The history of science fiction is filled with powerful editors who determined how the genre progressed – in fact science fiction was born in a magazine and would not have existed but for its editor, Hugo Gernsback. After my post on the Hugos, Paul Kincaid’s review of a couple of year’s best anthologies, a discussion of that review on the latest Coode Street Podcast, and a discussion this morning on Twitter, I decided to do a little research.
I have it in my head that the written science fiction we see within the community is a product of a small group of people with much greater than average leverage. Not just the editors of the magazines, who chose what fiction to publish, but the editors of the Big Three magazines – Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF. There are also the editors of the year’s best anthologies, who get to choose each year which stories are the “best”, and so set the variety of sf that will be emulated in later years. And those year’s best editors generally pull from a limited number of sources – the Big Three magazines, especially.
So you get this incestuous and self-perpetuating relationship, in which a handful of sources supply the best stories of the year because only those handful of sources are used to provide stories. And this all feeds into the awards, and thus back into the genre, and so provides it with direction… Except that direction only really appeals to that small group who read the Big Three magazines and vote for the Hugo…
But do the numbers actually back up this scenario? How wide is the net cast by year’s best editors and the awards? Who is really shaping science fiction?
Dozois apparently doesn’t look much further than the Big Three magazines and high-profile anthologies. Which makes this the most purely commercial selection of stories.
Horton’s anthology is fantasy and science fiction, unlike the other two. This may explain why he casts his net much wider than the other two, but it’s still a surprisingly wide spread of venues.
Hartwell & Cramer appear to like tor.com a lot, but they’ve also picked stuff from some very obscure venues. NewCon Press does quite well, and there’s even a story from Irish sf magazine Albedo One. Engineering Infinity has also done well in all three anthologies – in fact, with Eclipse 4 and Life on Mars as well that makes Jonathan Strahan the most successful editor at publishing “year’s best” stories.
However, I have to wonder how much of this is driven by author-name-recognition. Even in the obscure venues, it’s well-known authors who get pulled out – in the Dozois, for example, it’s Alastair Reynolds in Voices from the Past, an ebook-only charity anthology.
The only outlier in the Hugo shortlists is Panverse Three – and that’s a story by Ken Liu, who is plainly a favourite of Hugo voters.
Again, that same Ken Liu story from Panverse Three. The presence of GigaNotoSaurus is a surprise.
It definitely seems as if there is a second tier of magazines after the Big Three – currently it’s only tor.com and Clarkesworld, but perhaps another online magazine will make the jump to Tier 2 in a year or three. Nonetheless, Asimov’s continues to dominate the year’s best anthologies and awards shortlists, as it has done for several decades. F&SF has, I suspect, slipped a little – in the anthologies, though not in the awards – but original print anthologies seemed to do well in 2011. There’s more online fiction than in previous years, but it’s still very much slanted towards print.
The pie charts do suggest that a handful of names have undue influence in science fiction. And the smaller that group, the narrower the range of genre fiction that rises to the top. If sf is becoming more fantastical, more concerned with mining its own tropes rather than doing anything interesting with them, then perhaps it’s because that’s what this group values…