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Do the math
james_nicoll
If I'm reading about 300 new fantasy and science fiction novels a year, what fraction of the total produced each year am I reading? I'm trying to work out if I can call myself well informed within the field or just a casual reader.

Look at it this way:

You're reading about one novel a day. That's probably the most you can read and make an even remotely plausible claim to having a life.

You are thus as well-informed as it reasonable to be, regardless of the number of novels published. Read more than that, and you are probably a hopeless loser whose opinion shouldn't be taken seriously, and you won't have time to adequately review what you've read anyway.

I could double what I read and report on without seriously eating into my social time. In any case, work is life so more work is more life.

You'd still be a piker compared to Harriet Klausner.

Yes, but ... all her reviews sound alike. I give James much more credit than that for discernment.

You know, I've been reading your journal for at least two or three years, and I always assumed that I was skipping over the book reviews, but looking around, I don't see them. Am I being obtuse? Do you work for a print publisher and I never noticed?

James is a professional (free-lance) reviewer for the conglomerate that owns the Science Fiction Book Club, and, er, um, I always forget the non-sfnal branches. One does mysteries and one's mainstream, I think.

Anyway, the bottom line is, they pay him and that means that they get to see his reviews (which they use for purposes of deciding which books to buy the book-club publication rights to) and we don't.


Ah! Thank you, that makes much more sense now.

IIRC, Gardner's annual round-up suggests there are about 2500 SF/F novels being produced annually in the US.

You are therefore poorly informed ... yet much more broadly read than I am, or most other folks!

I don't believe it's possible for a human being to read everything in the field for a year and stay sane.

Staying sane is vastly overrated.

It seems to me that there may be some sort of weighing system possible. Most conversation about SF involves a small subset of all SF published, right?

Well, if we discard media spin-offery we cut 30% of the volume for starters.

Then we can ignore reprints and reissues.

Anthologies ... we can weed out the overlap; there's some original stuff, but a lot of reprints.

You might be able to cut the "original, non-spin-off" pile down to 1000 or so novels and 100 or so collections a year. Can you average four books a day?

What's this four books a day? 1100/365.25 is only 3.01 books a day and change. I'm sure James could manage *that* no problem.

Sturgeon's Law? If you had an effective filtering system, you might be hitting much less of the crap and more of the gold.

The crap is part of the field, though.

And James is part of the filtering system. :)

James, do you get to be at all colourful in your reviews to your Lords and Masters? I was thinking, once they've made their publishing decisions and acted on them, your L&M don't really need to keep those reviews secret, do they? Could they be persuaded to publish a book of Review Highlights By James Nicolls?

I do get to be colorful within certain guidelines but as far as I recall the only part of a review that was ever made public (aside from a rave for a Sean McMullen book, which was used as a blurb) was this:

I protest the deprimatization of the DC Universe – if gorillas and monkeys were good enough for Julius Schwartz, they should be good enough for us!

Which turned up on Antick Musings

And yes, I know I should have made it clear I meant non-human primates.

There is a problem. My recent experience is that most of the best stuff is now published by small publishers, the ones that do only a couple of books a year. One of the last remaining reasons that I go to SF cons now is to browse the output of said small presses in the dealer's room, and buy a book or two from them.

The problem being, there are now MANY of these small publishers, and they have rather transient lifespans...

Last one I remember looking at was somewhere around 40% reprints.

So you 'only' have to read 1500 or so. A number which appears to have been increasing over the history of all the YB roundups I have though, going back a long way.

If James isn't well read, don't know who is. Not sure I've ever come across anyone that reads 300 brand spanking new ones a year. Of course, most people can't afford that (and don't get 'em sent), or would have to be really keen and creative with the interlibrary action, etc.

I hate asking this, but does the 2500 include YA? Is there enough in magazines and online to add much to the book total?

You read more than one book a year, that makes you over qualified!


You're kidding, right?

300 novels a year isn't even ONE per DAY. You can't possibly be well-informed until you hit three a day.


Note that is my F&SF. I also read mystery, mainstream and non-fiction.

Even if I devoted the full work week to it, and didn't have to write reports about them, I can't imagine a book per day and still manage to feed myself.

You know what James does for a living, right?

You see where I mentioned writing about them?

... and where I mentioned the work week?

Volume is perhaps not as important as having read the books that are the most talked-about in terms of being "well-informed". Using award nominations as a proxy for signficance, of the 5-10 Hugo/Nebula nominee novels, how many are within your 300? What about other more specialized genre awards?

The ones I remember reading are bolded

james_nicoll

2009-04-25 06:55 pm (UTC)

I am treating things I read and forgot as not having read so I don't to check old reports.

Hugos: Best Novel

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)


Best Novella

“The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
“The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
“The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)

“True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
“Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story

“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
“Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
“Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)



Nebulas:


Novels

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow (Tor, Apr08)
Powers - Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sep07)
Cauldron - Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov07)
Brasyl - Ian McDonald (Pyr, May07)

Making Money - Terry Pratchett (Harper, Sep07)
Superpowers - David J. Schwartz (Three Rivers Press, Jun08)

Novellas

“The Spacetime Pool” - Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)
“Dark Heaven” - Gregory Benford (Alien Crimes, Resnick, Mike, Ed., SFBC, Jan07)
“Dangerous Space” - Kelley Eskridge (Dangerous Space, Aquaduct Press, Jun07)
“The Political Prisoner” - Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF, Aug08)

“The Duke in His Castle” - Vera Nazarian (Norilana Books, Jun08)

Novelettes

“If Angels Fight” - Richard Bowes (F&SF, Feb08)
“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” - James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s, Feb08)

“Dark Rooms” - Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov 07)
“Pride and Prometheus” - John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)
“Night Wind” - Mary Rosenblum (Lace and Blade, ed. Deborah J. Ross, Norilana Books, Feb08)
“Baby Doll” - Johanna Sinisalo (The SFWA European Hall of Fame, James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow, Ed., Tor, Jun07 )
“Kaleidoscope” - K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May07)

Short Stories

“The Button Bin” - Mike Allen (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Oct07)
“The Dreaming Wind” - Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking, Jul07)
“Trophy Wives” - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” - Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Jul08)
“The Tomb Wife” - Gwyneth Jones (F&SF, Aug07)
“Don’t Stop” - James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, Jun07)
“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” - Ruth Nestvold (F&SF, Jan08)



Re: The ones I remember reading are bolded

montoya

2009-04-25 07:41 pm (UTC)

This makes me feel vastly better about never reading half the nominees. I mean, if you can't hit it on 300 books a year, how could you hope to on the 50 or so I actually read?

I consider myself to be more than a casual reader, and last year I read 56 novels and 14 short stories (and a bunch of webcomics).

How many people do you think read a higher proportion of new releases than you do? <100, I would guess.

I suspect no one can call themselves "well" informed - you're as well informed as anyone!

For comparison, I read about one new SF a week, which might be the low end of average from what I can gather.

I would call 300 a year a more-than-adequate sample rate, if you want to be well-informed. If you want to be omniscient, then you're just going to have to pull your socks up and read faster. And forgo sleep.


A. If you don't, who would be?
B. Also, the ones you don't read, you read about them?

I'm reading about 300 new fantasy and science fiction novels a year

I misparsed the meaning of "about" in this part for a few seconds.

I suspect the average "hardcore fan" reads between 50 and 100 novels a year.

In addition, you are sent your material, if I gather correctly, by those Well Placed to Know what will be interesting. So, you probably get the cream of the crop of the yearly publishing.

So, barring speed readers, I'd say you probably ARE the best-read man in SF.

> I suspect the average "hardcore fan" reads between 50 and 100 novels a year.

I've very nearly read one this year!

I'm better at older-time stuff. It still seems to take me a couple years to get around to something everybody in rasfw's been talking about, though.


You should call yourself well-informed. I'm sure those six or seven hundred other books are pretty much like the three hundred you read.