Genre Breakdown

It’s time to look at the stories in my forty-nine ranked magazines by genre.  First, let’s see if editors prefer one genre over another.  I removed magazines which were only science fiction or only fantasy, and came up with the following breakdown:

Genre # of stories % of stories
Science Fiction 120 41.0%
Modern-Day Fantasy 87 29.7%
Medieval-Tech Fantasy 41 14.0%
Historical Fantasy 28 9.6%
No Discernible Genre 17 5.8%

My genre assignments are simplistic.  If a story mentions spaceships, robots, or other planets, it’s science fiction.  Stories get into the next three categories by adding a fantastic element to today’s world (usually urban fantasy or horror), having technology that is medieval or earlier, or being somewhere in-between (steampunk and most historical fiction).  Two types of stories fall under “no discernible genre”:   stories in the pulpier magazines about detectives and such that were intentionally non-SFF, and stories where I couldn’t spot any SFF element (like a story about a married couple eating borsch), but which claimed to be magical realism or slipstream or something.

I’m surprised to see science fiction ranked number one, as at least one major magazine claims they don’t get enough sci-fi submissions relative to fantasy.  I’m also surprised that medieval-or-earlier tech isn’t represented more, given the recent popularity of “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones”, and the enduring popularity of Conan with the pulp crowd.

Let’s see how the genres stacked up in terms of entertainment value:

Genre Avg Stars (5 max) # of stories Avg Wordcount
Historical 3.08 31 5,636
Medieval-Tech 2.91 51 4,909
Science Fiction 2.67 171 4,042
Modern-Day 2.59 92 4,474
No Genre 1.63 20 3,014

These results are nearly the opposite of what I would have expected.  I consider myself primarily a science-fiction fan, doing some recent reading in urban fantasy because I’ve found some talented authors there.  I’m also partial to concise stories.  Apparently I’ve ignored all of my preferences, and, despite not being fond of steampunk, rated the steampunk-heavy, most-verbose category the highest.

This data dares to conflict with my preconceived opinions!  If I were a true scientist, I’d  throw out data points as “anomalies”, or maybe invent new statistical techniques, until the data got back into line.  As I’m no longer working in the biological or environmental sciences, I’ve instead had to devote some thought to my results.  I think there are three parts to the answer of why I didn’t rate my favorite genre the highest.

#1)  This is something I ran across while writing an upcoming gender breakdown post.  I won’t go into it much here, but it boils down to:  much of what’s masquerading as science fiction isn’t what I’d consider science fiction.

#2)  I gave science fiction lower scores because I like science fiction the best. No, I’m not babbling nonsense when I say that.  I’ve read a lot more science fiction than fantasy, so I may see elements in sci-fi stories that make me say “ho hum, seen it a thousand times”, while similarly-overused elements in fantasy stories aren’t worn out to me.

#3)  I can pick apart the science in sci-fi.  If an author gets some aspect of the science really wrong (or even a little bit wrong, if it’s in one of my fields of expertise), I’m going to think about that instead of the story, and my star rating is going to be lower.  I can’t pick apart a fantasy story like that.  If the author says that throwing flour into the air while screaming Latin words will make a glass-golem melt, I just have to say “OK”.

I have more to say about SFF genres, but it’s not directly related to my magazine quest data, so I’ll stop here for now and save it for a future post.

Leave a comment below, and let me know if you mostly read in one genre, or if you like to mix things up.

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18 comments

  1. Interesting. I suppose you classified “A Hill Of Stars” as Medieval-Tech?

    1. I should have expected that you’d write something that could legitimately be placed in at least 3 of the genres! Your character was using medieval tech, but he was in the ruins of a city of an advanced (probably spacefaring) race which would make it sci-fi, then again it was lovecraft-inspired, and I was generally placing those in modern/urban fantasy. I’m not at the computer that has my database, and I can’t remember where I placed it!

  2. One other data point that might make for an interesting analysis. Could you rank each story by how important the SF/Fantasy/Horror elements were to the story itself? Maybe just a 1/0–with 0 meaning “this story could be transplanted to Earth in the present day with no supernatural elements without significantly altering the events of the story or the outcome” and 1 meaning “this story would have to be drastically different without the fantastic elements.”

    It seems to me that a lot of what is being sold as sf and fantasy these days is just slice of life literary fiction with some gears glued on it.

    1. This is the topic of a post I’m brainstorming now.

      I’m not sure I’ll take the time to rank every story, but maybe I can pull a random sample, as I’ve done with some upcoming analysis.

      In those “best SF of the year” collections I read, I was lucky to get a single story where the SFF element made any difference.

    2. “It seems to me that a lot of what is being sold as sf and fantasy these days is just slice of life literary fiction with some gears glued on it.”

      That’s because it’s what’s usually being taught in creative writing courses at universities. I can think of at least one fairly good contemporary fantasy author who went back to school to get a degree in creative writing and ended up being just another slice-of-life-plus-wizards-glued-on idjit. Kinda sad, really.

  3. I read and write all over the board. I don’t like to anchor myself in one genre for too long.

    1. I think the reason I read a lot less medieval/epic fantasy isn’t because I dislike the content, it’s that I’m reluctant these days to start a doorstopper book with dozens of POV characters, only to find out that there’s no resolution to anything at the end of that book, it’s just the beginning of a doorstopper lineup.

      1. I feel the same way.

  4. I read mostly science fiction or “medieval” fantasy, leaning more to the former in recent years. (I used to read a lot of contemporary fantasy, but so much of what’s published as that lately is actually paranormal romance, and I’m not interested.)

    I write science fiction, even if some of it looks like fantasy to people who aren’t paying attention. (Some readers will say a novel that starts out sci-fi morphs into fantasy as soon as the characters traveling by starship visit a planet with a lower tech level. rolls eyes Some readers will even say that those characters have “traveled back to the Medieval Times” because of the lower tech level for that part of the setting.)

    1. Yeah, I agree on the paranormal romance, but I’ve been happy on that front because the cover artists and blurb writers usually make the romance clearly identifiable, and I’ve been able to avoid it.

      I don’t understand people classifying lower-tech planets as fantasy. Colonists regressing technologically is a sci-fi classic.

      1. I don’t understand the ‘low tech = fantasy/the far past’ assumption, either, but there were reviewers who insisted that my clone-sibling’s novel The Remnant contained either time travel or fantasy elements (or both!) because most of the story is set on a colony world that had lost its high tech centuries ago. I’ve seen many, many people online insist that Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels are fantasy ‘Because Dragons’. I counter that with ‘Sci-fi, Because Genetically Engineered Dragons Made by Colonists Who Arrived by Starship from Another Planet’ but what do I know about it? Dragons equal fantasy, because some idjit said so. In a another decade, any story in which the characters don’t have smartphones will be classified as fantasy, because that’s a lower tech level than most readers live with on a daily basis.

        (Yes, I’ve always been this grumpy and grouchy, even before I was an old man. “Genetic engineering means the story is science fiction, you kids! And get off my lawn!”)

  5. I read much more fantasy these days, so I take issue with your “throwing flour and screaming latin” passage. EVERYBODY knows you use salt to dissolve golems. Gosh!

    But I definitely know what you mean about judging your favorite genre a bit harder than other ones.
    Looking forward to more of your thoughts in future posts…

    1. I know, I’d make a horrible urban-fantasy hero, trying to force-feed garlic to werewolves.

      I’ve got 3 more posts relating to my magazine results, then that Arthur C Clarke review, and then I’ll try to get back to this genre topic as soon as I can.

  6. Your third point there is important to me. A lot of writers I know think that most readers don’t really know much about science, so it’s not important to get their facts straight. But regular science fiction readers, such as yourself, do tend to be better informed about science than the general public. I really wish more science fiction writers would keep that in mind.

    1. Yeah. I’m not a physics guy, but you’d think an author who wanted to write sci-fi would take a few minutes to google things, like the difference between a star and a galaxy.

  7. Nice post. I loved the breakdown of the data, but I wonder why you didn’t split the science fiction into sub genres (hard/soft SF or near/far future for example) the same way you did with the fantasy genres? That might paint a different picture if you have preferences within the science fiction genre.

    That being said, I completely agree with #2 and #3. I’ve found the same things to be true when reading stories in general. Though, I don’t have a nice data set to show it. 🙂

    1. There was so little hard SF in the magazines that I don’t think a breakdown would be meaningful.

      I didn’t think about near vs far-future SF. Maybe I’ll look into that later.

  8. […] realized that in my hurry to look at the stories in my 49 ranked magazines broken down by genre, by nation, by gender, and by pay, I didn’t present the entire dataset.  So, here it […]

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