Bad SF lexicon

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Nov 10 03:10:24 UTC 2005

In a message dated  Mon, 7 Nov 2005 21:42:51 -0600,  Jim Parish
<jparish at SIUE.EDU> writes:

>  'It may be worth recalling, though, that SF novels
>  of that period were a deal shorter than they tend to be today. (I recall,
>  when I first read Zelazny's _Lord of Light_ back around 1970, thinking
>  that it was quite long; I recently came across a copy, and found that it
>  was of no more than average length by today's standards.)

No, you're not imagining things, and it turns out there is a sound economic
reason for the increasing length of SF novels.

>From the Gernsbach era (circa 1926) through circa 1970, most SF writers found
it impossible to make a living from the royalties on SF books.  In addition
to flipping burgers, many supplemented their book income by selling their
book-length manuscripts to the SF magazines to be run as serials.  Worthwhile to do
this: at one cent a word, a 50K word story would bring in $500 from a
magazine serialization, a serious sum of money in those days, and some mags paid more
than one cent.

The downside was that the magazine editors had space considerations to worry
about, and therefore established strict word limits.  For example,
Analog/Astounding under John W. Campbell seemed to have a policy of never running a
serial in more than four installments (the one exception was Frank Herbert's Dune,
run as two serials of 3 and 5 installments respectively) and seemed to prefer
three.  This meant that a writer hoping to get a serial sale for his novel had
to meet the editor's word-count restrictions.  Of course a novel could be
expanded for book publication and some were, but most writers either did not
bother or did not have the time.

Then, about the time that Baby Boomers started to be a major part of the
book-buying public, there was a change.  It became fashionable for literate people
to be seen reading science fiction novels in public, and I believe (I have no
figures) that sales boomed.  In any event, the number of book titles in SF
rose, and as a result a smaller percentage of books got published as magazine
serials.  Book lengths were now dictated by book publishers, not by magazine
editors, and book publishers had different thoughts on the right length for a
book.  Perhaps some book publishers thought that a longer and presumably meatier
SF novel would sell better, and started advising their writers to up the word

I checked the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction pp 676f.  The Koontz book
appears to have been "Dark Symphony", published in 1970.  The reason I say it was
hackwork was that Koontz took one idea---a world consisting only of
musicians---and tossed in a cliched plot without taking the time to think his idea
through, e.g. the coming-of-age ritual for his musicians was a gladiatorial contest
(huh?  why?).

I have a question about the title of this thread (apparently I missed the
lead-in posting).  Is it about a lexicon of bad SF, or is it about a poor-quality
lexicon that happens to be about SF?

       - James A. Landau

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