Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Breaking the Genre Mould

After reading Dave's post about people not knowing the tropes before they start writing in a genre, it occurred to me that speculative fiction is a rather arcane genre, with many sub-genres.

I was at a convention over the weekend and someone asked me to define fantasy. I said, 'James Bond is a fantasy' and they all fell about laughing. LOL, because it is. In fact, when it was written it was near future SF and now it is retro SF.

So here we have Firefly - which is cowboys in space. And we have Star Wars which is fantasy in space, just swap the swords with the light sabres.

Once it was science fiction, fantasy and horror, and there was a whole sub-genre of romance that dealt with fantasy-romance, futuristic-romance and paranormal-romance. Then paranormal-romance escaped the confines of its sub-genre and became Dark Urban Fantasy (I know DUFs don't offer closure for the romance arc with every book), but they do have lashings more sensuality than the urban fantasies that came before them. And there's steampunk, a whole movement in itself. I must admit I really like the costumes. Simply spiffy. It's a pity we don't dress like that every day.

Now we have genres being twisted and inter-woven so as to challenge definition. Think of Simon Green's Nightside series. (I really enjoy these books). The series is horror and dark urban fantasy but his world also includes science fiction tropes.

Have we reached a point where your average reader isn't too worried about the divide between the genres? I read across a variety of genres. and like to find books that challenge and stretch the genres.

Have you discovered any authors who manage to take a genre and give it a surprising new twist? Does it worry you, if the genres are inter-woven?


David Barron said...

Of course, the list of genres used to be limited to "Book" and then Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes came along.

I call this elegant theory "On the Origin of Genres": As more and more readers enter the marketplace, the genres will specialize into ever more diverse niches, common ancestry overlaid with distinct tropes.

Why, 'tis the most natural thing in the world, this Reavolution.

Brendan said...

Firefly=Westerns in Space, StarWars=Fantasy in Space, Alien=Horror in Space. When will I get PG Wodehouse in Space? I want a cyber Jeeves.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

David, I suppose it is the 'power of the web'.

We can reach a niche market of people who want to read about more and more genre specific things.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I'd read about a Cyber Jeeves.

Would Red Dwarf's Creighton doesn't quite count.

Scott said...

I love mixed genres. It's generally what I end up writing.

But I actually think that fantasy and SF should not be called genres at all. If someone tells you a book is SF what does that tell you? It could actually be a romance or adventure or mystery or comedy or... Fantasy and SF is just the canvas that they are painted on and the frame that holds them-- the story itself is always something else.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Scott, you are so right. SF is the genre where any other genre can appear and still be SF!

MataPam said...

I like SF mysteries. I need some good books on writing mysteries, I've got a list somewhere . . .

MataPam said...

Oops, forgot examples.

SF/Mystery - Several of Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan series have been mysteries.

UF/Mystery - Sarah's Shifters series, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden.

Fantasy/Mystery - Randall Garret's Lord Darcy.

Almost any book that involves "Find out what caused that" will have mystery elements.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, as a reader and author I love the fact that the genres are blending. I think the blending started to bring more readers into certain genres. After all, how many romance readers now read SF because of the romance element? And look at all the paranormal romance readers. UF plus romance plus (in a number of cases) near-porn and you have a booming sub-genre. As a reader who enjoys a good mystery, sf, fantasy and -- though I hesitate to admit it -- a bit of romance, I love the blending and it's exposed me to a number of authors I'd never have read otherwise.

As an author, I love it for much the same reasons. It offers a new section of readers who might not have picked up my short stories or book otherwise. It also lets me play with tropes that were once not included in the sf/f/uf genres. I like that.

Brendan said...

I think some of the most painful experiences in reading SF is where an author decides to play the SF-Mystery/Detective, SF-Romance or other genre meld without properly understanding the non SF genre. To hark back to Dave's post, the writer has to be able to follow "the rules" that apply to both genres or it just doesn't work.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, Bujold is an excellent example of someone who writes SF and this blends into mystery, military thriller and even romance.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda, I agree, the blending of the genres has opened spec fic to new readers.

And we shouldn't have to appologise for enjoying romance!

I love Georgette Heyer. And will read Regency romances, although I haven't come across anyone to equal her.

I also trawl through the Dark Urban Fantasy books. Two of my ROR friends have written DUF that contain love stories, but equally strong plots and world building.

Maybe I should do a post about this.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, Brendan.

We've been grumbling about people writing SF when they don't know the genre.

If they're going to delve into mystery or romance, they should treat the genre with respect.

Dave Freer said...

Well, I think it is quite important to think just what 'genre' actually is?

IMO - it's a key for readers to say 'you may possibly like this if liked such-and-such, which is the same genre (or sub genre).'

Now - I am all in favour of cross-crafting. But I FEAR false pretences. If you're going to take say MIL SF and add a little romance or mystery, you can certainly enhance it - Weber and Bujold both do so very successfully. But if the new aspect becomes a far bigger deal than say the gritty military side... your gains may equal (or supercede) your losses. Hollywood is full of shining examples of p!ssing off your core audience, to try and please an outside audience - that won't have it either because of the original tag. DUF and YA are less extreme examples - but they've both largely lost their original audiences to take some from romance. They're bigger than they used to be, but reading is poorer. The 'genre label' - like your name or an award - are commendations of certain qualities. Writing junk later to make quick money or co-authoring with incompetants is a good way to wreck the commendation value of your name, and so of course is the stupidity that goes on in many of the awards and prizes. It's very easy to translate that to genre too. When I buy a western, I don't mind a little romance in it. But 'western' did not commend 'bodice ripper, with two mentions of six guns, both pornographic'. It's ahard line to walk.

Chris McMahon said...

I have no problem with cross-genre as long as the rules set out in the book and the logic isn't broken.

Neal Asher did some fantastic things in the Skinner series - not really cross genre, but really interesting stuff with ecology.

Synova said...

I was thinking of one book that started out as one thing and turned into something else... both science fiction but the first set in a rustic caravan desert setting and then switching to ultra advanced take a vacation as a different creature setting. I realized that I stopped reading when the switch happened. And I think it's more because it seemed like a different genre all of a sudden instead of because I'd dislike it.

I was going to suggest that genre or sub-genres in SF might have more to do with "voice" or "tone" than content but that wasn't the case with this book. (My husband and I like completely different sets of science fiction and I think it's mostly to do with tone.)

But anyhow, I wondered if electronic publishing might be used to follow when people *stop* reading. That might be useful. I wonder how many people read that same book I did and sort of trailed off a few pages after getting to the new place just like I did.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, good point about still delivering on the essence of the genre.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris Mc,

Yes, the internal logic has to work. It is like learning a new set of rule for each book but as long as the rules are consistent, I'm OK.

Brendan said...

Doesn't Heinlein's Glory Road does a genre swap half way through? It has been years since I read it but I seem to remember a modern day hero magically plonked down into a fantasy setting where he has to rescue the princess. Then it turns out that while she was at risk, it wasn't that bad and the whole thing was an audition for his role in a war the princess's galactic empire was involved in. I remember the disconnect when everything changed but, given it was Heinlein, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and read on.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


The change from planet to space wouldn't have bothered me if I was connected with the characters.

If I'm worried about them, I'll keep reading.