So, I surfed into a discussion about this on a reading list today. Without mentioning any names: The initial post identified a recent anthology by a well-known editor and a particular story by a well-known author. The story was described as something similar to Asimov’s robot stories and the theme and construction were described as ordinary and overworked. The poster tried to use this to make the case that SF is exhausted as a genre. Various responses argued one way or the other about the originality and breadth of today’s SF stories.

FeatherPenClipArtWhat I didn’t see was a discussion about the standard method of putting together a best seller anthology or magazine issue. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is done by inviting well-known writers to provide stories. As a strategy, this has obvious advantages. If the author has a large fan-base and you can get two or three of them to submit a story, then you’ve got a guarantee of good sales. The problem is, when writers are invited to submit a story, they have no motivation to provide anything original, or to stretch the limits in any way. It’s just a job, so the easiest thing is to choose a cliche and write about it. Originality would actually be a bad idea, as a particular writer’s fan-base is likely expecting a rehash of their usual themes, at most.

It’s another benefit of being one of the in-crowd, of not having to brave the slush pile in any competitive way. This also explains why you tend to see the same names over and over in some magazines. Once in the door, it’s easier to make another sale.

More on this tomorrow.