When things get science fictiony

Science FictionI was intrigued that the readership for my first novel was a bit heavier on the male reader side even though my protagonist is a woman. I mentioned this to my husband and he admitted, men do more often read fiction books written by other men, although possibly subconsciously. So yes, generally, to have more male readers than female is surprising. Then he said something, which struck me like a ton of bricks (and not because “fictiony” isn’t a word). “Your books are science fictiony, though.”

While I think female interest in science fiction is growing, it has always been a more male-centered genre, whether it be a sci-fi medical drama, space opera, or alien invasion. I am still curious what characteristics or innate preferences hold more weight in a reader’s mind: the lead character or characters, the author, or the storyline … say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example. What eventually made female readers pick up a science fiction and fantasy book, about a boy, written by an author writing under a purposely androgynous pseudonym? J.K. Rowling was told using her full name would alienate a portion of her audience.

My own preferences are not tried and true even to myself. I typically do not like science-fiction or fantasy as a reader. For instance I’m a big LOTR fan (specifically of Peter Jackson’s movie version of the series), the books were good but too epic for my taste. Again, I’ll watch Star Wars but I couldn’t bring myself to read a space opera or odyssey. I just cannot immerse myself in the story. So, if I read science fiction it has to be a character driven story, very low-key and thought-provoking. In other words (shameless plug) I’d read what I write … soft, speculative, social science fiction.

The reasons why people like what they like is fascinating. According to my Google Analytics reports for website visits, with the release of Second Nature and Being Human the balance has by now shifted slightly in the opposite direction.

It would seem my work is a study of a changing sci-fi audience. The genre a book is categorized under is perhaps a stronger draw than the author (although at first glance Ellison Blackburn is gender ambiguous), the cover (obviously female), or the gender of the protagonist (from the downloadable samples and book descriptions they are clearly women). That being said, it’s hard to tell whether more women are reading sci-fi or fewer men are reading other genre fiction since the Fountain of Life books are mixed genre. Several reviewers have called it “literary science fiction,” another reader “speculative fiction,” and another still “women’s fiction.” I tend to call it metaphysical sci-fi or psychological (but not in the Thriller sense).

Before I write a thesis here, I wanted to say, I’m thrilled the Fountain series is reaching such a wide range of interests among my readers, and the psychology of male versus female readers is awesome, yet, perplexing.