Posts Tagged ‘subgenre study’

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.)

Subgenre Study: Mythic Fantasy

Ah, mythic fantasy, where Gods walk the Earth (or…not-Earth), where heroes are born, and where magic imbues the world around us.

A simplistic definition is that mythic fantasy is fantasy that weaves mythology into the world.  Usually each story focuses on a single culture’s mythology, but nothing is ever a hard, fast rule in speculative fiction.  Mythic fantasy can be an updated retelling of a myth to a completely new story where elements of a myth or mythology are present.

Mythic fantasy incorporates all mythologies, from Native American (ala Neil Gaiman or Charles de Lint) to Celtic to Arthurian to Japanese to Norse to a mythology that the author has completely made up.  Mythology is sometimes like porn – you know it when you see it.

While elements of mythic fantasy depend directly on the mythology involved, there does tend to be common elements in the subgenre.  Usually there are prophecies, and if not walking, talking, meddling gods, some sort of higher power.  Legends tend to be, at least in part, true.  Often a Hero’s Journey is involved in some manner.

Mythic fantasy can be mixed with other fantasy subgenres, such as epic or urban fantasy.  (Actually, I am terribly fond of urban mythic fantasy.  I like how ancient themes can mix with the modern world.)

How do you feel about mythic fantasy, Squiders?  Any mythologies that make you tingly?  Any recommendations?  (My friend just loaned me Guy Gavriel Kay’s entire Fionavar Tapestry.  I am excited.)


Subgenre Study: Comedic Fantasy

Like we talked about a few weeks ago, comedic fantasy is a subgenre that can be combined with other subgenres.  It defines the tone, not the setting, location, etc.  You can have comedic epic fantasy, comedic urban fantasy, or even comedic fantasy romance.

The biggest defining trait of comedic fantasy is that its intent is to be funny.  It may be a direct parody of a well-known fantasy book or may be an original word that’s meant to make you laugh as much as to tell a story.

Examples of well-known (and loved) comedic fantasy includes Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels, Terry Pratchett’s Discword books, and Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series.  You can also find examples in visual media, such as the webcomic the Order of the Stick, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and even the TV show I Dream of Jeannie.

Again, intent is important here.  Many books/movies/etc. will have funny moments without being comedic fantasy.  If the creator’s intent is to be funny at a good majority of times, then it counts.  Otherwise, not so much.  I guess someone could be unintentionally hilarious, but that’s a whole other problem.

How do you feel about Comedic Fantasy?  Does it tickle your funny bone, or do you prefer more serious tomes?  Any recommendations?

Subgenre Study: Quest Fantasy

I would argue that this is not a subgenre, but apparently in some circles it is considered one, so here we are.  I would say that the Quest is a plot point, not a subgenre, but I suppose it is one of the most common plots in fantasy, and you could lump all quest stories together.

(By the way, I apologize for how late this post is.  I blame this excellent book I am reading.)

The Quest!  A fantasy staple.  Often, our Hero is just a normal person, minding their own business, when something happens that propels him/hero out on a journey, where there are puzzles to be solved, monsters to be slain, and, usually, love to be found and some evil to defeat.  It is also often associated with the Hero’s Journey, though perhaps in a more literal way than some.

Quests tend to be literal journeys, requiring their protagonists to trump about the countryside in order to succeed in their goals.  A lot of classical literature that has survived also tends to be quest-related, such as the Odyssey, or even the Bible’s Exodus.

Some well-known quest stories include The Lord of the Rings, the Percy Jackson series, the original Shannara trilogy, and Watership Down.

What’s your feeling on quest stories, Squiders?  Rambling stories where it takes too long to get to the point, or excellent tales where the characters grow and learn more about their world?  Any recommendations?

Subgenre Study: Historical Fantasy

Hello?  Hello?  Hey, is this thing on?  If you have managed to stumble here on this, the most commercial of days, I hope that if you ventured outside into the consumerism that you met nice, friendly people full of holiday cheer but somehow I doubt that.  And if you stayed home, I hope you drank lots of cocoa and watched silly television specials.

Anyway, this week on Subgenre Study we will be looking at Historical Fantasy.  Now, overall, fantasy tends to break up into subgenres in three ways: 1) Location, 2) Time period, and 3) Theme.  Thus something can be both High Fantasy and Off-world Fantasy.  Historical fantasy falls into number 2, for obvious reasons.

Most fantasy takes place in worlds that tend to be vaguely medieval, but true historical fantasy often tries to stay truer to a specific time period, often incorporating real events or people into the narrative, or at least making sure that social conventions of the time period are accurately portrayed.  Historical fantasy can try to keep with real history (where fantastical elements are known only to the people in the story and not society at large), create an alternative history where the author is free to change key events without worrying about the space/time continuum, or like some high fantasy, much of the story takes place in a secondary world ala Narnia where the real world is unaffected.

Some steampunk would fall under the general umbrella of Historical Fantasy.

Historical fantasy actually has subgenres of the subgenre, the most common of which are:

  • Celtic Fantasy (usually taking place in medieval or ancient Ireland, Wales, or Scotland – and may sometimes cross over with Arthurian fantasy)
  • Medieval Fantasy (taking place in a medieval time period, obviously, and the source of main fantasy tropes)
  • Classic Fantasy (taking place in antiquity, usually involving Greeks or Romans)
  • Wuxia (usually involving Chinese or other Asian mythology that involves martial arts and a code of honor)
  • Prehistoric Fantasy (taking place in prehistory or before the rise of civilization)

How do you feel about historical fantasy, Squiders?  It’s really hit or miss for me, and mostly depends on how strong the fantasy elements are – historical fiction is my least favorite genre, so if historical fantasy reads too close I usually can’t stomach it (though there are always exceptions).  Any recommendations for the class?

Subgenre Study: Dying Earth

The Dying Earth subgenre is very similar to the apocalyptic fiction subgenre we explored earlier.  The key difference between the two is that apocalyptic fiction tends to deal with some major catastrophe that is threatening all life, whereas in Dying Earth things have more or less just faded over time until nothing is left and the planet is dying.  It’s a sudden process vs. a gradual one.  It’s a literal exploration of entropy, or the idea that all systems will eventually tend to go towards a more disordered state (though that is not actually what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says, but that is a discussion to have somewhere else).

While it is typically a subgenre of science fiction, it can have fantasy elements, or even feature a fantasy society that has replaced our current technological one.

Perhaps the best known of this subgenre is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, where a man travels far into the future only to find civilization has collapsed and humankind has changed so much it is hardly recognizable.

Dying Earth books often feature lone survivors searching the world for a better place.  Whether they find it or not depends.  Often resources are scarce and the world as we know it has changed dramatically, from the oceans rising, to tectonic activity, to changes in our solar system (such as the loss of the moon or the sun).

The Dying Earth subgenre is one of the oldest in modern science fiction, with examples dating back to the early 19th century.

While the subgenre usually deals with the end of our planet (hence the name) it can also deal with the end of the universe or the end of time.  The important, defining aspect is that this end is the cumulation of a long process of events, often over centuries or millennia, instead of something sudden.

Anything to recommend in this subgenre, Squiders?  Do you find it depressing or fascinating?

Subgenre Study: Time Travel

Squiders, I am bringing this to you even though I have overdosed on candy and may die.  That’s how dedicated I am.

Time Travel is generally considered a subgenre of science fiction, but there’s been some controversy lately.  You see, Einsteinian physics state that time travel is impossible.  No can do.  You’d have to destroy the universe to do it, and that’s just not worth it in a lot of people’s eyes.  (Those fools!)  As such, some people are now clamoring that Time Travel be considered fantasy, since it’s not scientifically plausible.

Those people are tools, by the way. As we discussed in Hard Science Fiction, not all science fiction has to be scientifically applicable.  (You know what else is theoretically impossible with current physics? Faster Than Light travel, the backbone of Scifi series all over the place.)  Intent and feel, as always, are important when determining genre.

So, Time Travel, a common trope that science fiction writers love to exploit over and over and over…whether you can slingshot around the sun to rescue some whales, fly through time and space in a police box, or whether your genes determine that you can puncture the fabric of space-time.  (I’ve read a couple of books now where people are genetically predisposed towards time travel.  It’s like the best of scifi’s two favorite tropes, time travel and genetic modification.)

Time travel can involve people from the past going into the future, people from the future going into the past, or people from the present going whichever way they want.  They can bounce around in their own lives or visit the span of human history.  They can influence events or merely watch.  They can go by machine, ship, genetics, or their own minds.

Often time travel is mixed with alternate history and alternate universes.  (All of which are awesome.)

And for those of you that are sad that science says it’s impossible, well…Einsteinian Physics has some problems, and some of the new physics show that it might be possible.  (New Physics also like multiple universes.  New Physics is awesome.)

What are your favorite time travel tales, Squiders?  I highly recommend the rather excellent The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger if you haven’t read it.

Subgenre Study: Superhero Fiction

Up in the sky!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…well, it’s a Sky Shark, but we will ignore it for the time being and pretend it’s Superman to go along with today’s entry.

Superhero fiction is somewhat unique among speculative fiction subgenres in that it exists almost exclusively in visual formats.  Comic books, movies, TV shows.  There are the occasional radio show or novel, but they are definitely in the minority.  Some alternative names for this subgenre include Superhuman and Super-powered fiction as villains tend to feature as prominently as the heroes.

It also crosses the boundary between science fiction and fantasy, like many of these subgenres do.  At first glance, a lot of it is science fiction: characters like Batman and Ironman depend on advanced technology, Superman is an alien from another planet, the Green Lantern is just one of many throughout the galaxy.  But there are also more fantastical characters such as Thor (who is the Norse God), and Wonder Woman, and some of the things that both the heroes and the villains get up to have absolutely no basis in science.

This is a very trope-y subgenre, for the most part.  There are the Superheroes.  There are their nemeses, the Supervillains.  They all tend to have silly names.  Most have mild-mannered (or not) alter egos.  Some are more obvious than others.  (Clark Kent, of course, wears glasses while Superman does not.  Batman is at least smart enough to wear a mask.)  Increasingly, superheroes all seem to live in the same universe, allowing them to participate in a number of crossovers with other superheroes, and leading to series such as the Justice League or the Avengers.

While the DC and Marvel characters are probably the most well-known, there are an increasing number of non-mainstream characters, produced through webcomics and indie presses.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this genre is that it is constantly evolving, the characters being re-done and updated to meet the concerns of each age they find themselves a part of.  The modern Superman is very different from the 1940s Superman, because we worry about different things than they did back then.  There’s also been a trend lately of creating antiheroes or adding darker twists to superheroes’ backgrounds, or more media focusing on the villains instead of the heroes.

What’s your take on superheroes, Squiders?  Anything to recommend?  (I’m partial to Batman myself).  Read any books in this genre?

Subgenre Study: Fairy Tale Fantasy

Once upon a time, there was a writer who wrote a writing/reading/scifi/fantasy blog, and she and her pet Landsquid and the Landsquid’s nemesis the Alpaca all decided to go to a coffee shop to get some peppermint mochas.  All seemed to be going according to plan until the Alpaca attempted to eat the pastry display and then…


Fairy tale fantasy runs the gamut from original works that incorporate fairy tale tropes to retellings of classic fairy tales, but like many of the subgenres we’ve discussed, there’s very fuzzy lines.  Sometimes you read something and it just feels fairy-tale-y, you know?  But it’s subjective.  Some people consider Lord of the Rings to be a modern fairy tale, based on the mythos it has inspired, but a lot of people just consider it to be epic fantasy.

It really makes you wonder where the line is drawn.  I mean, most fairy tales, while not written down until the 1800s, are based off of folklore that had been passed down for generations, and if you think about it, the Lord of the Rings is as well; Tolkien certainly didn’t invent elves and dwarves.  But by that argument, you can take any truly influential story and assign it fairy tale status, which is diluting things.  (I admit I am in the LotR =/= fairy tale camp.)

(=/= means does not equal for those of you who didn’t spend a million years taking math in high school and college.  Just to be clear.)

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the fairy tale retellings, which don’t necessarily follow the classic fairy tale format but are based off of stories that have been around forever.  Some of these have been rewritten to make the protagonists stronger, or to explain plot holes in the original, or to make things darker (though one can argue that some tales are dark enough as it is.  The originals contain rape, cannibalism, murder, torture, mutilation, and suicide).  Fairy tale retellings have appeal because they take something that almost everyone is familiar with and twists it in some way, which I admit appeals to me greatly.  (Did you play Epic Mickey?  The “evil” Sleeping Beauty song is my most favorite thing in the world.)

Some authors who have fairy tale fantasy books include Robin McKinley, Jasper Fforde, Gail Carson Levine, Margaret Atwood, Jane Yolen, Patricia Wrede, etc.  This is a popular subgenre.

What are your feelings about Fairy Tale Fantasy, Squiders?  I admit it’s one of my very favorite subgenres.

Subgenre Study: Military Science Fiction

A fairly major subgenre of science fiction is military science fiction.  I bet you can name at least one book or movie in this subgenre off the top of your head.  Starship Troopers.  Ender’s Game.  The Forever War.  Military SF, as the name implies, focuses on military conflicts.

A lot of science fiction focuses on conflict on some sort, but military SF features characters that are members of some sort of military unit.  The conflicts tend to have much in common with past or current wars from here on Earth, with tactics and sometimes weaponry being much the same.

The main characters are often member of a specific unit, with comrades and sacrifice being a major theme.  There are very few lone heroes in military SF.  Technology is normally explained in great detail, as are the military tactics.  It’s what you’d expect if you took Band of Brothers and stuck it in deep space as, in most cases, these stories are set in the far future somewhere out in space against an alien species that’s a substitute for whatever side.

Just because something has a “military” does not necessarily make it military SF.  In Star Wars, the Empire (and also the Rebels, to some extent) has militaries, with ranks and squadrons and so forth, but it is not military SF.  Star Trek has Starfleet, which is very obviously based off the US Navy, but with the possible exception of the later seasons of Deep Space Nine, it also is not military SF.  The focus on the story is important here.

Military SF is sometimes assigned political messages, as much of science fiction is, by exploring the folly of war and the sacrifices it forces on those who perpetrate it, as well as how it affects those men and women in the service.

Read/watch a lot of military SF, Squiders?  What do you like/dislike about it?  What do you recommend for other people looking to get into the genre?