It’s a question that comes to me at least once a week. Not from any outside source, but from inside my own head. You see, this is a blog where I write about science fiction. Unless you’re totally new here (in which case, welcome) you probably knew that already. But science fiction covers a whole lot of stuff, and I can only talk about a tiny fraction of it. My goal with At Boundary’s Edge is to talk about the science fiction that I enjoy. This is a place of positivity. Yes, I read and watch things I don’t like, but the reviews I give here are all personal opinion. I always encourage people to go out and make up their own minds. Your tastes and mine likely diverge in a lot of key areas. But so long as you like science fiction, I’m sure we’ll have a reason to get along. That’s what being a community means after all.
But communities have a problem. Certain books gain traction faster than others. Sometimes it’s the result of good (or bad) marketing, sometimes its more spontaneous. Either way, the end result is that some books (and I’ll focus on books for the purposes of this article) get more reviews than others. To get my point across, here is some raw data from At Boundary’s Edge:
- Leviathan Falls (James S. A. Corey) – 1913 views
- Dune (Frank Herbert) – 610 views
- Cage of Souls (Adrian Tchaikovsky) – 512 views
- Anarch (Dan Abnett) – 400 views
- Penitent (Dan Abnett) – 382 views
- God Emperor of Dune (Frank Herbert) – 242 views
- I, Robot (Isaac Asimov) – 215 views
- Pariah (Dan Abnett) – 201 views
- Lord of the Dark Millennium (Dan Abnett) – 195 views
- Sabbat War (Dan Abnett (ed.)) – 158 views
Those are the ten most viewed book reviews on this blog. You’ll probably notice a pattern there. A full half of the top ten is authored or edited by Dan Abnett. Two of them are part of the Dune saga. Three have very famous adaptations. People already knew about these books before coming to At Boundary’s Edge.
Abnett performs well because the Warhammer community is fairly active online, but not many major sites talk about tie-in fiction, so fans come to smaller blogs like my own. Of course, Abnett is one of the biggest names in Warhammer. But all Black Library book reviews I write perform above the average.
Dune is always popular (both to adore and to hate) and my reread coincided quite neatly with the new film version, so that explains the draw. As for God Emperor, it’s probably the most famous of the sequels. But the rest of the saga falls short of these lofty heights.
Leviathan Falls has outperformed the competition, which is incredibly given that the review is barley two months old. Yes, there’s the TV audience, but even so I was surprised. The anomalous result in this top ten is Cage of Souls, which performed well largely due to retweets and other Twitter interactions.
The most important thing to take from all of this is that all of these books are also being discussed elsewhere. It’s the catch-22 of book blogging. If you talk about the same books as everyone else, you’re likely to get lost in the sea of opinions. But if you try and champion lesser known books, no one will hear you speak. I started this blog to talk about the books no one else was discussing, but if you don’t talk about the big releases of any given year, or the classics, nobody seems to care.
Here’s another thing. I love Star Trek books. I’ve written upwards of sixty reviews for them. The most viewed (Kristen Beyer’s Full Circle) sits at 88 views after a year and a half. The second most popular (Beyer again, with To Lose the Earth) has a lowly 22. STar Trek has the mother of all fandoms, but it feels like hardly anyone is interested in the book side of things. Not that my TV reviews fare any better. It’s not like I’m wailing in despair about the lack of engagement, but it would be nice to see these lower numbers jump up a bit. Yes, I put effort into the reviews. But the authors put far more into their books. I want more people to discover these books. To enjoy them as much as I have. That is why I do what I do. But I’m just a small fish in a very big pond. If people aren’t actively looking for the reviews, they certainly won’t be coming my way by chance. Popularity (and notoriety) is self-perpetuating, but to break through to that point is nearly impossible.
Is there a point to all this, I hear you ask. Well, maybe not. Because I don’t see a way to change the status quo. As a science fiction blogger, I’m in a niche within a niche. I could talk about fantasy as well, and likely triple my views in a month, but I don’t want to. There are plenty of people doing that. My thing is science fiction, and there’s a charming purity of intent to that. I’ve seen some bigger reviews (bloggers and YouTubers) say they’ll only talk about the big releases because smaller fry don’t get the engagement. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. I take more of a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. Maybe people will stumble across what I’ve done here. Maybe they’ll seek it out. I know there won’t be many of them, but I’ll be waiting when they arrive.
Engagement is lovely. Likes, follows, views, and shares are all great. But I’m not doing this for the numbers. I’m doing this because someone should make a record of science fiction, whether it’s popular or not. Someone has to talk about the books they enjoy, even if no one care to listen. And if no one else will, then I guess it’ll have to be me.