With the upcoming release of the new Star Wars film, Episode VII – The Force Awakens, The Atlantic posted an article called When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future.
This article tackles the idea that Science Fiction as a genre has given up on new ideas because the movie industry just keeps recycling old sci-fi franchises into new movies. To quote the article:
It’s not just Star Wars either. Science fiction is everywhere in popular culture, and it seems like it’s managed to be everywhere in the present by largely jettisoning the future. The massive, major franchises are all decades-old; the triumphal rhythmic successes of Star Wars and Star Trek and Dr. Who vie with sporadic reboots of Robocop or Planet of the Apes. Even newer stories, like The Hunger Games or Divergence feel less like fresh visions than like re-toolings of stagnant dystopias. Poor George Orwell wants his panopticon back.
While I agree that Hollywood has been rehashing old movies or YA dystopian fiction that is reminiscent of older sci-fi, this article got me wondering about sci-fi as a book genre. Is this too happening in the world of books or just in the realm of movies?
To tackle this question, I looked at Goodreads most popular science fiction books, NPR’s top 100 science fiction and fantasy novels, and Flavorwire’s infograph on the best selling sci-fi books of all time.
The top 10 most popular sci-fi books on Goodreads are as follows:
1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, first published in 1985.
2. Dune by Frank Herbert, first published in 1963.
3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, first published in 1979.
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, first published in 2008.
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, first published in 1953.
6. 1984 by George Orwell, first published in 1949.
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, first published in 2009.
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, first published in 2010.
9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, first published in 1968.
10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1932.
With the exception of The Hunger Games trilogy, it seems that the sci-fi people want to read most are at least 20 years old, if not older. And, as The Atlantic article points out, The Hunger Games trilogy is very much like #6 on Goodread’s most popular science fiction books. So while Suzanne Collins’ books have recent publication dates, the concepts within them trace back to 1949.
NPR’s list of most popular science fiction and fantasy and Flavorwire’s infograph on the best selling sci-fi and fantasy books of all time parallels the Goodread’s list, once the fantasy novels are skipped over.
It seems that in the realm of books, sci-fi classics are holding strong. Newer novels, like The Hunger Games have broken into the top 10 favorite and best selling novels, but it is also not a completely original series. Is this a good or a bad thing for science fiction? For Hollywood, it seems, the fact that new novels or new ideas in sci-fi novels rarely catch fire the way Suzanne Collins’ books did means that the industry is constantly trying to rehash old ideas into new packages for profits. But, for a reader, there’s nothing wrong with loving an old story and wanting to read it again and again.