Fantasy author Mark Charan Newton has some ideas about why sales for sf is flagging while fantasy is still going strong. He comes across as the extra who had to nod and duck out of frame when Claude Rains said “Round up the usual suspects.” We have literary types and Hollywood and “We’re living in the future!” and, er, women. (Because “Women matter” which I guess is supposed to suggest that women as a group read very little science fiction, or that sf doesn’t appeal to women. Or something. The author doesn’t make it entirely clear, stating that sf readership is falling and citing “More women than men read books” as a reason, leaving the reader to draw the conclusion. I know there are many, many women who read sf, but I wonder whether the percentages match the percentage of the reading public as a whole.)
There are a couple of interesting comments and assumptions in the post. One is the comment about women I mentioned already. Another is that the LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER movies have driven people to read fantasy as a genre. While I’m sure that’s happened, I’m not all that convinced it’s happened at a significant scale. Harry Potter was bringing people into the genre well before the movies; that’s why they made the movies, actually.
An interesting question raised but not addressed in the post is that there are lots of science fiction movies out there (TV shows, too) but they don’t seem to be driving people to pick up sf novels. (In comments, “Niall” states that DOCTOR WHO is the exception, and if that’s true it would be interesting to figure out why.) Didn’t sf have a huge spike in popularity after STAR WARS?
He also states that he’s “talking about Space Opera, Hard-SF etc – the core genre.” I can’t help but wonder what parts of science fiction don’t make it into the core.
I guess my final point would be that I don’t expect science fiction will ever die. Not really. It might become the sort of thing that only a specialty press would want to publish for a core audience, but I seriously doubt it would ever fall to that level. Seriously doubt, in part because the poster notes that when talking about the survival of the genre, literary sf doesn’t count. I can’t quite figure out why.
I should mention that the last
science fiction hard science fiction novel I read was probably Picoverse, which was great fun until I realized the characters weren’t. My interest flagged quickly, and it occurred to me that several of the sf books I’d read recently had incredibly uninteresting or unbelievable characters. I’d been reading them out of a sense of duty–science fiction is supposed to be good for me, isn’t it? And the culture, too?–but not enjoying them. So I stopped. At this point I read mostly fantasy and mystery, and I’m happier for it.
 Discussion in comments has made me realize that I have read sf since then, but I wasn’t thinking of them as sf because I’d enjoyed them.