Speculative fiction has been seeing a lot of love over the last decade. I’ve lost count of the number of cult classic books and modern loves that I was sure I alone knew about, that are now considered mainstream works. Fantasy and science fiction, in particular, has been going strong. (Horror is always doing good, it seems. Especially in times of hardship. Stephen King has a great essay about that in his book Danse Macabre. If you haven’t read it, read it.)
As a lifelong speculative fiction fan myself, I couldn’t be happier that everyone is finally seeing what I see in my favorite stories and characters. It is amazing to see all these little teenagers going nuts over the latest Laini Taylor book.
On the other hand, being a fantasy fan these days kind of blows. Like with everything, there are pros and cons to cult favorites hitting the mainstream.
Why we have it so good
Let’s get this one out of the way right now, I love e-books. Yes, I still love me a good thick hardcover, but for ease of use, you just can’t beat an e-book. I can carry around my whole library with me wherever I go. How many times have you had to carry two books with you because you were just about to finish one? How many times have you had to carry a bigger bag because you’re reading the hardcover version of Dances With Dragons? No more of that!
I also love that I can get e-books on the launch day even if I’m too busy to make it to the store. Especially right now, when I can’t get to any store without fearing for my damn life. That would have saved my life if I’d had it when the last Harry Potter book came out. Instead, I was stationed in front of my local book store when they opened the door, waiting.
I also really love that so many of our favorite things are showing up on the screen, and most of them are good! I’ve talked a lot about quality adaptations on this site, so I won’t go into it again. But it’s been a while since anyone had to shush me in a movie theater because I launched into a geek tirade.
Speaking of the geek, we are for sure living in the age of the Geek. (At least in culture. I sort of wish our politics here in America still thought it was cool to be, you know, smart. But that’s another topic for another day.) We’re not seen as losers now for liking things like comic books and D&D. They’re all the rage. People know who Tolkin is now!
Of course, because there are so many people interested in fantasy and science fiction, the market is catering to us. There’s a ton of new stuff and most of it’s good! The best example I can think of right now is The Orville. It’s like Star Trek for a modern audience. And it’s not the only thing for fans to be cheering over. The new Twilight Zone, Star Trek Picard. All the good things are coming back.
Why we sort of don’t
There is nothing that is purely good or purely bad. I do love e-books but there are some books I want to have a physical copy of. There lies the problem, books are freaking expensive to buy! They’re expensive to produce, too. Listen, I write and sell this stuff as well as consume it. Trust me, no one but Amazon is getting rich off that $20 and up price tag for new releases. It’s real easy to spend over $100 on books in a month if you want to get the physical copies. And as much as I think it’s worth it, I also know I can’t afford it.
There are other issues, of course, with things we love going public. People who don’t understand our world are invading it. I have just one too many times overheard conversations about comic book characters that are so off the mark that I’m loth to keep walking. I do because I don’t need to be that crazy person in town. Screaming at strangers for not understanding the complexity of Tony Stark and his struggle with alcoholism is not a good look. But it should be!
Hey, remember when we were talking about books and how expensive they are? That’s not the only way marketing teams are getting our cash. Our beloved worlds are being marketed to Hell. All of our beloved characters are being sold to us on water bottles, action figures, and posters.
This isn’t to say I’m not as big of a sucker as they come. I had a pair of Jack Skellington Vans that I wore until they had holes in the heel. I also had a Gryffindor hoodie that I lost somewhere. (I’m a Hufflepuff anyway.) I have a Harley Quinn poster and a Daddy’s Little Monster t-shirt. But at some point, it all becomes too much. At some point, we’re just being sold cheap crap for too much because it happens to have the Cheshire Cat on it.
Finally, with great stories come great rip-offs. Or not so great rip-offs, usually. Or just real shit trying to pass for quality storytelling. For every Orville, there’s a Star Trek Discovery. For every ‘Salem’s Lot, there’s a Twilight. There is so much science fiction and fantasy coming out because it’s popular. We can’t get enough of it when it’s good. But we can sure get a gullet full when it’s created without love or thought, only a desire for a quick sale.
I’ll never stop being a fan of science fiction and fantasy. I imagine you won’t either if you’re reading this. For good or bad, we’ll always be here to explore any new worlds available to us.