On days when I feel like torturing myself, I think about the novels I’ve written but can’t sell, and try to divine patterns that might explain their—by which I mean my—failures. (Yes, I’m masochistic that way.) And when thinking about the content and feel of most of my novels—positive, progressive, pro-technology stories and characters—a disturbing thought comes to mind.
Based on sales figures and anecdotes, serious, positive and pro-technology science fiction does not sell as well in general as dystopias, military sci-fi and fantasy… mostly negative, traditional and anti-technology content. Serious, pro-science SF is presently not as popular as negative, anti-science and escapist sci-fi.
This brings to mind other well-known anecdotes: Real world scientists and engineers frequently attest to being pro-science thanks to the SF they read or watched as kids. And most of that SF tends to be pro-technology, positive SF (not always realistic, as all the scientists and engineers that were inspired by Star Trek demonstrate… but still).
So… if today’s sci-fi is mostly negative, dystopian, anti-tech or fantasy, what is there to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers? Will there even be as many scientists and engineers in our future?
Fortunately for us, there is a surge of interest in STEM fields, and plenty of young people who are developing into the next scientists and engineers. Are they being inspired by SF in books and media? Maybe… but they are mostly being inspired by the real-world and the needs of everyday people, their neighbors as well as web-based pen pals around the world.
So they’re not being inspired by fictional works like mine… but they are being inspired by the very real threats of global warming and climate change… by the challenge of bringing power and communication to third world regions… by the need to preserve agricultural systems and feed the world. They are dedicated to improving the world, with or without my help.
And what of my books? Do I feel bad that I’m not part of that inspiring force? That I’m not part of the old equation of guiding future doers and thinkers? Well, maybe a little. But in fact, it’s great they’re being inspired by something, because our future depends on the discoveries and developments of our up-and-coming scientists and engineers.
So, if my books don’t sell, if they never inspire a young generation, at least our future will be no less served because of it.