Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Typecast: The Difference Between Subgenres of Speculative Fiction and Why You Should Care

When I was a wee little bit, my sisters handed me these astounding constructions of paper and glue with printed words on them. My sisters insisted, "Read these," and I did. These magical items transported me to worlds I'd never visited, introduced me to people and creatures I'd never met, and taught me to think in ways I'd never thunk before. And then I'd sit...and think some more.

I didn't care that I was reading a fantasy or a hard or soft sci/fi novel. It didn't matter to me if it was a fairy tale, a folk tale, or a myth. I simply enjoyed reading them.

So why in the world do I care what genre I read and why would I want *you* the reader to care what genre you read?

Hold on to that question as we're interrupted by this brief and informative commercial break:

According to the 1999 edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction written by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, "speculative fiction" has become an umbrella term covering works from science fiction to fantasy and everything remotely related. Critics don't like the term, but critics like to pigeon-hole books into specific genres whereas writers sometimes prefer the freedom that the term "speculative fiction" gives them (pp. 1144-1145).

Back to our regularly scheduled blog, it would seem from the summary of this passage here that if you're not a critic, you wouldn't really care what genre you're reading. I mean, come on! There are so many out there and to try to define them clearly is almost impossible. Just a sampling:

  • Fantasy types: epic/high fantasy, urban fantasy, folklore, mythology, heroic, sword and sorcery, paranormal, superhero...
  • Sci/fi: hard sci/fi, soft sci/fi, time travel, robot fiction, space opera, recursive, space western...
  • Punk series: cyber-, bio-, nano-, steam-...
  • Either/or: historical, military, horror, literary, alternate history, Gothic, aliens, zombies, dystopian, apocalyptic...
  • Mixed: technofantasy, science fantasy, new weird/slipstream, magic realism...
Yet, I argue there are some very good reasons to know what you're reading and here they are:
  1. So you can find other books of that genre and read more of what you like. Reading is good. Reading more is better. Find something you like to read and read MORE MORE MORE!
  2. So you can find other books NOT of that genre to find OTHER books that you like. If you're anything like most voracious readers I know, you get bored of the same old same old. Plots, characters, and settings of a particular genre tend (I said *tend*) to fall into a rut and breaking that pattern to find new and interesting books is a great way to find even MORE cool books to read.
  3. If you're ever on Jeopardy or participate in a game like QuizUp, you might need to know a thing or two about genres. Trust me, QuizUp asks you things you would NEVER expect to have to know.
  4. If you ever want to have an intellectual conversation with someone about books and be understood, you need to make sure you're speaking the same language. Knowing the difference between a space opera and a space western could mean the difference between a job interview or a polite invitation to see your way out the door.
  5. For those of you who are as yet unmarried and wish to become so one day, being a literary geek is a turn-on to some folks. Yeah. Seriously!
  6. If you ever want to submit a story to a publisher or editor, you'd BETTER know what genre they want and how to write it!
  7. AND THE #1 reason: Human nature has the propensity to try to define our world by putting it into categories. We might as well give in and let our inner organizer do what it was designed to do and sort our books into semi-neat little piles. There aren't any racial consequences or gender stereotypes to worry about with classifying books. Just the pleasant realization that you can place Piers Anthony's Xanth series firmly in the humorous fantasy category and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders books in the science fantasy stack. And what if you'd like a little debate with your friends about where to put William Gibson's Neuromancer?
Ideas? Thoughts? Discussion? Disagreement? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Next week’s main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: My review of Gravity Box and Other Spaces by Mark Tiedermann. Don't worry. No spoilers! Coming in June to an outlet near you!

On the menu for the future: an interview with Margot Dill (Editor 911) about her new book Caught Between Two Curses ,

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website.

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!