about what we imagined could be true while fantasy was about what we knew couldn’t be. And she pointed out the problems with that — do ghost stories become science fiction if the readers (to quote the Cowardly Lion) “…do believe in spooks?” Or how about just the author?

    Even by that weak definition, we aren’t consistent. Larry Niven had fun writing time travel stories where the characters wound up in fantasy worlds because time travel is physically impossible and hence is a fantasy. How very pomo/meta- of Larry! (And how often does Larry get associated with pomo?!) But this is the same Larry who is very comfortable writing hard science fiction that has FTL all over the place, although it and time travel are equivalent. It would seem to be about the tropes we can buy vs. the ones we can’t.

    Which devolves down to suggesting the difference between fantasy and science fiction is much like the difference between pornography and “legitimate” erotica — we all know it when we see it… and we are all not likely to agree.

    pax \ Ctein

    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com

  12. I knew a guy who looked young enough to play a high school student in his mid-twenties, but decided to age out after a role in which he had to kiss a 16-year old.

  13. 8) Aside from some recycled footage from the original, Sean Young didn’t star in the Blade Runner sequel: that was a digital double.

  14. 8) No one else has mentioned John Gardner’s In The Suicide Mountains? A light-hearted and self-aware spin on traditional fairy tales; the early editions had wonderful cover and illustrations by Joe Servello. This, along with Goldman’s The Princess Bride, are why six-fingered men occasionally show up in my own fiction.

    also 8) My wife Hilde watches a lot of Game Show Network (as news-avoidance therapy), including old 70’s episodes of THE MATCH GAME, where Richard Dawson was a regular panelist. Dawson had a bit (more than a bit) of a reputation as a masher, flirting with and being suggestive and double-entendred in his interactions with women, and some of that shows up on The Match Game. But Dawson comes across as relatively cute and harmless compared to watching the host Gene Rayburn, who far too frequently just comes across as sleazy towards women and has actively creeped me out on occasion when I’ve caught some of the old episodes. Hard to believe that was acceptable and popular, even in an “of his time” context.

  15. I’m not the only Gardner fan around here, so hopefully others can chime in with their favourites.

    I’m quite fond of In the Suicide Mountains, which is genre, and I adore both Grendel (genre) and October Light (non-genre).

  16. 12) Whoa, that’s a neat and bonkers approach to making a laser. Usually you get one frequency of light out of a laser, and it’s hard to make one that you can change the frequency like adjusting the temperature on an oven. And they’re doing it by making gas molecules literally rotate. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a laser that excites molecular rotation states as its primary mechanism before.

  17. supporting @Joe H, re @8: I was once told that Leslie Caron boasted of being able to play ingenues when she was 40. This is probably an exaggeration, but she was at least 26 when she played Gigi, who I’d guess was intended to be under 18. Similarly, while Ringwald was one of two minors among the actors-of-teenagers in The Breakfast Club (which is why a double had to be used for an R-ratable shot), Sheedy was 23 and Nelson was 26.

    @Ctein: From the number of books, the durations on the list, and the association with sales, I would guess we are talking about hitting #1 on the New York Times list, or close to that. I would not assume that; the books spent an average of 7 weeks on the list, which would require abrupt rises and falls (versus the overall average of 12 weeks on the list), in order for them all to hit #1. ISTM more likely there’d be a distribution — a couple of skyrockets, a few taking some months to reach or get close to #1 and then fall, and several that spent shorter times and never got near the top. (This is a guess based on distributions-of-outcomes being the least hypothesis; I’d love to see actual data organized by duration and elevation, for genre and for everything, rather than comparison-to-Goodreads.) Your comments about the gray border are cogent and plausible for general cases — but I’d also love to see how often gray-area books get to be best-sellers; i.e., how comfortable with ambiguity is the fraction of book buyers needed to get a book onto the list. I need more data, Scotty!

    @Bruce Arthurs: Rayburn probably learned his … manners … in the 1960’s, or even earlier; looking back on what I absorbed as the consensus of ~power dynamics then, I’m not surprised that he seems way out of line now.

  18. @Chip: Another example: the woman who played “Moaning Myrtle” was about 40 when she was playing a character who died in her mid-teens.

  19. Science Fiction vs. Fantasy is a perennial topic here and elsewhere throughout fandom, and has been for probably nearly as long as science fiction has been recognized as a genre. In all that time, no one has offered a universally accepted definition of the distinction between the two, and that seems unlikely to change. It’s fun to discuss only as long as everyone remembers not to take the discussion too seriously.

    Part of the problem may be that (at least in my biased sampling) spec. fic. in general seems to be more tolerant of “genre-bending” than many other genres. In fact, it seems like some writers (going back to at least Zelazny, and probably much earlier) seem to take any attempt to define borders for the genre as a challenge to their creativity. 😀

    On the other hand, (2) reminds me of a distinction which is rarely made, but which can have a huge impact on my interest in reading something: is the so-called “series” a long tale told in multiple volumes, or is it a collection of standalone stories which share characters and/or settings? Or some odd in-between form?

  20. (8) @ Bruce Arthurs, snap! I have a beautiful illustrated edition of In the Suicide Mountains that I found in Paris a million years ago. I think it’s time to read it again. All I remember are Armida and the prince and the Six-fingered Man and the hat (“Ouch, ouch, ouch!”). I think that book was my first exposure to Russian fairy tales, too.

    (14) also not the first to say, “Who is Ronald Dahl?”

  21. Xtifr says Science Fiction vs. Fantasy is a perennial topic here and elsewhere throughout fandom, and has been for probably nearly as long as science fiction has been recognized as a genre. In all that time, no one has offered a universally accepted definition of the distinction between the two, and that seems unlikely to change. It’s fun to discuss only as long as everyone remembers not to take the discussion too seriously.

    Jennifer Stevenson, author of Trash Sex Magic, has a nice rant at Green Man at that very subject here.

  22. @Chip Hitchcock, @Ctein re. #2 and bestsellers in genres: you can get an idea of the possible relative popularity of the bestsellers in SF and fantasy (and other genres) from the BookScan monthly bestseller charts at Publishers Weekly. e.g. for the most recent month, the genre top 10 titles sold as follows:

    SF: between 5696 and 2214 copies
    Fantasy: between 39170 and 2839 copies

    I happen to have saved copies of most of these charts from the past 2.5 years, and whilst I’ve never looked particularly closely at the actual numbers sold each month, my recollection is that the fantasy top 10 always outsells the SF top 10. I think the difference between genres is higher than usual this month though, due to a number of high profile new releases in fantasy.

    What I have looked into though, are the patterns of how long titles stay in these charts. In essence:

    The SF chart is very stagnant, with a handful titles appearing just about every month, sometimes multiple times in the same month for different editions. Ready Player One, Ender’s Game, Dune, Hitchhikers, The Martian, and whatever the current Star Wars tie-in novel all have a 50% or higher chance of appearing in any given month’s top 10; indeed, Ready Player One has never once been out of the top 10 in the 2.5 years I’ve been monitoring these lists.
    Fantasy is similar, but not quite as bad. Most months have GRRM, Gaiman, Tolkien and Rothfuss titles occupying maybe half the chart. The Fifth Season has appeared in the top 10 for 60% of the months I have data for, but the sequels only showed up twice.
    By contrast, mystery and especially romance are much more fluid; very few titles hang around in those top 10s for more than a month or two. The likes of James Patterson and Debbie Macomber do usually have at least one title in the top 10 every month though.

    How much of this is down to how NPD/BookScan measure sales or quantify genre (“literary” works like Margaret Atwood or even Neal Stephenson’s Fall only ever appeared in the general fiction charts, never in the genre ones) vs SF&F readers buying from online stores (which AFAIK aren’t included in the PW charts) vs some other factors, I have no idea.

  23. @Cat Eldridge: ISTM that Stevenson is ranting as much about the difference between writers who believe in the reality of what they’re writing and those who don’t, as much as between SF and fantasy; I don’t know whether she believes but this certainly reads like it. I wonder what fantasy (and writers, and even readers) she was exposed to; I remember readers I respect snickering at people grumbling that the “magic system” in LoTR wasn’t organized enough, and “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” (what I recall of it) suggests that making magic understandable at all (let alone rigorous) makes it too ordinary. I can think of several attempts to make magic consistent; most range from (at the worst) Rick Cook or Lyndon Hardy to (at the least bad) Sanderson’s multi-volume works. De Camp & Pratt were IMO much better, but they were playing mostly for laughs (while observing, as if prophetically, Pratchett’s dictum that (very roughly) the characters in humor have to be entirely serious about their situations).

    Now I’m wondering whether I should have picked up Trash Sex Magic, and whether I want to do so now….

  24. My definition of sf vs. fantasy is: Science fiction assumes the laws of science control the reality of the fictional world. Fantasy assumes that magic, or at least something other than science, is at play. And that this distinction applies even if the writer assumes the laws of science are controlling, but has gotten some of their effects wrong.

    Nothing except sheer bloody-mindedness and “but the story needs it” explains FTL in what is supposed to be, specifically, hard sf.

  25. @John S: Very interesting observation there on the way the market for sf is stagnant with regards to new works. Can’t say I’m surprised, especially since the most interesting stuff to come out the lately often have been in the genre borderlands in various ways (like Jemisin’s Broken Earth series).

    (4) When it comes to the difference between fantasy and sf, I think Farah Mendlesohn was onto something in her book Rhetorics of Fantasy: the difference between sf and fantasy is more about how things are told rather than what is told.

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