When science fiction authors are no longer grounded in reality

There used to be a time when science fiction authors were grounded in reality. Even if their SF flirted with or flew past certain aspects of the real universe, they still knew what reality was.

But now? It's amazing how many SF authors not only don't understand what reality is, they wouldn't recognize it if it kicked them in the butt.

I say this because of a statement from science fiction author John Ringo, which is as divorced from reality as anything to come out of the recent Hugo/Puppy funfest. In a Facebook post titled "Understanding SJW logic and why it is destroying science fiction," Ringo makes a number of statements which defy what actually exists in the real world. Perhaps that's why he ended up making the post unavailable to the public (but not before it was screencapped into immortality  — thanks to Dara at Crime and the Forces of Evil for saving this.)

There are many wrong statements in Ringo's post, but perhaps the most unreal statement is what Ringo offers as his proof that everything he says is correct.

Ringo's proof is this supposed statement of fact about science fiction:

"Every single (publishing) house in the industry has seen a continuous drop in sales dating back to the '70s when social agenda fiction became mainstreamed and everyone jumped on the 'New Wave' (early version of SJW) bandwagon.

"Baen, which only publishes cracking good tales, has seen a continuous increase. Across the board. Not one or two best selling titles. (Which are never SJW, by the way.)"


First off all, if what Ringo says was true why would science fiction have first begun hitting the bestseller lists in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Those were the decades when Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and many other top SF authors landed massive advances and sales for their novels. Most of which, I should note, were not published by Baen, which wasn't even founded until 1983.

But we don't have to go back to the '70s and '80s to prove Ringo wrong. For example, the April 2015 Locus Bestseller List had only one Baen title on it (which is Ringo's Strands of Sorrow, which debuted at number 5 on the list). That's one title out of 25 novels on the different Locus Bestseller categories for April. The March 2015 list had no Baen titles and neither did the February 2015 list. The January 2015 list had a single Baen title on it.

A similar pattern emerges from the last few years of the Locus Bestseller lists, which cover genre sales in the hardback, paperback and trade paperback formats. For example, during 2014 Baen placed the following number of bestsellers on the Locus lists each month:

Bear in mind each month these lists feature at least 25 novels across the different publishing formats. So if Baen had a single genre novel on the list for a particular month, that means there were 24 other bestsellers released by other genre publishers. And while not all of these are science fiction, many of them are.

And yes, a similar pattern holds up for the last few years. Don't take my word on this feel free to search through all the recent Locus Bestseller Lists.

And it's not just the number of bestsellers which matters in determining how well a publisher does, it's also how often a specific title appears on the bestseller lists. All of the Baen titles which appear on the 2014 monthly Locus Bestseller lists are only on the list for a single month. That indicates each title had strong initial sales but couldn't hold those sales to make multiple monthly bestseller lists. Contrast this with the books from other publishers which made multiple Locus lists. One example of this is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, published by Orbit, which made the Locus Trade Paperback Bestseller lists for 9 different months during 2014.

And it isn't only the bestseller lists showing this pattern all of this is backed by sales figures from Bookscan, the publishing industry's system for tracking book sales.

My point here isn't it to disparage Baen. They publish good novels which many people enjoy reading (including myself). But to say they are the only publisher with continually increasing sales is wrong especially when you see how many other genre publishers place multiple bestsellers on the Locus lists month after month.

I raised a similar issue a few weeks ago when I examined the Bookscan numbers of all the Hugo and Nebula Award finalists. My point then was that there are plenty of people reading books from all sides of the genre's current political divide. I believe my point is still valid and supported by strong evidence.

If you are going to make a provocative statement like Ringo's, you need to back up your words with, you know, some facts. You need to show that you actually understand reality and aren't simply saying whatever pops into your head.

Unfortunately, John Ringo's statement about Baen seeing a continual increase in sales compared to other publishing houses which implies that no one is reading science fiction from any publishing house not called Baen doesn't stand up to the facts.

Update: I should add that my analysis of publishers' sales based on bestseller lists and Bookscan numbers isn't perfect. Ideally I'd love to have access to all sales numbers (including ebooks) from all publishers, but there's no way to access that information. But if Baen's sales had been continually increasing for decades while every other publishers' sales were declining, which is Ringo's assertion, then we'd see evidence of this in the bestseller lists. Instead, what the lists show is that SF novels from all publishers are doing very well.