Underappreciated authors: over at SF Signal, some interesting-sounding leads to chase up. I'm stunned-not-stunned nobody mentioned the great Steve Aylett, who makes "impervious to popularity" his USP. Also, Cheryl Morgan's Eurocon recommended reading includes a lot of names new to me.
It is probably true that genre readership has a top-heavy structure: there's way too much attention, desire, intelligence and resourcefulness, focused on a few superauthors. Some of that stock of fervent, sentient energy could be more justly housed in the accomplishments of midlisters and weirdos.
What if there were no underappreciated authors, no underrated authors? What if everyone were appreciated just the amount they deserved? Would there be a downside?
One of the unique virtues of genre fiction -- in particular, of science fiction (and its quasi-realist concomitants like design fiction and some YA) -- is a capability which relies on a certain amount of top-heaviness, a certain superficially excessive focus on a small number of writers and texts. I think the downside would be diffusion, and an associated degradation of this capability which is peculiar to genre fiction.
It is the capability of second-order extrapolation. It seems impossible to get anywhere significant in the imagination with only one extrapalatory leap: no matter how ingenious you are with your leap, no matter how you twist and contort in the air, there's simply nowhere interesting within range. That is a fact about the historical moment we're living through.
But when you have a gigantic readership who are periodically funneled together through the bottlenecks, such as avidly devouring a superauthor's Latest Awesomeness, or such as reading all the works nominated for a particular award, then you get the possibility of creating a special kind of public. It's a public that periodically naturalises the novum. That is, there's a regular cycle of absorbing a set of extrapolations (and other cognitive estrangements) and codifying them as genre literacy, something which can now be taken for granted ... perhaps opening the way for other authors (or the same authors) to build on the baseline!
In other words, having underappreciated authors is part of what gives genre fiction its real avant-garde potential (assuming the only avant-garde worth bothering with is actually the avant-avant-garde).
Of course, that theory does rather rely on the superauthors and the prize nominees occupying an avant-garde and/or marginal position in the first place, rather than just being adept centrist synthesizers, which isn't usually how they Rowl ...
(Get it, like JK Rowling?)