Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Incredible, Shrinking Sci-fi Section

Once upon a time, Science Fiction was a city and not a ghetto.  Back in the late '60s, Charlie’s News had a wall of titles:  Work by New Wave wunderkinds like Ellison, Ballard and Spinrad. Writers from previous waves: Zelazny, Silverberg, Bester and the like. A fair showing of Niven, Pohl and other hard-SF writers. Sui generis writers like Bradbury, Asimov, and Clarke. Everything Lovecraft ever wrote. Righteous anthologies, from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame series to Terry Carr’s Universe compilations. I bought books, absolutely. But that wall was a pool of thought I loved to jump into.

Then, slowly but surely, Fantasy began to encroach. It began with the Lord of the Rings series, in their 1960s psychedelic covers. Imitators followed. Dwarfknob, Dragondreck, Elfbreath … Then, before long, the Conan series appeared. Soon followed by contemporary rip-off sword-and-sorcery crap, usually with a badly painted cover of an acromegalic sword-thruster, callipygous, bathycolpian babe wrapped around his ankles, “in the style” of Frank Frazetta, because they didn’t wanna pay Frank the money.

Then, like a pustule on the face of the universe, Star Wars popped up. Novelizations, natch. Then original novels, starting with the not-bad Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, then exploding to Talmudic minutia exploring the permutations of every throwaway character. Star Trek took the hint. The modest shelf of Blish’s short story adaptations and one original ST novel became many shelves. Each as crowded as a derivative subway train. 

Slowly but surely, the franchises and rip-offs crowded out the work of ronin sci-fi writers. 

By decade’s end, the volumes of original, non-derivative sci-fi could be counted on your fingers.

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