And of course the products of pigeons. And no, strangely enough, I don't mean eggs. Or even chicks.
As Kurt Vonnegut put it: "I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'Science Fiction' ... and I would like out, particulary since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."
Being me I really don't care deeply about serious critics inherent anti-sf bigotry. The literary establishment is desperately insecure and needs something to look down on, after all. What I do care about is when pigeon-holing, pre-conceptions and ignorance cuts me off from readers. Take, for example, SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS. Now, if I had to try to put it into discrete genre pigeon-holes... I'd start by saying it doesn't fit into any one. To the best of my knowledge the technology -- while it involves space travel -- is (unlike a lot of sf) all based on working (or near working) technology. It is a grand concept, but I intentionally went for a very matter of fact no-dazzling-flashing-lights-and-exploding-impossiblium attitiude to it all. It neatly 'solves' three of the enormous problems in any pre-existing slower-than-light travel sf : the issue of habitability of the target (the colonists are colonising space, not planets. They need space debris and a sun - something a lot easier to find than a second Earth), the issue of ship size for bio-viability (the viability and carrying capacity is not related to volume. It is related to surface area! The 'folded' inside to the habitats is a first), and the speed issue (the trip time is hugely increase by accelaration and decelaration - and these are energy expensive. Therefore accelarate once, and drop modules. Cheaper, faster and better!) It therefore fulfils the hard-sf genre pigeon-hole. It is intentionally a Gulliver's Travels through isolated human societies using the established satire technique of the 'innocent observer' to show up the ridulousness of the mores of present society: That would put it into social satire (and not Science Fiction at all any more than Animal Farm is Science Fiction) or, if you were to ignore the satire aspect, social Science Fiction - which as it also is, in that it looks a social issues (such as colonialism and isolation) in a science fiction setting. There is a distinct element of humor and, um, biology (they go together so often) - humorous sf. Biological sf. Oh and then there is the just straight adventure story to carry it all along and keep it moving fast. Depending on you, the reader, you'd probably say it was one or another of categories with aspects of the others. About the only thing you wouldn't say it was, was space opera. There are no intergalactic conflicts, no powerful and fanciful unexplained technology, no untamed frontiers a la Wild West or Africa. To quote Wikipedia on Space Opera: "Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale." Hello, this is the story of a small cast of individuals on one space ship. The themes, I suppose, might be large. But I think you can safely say that this is not a pigeon-hole that book fits into at all. Probably the only one... SORCERESS OF KARRES and WIZARD OF KARRES are principally Space Opera. They certainly fit the Wikipdia profile: so I do write it, and to some extent it has a fairly distinct reader group (ie. there are people who only read that, or who don't).
So let's see what the critics who do this for a living (and thereby affect our living) said about which pigeon-hole SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS fits into:
Publishers Weekly: 'doesn't bring anything original to space opera.'
I have to laugh. I suppose in a way this is a first :-). That is 100% accurate. It really doesn't bring anything original to space opera. Yeah, Kurt. I feel your pain! I shudder to imagine what pigeon-hole they're going to put DRAGON'S RING into. Odds on paranormal romance or funny fantasy anyone?
Anyway, so let's talk about pigeon-holes. Do you think your work belongs in them? Which ones, and why? Are they useful? Do you buy by 'type' of book? Should you try to write, or market your work to a pigeon-hole?