Posts Tagged ‘genre’

The Fluidity of Genre

We’ve been going through genre conventions at my storycraft meetings, Squiders. We were supposed to do all three speculative fiction genres at a single meeting–horror, science fiction, and fantasy–but we started with horror and two hours later were still happily on horror, so we’ve broken it up. We did horror, and last night we did science fiction, and in two weeks we’ll do fantasy, and I had a request from one member to do a discussion on cross-genre, specifically spec fic romance, so we might as well just roll right into that one too.

The meetings have a very loose structure. We spend the first hour trying to agree on genre conventions, then we read through the Wikipedia article on said genre and fight with it (and also read the history part, and so last night I learned that “scifi” was originally–and potentially still?–a term for low brow, low quality pulpy sort of media, and “science fiction” is/was for serious, worthwhile media. Which seems on level with the Trekker/Trekkie semantics, but hey, whatever, we all like to feel superior somehow). And then we go through various lists of subgenres and fight with those too.

A subgenre, for those who may not be familiar with the term, is essentially a further breaking down of a genre. If you know you’re specifically looking for dragons and elves, it helps to know what subgenre you’re looking for, especially with the dawn of online retailers like Amazon who get a bit ridiculous in their breakdown. Several years ago I did a science fiction/fantasy breakdown of several subgenres, which you can see here (though I realize that I never did do a final update to the master list. One more thing to do).

For horror, we had a decent list of conventions (and I should point out that this is specifically for speculative horror):

  • Often no final resolution, leaves the reader in a state of unease
  • Protagonist is often shaken to core
  • Plays on fear
  • Incorporates elements of the unknown
  • Tends to twist common things into something terrifying
  • Often includes a betrayal of safety
  • Often includes themes of isolation

For science fiction, we all agreed on exactly one convention:

  • Has a connection to modern humanity

We couldn’t even agree that science fiction had to be about technology, especially since a lot of recent fantasy has become very technological in scope. So the best we ended up with, especially to separate science fiction from fantasy, is that there had to be a connection to now. Some thread of “us,” no matter how far in the future or jumping through the dimensions. Some way that “we” directly become “them.” In a fantasy world, you can have humans without having those humans have any connection to the real world or history or anything of that ilk.

That’s not to say that fantasy can’t have a connection to modern humanity, just that that was the one thread we could agree upon that defined science fiction. And even that is probably too limiting, because there are probably science fiction stories out there without a human being in sight.

At least we’re not the only ones confused. Wikipedia included one author repeating the general definition of pornography, i.e., I know it when I see it.

Even the lists of subgenres seem a bit confused. You have things like “cyberpunk,” which has clear themes and tones that are fairly universal throughout the subgenre, but also things like “time travel,” which sticks something like Doctor Who or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court into the same category as The Time Traveler’s Wife, Outlander, The Time Machine, or Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. With a cyberpunk book, you generally know what you’re getting; a time travel book could fall anywhere in the fiction spectrum.

We’ve got a going challenge to try and organize the scifi books we own into seven subgenres, and then we’re going to share our subgenres at the next meeting and see what we come up with.

I almost feel like subgenres exist so we can try and get a handle on what a story is, but it may all be a lost cause.

What do you think, Squiders? Agree with the conventions we came up with? What conventions do you use to separate the major specfic genres? Do you agree with my cohort’s postulation that the speculative fiction genres are converging again into a single genre ala the 1800s, or is it more of a convergent evolution sort of thing?

Is it Worth it to Know About Sub-genres?

If you’ve been around here for awhile, Squiders, you remember we spent about a year going through different science fiction and fantasy subgenres. As might be expected from going through such an activity, I sometimes find myself being really particular about subgenre.

Last week I was at a working group with several other speculative fiction writers, and I don’t quite remember how we got onto it, but we were talking about subgenre, and I’m afraid I probably got a little lecture-y (“this is space opera, and this is why”). I had this conversation with one of the other writers.

Other Writer> I know that if it has elves, it’s fantasy, and if it has spaceships, it’s science fiction.
Kit> What if it has elves on spaceships?
OW> I read those books, and they were crap.

But it was obvious that subgenre wasn’t a big concern for them, and it didn’t really matter to them that they couldn’t tell contemporary fantasy from urban fantasy, and it made me wonder if it was worthwhile that I could.

(Well, for a certain definition of “could.” If you were around for the Subgenre Studies, you’ll remember that a lot of this is open to personal interpretation and author intent.)

Knowing subgenre isn’t really useful as a marketing tool because most people don’t know what subgenres are or what subgenres they like. It doesn’t seem to be until someone has issues finding things they like that they delve into subgenre at all, and then mostly out of desperation. (And even so, a lot of people will still use a book as an example rather than a particular subgenre. “I’m looking for books like The Island” rather than “I’m looking for dark fantasy.”)

It doesn’t help for selling books because most people will stare at you when you tell them your latest novel is mythic fantasy.

Plus there’s a wide variety of books within subgenre, even. G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are both high fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that people who read one are going to like the other.

From that standpoint, it seems like it’s not really worth it to know anything past the difference between scifi and fantasy (itself a bit fluid) and maybe major subgenres, like urban fantasy or steampunk. Maybe the rest of it all comes down to academics and there’s no real world application of knowing the difference between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.

What do you think, Squiders? Is there a reason to be able to break down subgenres? Or is it all a waste of time?

Reading in 2013

Happy 2014, Squiders! I hope your holidays were lovely, or at least non-stressful.

For those of you just joining us, or those who have joined us recently, I am a nerd, and I like statistics.

And at the end of every year, I do statistics on the books I’ve read for the year. My goal is always to read 50. I usually reach that, but sometimes it’s a near thing.

So, without further ado, my reading stats from 2013:

Books read in 2013: 50
Change from 2012: -2

2012 was down from 2011, so this is NOT ENCOURAGING.

Of those:
19 were Mystery
15 were Fantasy
4 were Science Fiction
2 were Gothic
2 were Historical Fiction
2 were Magical Realism
1 was Children’s
1 was General Literature
1 was Mythology
1 was Nonfiction
1 was Romance
1 was Thriller

Children’s and YA genre is included with the genre.

New genre(s): Mythology, Magical Realism
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: Science Fantasy, Horror, Chick Lit, Paranormal, Young Adult

Genres that went up: Mystery, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Gothic
Genres that went down: Thriller, Romance, Nonfiction, General Literature, Children’s

Man, that mystery binge really destroyed everything else.

29 were my books (7 were ebooks)
18 were library books (4 were ebooks)
3 were borrowed from friends/family

Average Rating: 3.36 (out of 5)

Top Rated:
Shades of Grey (5)
Murder with Peacocks (4.3)
We’ll Always Have Parrots (4.3)
Forged by Fate (4)
Inherit the Stars (4)
A Great and Terrible Beauty (4)
The Moon Pool (4)

Howl’s Moving Castle also got a 5, but it doesn’t count because it was a re-read.

Also Shades of Grey (not to be confused with 50 Shades of Gray) was amazing.

Most recent publication year: 2013
Oldest publication year: 1898
Average publication year: 1992
Books Older than (and including) 1900: 1
Books Newer than (and including) 2010: 13

I actually read several books that were published between 1900 and 1920, which brought down the average significantly.

How many books did you read last year, Squiders? What ones did you enjoy the most? What’s your reading goal for 2014?

Urban Fantasy versus Paranormal Romance

You know, despite all the subgenre studies we’ve done here, I still have a hard time differentiating between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I mean, logically, I can spout off definitions but I have a hard time with actual books because a lot of times they read very similar to each other.

Urban fantasy is fantasy that takes place in a city. It isn’t necessarily contemporary. And paranormal romance is just a romance with paranormal elements. There’s a lot of variables on both–time period, setting, types of fantastical/paranormal elements, etc.

But from what I’ve seen, both tend to be modern-day in urban environments. And both tend to have a romance plot/subplot and a non-romance plot/subplot, and often times they seem to be of almost equal importance.

I’ve run into this in other places as well, particularly between cozy mysteries and romance. A lot of it seems to come down to marketing.

Kit, you may be saying, why does this matter?

Well, because me and my publishing team have been a little stumped on Shards. Technically, it’s mythic fantasy, but that’s not normally a nice shelf in a bookstore. And yes, there is romance. But if the major difference between the two subgenres is how important the romance is versus the non-romance plot, well, I guess it slides into urban fantasy. Romantic urban fantasy, maybe? Urban romantic mythic fantasy. Say that five times fast.

What about you, Squiders? Where’s your delineation between the two, if you have one? (Judging by the amount of books listed as both paranormal romance and urban fantasy on Amazon, most people don’t bother.)

The Debate on Genre Separation

My friend Sarah is a librarian at an elementary school. She’s been working on this big project, suggested by the kids, to separate all the books into their respective fiction genres.

She even let the kids pick out what genres they wanted (such as “animal fiction”). Now that’s a good librarian.

I highly approve of said project, because I also prefer my genres to be separated out. As a kid, I used to roam the stacks, looking specifically for the telltale “fantasy” and “science fiction” stickers they use to differentiate genre. It was a bit frustrating.

So count me in. I would live in a science fiction/fantasy section.

But then I got to thinking. One of the biggest complaints against the traditional publishing industry is that if they can’t figure out where it’ll go on a shelf, they won’t buy a story, no matter how good it is. It doesn’t quite work here, because a library wouldn’t reject a book based on a strange genre; they’d just put it in the general literature section.

But a magical realism book might get shelved general literature over science fiction/fantasy, and then a potential reader might never find it if they didn’t venture outside their chosen genre.

And, one could argue, it’s kind of fun to wander the stacks, pulling out books with neat titles or fun covers and seeing which ones catch your fancy. Heck, I got into fantasy that way. Pulled the Sword of Shannara off my elementary school’s library shelf and haven’t looked back since.

So, Squiders, how do you feel about separating genres at the library? Want all your scifi/fantasy, mystery, romance in convenient boxes? Prefer to have everything all mixed together? How does your local library have things set up, and what would you change?


Pay no attention to this bit. Just doing some internet bookkeeping. 6K7GGUJQHTWX

The Future of Fantasy

Well, now that we’ve spent six weeks exploring some common fantasy races, we can start to look at fantasy trends instead.

If you guys are familiar with fantasy, you know it goes through trends. We’ve been in an urban fantasy trend in general, lately, but then there are trends within urban fantasy, usually dependent on which race is big at the moment.

Early on in urban fantasy, faeries and related fae were the main race. Then we switched to vampires, and then angels, and there was a bit of a mermaid surge, and it seems like we’re just finishing up a zombie trend. And there’s werewolves in there somewhere.

So I’m a bit interested to see where urban fantasy turns to next. Will it cycle back around? Will we run out of humanoid-esque creatures and head on to even weirder things? Personally, I’m hoping for kracken. Small kracken, lurking in creeks in city parks, waiting for people to wander too close to the edge…

(And then, invariably, one kracken falls in love with an average-looking teenage girl and then the whole thing devolves from there.)

Rumor says, however, that epic fantasy is going to come back into the forefront of the genre. Man, I hope so. I love epic fantasy, and sometimes it’s hard–especially recently, it seems–to find good, original, character-driven epic fantasy. So I love the idea.

Heard anything about upcoming fantasy trends, Squiders? Have anything you’d personally like to see? Anything you don’t want to see?

2013 Blog Direction

First, a little horn-tooting: I’ve got a new story up over at Turtleduck Press, a haunting tale of family secrets. You don’t have to take my word for it, though–here are a couple things readers have said to me about it:

“It’s a great story, subtle and building.” –KD Sarge
“Subtle, wistful, and a little creepy.” –Siri Paulson
“It’s pretty chilling.” –Erin Zarro
“That gave me goosebumps. That captivated me. It was WONDERFULLY written.” -a reader on a message board

So, you know, up to you. Now, onto business. I have a poll here. Please let me know which types of posts you’re enjoying, and which sorts of posts you’d like more of, either through the poll or the comments, and I shall try to be accommodating. Otherwise, I hope everyone’s having a lovely Fat Tuesday.

(I get PANCAKES for dinner. I am so excited, it’s like I’m six.)

A Protest Against Unnecessary Darkness

It’s entirely possible this is going to come off as fandom rage. If so, I apologize in advance. I try to stay pretty level-headed about such things, but I am not always successful.

I’ve noticed this trend, probably over the last decade, of taking something and redoing it darker. Sometimes this works awesomely. A lot of times it works awesomely, actually, but it’s almost become a requirement, and it sometimes seems like you can’t find genre anymore that it isn’t dark. The grittier and more realistic, the better.

Sometimes, though, it seems like this added darkness takes away from the original idea.

I’m kind of grumpy about this lately because, as I’m sure you know, J.J. Abrams has been named as the director of the new Star Wars movies. And these articles keep using the phrase “since Abrams saved Star Trek.”

Herein lies the fandom rage. Was Star Trek dead? No. Did it have issues? Yes. I’ve been a Trekkie practically since birth, but even I didn’t watch Enterprise, and I don’t consider any of the Next Gen movies past First Contact in my own personal head cannon. It got bogged down in its own mythology, and the people in charge were seemingly unable to come up with any decent new directions. And it did come down to the point where it seemed like people were beating a dead horse.

So, yes, the 2009 Star Trek movie did some good things for the franchise. It got new fans interested, a lot of whom went back and then fell in love with the series. But it didn’t really feel like Trek. It gets away with it with the whole “alternate reality” thing. To an extent.

(I have plot and character issues, but then this really will turn into fandom rage, so we’ll leave that be for now.)

And now, we have Star Trek Into Darkness coming out in May, and I find myself feeling very anxious about the state of Trek. It’s got “darkness” right there in the title, and I’m worried that Abrams is going to take away the thing that separates Trek from most of the rest of science fiction: its optimism.

Star Trek has always showed the good in humanity. We didn’t destroy our planet. We didn’t wipe ourselves out, we weren’t invaded by extraterrestrials. We banded together, we formed a peaceful planet-wide government. We went out into the universe, peacefully, and made friends. Look at us! Hoorah!

Sure, there’s some darkness there. There’s torture, genocide, murder, conspiracies, you name it. But overall, people are good. Humanity is good.

Or at least it was, in Roddenberry’s time.

But we can’t have that in today’s culture. Everything is dark, gritty, and humanity is doomed to failure. Why? Why do we need that? Why, when real life is bad enough, do we need darkness in our fiction too? Why can’t things be happy and rainbows and unicorns every now and then?

Opinions, Squiders? About the trend towards darkness, Star Trek, or anything in between?

What Did I Read in 2012?

Each year I keep track of what I read, genre and publication year, and what I thought of each book. And then I do nerdy statistics with said data.

Books read in 2012: 52
Change from 2011: -1

Of those:
11 were Fantasy
9 were Science Fiction
6 were Mystery
5 were Nonfiction
5 were Science Fantasy
3 were Romance*
2 were Children’s
2 were General Literature
2 were Horror
2 were Thrillers
1 was Chick Lit
1 was Gothic
1 was Historical Fiction
1 was Paranormal
1 was Young Adult**

*includes all subgenres of romance
**genre YA is included with the genre

New genres: Gothic, Thrillers, Chick Lit, Children’s

Genres that went up: Science Fiction, Mystery, Science Fantasy, Romance, Horror
Genres that went down: Fantasy, Nonfiction, General Literature

Pretty good spread, if I do say so myself.

27 were my books (5 were ebooks, 1 I originally got from the library but later bought)
18 were from the library
7 I borrowed from friends or family

Average Rating: 3.44

Top Rated:
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (4.5)
Parable of the Sower (4.3)
Catching Fire (4)
Dark Companion (4)
Elantris (4)
Lieutenant Hornblower (4)
Many Waters (4)
The Secret Circle II (4)
What the Lady Wants (4)
Your Best Birth (4)

Special mention for The Darkest Road and Anna Dressed in Blood, both of which got a 3.9. Still no 5’s, but it’s nice to see that most of my top books this year are in my favorite genres.

Most recent publication year: 2012
Oldest publication year: 1886
Average publication year: 1988
Books Older than (and including) 1900: 3
Books Newer than (and including) 2000: 27

Let me know if you’re interested in seeing the full list.

Loving a Book in a Genre You Hate

I do not like historical fiction. It is my very least favorite genre. Not sure why–maybe I feel that the authors tend to force morals or ideas on the reader that are out of touch with the time period? Or I just simply don’t care. Or something. Either way, I tend to steer clear for my own sanity.

(Not to say that there are not the occasional ones that I enjoy quite a bit. I’ve read most of Tracy Chevalier’s stuff. Though I admittedly started with one that switched between modern day and a past time, which is one of my very favorite writing conventions.)

(I also want to point out that this is only a problem with modern authors writing past times. Stories written hundreds of years ago about times that are contemporary to them are fine, for obvious reasons.)

So it was to my very great surprise that I enjoy the Horatio Hornblower series quite as much as I do. I told myself that I was doing it for research–I wanted to set a story on a ship, and I know very little about them. (Ships have…masts! And sails!) Also, my husband was reading the first book and wanted to discuss it, and I occasionally indulge him.

But I love the books, I really do. We’re admittedly going chronological, rather than the order C.S. Forester wrote them in, so we started somewhere in the middle of his career, but I love everything about them.

His descriptions are spot-on. I honestly thought, at first, that he was contemporary to the time period (later 1700s to early 1800s) because everything was so perfect that it felt like it was someone who was intimately familiar with how things worked on a ship of the line. (C.S> Forester wrote from the mid 1930s to the 1970s or so.)

To be honest, it kind of reminds me of some of the science fiction I like, except, you know, being about the British navy during the Napoleanic wars.

My biggest complaint is that my husband is such a slow reader that I’m not getting through them as fast as I’d like.

What about you, Squiders? Do you have a book or series that you adore that is in a genre you normally can’t stand? (Just want to chat about Hornblower? Also welcome!)