Thursday, January 9, 2014

Maybe Some Rules Should be Bent and Sometimes We Hurt Ourselves, etc. etc.

It used to be that science fiction, SF, (or speculative fiction, if you prefer) was something far removed from fantasy. A separate genre. Some purists argued that to even qualify to be called SF a story must contain a strong core scientific element, one that could not be removed without completely destroying the tale. If the story failed this test, it was probably fantasy.

On the other side of the magic coin, fantasy was considered something completely different. It is an older form of literature, with boundaries that are less clear. It covers a broad range of impossibilities. Fairy tales qualify, as do everything from creeping horror to sweeping stories of sword and sorcery. Never the two broad classes of the genres should mix or meet. Should they?

I, for one, think the lines drawn between the two tend to blur more often now. Is steam punk science fiction or fantasy? The stories usually involve complex machinery blended with magic. If the author pens a tale in which he gives a rational explanation for large lizards breathing fire, is that an element of SF or fantasy? If the wizard hurls bolts of lightning at his opponent it is obviously fantasy, unless, of course, the writer has a scientific explanation for the rules of magic in the world being created. Lord of the Rings is obviously fantasy. Does Frankenstein fall under SF? In recent years we have seen the rapid growth of paranormal romance. Often in a modern setting, I suppose these tales should be considered fantasy, although if an epidemic created the vampire or the werewolf, what then? Stories such as Star Trek are definitely SF, unless you doubt the scientific rationale behind teleportation and warp drives.

My personal preference is to ignore the rigid conventions of the past, and just get on with the story. Let’s face it. The original Princess of Mars is a fantasy, but if you re-wrote the tale today, using a clever drive to carry you to a far distant earth-like planet, it would probably end up classified as SF.

All this worry about where to quantify a particular novel in the genre shelves of your favorite book vendor, leaves out one very important issue. How do you get your non-fan friends and relations interested in buying, and more importantly reading, your novel? Do not whisper they probably won't understand it!

I read an interesting article recently in Locus magazine. (the Dec. 2013 issue) Written by a science fiction writer, Kameron Hurley, she looks at how we tend to make things far too complicated when someone asks what our story is about. Suppose the interested party enjoys reading books, just has never been exposed to our particular genres. Using my recent novel, "The Queen’s Pawn," as an example, I could say it's a fantasy tale about a quest involving wizards and giants and dragons, and watch eyes glaze over. Alternatively, I might simply say it's about a young man’s journey in which he has to overcome serious obstacles while discovering romance. Asked about my first novel, "The Dark Lady," I might spout off about how it’s a mediaeval-style fantasy about a young princess, evil villains and an ancient castle in a mythic kingdom. Oh yes, and there is a wizard too! They may smile politely, might even buy the book, and bury it unread on the back of their bookshelves. But what if I explained instead, it's a story about a young orphaned girl overcoming serious obstacles and seeking revenge while on the way to finding herself. In both cases, if there is a similar theme, it is about the growth of the main character, not the trappings of the tale. If I may quote from the article in Locus: "we’re not writing ancient Etruscan law books or extinct programming languages or typewriter instruction manuals. We’re writing stories."

Let’s not frighten off the reader who fears the complicated worlds of fantasy or speculative fiction are only suitable for the costumed fanatic, and too difficult, or different, for the average consumer of literature. Let’s break down the genre barriers and whisper there is a good story inside these well-written pages, if you will only venture to give them a try.


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013  
House on Hollow Hill - Sept 2013
Hounds of Basalt Ville - Nov 2013


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Those are good points to make.

I prefer more "human" stories. If I'd heard your first description, I'd turn off. But your second description invites me to share in the adventure and follow the protagonist's growth.