The Marketeers Club: The Patient Genre

Anna Weir is a publicist at UNP Monday through Friday. On Saturdays, she’s a level 12 war cleric.

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Of all the books of all subjects, genres, and sizes that I publicize for UNP (and the ones that I’ve read, am reading, or wish I had read or was reading), I think science fiction might be the most underrated. There’s this air of weirdness that hovers over that shelf of battered paperbacks in the library, a sense that they contain a lot of things that I don’t understand but that plenty of other people will make obscure t-shirts in reference to. There’s a sense that the genre isn’t “literary” enough to warrant the kind of wild success and nation-wide attention other works of fiction receive—books like The Underground Railroad or Commonwealth.

But that sense is misguided. Science fiction takes us to alternative histories and distant galaxies to better explain what our current culture is or what we fear it could become. Many works of science fiction have this incredible ability to transform over the course of a few decades from outlandish, impossible stories to something that echoes reality. The true beauty of science fiction is that it is a patient genre, one that doesn’t waver if its message isn’t fully received upon first publication, and more than willing to keep sharing that message for generations.

Take, for instance, the burst of sales of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Talefirst published in 1998—because of the current political climate and debates over reproductive rights (and, of course, the new Hulu original series). Or the similar burst of sales for Orwell’s 1949 classic 1984for similar reasons. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, published in 1985, has an entire subplot where young brother and sister Peter and Valentine Wiggin use the anonymity of the internet to spread world-changing ideals—a subplot that was cut entirely from the 2013 movie because, hello chatrooms, internet anonymity is a given these days.

While there are all types of new science fiction coming out every year, I love reading the books of the past. So much of older science fiction predicts our present times with eerie accuracy. The Bison Frontiers of Imagination series helps to bring those older books back into our awareness, from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Phillip Wylie, from Jules Verne to H. G. Wells.

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I recently stumbled upon J. D. Beresford’s The Wonder, which is much more than the story of a boy with strange features and other-worldy intellect in a tiny English town. It’s about our pursuit of the unknown and our fear of it, about the continuing battle of religion and science in education, and about being alone in a world filled with people. It was first published in 1911. It struck me as still relevant and raw, more than one hundred years later.

And that’s what I mean about being a patient genre. You can’t measure the success of a book like that in the first three, six, or twelve months of publication. It’s not something reflected in the sales numbers. It is something only the wheeling years and changing cultures will determine. Their words are set in stone, but they are polished to a gleam by the waters of time and chance that course continually over them.

I encourage you to read books in our series and see what river rocks you can find. You just might be surprised.