When I first fell in love with fantasy, a few “big names” captured the genre, which mostly referred to classic fantasy set in a world similar to medieval earth. Star Wars burst on the scene shortly thereafter, followed by the first of the various Star Trek versions. Fantasy faded. In fact, most bookstores had a Science Fiction section and if they carried any fantasy, the books were embedded with the sci fi.
Oddly enough, the pendulum began to swing late in the 1990s. The first Harry Potter book came out and the rumors about movie versions of The Lord of the Rings were confirmed. Along with this shift, science fiction faded from view. Agents, in listing what they were interested in seeing, now included fantasy, but the dreaded “not interested” slid over to science fiction.
Eventually another shift took place, primarily within the fantasy genre. Now, with the advent of the Hunger Games and Twilight and Divergent, the swing moved interest away from classic fantasy to urban fantasy or dystopian. Of course, dystopian fiction has a strong futuristic component which means, as part of the worldbuilding, new technology. Perhaps that element sparked renewed interest in science fiction, or perhaps there’s some other explanation. At any rate, it appears that the science fiction door is slowly opening once again.
This overview, of course, covers speculative fiction using a broad stroke, and it certainly is not comprehensive. However, the overall trend seems to be that the general market favors either science fiction or fantasy, but not both—at least not in great numbers.
I’ve tried to understand this progression, if indeed it’s an accurate assessment. Could it be that whatever most popular story comes to an end, there’s a “been there, done that” perception, so that no other story will seem to be as original or vibrant as that one very popular one (which might, in fact, be the only or the primary title many readers/movie-goers experience)?
A second trend seems to be that horror or “dark” quickly follows the shift from science fiction to fantasy and back again. Hence, dark fantasy seems to have superseded epic fantasy and alien monster stories seem to follow space opera. Could it be that the general population turns away from the dark and the monstrous?
And yet horror certainly has its own apologists and seemingly a solid, perhaps growing, fan base. Yet I wonder if the darkness, the fear-inducing elements don’t serve as a catalyst to change to a new and different form of imagination—one that offers more fun, more hope.
Of course there could be bigger issues. Perhaps the influence of postmodernism makes society more open to fantasy elements and less interested in the hard science of modernism. Perhaps a growing anti-religious bias or an increasing belief in relativism is turning people away from a genre based on good versus evil.
Or perhaps there is no trend and my observations are off.
What do you think?
If you agree that there are shifts toward or way from either science fiction or fantasy, and little toleration for the two simultaneously, why do you think these trends exist?
I’d love to know if what I suspect is true and why it might be the case. Any lit majors out there looking for a thesis topic? 😉