I’ve been thinking about (sketching, actually) a rewrite of a fantasy novel I wrote a couple of years ago. At the time, my agent wasn’t interested in marketing it, and I trust his judgment. I think I’ve figured out how to make the story a whole lot stronger.
Last night, though, I fell to reading the column by Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin. At the risk of oversimplifying, their message amounts to this: There’s a huge, active market for science fiction and fantasy — but the market for sf/fantasy novels and short stories continues to shrink. The folks who think in terms of writing and reading books — and especially serious, thoughtful books — are the old guard. Today’s sf/fantasy fan is energized by and passionate about movies, TV shows, video games, even comic books.
It’s not that they reject the notion of reading. Novelizations of movies and video games sometimes sell extremely well. But the tastes and expectations of an audience who were born after the release of the first Star Wars movie are somewhat different from the tastes and expectations of old farts like me.
Years ago (a lifetime ago, if you’re under 30) I read an interview in which an executive discussed the business woes of the railroad industry. “We did a good job of managing the railroad business,” he said. “What we forgot was that we were in the transportation business.” Management techniques that had worked fine when railroads were the chief means of long-distance transportation didn’t work nearly as well when the railroads had to compete with the airline and trucking industries.
I can’t help thinking that my sketch for a novel rewrite is “on rails” in exactly that way. It’s a perfectly swell idea for a fantasy novel. But it may not be such a great idea as a fantasy entertainment experience. Even if my agent can interest a publisher in it, it will end up spiraling around the drain with the other paperback novels.
Meanwhile, I have this other fascination with computer-based interactive fiction — text games, in other words. Text games died as a commercially viable product category when computers developed graphics. But in the past few weeks I’ve been teaching a group of 11-to-13-year-olds to write their own interactive fiction, and I can testify — they love it! They have no prejudice whatever against this type of entertainment experience based on the absence of slick graphics (or, indeed, any sort of graphics at all).
So it’s very natural to wonder whether an entertainment experience that would excite the modern fantasy fan could be delivered in the form of text-based interactive fiction. If the content was right, and the marketing plan was right, I’ll bet it would fly.