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"The next big thing"

Jim Hines has some interesting things to say about chasing the market: at writers workshops he (and I) are often asked, by folks in search of success, "What's popular right now? What's the next Big New Thing? What are agents and editors looking for?"

I'd like to remind any aspiring writers reading this right now that the only reason for paying any attention to the current runaway success is that you should avoid writing anything like it. Here's why:

The production pipeline at a major publisher runs on a 12 month production cycle (with quarterly or thrice-annual batches of new material being pushed out to the marketing/sales force), but finding a slot for a new author can take longer—my first sale to Ace was followed by book slots at 12 month intervals but it took nearly two years after acquisition (2001) before it came out (2003).

Furthermore, turnaround time for those editors who read slush, that is, unsolicited submissions, is abysmally slow: even if you're agented, if you're a new author you probably had to go through your agent's slushpile. So, call it 12-24 months from first submission of your finished manuscript to getting a contract—if you're successful in selling that first book. (Most authors aren't.)

Then there's writing time. If you have a day job to hold down, you can't write as fast as if you're writing for a living. I used to take 3 years per novel when I had a day job. (I now aim for an average of 2 novels/year.)

Upshot: it takes about 5-6 years to write a book, run the gauntlet of agent and editorial processes, and then get it into a publisher's production pipeline. If you self-publish, you can shave 2-4 years off this odyssey. You also shave off a lot of essential quality control in the process, and lose access to marketing resources. Unless you write like a maniac and don't bother editing, you're still going to be behind the curve.

Furthermore, a publishing trend takes some years to become established—Harry Potter, Hunger Games, et al were not overnight successes: they took 2-3 years each to build, and the derivative follow-ups (from writers with existing contracts and slots to fill) took another 2-3 years to begin filtering out of the pipeline after seeing the success of the type specimen. Someone trying to break in for the first time is therefore going to be not 12 months behind the bleeding edge, but more like 5-10 years.

Even if you've got a book slot to fill and the flexibility to chase the latest trending hot topic, it's a fraught affair. I'm working like crazy to do an SF thriller trilogy that riffs off the NSA/Snowden revelations: I was in the right place at the right time with a noir near-future thriller under contract, and it wasn't a great leap to update my plans. Nevertheless, it'll only show up on bookshelves in mid-2015. Hopefully ubiquitous surveillance and paranoia about the global security regime will still be a hot topic two years after the Edward Snowden story broke: otherwise, I'm stuffed.

Upshot: novel-length fiction is not an appropriate vehicle for commenting on current affairs, and trying to chase annual trends in novel-length fiction is just plain silly.

So what should you write?

Firstly, don't chase the current market trends: by the time you get there you'll be behind the curve. Instead, try and go where there's demand but no supply. (For example: I noticed around 2005 that there was an eerie shortage of near-future SF—as if millennial anxiety intimidated everyone into tip-toeing away from that area. Hence "Halting State" and "Rule 34".)

Secondly, be flexible: have a number of different ideas ready to write. Ideas are easy, execution is the hard bit. If you're set on writing zombie romance and there's a lot of it on the shelves, you'll probably have trouble selling a new novel in that micro-genre because it was the hot new thing 2-3 years ago. But if zombie romance is just one of your strings, you can focus on something else.

The laser-sharp focal point of my writing is crime. And humour. And espionage. And Lovecraftian horror. And space opera. And time travel. And politics. And urban fantasy. With side-orders of LGBTQ interest and traditional romance and hard SF on top. This has worked for me because if something comes into fashion and then goes out again I've still got something else that can sell. (The New Space Opera was hot in the late 1990s. I sold "Singularity Sky" in 2001. If I'd stuck with that series, and written nothing but, my career would probably be in big trouble by now because the New Space Opera is old enough to vote and is no longer terribly sexy.)

Third and final piece of advice: never commit to writing something at novel length that you aren't at least halfway in love with. Because if you're phoning it in, your readers will spot it and throw rotten tomatoes at you. And because there's no doom for a creative artist that's as dismal as being chained to a treadmill and forced to play a tune they secretly hate for the rest of their working lives.

106 Comments

1:

"Still scribbling, Mr Gibbon?" Comes to mind for some reason.
Write what you want to write, & hope that it comes out well, & (some of) the public like it.
A E Housman didn't write "A Shropshire Lad" for money, though it did make money & made him world-famous.
Nor did C L Dodgson write "Alice" for money, either ....

2:

In essence, production is slower than changes in demand. Interesting market.

By the way - I guess I would rather like to read a short, commented timeline of the then-current big things in SF for the last 20 years or so. Cyberpunk, New Space Opera, Singularity, Games ... ?

3:

production is slower than changes in demand. Interesting market

That's the typical condition for "cobweb" behaviour - you get a regular oscillating cycle of overinvestment and bust. And that's kind of what we see. Misery memoirs. Sparkly vampires. Etc.

4:

I'd imagine the "don't chase the trend" rule rather changes if you're self-publishing, though?

It certainly does in film, where the "Mockbuster" (low-budget rip-off of a big movie franchise) is an established if not particularly honourable way to make money. See "Atlantic Rim", "The Almighty Thor", and other, erm, classics from The Asylum.

Has there been any sign of a "mockbuster" movement in self-published novels yet, does anyone know? If not, I'd imagine there will be soon.

5:

The sudden profusion of dinosaur porn would seem to indicate that following micro-genres is profitable for those with practically-zero turnaround and audiences that don't demand the same QA that yours does.

Of course, more profitable if you were the one to *invent* (the next) dinorotica.

6:

> It certainly does in film

Film and TV is at least an order of magnitude faster to make it to the market than the written word.

Can you imagine a holywood screenwriter telling a producuer 'first complete draft will be in 2 years, any you will probably have something usable in 3'.

You can pretty much take that schedule and replace the word 'year' with 'week', or at best 'month'.

7:

"Hopefully ubiquitous surveillance and paranoia about the global security regime will still be a hot topic two years after the Edward Snowden story broke: otherwise, I'm stuffed."

I think you'll be on safer grounds than all the MilSF authors in the early 1990s who had to hastily varnish their MSS with variations on the theme of "Glasnost was dead, and the Neo-Communists were heating up the Cold War..."

8:

How do all the bandwagon jumping books work though? Is it that there is a 2 or 3 year lag between the original famous novel and the 2nd rate novels churned out to fill up the wagon? Or is it that there are authors with similar works already in the pipeline who get sped up to fit the new fashion?

9:

I want to read more New Space Opera. Who's doing it these days?

10:

Both models apply.

There are a lot of "unsalable" manuscripts by real published authors out there, gathering dust in desk drawers -- or at least there used to be before monetizing them via self-pub turned out to be marginally viable. If J. Random Midlist Author has a trunk novel about magic school covered in cobwebs because they couldn't sell it in 1986, and Harry Potter suddenly shows up on the radar, then it takes weeks to a month to blow the cobwebs off and it'll be on a fast-track to an editor's desk care of their agent. And then you get the new products showing up. If it's an easy mode to write in (and the career of Charles Hamilton suggests that the school novel isn't particularly hard to extrude once you've got the knack), then some working authors will bang one out in three months and, again, their agents will see it gets a priority pass.

(This doesn't necessarily mean they're good or bad, any more than the cheap knock-off iphone chargers coming out of China that look just like the Apple-branded originals are good or bad -- the price/date doesn't tell you anything useful about them[*] -- but they fill a market niche.)

[*] Sometimes you get it wrong. Walter Jon Williams' Hardwired got hung up in editorial/sales hell for six years, IIRC, as did K. W. Jeter's Dr. Adder. Both came out 6-12 months after Neuromancer and were therefore labelled as "derivative cyberpunk me-too" novels. Except they pre-dated the type specimen by many years ...

11:

Ahahahaha.

It's not new any more; arguably the first of it was "Consider Phlebas", back in 1986. And "James Corey" has your back.

(I have tentative plans for a Time Opera, but that's another micro-genre in its own right.)

12:

Thanks. I had run into some more bandwagon jumping fiction; one was about 30% too long and read a bit like the author was writing to a stereotype. And there's all the vampire books cluttering up shelves.

13:

Film and TV is at least an order of magnitude faster to make it to the market than the written word

Except when it's not. When you look at the full cycle of a Hollywood movie, you're talking years. For instance, take the recent blockbuster Hobbit film: Jackson was trying to get the right to film it about 8 years ago. On your dog-years scale, that's supposedly equivalent to a book taking 4 centuries.

That's not an unusual time scale. Studios like Pixar pipeline their productions, so that the fact that something like Cars took 8 years from initial script through to release doesn't leave them bankrupt.

(Are those films typical? I doubt they're particularly atypical, since I chose them almost at random and then went off to Wikipedia to find the time scales.)

And that's when the person is already inside the system. The equivalent 'inside the system' time for a book is probably considerably shorter: Charlie's 5-6 years above are for someone with no record, not someone who has existing relationships with agents and publishers. I suspect he personally is looking at about 2 years from concept through to publication.

Sure, you can get a film out a lot faster than that, but you can also get a book out almost as fast as you can type it — witness the career of Lionel Fanthorpe, or the earlier days of writers like Bob Silverberg or John Brunner, writers who were contracted to write novels to fill a publisher's slots.

Addressing TV, that can be very short turnaround, particularly soaps. Those are almost as short a turnaround as newspapers, but they're both deeply ephemeral, so in my opinion not really comparable to novels and films. TV drama, well, many serial dramas run one short series a year. Example in point — Death In Paradise which showed in the UK last night. Or Sherlock — two years between series.

14:

Of course, William Gibson had never written a novel before, hardly ever used a computer [if at all], and saw the first 20 minutes of Blade Runner, thought he would be deemed a plagiarist and went into re-write frenzy on said novel.

Which turned out to be Neuromancer

Roughly at the same time Bruce Sterling and Vernor Vinge where having similar ideas about humanity's future, and Bruce's Artificial Kid had already been published.

Similarly, the New Space Opera was kick-started by books written in the 1970s, about a communistic space empire, which sounds about as popular as syphilis in 1984/5 when it was written.

By the time they reached the market Neuromancer and IMB's Consider Phlebas had hit a cultural nerve [judging by literature about SF at the time, an unlikely direct hit]

Cyberpunk arrived in the middle of an SF readership obsessed [it seemed] by Space Opera and near-future Armageddon, the New Space Opera arrived in the middle of an SF readership obsessed [it seemed] by Cyberpunk.

Write the change you want to see, I think.

15:

You might like Alastair Reynolds. His 'On The Steel Breeze' had the fun of STL interstellar colony ships mixed with AI, and is a blast.

16:

"...is old enough to vote and is no longer terribly sexy."

Now there's a mixed metaphor that leaves the reader with an icky feeling!

17:

...and with ebooks, the content can be published almost as soon as it is written, no matter how good or bad it is [mistakes, bad grammar and padding included], and the music industry is probably the fastest of all, nowadays at least [unless you are Peter Gabriel]

I think it was Al Jourgensen who described the music industry then as "like an airport where they only let one plane take off a day".

18:

Film and TV is at least an order of magnitude faster to make it to the market than the written word.

Can you imagine a holywood screenwriter telling a producuer 'first complete draft will be in 2 years, any you will probably have something usable in 3'.

You can pretty much take that schedule and replace the word 'year' with 'week', or at best 'month'.

It does seem odd that what seems like a smaller effort takes longer. Then again, compare the time to hand-build a car vs. rolling off a Toyota assembly line. It just seems like one of those curious mismatches like where the DVD of the film goes for $17 and the CD soundtrack of the film goes for $21. (prices are probably 15 years out of date).

It seems like novels don't scale well for assembly work. I'd always wondered how well a tight team of writers could approach it as happens with TV shows. With the Robotech novelization, the "author" was a pseudonym for a two-man writing team and they split the effort even-odd for the whole run. It's YA fiction and they had a TV show to follow but still, writing is tough. My guess is the complexity of this approach combined with low returns from publishing and the likelihood of getting a dog's breakfast as a result explains why we don't see it happening. This is probably one of those "nine women can't make a baby in one month" situations.

19:

The writer's life in five stages

1 'Who the hell is Charles Stross?'

2 'Get me Charlie Stross!'

3 'Get me a writer like Charlie Stross!'

4 'What happened to Charles Stross? Is he still going?'

5 'Who the hell is Charles Stross?'

hope OGH is still at 2 ;-)

20:

[..] the New Space Opera [..] is no longer terribly sexy.

Never! NSO will always be sexy, and needs to be incorporated into every series! I'm looking forward to you adding a space opera plot to the Laundry series.

21:

Another way to identify 'the next big thing' is to look at under-served demographics... which audience is emerging/growing and what are their specific life-stage concerns, regrets, hopes ... given whatever new technologies/psycho-/socio-/politico-/economic theories, etc. have (by now) been shown to work/not work?

For example ... Scalzi's Old Man's War addressed a very old question: What would you pay for/do with a second chance at youth?* More importantly, he addressed the day-to-day effects of newly regained youth on 75 year-olds who mostly did not expect to be young again. Although the story back-drop was stereotypical SF BEM invasion/war, what caught readers' fancy (well - my fancy anyway) was which attitudes/memories remained entrenched and which got tossed out as soon as the old libido/energy/adolescent feelings of immortality/invincibility got fired up again. (*My guess is that the 40+ year old SF readership - people with actual real-life experience - is what really got the sales going for this story.)

22:

Your experience of the film world is markedly different to mine!

It's absolutely routine for a Hollywood-level screenwriter to spend six months or more on a screenplay: indeed, it's recommended.

That screenplay will often then go back for subsequent drafts, and can end up getting stuck in "development hell", for years at a time.

And that's just the first stage of production. Then you've got to actually shoot the darn thing (which can take up to 18 months for really big production), then post-produce and edit (which can cheerfully take years if you've got a particularly difficult edit), and then you get into the grinding release schedule, which is similar to that of publishing.

As it happens, I'm about to release a movie - not even a feature, just a short. It's taken 5 years to make. That's not atypical - my last feature film also took 5 years. And I'm not even working within the mainstream film industry.

23:

Scalzi's an interesting example - I remember reading that when he was trying to decide what to write, he saw that military sci-fi was doing well, so he gave it a shot. Admittedly, this was after self-publishing a novel on his website which was then picked up by a publisher, so the 5-10 year limit didn't really hold for him.

24:

It's not new any more; arguably the first of it was "Consider Phlebas", back in 1986. And "James Corey" has your back.

So, it's like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal?

At least some of the bands have been continuing it until now, and luckily I don't think there are any genuinely new artists doing it anymore.

For some reason I have missed "James Corey", thank you!

25:

>>For example ... Scalzi's Old Man's War addressed a very old question: What would you pay for/do with a second chance at youth?

Old Man's War is "Starship Troopers the MOVIE" of books. I read it almost to the end, expecting a punchline, because there was just no way in hell someone could write this pile of crap with a straight face.

But there was a way. Oh merciful Cthulhu, there was...

26:

@Mikko #28

So, it's like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal?

At least some of the bands have been continuing it until now, and luckily I don't think there are any genuinely new artists doing it anymore.

Apart from Morpheus Rising (Whose new album is quite good).

NWOBHM aside, bandwagon-jumping is always rife in the music world, hence the massive surplus of Coldplay-alikes a few years back, or for that matter all the Euro Valkyrie-fronted symphonic metal bands who all want to be the next Nightwish.

Saddest cases are the young bands who copy a fashionable sound and get to record their album just at the point where the bubble bursts. Who remembers Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong?

Hope this isn't too off-topic. It does illustate that following trends isn't a good strategy if you have ambitions of being more than a one-hit-wonder.

27:

It seems like novels don't scale well for assembly work. ... This is probably one of those "nine women can't make a baby in one month" situations.

Absolutely. Speaking as someone who's co-written a published novel, both authors in a 50/50 collaboration end up doing 75% of the work. That's necessary because there are overheads involved in ensuring an even authorial voice and a consistent plot/characterisation/story arc.

There are books with more authors involved, but usually it's at the level of a lead author doing a detailed outline, then two or more understudies doing the legwork and the lead author then polishing it. It's still more work than one person doing the whole job.

And there are shared universe anthologies in which there's a common universe and world book, and each author contributes a short story focusing usually on different characters: George R. R. Martin's "Wild Cards" springs to mind (as do some others including, ahem, ones I'm worked on). Again: more work than one author would do. Pluses: you get to put lots of big names on your book cover.

But probably the biggest reason why novels don't scale well as a team effort is simply that the revenue is too marginal to make it worthwhile. There is simply not enough money involved in any but the rarefied heights of the industry to make it worth paying two or more authors instead of one -- like the issue with bands discovering that touring is borderline viable with a four-person line-up but impossible with five or more musicians.

28:

Some genres, like military fiction and coming-of-age, are always in because there's always a war somewhere on the planet and a new batch of adolescents trying to figure out who they are/want to become.

One emerging reality that hasn't been addressed yet - AFAIK - is what happens when a good chunk (~20%-25%) of the baby-boomer generation slides into various forms of senile dementia. This generation's age-related physical handicaps/limitations have been addressed, but not the associated cognitive/emotional handicaps. For example ... strokes often can lead to seizures which in the right/wrong part of the brain can lead to all sorts of bizarre effects including hyper-religiosity. How do you deal with that on a large scale?

29:

So it sounds like you should be writing "historical fiction" (thrillers, SF, whatever), set about 2-5, 12-15 years ago, or about 50 years ago.

The idea is that you're far enough past current events to have a clue what just happened (2-5 years ago minimum), so you can take advantage of it. At the 12-15 year end, you're writing for a retro market. That market doesn't exist quite yet, but no one's writing it (because it's distinctly non-trendy now), but by the time your manuscript makes it through the slushpile, it will be an emerging retro trend. Fifty years is a nice number for thrillers, because that's when the official secrets act (in the USA) starts to expire, so material comes out that few people have ever seen (making events novel), and most of the people who lived through it are gone, so you don't have a lot of people calling BS on what you write.

This is, of course, the advice of perfection. I think the real answer is that, while skill is important, writers are like blind surfers: they get lucky when they catch waves they didn't see coming.

30:

So you didn't like it?

That's often the way if you don't get the point of something. On the other hand, enough people did get the point of that book that your personal dislike doesn't matter too much.

(Now if you had been talking about a totally tedious recent Hugo Award Novel winner I might have agreed with you.)

31:

>>>That's often the way if you don't get the point of something. On the other hand, enough people did get the point of that book that your personal dislike doesn't matter too much.

Oh lol. Do you feel offended by my opinion about OMW?

Even more people liked Twilight, you know. The numbers don't really matter, Old Man's War is crap. There is no point there, it's a pile of cliches.

32:

No, not really. I know you have a rather … unusual … concept of what is good and what is crap, so I don't worry if you think something I think is good is bad, or vice versa.

I suspect that you'd hate Redshirts even more, where he deliberately plays with every ST cliché he can find. Eugh, cooties!

33:

>>>I suspect that you'd hate Redshirts even more, where he deliberately plays with every ST cliché he can find. Eugh, cooties!

Playing with cliches? Really? Because that's not what was going on in Old Man's War.

34:

You used to say "Look at what Bruce Stirling is doing, he's usually a few years ahead of everyone else."

I give it a shot (Without knowing or understanding everything Bruce is doing):
Boris is trying to fashion 3D-printed lingery to sell to Belgrade Hipsters (they must show soon!), when his reprap more or less explodes into his face.
Desperate for cahs, he meets Vitaly, an old time mafia/warprofiteer/corrupt businessman always looking for straight business models to finally arive in a marginally less corrupt 21 century.
Boris desperatly starts to hash high tech based business- and design idea to part Vitaly from his hard earned money, always bugged by the one question: Is Boris activly scamming, or is he employed as a sort of design fiction jester?

35:

New, New Space Opera?

First novel by Ann Leckie, _Ancillary Justice_. Jacqueline Koyanagi, _Ascension_. Miller and Lee's _Liaden_ series -- not so new at first, but still being written. Ric Locke's one and only book, _Temporary Duty_. Mike Shepherd's _Kris Longknife_ series, which swerves between MilSF and NSO wildly. And then there are Peter Hamilton and Neal Asher, who appear to be trying to re-invent the Culture, one from a moderate perspective and the other from a rather dire conservativism.

36:

@22ish

Animation is even slower than novel writing. And of course, for anything that can be done fast, you can also do it any amount slower. If only by adding 'win lawsuit' as the first step...

But I think the point of this article can be summed up as 'you can't write a novel much faster than this, at least properly'

On the other side of things, for some examples:

HBO are probably going to catch up with GRRM's big fat fantasy series in a year or two, despite him having _two decades_ head start.

Eastenders is typically filmed about 8 weeks ahead of transmission. But sometimes they write something Tuesday and show it Wednesday.

Charlie Brooker can write near-future SF and have it not come true until _after_ it is shown...

37:

Rereading my post, this so hopelessly 2011.

38:

We may be able to cut the Gordian knot of film/TV vs books by noting that visual media seem to be about 20 years behind the curve when compared to books. What's cutting edge story in the latest summer blockbuster is often a trend that has long come and gone in novels.

Note also that a lot of movies and TV change the story radically over the course of development. The development phase is sometimes incredibly long, but the ability to edit or rewrite is somewhat easier, and VERY often done by someone (or several someones) who wasn't the original scriptwriter. Also, the story can radically change. (Look at the example of Pretty Woman, which apparently was gritty and dark in the original script.)

Whereas publishers who are accepting original mss are typically going to take the story more or less as it is. If they want a gritty story, they're not going to take a lighthearted romp and ask the author to dirty it up; they're just going to turn it down and go look for a book that's already gritty.

A novel generally is the work of one person. When it's a two-author situation, either they're a team on the book from the get-go, or one has been hired to finish a book by a dead or dying author.

Or one name wrote the book, and the other name is the BIG NAME slapped on the cover to help sell the book. (BIG NAME probably does at least some editing or plotting, if they have an ethical bone in their body.) But I have to wonder what the contract says--is the unknown author on work-for-hire? Work-for-hire plus a percentage royalty? How were they brought into the system--were they approached by a packager who teams them up with the BNA?

I suppose in the case of a "packaged" book, where an author is writing-for-hire, another author could be hired later to substantially rewrite.

But what publishers are generally looking for, and what most wannabe authors are trying to do, is write new stuff of their own ideas. It may be genre-similar to earlier work, but usually the author is burning to write that book because they like that genre.

If you like to write what is hot/trending/etc, then you should try to become a work-for-hire writer. If you have an idea burning in your head and want to write THAT story, then just write it and don't worry about chasing a market.

39:

I'm curious re. trying to reinvent the culture, which author is which?


As for Old mans war, I thought it somewhat entertaining, clearly written with knowledge of cliches but also slightly subverting some of them, obviously not a great book, very american.

40:

The funny thing is that once you have a Culture, Asher's world view does not seem to make it much different from the left Culture.

But it definitely makes a difference when describing how a Culture is made: in other words, Polity fun, Owner not quite so much (in my opinion to values of Stay the F away from this if you want to continue enjoying Asher's older work.)

I wonder if Walter Jon Williams latest trilogy is a newish type of genre: SF entwined with the process of the entertainment/news industries as opposed to simply showing the product of said industries. (In places, it also falls under the difficult subgenre of art within art: how many SF writers have succeeded at that? Even WJW is working with a near future as opposed to creating authentic looking cultural products from different worlds/times. Vance made a few decent stabs at this for the Demon Princes.)

41:

[New Space Opera] will always be sexy, and needs to be incorporated into every series! I'm looking forward to you adding a space opera plot to the Laundry series.

Just wait until the music starts and characters burst into song. Angleton's piece is only competent, even with Bob and Boris backing him up as chorus, but Mo's aria in the last act is awesome.

42:

...By the time [the New Space Opera] reached the market Neuromancer and IMB's Consider Phlebas had hit a cultural nerve (judging by literature about SF at the time, an unlikely direct hit)

Cyberpunk arrived in the middle of an SF readership obsessed [it seemed] by Space Opera and near-future Armageddon, the New Space Opera arrived in the middle of an SF readership obsessed (it seemed) by Cyberpunk.

You could argue that it was just luck, given the cycle times involved. Apologies for this being a UKUSA-biased observation, and note that this is hand-waving, generalised, and overlapping.

Politically, the 1950s/ early 60s were all about contrasting ideologies and conformism in the face of a scary world (Cuban Missile Crisis) - cue bodysnatchers, or aliens that invade, as an analogy.

The late 1960s reacted with optimism - the "new wave" chimed to this, so that they could boldy split infinitives that no man had split before, and put the women in short skirts. A solid Foundation, you might say.

The 1970s were recession, oil shock, the retreat from colonialism, and questioning governments; more dystopia and Armageddon. The "new wave" ask when the good times run out due to limited resources and exponential population growth - environmental collapse movies of the 70s were the market leaders; see Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, and Silent Running. (I watched Silent Running again last year; it was like being hit repeatedly over the head by a Green Party manifesto. And then forced to eat it.)

Something simple and optimistic like Star Wars comes as a big contrast to these, and to the big disaster movies where infernos towered, ocean liners inverted, and airports faced disaster.

The 80s were big hair, big shoulder pads, big optimism. Overall success for the optimists (Star Wars marches on, Superman), but the "new wave" of Cyberpunk reacts to the conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher, and predicts the downside of market economies taken to the extreme. Blade Runner does well. But there were also scary STDs - HIV/AIDS, and you can see Anne Rice's vampires as a reaction, possibly even Alien.

The Culture is a reaction to the doom and gloom of the late 80s / early 90s. Some optimism is welcome in the face of recession, religious intolerance, and wars in the Middle East.

The lucky ones managed to hit a sweet spot that chimed with the politics and economics of the time, and couldn't be predicted; e.g. magic schools and vampires.

- The "incurable disease wipes out humanity" recurs during times when medical knowledge seems to be moving scarily quickly.

- The "brave soldiers defending unappreciative lefties" surge after unpopular wars. MilSF moves from black-v-white to messy shades of grey, either lagging or leading (not sure) the pendulum swings between peacekeeping operations and "peace enforcement" / downright invasion.

- The "vampires and ghouls" surge whenever STDs are on the rise, or Morality Is Falling.

43:

>The Culture is a reaction to the doom and gloom of the late 80s / early 90s. Some optimism is welcome in the face of recession, religious intolerance, and wars in the Middle East.

possibly, but Iain's idea of of the Culture was born before the 1980s, in the mid-seventies when he was still in the International Marxist Group [he tried to get them published then, but failed, one publisher blaming a "paper shortage" ;-)]

Cyberpunk, or the ideas that underpinned it, were already well in place before thanks to John Brunner and Bruce Sterling, and as OGH said, KW Jeter and Walter Jon Williams had books in a similar style ready to go before Gibson's. [In the case of WJW, better ones, IMO]

Boarding school stories [magic or not] and vampire stories have gone in and out of style since Victorian times.

Of course not everyone experienced the same Seventies/Eighties/Nineties - many people's 1970s lasted well into the 80s, culturally and economically speaking.

The eighties were not "big hair, big shoulder pads, big optimism. Overall success for the optimists" for me, or anyone I knew then. :-D

44:

Film and TV is at least an order of magnitude faster to make it to the market than the written word.

Others have touched on this and I'll toss in my $.02. And I'm not an author or in the media biz in any way.

A movie or TV script is a very different thing than a novel or even a short story. The end result is something that can be spoken or acted out in 20 to 90 minutes of real time. A novel will take most people hours to read. If not 10s of hours.

And a script just has to outline the non dialog aspects of the story. A book/short story has to use words or paragraphs just to set up the scene. My point is there are many more words than have to be more than a set of bullet points in the novel.

And to top it off people tend to speak different as real people uttering the words than the dialog in novels. And many times the dialog of TV/Movies and that of books doesn't work in the other media formats.

As to time scales, start to finish a very fast cheap exploitation movie without many stunts can take 18 months or more. And the legal contracts in a movie can make what Charlie has described in the past look simple. Very simple.

TV shows have it the fastest ONCE they are in production. After a few initial episodes there isn't nearly as much scene setting as in a movie or book. With a TV series you have the basic plot, characters, and sets in place.

45:

Some of your timing is a bit wonky. While HIV/AIDS began to burn through the gay community in the US in the mid to late 70s, it was unseen -- not identified as a disease by the CDC until 1981, HIV itself not identified until IIRC 1984. ("Interview with the Vampire" was 1976; "Alien" was 1979.) So there's no AIDS metaphor there.

"Star Wars" made a cinematic debut in summer 1977, but Universal signed the contract for it in 1971 and Lucas wrote the screenplay circa 1973-74.

As for the Culture, Iain was writing some of it in secondary school, in the early 1970s.

It's worth noting that the lead time on all these cultural phenomena is huge -- measured in years to decades. What seems to happen is that they show up, acquire some underground popularity, then they catch on like wildfire because they say something about the zeitgeist. (Except Star Wars. Which caught on like kudzu because Lucas was smart enough to grab the toy and merchandise rights and exploit the hell out of them, generating a loyal audience among the kids who grew up with them.)

46:

Also it had Cool Swords. Never underestimate the draw of a Cool Sword to a pre-teen (usually male) kid.

[/digression ends]

47:

As for the Culture, Iain was writing some of it in secondary school, in the early 1970s.

Which makes it possible/likely it was influenced by Ursula K. LeGuin's Hainish cycle (The Left Hand of Darkness: 1969, The Dispossessed: 1974).

48:

AV
Please don't!
I am very glad to say that UKleG is still with us, but I suspect she is probably the most influential SF writer alive ...
And she has written ( somewhere in "The Language of the Night, IIRC ) that it was P M A Linebarger that really influenced her ....
The other cycle of hers, based upon the Tale of Ged is also hugely influential in the fantasy field.

49:

Also relates to #48

I'm not so sure. I'm probably more contemporary (both in time and space (8 years younger, and from Dumbarton rather than greenock)) with Banksie than anyone else on here except maybe Nojay. Not many people that I knew liked (or at least admitted to liking) UKleG.

50:

I suspect the lead times are long enough that it's pure luck whether a new work catches the moment that leads to fame. And some things are really old connections rooted in rather false beliefs. Would the vampire be the sex-symbol it is if it were not for the beliefs of Bram Stoker's time?

But once you have that history of associated ideas, Vampire stories become a part of the toolset for all sorts of changes. And some of those changes are very localised. Christopher Lee's Dracula was 1958, and so before the contraceptive pill. But the Teenager had come into being, and Vampires can be seen as a symbol of the dangers of sex.

The trouble with that sort of theory is that it does depend on the audience noticing and reacting in a particular way. If it's something well-known to the critics, would the message still be better sent Western Union.

Maybe the audience picked up a different version from Buffy. The symbolism is in the Buffy/Spike plot, but the particular story could just as well be about the leather-clad biker from out of town, or the cowboy. It's the dangerous stranger who, against all the odds, turns out to be the one who cares.

If you want to, you can trace Buffy/Spike to Romeo and Juliet. Or turn Shakespeare into a Vampire story.

Halting State was 2007/2008, and it is about a hi-tech crime. It's about an investigation in a completely different sort of world to the usual Police Procedural.

It's more applicable to its time than you might think. And there's not a word about dishonest bankers.

51:

Halting State was 2007/2008, and it is about a hi-tech crime. It's about an investigation in a completely different sort of world to the usual Police Procedural. It's more applicable to its time than you might think. And there's not a word about dishonest bankers.

Actually, no. I came up with the idea in late 2004, pitched it at my editors in early 2005, wrote it in late 2005/2006. And it was published in 2007. The banking crisis happened after the book was in production, hence the lack of banking fraud.

53:

Not to forget the shoutout to New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle, Pinkie buffing Brain with "I don't believe in reincarnation, because.." while Angleton makes some ambiguous looks from the background...

(yes, I've been harbouring this humor limbo dance since "Equoid", why you're asking?)

54:

Ref Buffy - Several of my contemporaries felt that the "monstor slaying" thing was Buffy's job, and the real horror was the USian high school stuff. Your milage can vary from others', even when you experience the same work very contemporaneously.

55:

I'm not saying LeGuin was the sole influence for Banks. I just see some parallels between the Hainish and the Culture. Of course the Culture has better gadgets (ship Minds, knife missiles, glands, orbitals and hyperspace, not just Ansibles and NAFAL ships).

56:

I was just wondering what would happen if Mo had a go at Curved Air's Vivaldi; CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN might well be an anticlimax after that.

57:

There is a German Gothi^w, err, Dark Wave project called "Deine Lakaien"[1] including a pianist trained on, err, "classical music". They have done at least 2 songs on stories by Stanislaw Lem, "Ressurection Machine",

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDpjGJT5TLo

and "Contact",

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-0N0Xipi5I

the latter one inspired by "Fiasco". No ideas about Lovecraftian influences, OTO tentacle, though.

On a somewhat related dimensional plane never ment to fly, I remember there were some piano parts with no pianist able to play them about 20 years ago, where they resorted to a player piano[2]. Maybe there are similar parts for the violin, necessating a quantum violin player?

And last but not least, I always thought Erich Zann something of a shout-out by HPL to twelve-note, serial or atonal composition. We might argue somewhat about the applicability[3], though I guess there'd be little discussion about the horror angle...

[1] Yes, might trigger memories in some.
[2] The componist thought computers not "emotional" enough. Now let's all go facepalm.
[3] Good modern music is terrific. Bad modern music begets terror, to mangle Sir Pterry somewhat.

58:

Err, for the player piano part, playing the piano is one of these professions subject to a right wall, so it might be that one has changed somewhat or not.

BTW, there seems to be some room for a "transhumanism" debate in classical music, of all things:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/01/im-clean-a-classical-pianist-quits-stage-fright-drugs-and-ends-his-public-career.html

59:

What's the big thing now, or rather which things are big? I find it hard to extrapolate from my personal reading.

I'd guess neuroscience (or rather neuro pop-science) is in, Zombies are on their way out or are allready yesteryears fad. But beyond that?

60:

Still on another note, sorry for posting somewhat piecemeal, I'm at the end of my MPH pharmaceutical life and keep forgetting things meant for inclusion in the articles. And taking my nex dosage...

Annexed since it seems somewhat apt for, err, "transhumanism"[1] debates.

[1] I'm putting this one in quotes since I mean the general means of modifying humans, not specifically the secular religion angle. Any idea for nomenclature?
Err, nbow gone for the next MPH dosage...

61:

The problem with comparing sci-fi films to books is that the films of that genre have traditionally not been viewed by the same target audience. Sci-fi films have traditionally been the province of teenagers, and they are not noted for an ability to absorb difficult concepts quickly. This then means that you simply cannot drop any concept not readily understandable by an average twelve year old into a sci-fi film because if you do, you'll end up with the characters rabbiting away at each other to explain what's going on.

Thus a film such as Star Wars uses a rapid-jump hyperdrive that has no relativistic effects at all; just get ship to orbit, switch on the magical McGuffin and put your feet up. Our gracious host, meanwhile, can use space travel for all manner of plot devices and intrigues, simply because his audience isn't limited to the IQ of a stunned herring.

So, this naturally puts a limit on how much a sci-fi book trend can leap over to films. The plot of "Rule 34" is wheels within wheels; the average film audience would not stay interested long enough to grasp that several different things were going on at once, and that everything had to be considered.

62:

One other thought: Hollywood is no stranger to remakes, they were around even in the silent era. But that felt more like a company staging an old favorite play from the repertoire. But there used to be greater barriers to this sort of thing and even kids who grew up on a given property had to take their inspiration and use it to color a new creation. (I detest words like "franchise" or "intellectual property.")

George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie. He couldn't afford to license it and so made Star Wars instead.

You don't really get literal remakes in novels even if you do get "X with the serial numbers filed off." But in film and television, it seems like recycled formula is a sure bet, therefore everything will be recycled formula. Did we really need another Robocop film? Something with social commentary about the drone-flying security state might be nice. We're getting that shoehorned into a PG-13 remake of a hard-R movie. The new Depp AI movie might have been interesting but it's going to break down into a by-the-numbers thriller that brings nothing to the table.

There's just something soul-crushing about transparent money-making efforts that have no other justification. Submitted for your disapproval: Equals is an adaptation of the 1956 film 1984, which itself was based on George Orwell's classic novel about rebellion in a futuristic society. The project begins filming later this year with director Drake Doremus, who also directed Lawrence, 23, in 2011's Like Crazy.

Who's the female lead? Kristen Stewart, the plank-faced star of Twilight. Oy. I'm just waiting now for the remake of Schindler's List with Sasha Baron Cohen. You know it's coming.

63:
The plot of "Rule 34" is wheels within wheels; the average film audience would not stay interested long enough to grasp that several different things were going on at once, and that everything had to be considered.

Never underestimate your audience. They're generally sensitive, intelligent people who respond positively to quality entertainment.

(Sorry, just found this clipped version of Stargate SG-1 "200" containing that Mitchell quote)

64:

One of the things I found interesting about Halting State was how the virtual world crimes were very similar to some of the stuff that was happening in the Second Life virtual world at around the time the book was being published. So you not only predicted Real Life, but Virtual Life, as well.

65:

What I was trying to say was that Halting State had an accidental applicability. It was a different sort of crime, just as has plagued the world of finance, with some uncertainty as to what crime was committed.

66:

I think that's a pretty solid interpretation of Buffy. Some of it was a bit triggery for me because of that. And the Monsters are a parallel sort of horror which braids with school life.

I don't like school fiction. At least Yes, Minister leavens the horror with humour. Which may explain my liking for the original St Trinians films.

67:

Nineteen Eighty-Four does have the love between Winston Smith and Julia, which is smashed by The Party. So I can see how a romance angle can be taken. The reports suggest that the film which is planned completely misses the point of the book, but the thread is there.

Whether the result should use the name, or whether the name is an elevator-pitch for a story about a doomed romance in a totalitarian state, there's a possibility of a decent film.

68:

It's something that comes up in teacher-training. The transitions don't all come on a rigid timetable, but 12-years-olds and 16-year-olds see the relationships between people in different ways. It's not quite intelligence, maybe more related to empathy. And it's not quite the puberty-driven hormonal thing that some might think.

Which means a story told to satisfy adults can be made to meet the limits of a 12-certificate. Such a story doesn't need bad language or any of the other features which have entered films since the days of the Hays Code.

1984 (the 1956 film) is rated PG. The version from 1884 (Richard Burton) is rated 15. Which the BBFC now reckons the rating for many horror films.

I just checked, and Casablance is rated U. Here's looking at you, kid.

69:

Well, remembering one of the friends/clients of my upshooting natural herbs salesman neighbour going about different Magic: The Gathering cards and strategies makes me question any quotes about generally cognitive limitations of teenagers. OTOH, my first (and for quite some time last) RPG session with 14 didn't work together that well, though one could argue my magician just killed the half-orcs with talking, not with swords like all of my barbarian colleagues...

It might also differ somewhat with francise, I remember some Star Wars fans going against armed confrontations in Star Trek seldom erupting into all-out war, but alway being on the edge of it. Some of my earliest dateable memories being the US invasion of Grenada and the Reagan era, I found this one of the more believable aspects of Star Trek...

70:

Some of your timing is a bit wonky. While HIV/AIDS began to burn through the gay community in the US in the mid to late 70s, it was unseen -- not identified as a disease by the CDC until 1981, HIV itself not identified until IIRC 1984. ("Interview with the Vampire" was 1976; "Alien" was 1979.) So there's no AIDS metaphor there.

You're right, of course. On the other hand, wasn't there was a growing awareness of HSV-2 on the disco scene? Love is transient, Herpes is forever...

"Star Wars" made a cinematic debut in summer 1977, but Universal signed the contract for it in 1971 and Lucas wrote the screenplay circa 1973-74.

I hadn't realised that those timelines were quite as long; but it reinforces my point about luck. "Star Wars" couldn't have been written in response to so much doom and gloom, but could it have been successful because it was lucky enough to appear when the market was ready for optimism (and cool merchandising)...?

71:
1984 (the 1956 film) is rated PG. The version from 1884 (Richard Burton) is rated 15. Which the BBFC now reckons the rating for many horror films.

Have you seen the 1984 version of 1984? Burton as O'Brien is far scarier than anything in most modern horror films. He's calm, sensible, reasonable, and absolutely certain that he's right and doing what's best not just for the system, but for Winston personally too. It's the most brilliant portrayal of the banality of evil that I've ever seen, and genuinely terrifying in a way few other things I've seen in films were.

72:

Have you seen the 1984 version of 1984? Burton as O'Brien is far scarier than anything in most modern horror films.

IMHO the most heartbreaking version of 1984 was "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam...

Which means that Robert De Niro has turned up in some of my saddest films - in Brazil as a subversive plumber, and in "The Mission" as a killer seeking absolution (as close as I've come to crying in a cinema before the first twenty minutes of "Up"). To avoid accusations of soppiness, I should also include him turning up in "Heat" (winner of the "action on contact" drills depiction award).

73:

The flip side of your strategy is that your fans are ... scattered. For example, I'm all for Lovecraft, physical science, and humor. I'm OK with crime, espionage, and urban fantasy (in fiction). OTOH, space opera, transhumanism, time travel, or LGBTQ tend to lose me. Politics is more likely to lose me than interest me, but it depends on how I react to what you have to say.

Basically, I've read all of the Laundry books, some twice, but after 20 pages my copy of Accelerando met a fate too horrible to describe. When I see a new Stross novel on the shelf (or, more realistically, on this blog), it may or may not be something I am interested in. What's more, I'm sure there's some space-obsessed partisan transexual around here somewhere that likes exactly the stuff that I avoid and vice versa.

74:


Ecriture automatique: Vide Fantomas; first, the authors distributed the writing among themselves; their "working method was to draw up the general plot between them and then go off and write alternate chapters independently of each other, meeting up to tie the two halves of the story together in the final chapter."[1] Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre were able to produce about/almost one novel each month.

Characters that have the most novels/stories devoted to them: Nick Carter and Sexton Blake and such tend to have a stable of authors who take a certain well-established set-up and run with it in their own stories.

75:

"Production is slower than changes in demand" for material that isn't hot right that moment or not written by a Big Name.

Book publishers can hit warpspeed and get a book into print in under four weeks if it's just the right material at just the right time and there's red-hot demand for it.

Examples include a tell-all explosive confessional book about a political or showbiz Big Name in the midst of a giant scandal. Or something like the Pentagon Papers. If publishers want to get the lead out, they can.

Trouble is, it costs a ton of bucks to expedite publishing like that, and therefore only makes sense if the mss represents a guaranteed mega-bestseller. You can bet your ass such a thing exists: contra the claim "nobody what sells," every once in a while, publishers can be pretty damn certain exactly what will sell. The Pentagon Papers was a good case in point.

But those instances remain rare. In most cases, the pipeline actually runs slower than Stross claims. Example: stories sold to science fiction magazines now typically take 12 to 18 months just to appear in print. Mss often take several years after submission just to get accepted by major publishers -- and that's if they're submitted by reputable agents. Science fiction mss not submitted by reputable agents typically don't even get read at most publishing houses today.

The lead time has gotten exponentially longer even as the availability on bittorrent et al. has gotten exponentially shorter after the book gets published. Publishers are getting eaten alive at both ends.

With the consolidation of most science fiction book publishers into one of the four giant monopolistic media conglomerates on the planet, which conglomerates also produce movies, pop music CDs, and manufacture DVDs, the book division gets expected to contribute its fair share of profit on the corporate bottom line. Book publishing didn't used to be a big-money business: people typically worked in book publishing as a genteel hobby, for the love of literature. That died when giant conglomerates like Time-Warner gobbled up the publishers and folded 'em into their vertically integrated media monopoly empires.

Today, a book gets regarded as disposable fungible content repurposed from video games or movies or comic books. A science fiction book today often represents the lest pass down the media monopoly's digestive tract after the original property sold as a movie script. got adapater into a blockbuster, then got turned into a graphic novel, a sequal blockbuster, a set of sequel graphic novels, a CD soundtrack, and finally (as an afterthought) a novelization.

Meanwhile, the typical submission timeline for an unknown science fiction author runs like this: submit the mss to an agent who in turn sends it to the publisher. 14 months later the agent calls to make an inquiry and gets told "the mss appears to be lost."

No wonder e-book sales have grown exponentially.

76:

Similarly, I'm not saying that LeGuin wasn't an influence on Banksie; just that she wasn't universally popular on Clydeside in that time.

77:

The "star-crossed lovers" interpretation is a perfectly valid interpretation of several relationships and/or plot strands in Buffy too. In fact, too many to list (start with all 3 of Buffy's serious relationships, add Xander with Cordy and Anya...). In fact, the depth in this respect is one of the joys of the show.

Since you mention it, I love the St Trinian's films too; even the 2 new ones, but I love them in different ways to the originals.

78:

It might also differ somewhat with francise, I remember some Star Wars fans going against armed confrontations in Star Trek seldom erupting into all-out war, but alway being on the edge of it.

I misread this at the first attempt - I thought you were talking about the fans getting into confrontations.

At which point, I can make a supportive comment about the film "Fanboys" - good fun, with some great cameos...

79:

I am not sure that you are wholly correct.

But, wild speculation, the modern industry is built on the printing press. The forms of the industry depend on that technology and the need to maximise the use of a major capital investment.

Is the e-book going to break that pattern?

The print-centred publishing industry has a huge economic inertia, and alternative publishing models are lost in the huge long-tail of e-book distribution. The mean sales figure is dominated by traditional sources, the mode and media sales figures are tiny.

But Amazon is effectively running a printing press with near-zero set-up costs, apart from the admin paperwork. OGH knows the admin costs of dealing with a US company, and the US tax system, and then the UK tax system. I doubt those costs will go away.

The fan-fiction world has developed methods to test a work. And some authors are picking up on this. Some books are being published as e-book serials. The problems still seem to centre on Amazon, but the new ways of writing, editing, and selling books are out there.

In the end, the editing process matters far more than the details of printing. Perhaps the Lionel Fanthorpe model of writing can feed a successful publishing business. Is that the niche filled by the mass of self-published e-books?

(Is Lionel Fanthorpe going to be at the Worldcon? Were he a young writer today, would he be selling e-books through Amazon?)

80:

Unplayable piano pieces -- there's "Circus Galop" for one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exKbB-Yj-qM

And another prophetically called "Fingerbuster" which is playable by mere humans but you're going to hurt afterwards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9285cnFfXI

81:

You're over-egging the pudding somewhat.

There are five big conglomerates, not four. Some of them are purely publishing, albeit magazines and newspapers as well as books; others, yes, also do music/film/TV, which puts different pressures on the boardroom level.

Agented submissions by known, published authors don't take multiple years to get read -- it's rare for them to take more than a couple of months, because agents don't generally try to sell uncommercial properties (they'd risk damaging their reputation) and they can offer books to rival publishers simultaneously.

Genre titles that are media spin-offs are a separate segment in their own right, stable at about 25% of the SF/F genre category: this has been the case for a very long time indeed (multiple decades -- the first big bubble of it I remember was in the 1970s, with the Dr Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek franchises). The overwhelming majority of SF/F sold is not related to some other media franchise.

Finally, this study of ebook prices and revenue may tell you why my publishers price ebook editions of my work as they do. (Hint: they make as much profit at the $10 price point as at the $1 price point. But because sales are so much smaller they can hope to grow sales up to the level of a $1 title eventually, whereas the $1 title that goes big maxes out its market share early and at a very low profit level.)

82:

Actually, confrontations would have been somewhat difficult, since there were no Trekkies around. ;)

This being the late 90s, most kids had some threshold exposure to TNG, DS9 and Voyager, but left it at that, while the, err, usual suspects were already discovering, err, real SF.

OTOH, I guess my brother an I have some fond memories of preteen playfighting set to the Decapodian anthem...

83:

Trottelreiner,

Are you perhaps thinking of the works of Conlon Nancarrow? He was an American composer who moved off to Mexico to take advantage of its cheaper cost of living.

Almost his whole output was composed for player piano. The rhythmic and metrical complexity of his work was beyond human execution. Some of it is really a lot of fun in a madhouse sort of way.

84:

According to Wikipedia, Dune (Frank Herbert) is the best selling sci-fi novel of all time: published in 1965, Hugo (tied with Zelazny) and Nebula winner 1966, over 12 million books sold worldwide. Based on reader and reviewer reaction, and sales, Dune should have started the 'next big thing' in sci-fi novels in the late 60s. But from what I see of that era's big titles/sellers, it didn't. Instead, sci-fi best sellers and Hugo winners continued with the standard sci-fi fare of Zelazny, Brunner, Smith, and Heinlein (twice). So why didn't Dune start a new trend in sci-fi? Was the world building so original that it was irrevocably tied to Herbert, just like orcs to Tolkien? (Elves predate Tolkien.) Or more likely, these worlds are too complex. So the moral is that if you're going to rip-off a story idea (and start the next big-thing) make sure it's simple to execute (steal).


85:

1984, about 'rebellion in a futuristic society'? Whoever wrote *that* has either not read 1984 or had their brain turned well and truly *off* when they did it. By no stretch of the imagination could one define Airstrip One as 'futuristic' even in 1948: the sole McGuffin, the telescreen, was a sufficiently obvious metaphor that it doesn't deserve to turn the novel into something 'futuristic'.

(And it wouldn't have had the effect it had if everyone had been able to say, oh, it's "futuristic", isolate it in the SF ghetto.)

86:

I think that the Merchant Princes series was also a niche that hadn't been exploited when you first published.

IIRC, Iain Banks' Transitions had a similar-ish concept of multiverses and special people who had the power to slip between them. Transitions was published in 2009, 5 years after The Family Trade.

Do you think Iain also saw this as an unexploited niche and dived in, potentially breaking your rules given what else could have been in the pipeline? Or is it just coincidence?

87:

Agreed. I'd also suggest that massive worldbuilding is a high risk, high reward venture that most authors sensibly won't choose.

Additionally, Dune is, directly or indirectly, tied to a 1960s culture of psychedelic drugs and the human potential movement, and the 1970s oil cartels, all things that haven't really had legs, while Tolkien got a huge boost from Dungeons and Dragons and the RPG movement, and it's benefited from everything that flowed out of Gary Gygax' vision. Everyone who has played some form of D&D knows how to rip off Tolkien.

Yes, drugs. Herbert reportedly said that he'd gotten the idea for sandworms from seeing maggots burrowing through a mushroom (possibly Psilocybe), and the blue-eyed women warriors were also from hitting the shrooms (from Stamets' Mycelium Running).

I'm not knocking Herbert's creativity: it certainly kept him, his son, and other authors going for quite some time. However, it has never translated well into other media. None of its Spin-offs were terribly successful.

If we get into an anti-technological social period, I can see people turning to the Butlerian Jihad as a way of expressing their anger. Until that point, Dune will be in a class by itself.

88:

Yeah, Dune has a real psilocybin-fueled feel to it. My theory is that really powerful visionaries with lasting influence, like Lovecraft, Tolkien, Herbert, Dick & Lucas, tap into the same mythic archetypes(whatever those are) that psychedelics do.

Let's not forget Star Wars, which borrowed heavily from Dune. But yeah, that level of world-building is hard to pull off. Didn't Herbert spend 7 years writing & researching Dune, and Tolkien something like 18? How many writers can do that? Speaking as an amateur literary critic, I'd like to see more of these ambitious, inspired, "one-hit masterpiece" writers, instead of sober professionals churning out product every year and concerning themselves with the next big thing. If you want to write something with lasting power, write about that which is timeless, not that which is trendy!

89:

[..] the New Space Opera [..] is no longer terribly sexy.

Never! NSO will always be sexy, and needs to be incorporated into every series! I'm looking forward to you adding a space opera plot to the Laundry series.

Right! And it also should involve Bolo's!! :)


(Wouldn't that be cool, a Charles Stross Bolo story? Hint, hint :)

90:

The Bolo is a self-driving car with the dial turned up to 11. Some of the ideas have been floating around for a long time/ Cars are more computerised than ever before, but AI seems no nearer. Yet the military are using drones, and throwing money at autonomous vehicles. How much do you need a human-driver for supply runs?

And what would the code for a self-driving car also do in the world of the Laundry? What might start following that Army truck on Salisbury Plain. And within sight of Stonehenge too. What control does the Laundry have over the USAF bases still in England? Many have closed. Why were some of the choices made?

91:

heteromeles
while Tolkien got a huge boost from Dungeons and Dragons and the RPG movement
Oh, really?
My (late-reprint) 1st edition of The Fellowship of the Ring says: "Printed 1954"
And I had certainly read all of LotR before 1964, & it was well-away amongst thse who read books, by then.

... & G @ 88
"Archetypes" well, you omitted Zelazny, didn't you?

92:

err ....
too late, it's already here
Another case of an unevenly distributed "future", I'm afraid

93:

None of its Spin-offs were terribly successful.

I'd argue that Dune 2 was hugely successful, given that it kick started the RTS genre. I can't find any sales figures with a quick search, but it made Westwood's name for the whole C&C series as well as being pretty popular in its own right.

The 1984 Lynch film wasn't a commercial success, but I still like a lot of the imagery and style of that film. Your point stands, but I think it was a worthwhile attempt to adapt Herbert's work.

And the Sciffy channel's adaptation was successful enough to warrant a sequel, although it didn't grab me enough to make me rush out to watch said sequel.

94:

> The Bolo is a self-driving car..

LOL
Are you sick and tired of always having to search for a parking place?? Your worries are over with the brand new Toyota Bolo. Not only can you park where ever you want. This baby drives itself!! If you order today we'll give it ANY color you want. On top of that we'll throw in a extra set of treads AND enough fuel to keep your fusionreactors going for 3 years!! And UNLIMITED NUKES FOR THE NEXT ROW WITH YOUR NEIGHBOURS! Order now.

95:

To give you an idea of the TV production cycle take the Walking Dead, which is in it's fourth season. On it's release it almost immediately was a success. in 2012/13 the first trickle of other zombie related shows started to appear "Les Revenants","In the Flesh" "Zombieland" For the 2014/15 season a horde of Zombie related TV shows are in development "The Returned"(not a remake of Les Revenants) an American remake of "Les Revenants", "Babylon Fields" reboot (It first attempt was ahead of the curve and failed) "Walking Dead" spin of

96:

Heeromoles,

excellent read on why Dune took off.

You left one thing out, I think. The film "Lawrence of Arabia" was a huge help, had lots of coattails. Enough so that Dune was accused of being a rip-off.

Greg Tiney,

Yes LOTR got a boost from D&D. You deny that? LOTR was big without D&D, but lots and lots of D&D players - I am not claiming a majority of said players - read LOTR because of D&D, not the other way around.

For that matter, I read LOTR because way back in the day SPI announced it was creating a wargame based on the War of the Ring. I had attempted the trilogy before, but ground to a halt in book one. But if there was fodder for an actual wargame, I decided that there must be something actually HAPPENING in there somewhere, so I took another try and persevreed.

I re-read the trilogy every decade of so to this day.

Every little bit helps build up cultural steam.

97:

> Dune

I read that one in 1976 or so. I was mildly impressed, but never had the desire to read it again. No desire at all to pick up any of the sequels or spinoffs.


> Lord of the Rings

I read those about the same time. By halfway through the first volume I only kept going because I hate to not finish any book I paid for, but it was a chore to slog through the endless meaningless diversions and space-filling fluff long after I had lost interest. I would like to say I lit a fire and sacrificed the books to Ba'al, they probably got traded off somewhere.

98:

I have an idea, tell me if it's ridiculous or not.

Basically every 5 to 10 years a new cultural generation of adolescents (and 20 somethings and so on) arises and needs to find books which speak to their own problems and issues to do with being an adolescent (or 20 or 30 something and so on). These books that succeed in this are often the ones that are remembered and re-read later in life, even if they no longer speak to the new generation of youth.

Therefore the next big thing is less "do unicorns take over from vampires" and more "Who has written a teenage angst novel that fits the current crop of teenagers?"

So with Twilight we get a naff story and writing and so on but it fits with what the teenagers want/ need; it's not definitely the next big thing, but in reality there's been vampires before and since, rather it fits a perennial need, and what actually happens in both the industry and discussion of it is that a lot of people mistake an idea/ world which meets the teenage need for books which they feel speak to them alone, for something that is actually the next big theme.

Hmm, my brain isn't working very well, I'm saying there's two things going on, one a generational need for books to suit them, and the fashionable change from vampires to unicorns in popular culture, to make up an example.
Which makes discussion of the next big thing rather more complicated.

99:

Well, no idea, as mentioned, it was about 20 years ago; actually, it was on a German regional TV station,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WDR_Fernsehen

with the composer being present, though AFAIR there was a translator involved, so I'm somewhat biased towards the guy being European, but sorry to say, this is pressing somewhat against the puberty version of childhood amnesia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood_amnesia

Of course, some things stick out, like the aforementioned RPG disaster with 14, AKA "the inn keeper says there is no room left, OK, little Trott, you try to talk him into giving you some room, maybe in the attic, err, question, your magician has any necromancy skills, the inn keeper was just slaughtered by your two barbarian friends..."

Guess the drugs, alcohol included, are not to blame, or in a circumstancial sense, the memories becoming MUCH clearer once we discovered caffeine and nicotine...

100:

Err, the Dune adaptation by Lynch is also one of my guilty pleasures, though if I had to explain myself I'd refer to another movie from about the same time, Flash Gordon,

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/FlashGordon

incidentally also a movie also produced by one Dino De Laurentiis:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dino_De_Laurentiis

And while we're at it, ol' Dino is responsible for some other movies best watchable with some food and drinks high on the fat, TRPV1 agonists and a lot of caffeine on the Satellite of Love, namely King Kong(1976), the Amityvile ones, Conan, Red Sonja, some Stephen King movies, err, you name it...

Let's just start with the speculations where the Rohirrim get there twisted mentats from...

On LOTR, it's also somewhat tied in with quite some other subcultures, wanna play "Tolkien band names", for starters?

101:

Ah yes, I forgot about Peter O'Toole. Thanks. I did take the blue-eyed warrior women from something Herbert supposedly read.

Personally, I didn't particularly like the David Lynch version and loathed the SYFY channel edition (I mean, come on, they designed better guns back in the 16th Century. Come on, you idiot props people, make a decent ornithopter for once!), so I can't say I'm unbiased.

One odd gauge you can use is to google for crys-knife replicas, versus LOTR replica weapons. It's an interesting lesson in relative popularity.

As for the next big thing, I figure that the good goddess Eris keeps that in an envelope tucked into her bosom as she flies about on her black swan. In other words, you don't get to write to write the Next Big Thing. You get lucky.

102:

Can we assume that NSO has reached the MILF/Silverback/Polar Bear stage of things; the bling-bling of youth has gone away (OK, in some instances, there is more bling-bling, but, err, let's just say it's a tricky issue), but true beauty is about to stay. ;)

103:

Agree! (re: - Basically every 5 to 10 years a new cultural generation of adolescents... ) This is well-established/researched for marketing to youth /teen markets... the generation cycle is about every 5 years in this age cohort.

As for some of the hot-new-trends ... what is the stand-out/central technology that the story characters either refuse to use or completely rely on in the first hit story of a hot genre? Somewhere there's got to be a fit between new/hot technology and the mythos adopted by that youth/teen cohort.

Which brings me to the real reason why vampires are on their way out ... the latest tech usage is 'selfies'. (Unless new smartphone tech can image-capture a vampire ... I've no idea because I've never read nor watched any of the teen glam-angst vampire stuff.)

104:

The Bolo is a self-driving car with the dial turned up to 11...And what would the code for a self-driving car also do in the world of the Laundry?

Brains may well still have an OGRE game on the shelf from his teen years. (Pinkie doubtless spent his doing something more flamboyant.) So it's not at all unreasonable for the idea to be floating around among the Laundry's mad scientists.

They'd need a decent budget, although the lack of one leads to the amusing idea of an unstoppable robotic fighting machine mind installed on the chassis of a low performance plastic SmartCar...

105:

For example: I noticed around 2005 that there was an eerie shortage of near-future SF—as if millennial anxiety intimidated everyone into tip-toeing away from that area. Hence "Halting State" and "Rule 34".

IIRC, you recently discovered why "everyone was tip-toeing away" from where you'd boldly rushed in....

106:

Lets also not forget that the other extreme of long lead time exists: South Park takes 7 days to produce and air an episode.

Yea, they can make their shows turn around that quickly. The cost? Hit-or-miss -- you like some, you hate others.

They are the only people doing this, currently, that I know of. So it's certainly not common.

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