One of the odder and most disappointing things about sff publishing in particular, and the industry as a whole, but particularly our genre is how often it reaches back to touch its past. I’ve heard or seen innumerable times editors and publisher that they were looking for “Phillip K. Dick” or “Heinlein” or the like or “the next” whoever they fell in love with when they were introduced to the genre.

If the genre were still in its infancy, this would be fine. But depending on when you date the from it is well over a century old. That’s more than old enough to have a pair of overalls, a business suit, and to dress slutty whenever it likes as long as the story is good. I recently bought a zombie novel to research a publisher. I A: don’t have any real affection for zombies B: don’t much care for the “and then s/he falls in love with the non-human on page 24 trope but still enjoyed the book because (mostly) it was handled well, and the story had both internal consistency and solid characters.

This book wasn’t from one of the big names in SFF, but still a respectable house. Even this house has its own taint of the “just like” disease. As this post reminded me, speciation sometimes happens among odd members of a population. Sometimes those oddities rise to being a new and potentially dominant group, or simply the dominant type within a species. Other times they separate only to die off from too small a gene pool. Aurochs don’t exist today because they couldn’t compete. They didn’t think about their environment, they just failed to adapt.

The collective mindset that sees the genre of limitless horizons constantly caught in public with its hands at work south of the equator seems odd. Yes, a reverence for history is important. Ancestor worship is probably not a good business model however. But the great thing about societies, and environments is that they change. So must businesses. Farmers are known for a operational meme that tends to eschew change unnecessarily yet still adapt. Nowhere in the western world is slash and burn agriculture the most common method of soil renewal. The stock market isn’t run on little pieces of paper and rushed across the room, you will not find many schools have their students using chalkboards. Each of these example enterprises looks outside itself for its maintenance and growth, they look forward.

As with certain religious groups that chose not to reproduce, and social groups that became severely inbred over time the consequences of not adding new blood will eventually come to the fore. Neither the inbreeding nor the willful desire not to mix your genes with another is in the end any different from flying solo, and as someone once infamously quipped at a writers workshop: flying solo might feel good but it doesn’t produce anything.

  • This sort of “just like X but different” requirement (or the similar one, “fits neatly into an established marketing niche”) is why a lot of new authors are looking at a different kind of “flying solo” — self-publishing. That and the frankly-scary contract terms coming out of some publishers. *shudder*

    • Onyxhawke

      Well, yes. There are certain advantages to the small presses, and self publishing, but I still find the idea of businesses deliberately ignoring their advantages when they see competition creeping in on them baffling. Simply baffling.

      • Well, yeah, me too. Also annoying. But oh-well. Complete control over my cover art is awesome. 🙂