I had a really satisfying conversation with my sister earlier this week. She told me she’d been on a real dystopian literature kick in the last year, that her favorite books currently include The Hunger Games, Never Let Me Go, and The Handmaid’s Tale.
I told her she was a science fiction reader. “Really? Just because they’re set in the future?” It’s more complicated than that, but the brief version is that I explained dystopias were just her preferred subgenre within sf.
That my sister has never thought of herself as a science fiction reader, and yet clearly – to me – is one exemplifies one of the many problems in trying to survey just what kinds of humans are reading genre. Farah Mendlesohn, in The Intergalactic Playground, made her readership survey feasible by focusing on those who 1. Self-identify as science fiction readers and 2. Filled out her survey.
We really do need more data about who reads genre fiction, because so many central discussion of how to present it center around just who it is who’s reading it. Who the market is. How large a percentage of readers are women.
D.H. Rowan is adding to that data through a survey posted today, on “Female:Male Readership of SF/F, UF, PNR”. You can see some of the problems with it already just in the title. The subgenres it focuses on – Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance – are those known to have a larger female readership than most of, say, science fiction. There are more methodological problems with the survey itself: it only allows for a binary choice between male and female, for example. It assumes that Urban Fantasy and PNR are subgenres which have been around for decades, long enough that it would have been possible to start and stop reading one or both decades ago. It focuses on age ranges rather than how long ago a given interaction with genre occurred.
And yet – I still think you should go fill it out. It’s a short poll. It won’t take long. And so long as any analysis of the resulting dataset is conscious of these limitations, it’ll still add to the data we have about what kinds of people read what kinds of SFF – and whether or not those people are being adequately represented at conventions*, among other places.
* See also Sophia McDougall on the SFX Weekender and the Nudes in the Metropolitan Gallery.