Blogger James W. Harris has been thinking about the effects the Kindle is having on the science fiction genre. Looking at Amazon’s Top 100 lists for paid and free e-books in the SF genre, he notices many unknown, usually self-published, authors grabbing up position on both lists, and a lot of books by classic SF authors (such as his favorite, Robert A. Heinlein) aren’t even on the list. Harris finds a lot of new writers are taking a cue from Amazon’s sales technique of lowering the price of a book for a few days to get attention and then raising the price.

If you look at Locus Bestsellers for March 2012, many of their books aren’t on the Kindle bestseller list.  If you look at Amazon’s Best Sellers in Science Fiction general list that includes printed books and Kindle books, the makeup of this list is different, but the Kindle books are having a huge impact.  Here is the Science Fiction Book Club Top 100 Bestsellers.  Notice how it’s dominated by series, media tie-ins and non-science fiction titles.   The SFBC has little science fiction.  Not so for the Kindle list.  Evidently would-be writers are very anxious to write science fiction and readers are finding it on Amazon to consume in mass quantities on their Kindles.

Harris calls the free e-books list a “universal slush pile,” though I think that may not be quite correct. After all, that list only shows the hundred books that the most people have found to be worth downloading, and that filters out all but an infinitesimal fraction of a percent of all the books offered for free on Amazon. If it has any relation to a slush pile, it’s what’s left of the pile after all the obvious dross has been removed.

And on the other hand, Harris feels that science fiction has lost much of its vitality in recent years, with writers trying to build book sales rather than coming up with original and far-out ideas. Perhaps self-publishing can do something about that.

I find the focus on science fiction interesting, as it’s long seemed to me that the science fiction genre is a sort of literary world unto itself. Its readers band together and hold annual events to celebrate their genre. They tend to be early adopters—indeed, the very existence of an e-book reader itself was originally predicted by science fiction. And one of the pioneers of commercial e-book sales was Baen, a science fiction publisher. Perhaps SF is the natural genre of e-books.