Over at PJ Lifestyle, Patrick Richardson interviews author Sarah Hoyt about her SF novel “Darkship Thieves”, which recently won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Award for best novel.
What I found particularly interesting about the interview is Hoyt’s experience with other writers and publishers regarding her political leanings. Having grown up with Heinlein, I generally expect science fiction to be a pro-liberty, optimistic genre – even after cancelling my Analog subscription after 25 years because of its ongoing drift towards a “progressive” perspective.
She also makes some good points about the future of publishing, akin to what we have discussed a few times in this blog (prompted by her comments, appropriately enough). Who knows if or how much new science fiction is really being locked out of the market because of the political leanings of the publishing gatekeepers — but with e-books having such easy access and low prices, will it really matter much longer? All that is needed to ensure the circulation of such books now is a means to locate and promote authors and stories with desired points of view.
What I’m thinking of is along the lines of a talent scout crossed with a restaurant critic, where an motivated reader scours the field for new material, finds what he likes, and promotes it to others. If their reviews and recommendations prove useful and informative to a like-minded segment of readers, they can become a trusted source or “brand”. To some degree, I think Glenn Reynolds has happened into a role like this – his own known libertarian leanings give a certain weight to even his trademark “in the mail” references to SF books.
Further evolution of this concept might turn this figurative brand into a literal one – like a small-label music producer, this trusted scout/reviewer might take a more pro-active role, assisting the writers they discover with improving their work and promoting them with a label that unfamiliar readers might associate with quality and an amenable perspective. Hoyt’s publisher Baen Books appears to be reinventing itself along similar lines (albeit on a different foundation and on a different scale). Given the emergence of e-books and blogs, the only barrier to any random reader doing this from scratch would seem to be the time and effort it takes to find and review the material and develop the reputation. This means that rather than one perspective manning the gates to the entire industry (and keeping out unwelcome intruders), there is the opportunity for an enormous diversity of viewpoints to flourish and gain reader attention. These hypothetical “boutique e-publishers” could take up the editorial and marketing roles traditionally performed by the print houses, at lower cost and with better alignment to underserved micro-segments of the science fiction market.
I feel compelled to address at least one of Hoyt’s other points as well, that being the ‘science fiction is entertainment, not preaching’. As anyone who has read In the Shadow of Ares can attest, we do spend some time expanding on certain libertarian ideas. For a novel directed exclusively at adults, I fully agree: nobody likes to be overtly lectured on ideas or principles they already share, and blatant lectures will do little to persuade those who aren’t already like-minded. ITSOA has been criticized by a few readers doing just this, but then, our book is directed at the young adult market. We made the conscious decision to make some of the philosophy in the book a bit more overt than we otherwise might have precisely because we expected to be introducing these ideas to unfamiliar readers. So, if you haven’t yet read the book, be aware that it does include a few expository excursions…
* — The word ‘libertarian’ is used in the broad sense here, not referring to the Libertarian Party but to pro-liberty and small-government political, social, and economic ideals.