Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Analysis of science fiction published in January 2014 in the US.

I was prompted to write this week’s post after I made a comment that a lot of the books published by one of the major science fiction publishers in the US seemed to be awful pulp fiction: full of mad scientists and buff alpha males saving damsels in distress. I was further prompted by an article where John Marsden, Australia’s biggest selling young adult novelist, said that publishers were sick of dystopian novels. So I decided to analyse the 16 science fiction books listed in a Tor blog post that were to be published in January.  

Of the 16 books listed, one is definitely fantasy, and two others are non-fiction books about science fiction, so I have removed them from my analysis.   

Fugitive X, Gregg Rosenblum (Harper Teen)

Concept: A war against robots who control the world.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Series: Yes, it is the second book in a series.
Market: Young adult.
Debut Novel: No, the author had been published before.
Nationality of Author: American.
Game Slaves, Gard Skinner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Concept: Self-aware AIs try to escape from a virutal world/game.
Sub-genre: Cyberpunk
Series: No
Market: Young Adult
Debut Novel: Yes
Nationality of Author: American.

Independent Study, Joelle Charbonneau  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Concept: After a devastating war, the government tries to erase brutal memories from the mind of one of its chosen young leaders.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Series: Second in a series
Market: Young adult
Debut novel: No.
Nationality of Author: American.

Journey Into the Flame, T.R. Williams (Atira)

Concept: After a solar storm sends the world dark, the teachings of an ancient book turn the world around, but the book falls into the wrong hands.
Sub-genre: Soft science fiction, could be dystopian
Series: First in a series
Market: Adult
Debut novel: This appears to be his debut novel
Nationality of Author: American.

C-Monkeys and Gamification Keith Hollihan (ChiZine)

Two novellas in the one book.
Concept:  A science fiction pulp fiction magazine leads a researcher to an island where scientists genetically engineer salamanders who plan to take over the world.
Sub-genre: Pulp fiction
Series: Two novellas make this a series
Market: Adult?
Debut novel: No, he appears to have written at least one other novel.
Nationality: Born in Canada, lives/lived in the US.

Star Road: A Novel, Matthew J. Costello and Rick Hautala (Thomas Dunne)

Concept: An ex-rebel leader is on a secret mission to the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
Sub-genre: Space opera/military
Series: Not yet
Market: Adult
Debut novel: Both authors have had other novels published.
Rick Hautala was a big selling author before he died in March 2013.
Mathew J Costello appears to be American.

Vitro, Jessica Khoury (Razorbill)

Concept: Scientists create superhuman embryos on a secret island. (Not the same one with the ancient salamanders on it.) Sophie and a hunky pilot investigate.
Sub-genre: Pulp fiction
Series: Not yet
Market: Young Adult
Debut novel: No, she has written two other novels
Nationality: American.

The Echo,  James Smythe (Harper Voyager)

Concept: Twin scientists investigate a vast blackness of space where a spaceship disappeared.
Sub-genre: Space Opera
Series: Yes, this is a sequel
Market: Adult
Debut novel: No, he has written at least three other novels
Nationality: British – could be Welsh.

Halo: Mortal Dictata, Karen Traviss (Tor)

Concept: A black ops team tries to stop the father of a comrade attacking Earth with plasma bombs from an orbiting spacecraft. 
Sub-genre: Military
Series: Yes, it’s the third novel in a subseries within a series of twelve novels.
Market: Adult
Debut novel: No, the author has written many novels that are parts of series including Star Wars.
Nationality: English.

A Darkling Sea, James Cambias(Tor)

Concept: A war breaks out between humans and aliens after human scientists investigate a planet inhabited by a second alien race.
Sub-genre:  First Contact
Series: No
Market: Adult
Debut novel: Yes
Nationality: American.

Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos (47North)

Concept: During an interstellar conflict, an officer is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony and crewed by malcontents and troublemakers.
Sub-genre: Military
Series: Yes, this is the second novel with the same main character
Market: Adult
Debut novel: No
Nationality: German, but now lives in the US.

Red Rising, Pierce Brown (Del Rey)

Concept: A worker in a mine on a planet discovers he has been deceived by those living above ground and he rebels.
Sub-genre: Dystopian.
Series: Yes, this is the first book in a trilogy
Market: Adult
Debut novel: Yes
Nationality: American.


Three of the books sound dystopian, and another one could be. Three are military, I would classify two as pulp fiction, two as space operas, one is cyberpunk and one is first contact. So perhaps there isn’t as much pulp fiction being released as I feared. I prefer science fiction that explores ideas or puts characters in harsh situations and we follow their attempts to survive. So I am glad to see that around a third of the books are dystopian.


Eight of the 13 books are part of or the start of a series. Wow.


Four of the novels are aimed at young adults, that’s about 30%, a rather high proportion. Take note John Marsden, two of those four young adult novels appear to be dystopian.

Debut novel

The fact that many of the books were part of a series meant that there were only four debut novelists. Considering a new writer’s manuscript has to compete against further novels from already published authors, I reckon four out of 13 authors debuting is very good.


Nine of the authors were American. Two others moved to the US. Two were British.

What About Me?

As an Australian, my best chance of being published in the US appears to involve moving there and writing a dystopian or military trilogy.

In my next blog post I will check out what science fiction people are actually enjoying reading to see if it matches what the publishers are publishing.


Anthony J. Langford said...

Very well researched Graham. How do you find out about all this stuff?

It's both interesting and yet very frustrating to me. I finished the first draft of my dystopian novel in 2006. I tried for years to get it out there. I thought I was a little ahead of the game, but now its lagged behind. Thank God I didnt bother with a zombie or vampire novel (not that I ever would) but people who try to follow trends end up in the same position I find myself in.

Having said that, most of these don't sound very inspiring. I think you nailed it when you said you need to move to the U.S. You can also follow every rule and dot point and still come up empty. So much is about timing and luck, and of course, knowing the right person.

Informative, but (for me) depressing. I wish you well on your journey and hope you beat the bastards.

Graham Clements said...

Hi Anthony,

I would like to read your dystopian novel to see what it is like, especially since you are such a good writer.

In my next post, on what readers thought were great science fiction books released in 2013, there's an awful lot of dystopian fiction, so I reckon John Marsden might be wrong.

I have never identified a trend and tried to write to it. Of the five manuscripts I have in various states of completion, three are dystopian, but with very different focuses, another is a space opera (the one I recently completed the first draft of), and the last one, Stalking Tigers,(closest to completion) is thriller set in space. At the moment I am editing a fantasy/sci-fi short story that is narrated by Sam, a Golden Labrador.

But I am finding looking at what publishers are publishing and what readers are reading (which could be quiet different from what they are buying - which might be a further post) very interesting.

Anthony J. Langford said...

Thanks for the compliment Graham.

I think you just have to follow what interests you as the whole process of getting a novel published takes so long that anything could be on the cards by that time. I do think publishers look to cash in on trends which is why they select novels that suit - so I think you just have to keep trying in the hope that eventually what you've written will tick the boxes.

Graham Clements said...

I am not going to bother writing science fiction that does not interest me just to follow a trend. So I will keep on writing my first contact and dystopian novels (although Stalking Tigers is hard to categorise).

I wonder whether writers like James Patterson and Tom Clancy who sub-contracted their writing out actually enjoy what they are writing. They did perhaps at the start but then might have got trapped in a genre probably because of a massive publishing contract.

Very much like the way J K Rowling has gone about escaping from Harry Potter - crime novels under another name, and a social commentary type novel under her name. She obviously loves writing and she has decided to explore other genres.