Editor Diana Gill calls urban fantasy a "gateway drug" to regular fantasy, because it takes place in the world we know, except that it's laced with magic. This started us wondering: What's the equivalent "gateway drug" for science fiction?
Gill, who's executive editor at Harper Collins imprints Morrow/Avon/Eos, writes over at Harper Library:
Urban fantasy (and its cousin paranormal romance) is the easiest gateway to the genre-since it takes place in a world that is very much our own, only with magic. Not coincidentally, it's also the hottest thing going, between the phenomenon that is Stephenie Meyers' Twilight saga to the incredibly popular True Blood tv series. Urban fantasies are an easy way for readers to try the genre, and there are a lot of great ones out there.
With urban fantasy consuming an ever-greater market share, it's hard to argue with Gill's point. But it makes us wonder if science fiction isn't suffering partly because it lacks such an easy, newbie-friendly first hit. Or rather, that stuff exists, but it's not necessarily leading people to science fiction.
You have adventure stories set in the present day, but with fantastical gadgets, but those are generally marketed as "techno-thrillers" rather than SF. And when a science fiction giant like William Gibson does novels that are set in the present or very near future, featuring unusual technology, they're frequently marketed as mainstream fiction rather than SF. Meanwhile, writers like Charles Stross are proclaiming that you literally cannot write near-future science-fiction at all, because the future is so unpredictable, and many of the genre's most celebrated works take place thousands, or even millions, of years from now.
Do we need someone to invent the genre of "urban science fiction" to reach out to people who want to read SF stories set in the present day, in a familiar setting? Or just a return to "five minutes into the future" as a standard setting for stories?
Top image: cover to Jim Butcher's Proven Guilty.