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  1. #1
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    What's in a Genre?

    When people find out I've published a book, the first question is almost always "What sort of book is it?"
    So I reply with a question: "Do you like Science Fiction?" If the answer is yes then I say it's a space opera. If the answer is no then it's an action/adventure story set in a future environment.

    My current WIP is the first book of a trilogy blending fantasy and science fiction. First book heavy on the fantasy, second book probably less so.
    What sort of label do I put on it? Do I have to put a label on it?

    What do you guys think? Does it actually matter?

  2. #2
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Well...does it matter?

    I think...yes, it does matter. At least, when I'm looking for a book to read, it matters to me.

    Readers are used to certain marketing labels. While I don't think you need to be strict about it, having an accurate label does give a reader a sense of what might be in store for them behind your cover (which should also do a good job of establishing the genre of your book).

    Many people take this question (and the nature of genre or any labels at all) very seriously. I've lost writer friends over this issue.

    EDIT: oh, and the Science Fantasy genre is a growing one.

  3. #3
    Registered User JimF's Avatar
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    I typically say I write science fiction when asked a question like that. If they want to know more then I tell them.

    for your WIP You could say it is hybrid of fantasy and science fiction drawing on elements of both. Or maybe Hybrid speculative fiction. It might be shorter but I'm sure that it will lead to more questions.

    When people ask you about it look at it as an opportunity to pitch your work.

    Jim

  4. #4
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    I agree. Genres are useful labels for what to expect, and provide useful frames of reference for authors who want to buck those expectations and do something surprising. For a start, they may find out that they aren't being as surprising as they imagine... but I think it's a generally solid point of view to try and understand The Wheel before you try to reinvent it. Or just build your own one.

    I quite like Speculative Fiction as the all inclusive category (of scifi, fantasy and horror, however they might be further defined).

  5. #5
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Here's an interesting conversation on genre: http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...enre-misplaced

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    Quote Originally Posted by N. E. White View Post
    Here's an interesting conversation on genre: http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...enre-misplaced
    Wow. Thanks for the link. The topic does seem to generate a bit of passionate discussion

  7. #7
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    I'd also say it matters. It's all about setting up expectations for the reader, which is serious from a marketing aspect in so far as you don't want to disappoint. Try writing something that "looks" like steam punk at a glance but isn't, and you'll know my pain (grin).

    Not so much when you talk about other writers' opinions. I've seen writers get all up in arms because I dared refer to one of my space operas as "SF". Yawn. Call your book whatever genre you wish, but it will be the readers who will ultimately decide with their wallets, me-thinks.

    Kerry

  8. #8
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    It's a fantasy trilogy. Science fiction has no fantasy in it. Fantasy can have as much science fiction in it as you like as long as it also has fantastic elements -- magic, supernatural, divine, mythological, etc.

    Fantasy sub-categories are based on setting. So if your fantasy series is based on an alternate world to Earth, it's a secondary world fantasy. Secondary world fantasy stories are often called by their old name, epic fantasy. If it's based on a version of Earth in the past, it's called an alternate historical fantasy and part of historical fantasy. If it's based on Earth in the past, it's a historical fantasy. If it's in the present, it's a contemporary fantasy (sometimes these are also called urban fantasies.) If it's set in the present but in an alternate version of Earth, it's an alternate contemporary fantasy (usually just called contemporary fantasy on alternate Earth) and considered part of contemporary fantasy. If it is set in the future, near or far of Earth or the universe that might have contained Earth, it's a futuristic fantasy. Many futuristic fantasy series are also post-apocalyptic stories, which would make them post-apocalyptic futuristic fantasy stories.

    If it's a secondary world fantasy that is set in a time before mass industrialized technology, then it's a pre-industrial secondary world fantasy (the most common.) If it's set in a secondary world after industrialization and other fuel powered technology, it's called a post-industrial secondary world fantasy. If the fantasy series is set in the industrialized (Victorian) time period of Earth featuring steam engines, or in a secondary world of equivalent technology, and it has some tech/magical tech that is weird for its time setting, it's steampunk. If the fantasy series involves parallel worlds, usually Earth and another world or alternate Earth, and the main character travels between them through some sort of magical, supernatural or divine portal, it's a portal fantasy (if most of the action takes place in the alternate world, it's usually just called a portal secondary world fantasy.) If there are multiple worlds/dimensions that characters travel between via magical means and these various worlds are all different time periods and types, it's called a multi-dimensional fantasy. If your main characters travel through time by magical, supernatural, divine, etc. means, it's called a time travel fantasy novel.

    If the setting/atmosphere of your story is satiric and comic, it's a satiric/comic fantasy. If the atmosphere/setting of the story is very dark, Gothic, noir, spooky, tragic, and violent, it's called a dark fantasy (dark historical, dark satiric, dark secondary world, etc.) Dark fantasy series can have dark satire and humor to them, but are overall gloomy. If the story isn't just dark but meant to scare and horrify as its central goal and atmosphere, then the series is a horror series. (Horror can be fantasy, science fiction or neither.) That horror aspect might be combined with the setting -- horror futuristic or dystopia, etc. A dystopia is a society that is very authoritarian, desperate, malfunctioning, often post-apocalyptic, etc. Dystopia therefore is like an extra adjective that might be applied if you have that sort of setting. It's most commonly used with post-apocalyptic fantasy and post-apocalyptic science fiction, since those societies tend to be dystopian.

    You may also hear some other phrases bandied around that may or may not apply to your series, given the setting. Fantasy of manners, for instance, refers to fantasy stories written in the tradition of Jane Austen, Trollope, Dickens, etc. and set in an equivalent of some sort to Regency and Victorian time periods or in the actual time periods. Planetary fantasy used to actually refer to a type of science fiction, but now may refer to a far future fantasy set on a planet or planetary colony. Sword and sorcery is a term that has a complicated history. Currently sword and sorcery refers to a story involving adventure, quests, and swashbuckling and is very loosely used. People also love to attach the word "punk" to stuff, so there are various forms of punk running around -- bio-punk, sandal punk, etc., which may apply to stories of both SF, fantasy and horror, just like steampunk. (Cyberpunk, the original punk, is a SF sub-category and also literary movement. It rarely gets applied to fantasy stories as opposed to science fiction. Techno-fantasy is a term that gets used more for fantasy elements combined with computer technology.)

    People come up with these terms not to create cages but as a form of short-hand to offer general information about the frame of the story (but little info about style, plot, structure, etc.) They change sometimes, and sometimes old terms disappear and then reappear. But the ones above are loosely the terms used in the actual publishing market. Look at the setting of your story and see where you would loosely fit. (For science fiction, sub-categories are based on the type of science and its use in the story. Space opera, for instance, which is a very broad, catch-all category, uses science only as a back drop to stories of adventure, military action, space travel and planetary cultures.)

  9. #9
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    I'd go with what KatG said, but just to put in another plug for my vote (science fantasy), here's the wiki page on it.

    I think what is most telling about all the different genres out there is that there's a wiki-page for all the major sub-genres of Science Fiction, but for Fantasy, folks just gave up and offer this:

    Quote Originally Posted by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy#Subgenres
    Modern fantasy, including early modern fantasy, has also spawned many new subgenres with no clear counterpart in mythology or folklore, although inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme. Fantasy subgenres are numerous and diverse, frequently overlapping with other forms of speculative fiction in almost every medium in which they are produced. A couple of examples are the science fantasy and dark fantasy subgenres, which the fantasy genre shares with science fiction and horror, respectively.
    So, I guess I just voted for both fantasy and science fantasy.

  10. #10
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Science fantasy was a term developed because there was a lot of early SF that was planetary romances and a lot of early SF that was actually fantasy fiction, but sold under the umbrella of SF at that time. It was supposed to differentiate "pulp" stories from "real" science fiction. The term had a resurgence of use in the 1970's, due to Herbert's Dune and Wolfe's Ur-Sun books (both SF,) and again in the 1980's, thanks to the success of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, which were science fiction stories involving alien biology gene engineered to be larger (dragons) to counter an extraterrestrial threat on a colony planet that has gone through an apocalyptic event. The definition of the term at that point changed, though, as fantasy was already an established category market on its own, no longer under the SF umbrella. A number of SF stories in the 1980's played with a pre-industrial-ish setting, usually post-apocalyptic and usually through use of a colony planet, which gave them a fantasy feel without actual fantasy elements. Sometimes SF time travel stories were also called science fantasy, since it was generally believed that quantum theories aside, time could not be traveled scientifically.

    The term more or less disappeared again in the 1990's, when SF stories that might be considered science fantasy were just subsumed into the very broad category of space opera. If Kenson's story has no actual fantastic elements (and that is possible, since folks will say they have fantasy elements when really they just have pre-industrial elements or science elements that characters see as magical,) then the trilogy might be considered space opera/science fantasy. If he has fantastic elements, it's fantasy. However, publishers are perfectly happy to put something out as "speculative" and play both sides of the pitch: China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels (sec world fantasy,) and Kameron Hurley's God's War series (futuristic fantasy) are two of those. So you can certainly pitch it as a fantasy trilogy with SF elements, or a science fantasy (since a lot of the current editors know what that is,) or a speculative story. You can also call it a slipstream story.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    If Kenson's story has no actual fantastic elements (and that is possible, since folks will say they have fantasy elements when really they just have pre-industrial elements or science elements that characters see as magical,) then the trilogy might be considered space opera/science fantasy.
    Thank you for the amount of detail you have put into your responses on this thread. It appears I may have been mis-describing my work. I am on such a steep learning curve here.

  12. #12
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    The good news is that they are entirely used to authors not knowing what to call stories in the market, so it's not actually a big deal as long as you describe the plot and setting clearly. If you market to non-SFF publishers outside the category market, you wouldn't bother to use most of the category terms anyway. (I.e. a fantasy story with ghosts you might just call a ghost story. You can do that with category publishers too.)

    If you self-publish, you can call it what you like -- there are no story police. You can even make up a term and see if it catches on as a movement. That's where we got terms like cyberpunk, steampunk, New Wave, urban fantasy and the like. But it doesn't hurt to know the basics, since you will encounter these terms a lot.

  13. #13
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    I like the category Angry Robot used for their open door submissions last year. Besides the SF, Fantasy, Horror, they had WTF? I think that describes my work to a, "Tee".

  14. #14
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    there are no story police
    Says Officer G.

  15. #15
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Most people who ask us about our books donít care all that much about genre details, and even those of us who are long-time fans either donít care or donít know all the subgenres. A short term like fantasy, or SF for fans or sci-fi for non-fans, would do just fine.

    Beyond that, if someone still want to know more, weíre still better off giving them a short description, a sentence or two, no more. Then, in the rare cases where they want to know more, we can go into more detail.

    As for agents, and acquiring editors for the few imprints who take unagented works, they know much more than most of us just how to label and sell our books. In a query Iíd much rather use the few precious words they allow us to interest them in my book and in me as a client.

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