How big is science fiction, really?
I found myself asking this while dabbling in various genres, before finally resting on sci-fi for my first published work (mainly because most of my ideas were sci-fi oriented and THE FURY AND THE STAR was just bursting to be written).
I'm not sure if there is some universal stick by which genres are measured, especially those whose essences spills into many forms of media - and if one genre does that it is science fiction. Therefore, it becomes a bit of a calculated guess based on current trends and personal experience rather than something more tangible like the scientific method. The irony!
Still, questions need to be asked. Questions like; is science fiction the biggest genre, the best or even the most prolific? It's hard to say for sure, especially when terms like "biggest", "best" and "most" are relative to a number of factors such as taste, revenue, quality vs quantity, category, etc. But, one thing I AM definite about it this: Science fiction, as a whole, is HUGE!
One only has to pick at the many franchises that rise to the brain juice surface first. In my case, the choice is overwhelming. Alien, Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate, and Terminator are just a few.
Science fiction's popularity has fluctuated over the decades. I remember being spoilt for choice in the nineties with shows like The X-Files, Earth Final Conflict, and movies like The Matrix, Men in Black, Independence Day, The Fifth Element (my favorite - said in the voice of Gary Oldman), and some of the titles mentioned in the previously. Maybe it's just my imagination, but in the noughties there seemed to be a lull in the science fiction universe. It was like it had shrunk from a planetary nebula to a white dwarf. That's not to say there wasn't excellent sci-fi during the first decade of the 21st century. Those years produced some gems (I feel compelled to mention Firefly). There just didn't seem to be as much of it. I could be wrong, but from where I stood, it looked like the genres of fantasy and paranormal were stealing a little bit of science fiction's luster.
We now approach the twenties and it has changed yet again. That white dwarf has exploded into a vast supernova, with exciting new titles and those already mentioned seeing massive resurgences. And that's without even touching the Marvel vs D.C. war. Yes, it could be argued that comic books are completely separate from science fiction. But one thing you can't argue is that, at the very least, both mediums share similar themes and audiences.
Which brings me back to the popularity of science fiction today. I do wonder if, in a world seeing a decline in manufacturing and growth in science and technology, the recent rise of popularity in science fiction will level off on a higher plane. That's not to say there is a direct correlation between an increase in science-based industry and the popularity of science fiction. But, it can't be denied that the age of information has encouraged the population to widen their horizons and knowledge, especially where technology is concerned. We are told that knowledge is power, after all. And, true science fiction has knowledge based entertainment at its core. This is, of course, driven by the massive cultural shift towards the population using technologies that were once considered science fiction. Commercial space flight, flying cars, printed organs, mobile devices, a network connecting the entire planet (North Korea aside), robots with advanced AI... Need I go on? It all adds up.
I haven't really addressed science fiction literature but that's because I don't really know how. It's a bit of a gray area and it is difficult to gauge a single component of the vast science fiction universe. This is unfortunate because it is the literature that started it all. As has already been mentioned, there may not be a direct correlation between world science and science fiction. I would be surprised, however, if science fiction literature didn't enjoy some of the limelight cast upon other forms of the genre's media.
It's too early to say, but I think I've noticed an upwards shift on Amazon, if not in the local libraries. Those still favor fantasy on the shelves of fiction. Maybe that's because physical libraries are slower on the uptake in today's digital world. Or, it could be the people of this lovely Isle just aren't as hooked on science fiction as the rest of us.
Either way, it's definitely a competitive genre, especially for a first time self-publishing author. But that won't stop me from diving in head first and enjoying every last minute of it. As a wise space ranger once said, "to infinity and beyond!"
Stay young, live long, or die trying.
Killian C. Carter