Posts tagged with "genre" - Faerye Net 2010-02-28T17:15:02+00:00 Felicity Shoulders On Genre, Part II: the future of genre 2010-02-28T17:15:02+00:00 2010-02-28T23:16:15+00:00 <p>I&#8217;ve been trying to write adequate responses to the fabulous comments I&#8217;m getting on my first post in this series, <a href="" target="links">a very brief manifesto</a>. And, as I rather feared, my responses are growing into blog posts. So here we go.</p> <p><a href="" target="links">Eric A. Kugler</a> writes in <a href="" target="links">his comment</a>:<br /> <blockquote>I think the problem comes down to the human need to label and package everything and put it into its proper place. Genre is simply a way for people to keep track of stories. The literary is simply another genre to those of us who simply read books, rather than publish them.</blockquote></p> <p>To an extent, I agree. Genre is quite artificial, relatively recent, and obviously confining. I do believe the current &#8220;literary novel&#8221; is a genre in itself. Witness my <a href="">&#8220;literary is a genre&#8221;</a> tag here, and my <a href="">literary-is-a-genre</a> shelf on Goodreads<sup class="footnote"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup>.</p> <p>I wouldn&#8217;t suppose, however, that literary <em>isn&#8217;t</em> a genre in the mind of those who publish books. I very much believe it is. Because genre is about marketing. Genre is a way of classifying books so that you can sell them more readily. While I haven&#8217;t read a history of genrefication, I&#8217;d imagine it&#8217;s a consequence of the number and diversity of books that existed, say, in the mid-twentieth century, widely distributed. Some system for determining which titles were of interest to which readers was a public good. A system for telling a reader who enjoyed <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781439132838'><em>The Puppet Masters</em></a> they might like <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780441172719'><em>Dune</em></a> probably seemed logical, even helpful to the consumer (as well as to the publisher.)</p> <p><img src="/media/StarWarsMoviePoster1977.jpg" alt="The 1977 Star Wars movie poster" title="Star Wars poster" align="left" /><br /> Genre, we all know, isn&#8217;t just a category on a library&#8217;s card catalog. It&#8217;s a way of marking things. Covers with rockets or exploding spaceships, in the 1950s and today, mark a book as science fiction. Look at the original poster for <em>Star Wars: A New Hope</em>. If you&#8217;d never seen that movie, you&#8217;d know the genre instantly, from a dozen details (including those that don&#8217;t entirely represent Princess Leia as she appears on film.)</p> <p>So genre allows a product to reach its desired audience, the publishers sell books, what&#8217;s the trouble? Two sources of trouble to start with. In another comment to my first On Genre post, <a href="" target="links">Philip Palmer</a> writes &#8220;there’s a tendency to assume that labelling the genre of the piece is a black &amp; white/either-or process. But most novels belong to <span class="caps">SEVERAL</span> genres.&#8221; The strict genre system serves these novels poorly, as it does books which are hard to place firmly in any genre at all. When you use marketing to shape readers&#8217; expectations, betraying those expectations is a bad idea. So you may end up with frustrated readers who bought the cover and don&#8217;t like the book, or a great book may languish unpublished or poorly marketed because it didn&#8217;t fit neatly.</p> <p><a href='' rel='powells-9780802142108'><img src='' style='border: 0px' title='More info about Broken for You at (new window)' align="right" ></a><a href='' rel='powells-9781565129771'><img src='' style='border: 0px; margin-left:5px' title='More info about A Reliable Wife at (new window)' align="right"></a> The second big problem, I&#8217;d say, is that &#8216;literary&#8217; has become, as we said above, a genre. Maybe it wasn&#8217;t in the mid-20th century, but now it is. While it&#8217;s more subtle than an exploding spaceship, I can tell you without having read the two books at right that they are the same genre. I could have found a much closer match if I&#8217;d looked further. Why is &#8220;literary&#8221; being a genre a problem? Because &#8220;literature&#8221; is also a pursuit and an ideal. &#8220;Literature&#8221; is a laudatory term, and having a genre name that&#8217;s a value judgment is a disaster. Just try discussing whether U2 makes &#8220;rock music&#8221; with someone who hates U2 and thinks &#8220;rock&#8221; is a laudatory term. It also has to do with marked/unmarked status, I think, but that discussion&#8217;s too big to add into this already epic post.</p> <p>&#8220;Literary&#8221; has two meanings: One, high-minded, pursuing the act of writing as an act of art, trying to increase understanding and beauty in the world. Two, realistic or occasionally surreal, written with attention to language, telling a story that could happen, using a minimum of adverbs. The confusion of the two is poisonous, and leads to moments like the one I touched on in my <a href="" target="links">first genre war post</a>, when a young English teacher told me that &#8220;science fiction isn&#8217;t literature.&#8221; He didn&#8217;t think science fiction was high-minded and artistic (except when he did) so we stood there, me listing work after work whose merits he could not deny: <em>Brave New World, 1984, Lord of the Rings</em>; and he insisting these <em>were not science or speculative fiction</em>. This is exactly what another of the commenters, <a href="">Casey Samulski</a>, noted: &#8220;&#8230;a critic will retroactively reclassify something as &#8216;not SF&#8217; when it has reached a certain status, thinking it impossible for the two to inhabit the same space.&#8221; Circular logic, faulty thinking.</p> <p>I said then, as a teenager (even though at the time I believed that by this age I&#8217;d have a doctorate in paleontology and only be writing science fiction on the side) that one of my life goals was to take some bricks out of that wall, the wall between the literary and the science-fictional.</p> <p>There is good news about that wall. While Margaret Atwood did, as Philip Palmer notes in <a href="" target="links">his comment</a>, say some abrasive things about science fiction, she does <a href="" target="links"> admit to writing &#8220;speculative fiction&#8221;</a>, which is a distinction even <span class="caps">SFF</span> grognards might make. Michael Chabon&#8217;s stunning <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780007149827'><em>The Yiddish Policemen&#8217;s Union</em></a>, which I lauded <a href="" target="links">here</a>, joins other works by him in receiving praise and readers from both sides of the wall. He seems to embrace both sides of his literary heritage. More and more, the surreal and the speculative is creeping into the &#8216;literary&#8217; mainstream. While there are aspects of this I find troubling and appropriative (more, perhaps, on that later), it may be, as a very smart friend of mine (an academic and spec fic fan) has predicted, that the Hemingway/Carver era of literature is at an end, and only the speculative can ask the questions literature wants to ask next.</p> <p>I&#8217;d like to tie that possibility back into my discussion of genre as marketing earlier. You&#8217;ll notice that the situation has changed a lot since the days of the simple genre division and the rocket on the cover. We have even more books, even more widely available. In spite of <a href="">tax codes in the U.S.</a>, we have a <a href="" target="links">Long Tail</a> of books still being sold that were published decades ago, as well as new books coming out all the time. The publishing world seems largely to be adjusting to this by continuing to <a href="" target="links">split</a>. We have more subgenres now, like urban fantasy (tattooed woman with weapons on the cover), literary science fiction (trade paper back, abstract cover), et cetera. The mix of small categories and large can be confusing to consumers &#8212; while I won&#8217;t link it, I recently saw a reader complaining that there were &#8220;too many female writers in sci-fi&#8221; because when he clicked on &#8220;sci-fi/fantasy&#8221; he saw mostly urban fantasy covers.</p> <p>I&#8217;d argue that it&#8217;s time to move away from genre and subgenre, even in an economic sense. They may still be useful if we make them less restrictive: as Philip Palmer points out, novels can have many genres. Sure, let&#8217;s label books, but let&#8217;s not put them in exclusive parts of the bookstore, segregated by shelf. I&#8217;ve waxed rhapsodic about <a href="" target="links">folksonomy</a> before, so I&#8217;ll keep it to a minimum here, but tags add information instead of reducing scope. Tags are freeform and encourage creative thinking. Lets use genre and subgenre as tags, not categories.</p> <p>Which brings me to my final point. People are always talking about the effect of the internet on publishing, but often in terms of physical books vs. digital media. I have to care about that because I hope to have my own books published in the future, but I&#8217;m more interested in how the internet will affect how we choose and discuss books (which in turn affects marketing). I am a member of <a href="" target="links">LibraryThing</a> and <a href="" target="links">Goodreads</a>, and I am delighted by the rich social exchange over books that I see on those sites. I can see what my friends are reading, what they think of it, read reviews they&#8217;ve written. I can get a sense of people&#8217;s tastes, how well or poorly it aligns with mine, and let that figure in to <a href="" target="links">how I choose books</a>. It&#8217;s not about genre. It&#8217;s about the individual reader and the individual book. Publishers do use the individual book in marketing &#8212; look at how many books have covers reminiscent of <em>Twilight</em>&#8216;s admittedly beautiful cover design &#8212; but I hope that in the future they&#8217;ll do so even more. The information readers can add to the system &#8211; tags, reviews, personal recommendations to friends &#8211; is precious.</p> <p><a href='' rel='powells-9780765319470'><img src='' style='border: 0px; margin-right:5px' title='More info about this book at (new window)' align="left" ></a>Marketing&#8217;s never going to go away, as long as it works. (And it does work. I wanted to buy <em>Indigo Springs</em> as soon as I saw that cover, though I suppressed the urge until I met and liked the author, too.) But I hope in the future, restrictive definitions of genre &#8212; and especially value judgments based on it &#8212; will take a backseat to a web of preference, similarity and serendipity.</p> <p>Serendipity and possibility have always governed my reading. That&#8217;s the feeling that makes me tingle when I walk into a <a href="" target="links">vast bookstore</a>. The knowledge that half<sup class="footnote"><a href="#fn2">2</a></sup> the books I love are in the Yellow Room and half in the Blue? That makes me feel something too, but it&#8217;s definitely not a tingle.</p> <p class="footnote" id="fn1"><sup>1</sup> I have put books in this category which I feel guilty for shelving so: I can&#8217;t help but feel that Dickens, and even Fitzgerald, shouldn&#8217;t be drawn into a fight that is rather after their time.</p> <p class="footnote" id="fn2"><sup>2</sup> This is figurative. I don&#8217;t know actual percentages, and I love a fair number of nonfiction books too.</p> On Genre, Part I 2010-02-21T13:45:24+00:00 2010-03-01T20:03:10+00:00 <p>I&#8217;m occasionally asked why I care about the struggle of speculative fiction to gain recognition in the literary world, which I call the Genre War. For one thing, I&#8217;ve been fighting since before I knew anyone else was, since a time when my sci-fi community was just me and my parents. For another, I have allegiances on both sides. I&#8217;m an English major and hold a Master of Fine Arts. I believe in the high artistic ideals of the literary tradition, and it saddens me to see them clouded (again, and still) by parochialism. The simplest, most primal reason is that I believe that the speculative and the literary enrich each other.</p> <p>Since I was a teenager, if not earlier, I&#8217;ve been insisting that science fiction can tell us things about the human condition that realism cannot, because it places humanity into impossible situations. It tests the boundaries of identity and consciousness. It creates other sentient entities, which almost inevitably reflect our humanity back to us. Fiction is many things, but the loftiest goals of literature tell us that fiction is a way of making meaning, of expanding the reader&#8217;s understanding of what it means to be human, mortal, alive. To me, that project obviously includes the tools of speculative fiction. If literature is supposed to ask the great questions, why shouldn&#8217;t one of those questions be &#8220;What if?&#8221;</p> <p><a href=""><strong>&rarr; On Genre, Part II: The future of genre</strong></a></p> Genre War is Over 2009-05-08T10:59:57+00:00 2009-05-08T11:00:38+00:00 <p>You know that genre war? You know, the one I&#8217;ve been fighting ever since the day a high school English teacher said the words &#8220;Science fiction isn&#8217;t literature&#8221; to me?</p> <p>It&#8217;s over. Ursula LeGuin has encapsulated the entire thing in <a href="" target="links">this little essay</a> and won it at a stroke. She even uses the same examples that have occasioned many of my struggles over the years. It is not so much that the essay contains new arguments as that it is concise, clear and authoritative. It says everything one wants to say, and more cogently than this weary combatant, at least, can muster in the face of battle.</p> <p>I&#8217;m sure the mopping-up action will persist, and perhaps I&#8217;ll still be having the same tiresome arguments for the rest of my life. But now I can send this link to people &#8212; heck, it&#8217;s reusable with attribution, so perhaps I should print it up and carry it around with me &#8212; the weight of it is lifted. Thank goodness for Ursula K. LeGuin.</p> What is historical fiction? 2008-11-13T22:50:01+00:00 2008-11-13T22:50:09+00:00 <p>I have this problem: I like confusing genre boundaries, but I like putting books in boxes. Online, <a href="" target="links">they</a> call them shelves. It&#8217;s easier with tags, but shelves have to justify their existence: it&#8217;s silly to create a shelf for just one item. So, I was celebrating the inauguration of my somewhat snottily-named <a href="">&#8220;literary-is-a-genre&#8221;</a> shelf just now by adding previously &#8220;genreless&#8221; pieces of fiction to it, and I immediately ran into trouble. <a href="" target="powells"><em>I Sailed with Magellan</em></a> by Stuart Dybek begins in 1950&#8217;s Chicago, and continues into the 1960&#8217;s or so. It&#8217;s definitely literary fiction, but isn&#8217;t it historical as well? Why didn&#8217;t I have it shelved that way? I wouldn&#8217;t shelve <a href="" target="powells"><em>The Blind Assassin</em></a> that way, though it goes way farther back, because it proceeds to the era of its writing. Dybek&#8217;s shnovel does not. Does that make it historical fiction?</p> <p>Is it a requirement that historical fiction be set in a sufficiently remote era? The 1950&#8217;s are next-door to World War II, which boasts any amount of historical fiction. Are novels set in the 1960&#8217;s historical fiction? The 1980&#8217;s? Does the era have to inform the story (how can it not?) or is the requirement that the author inform the reader about the era? Is <a href="" target="powells"><em>The Things They Carried</em></a> historical fiction, because it was about the Vietnam War but published in 1990? Is it not historical fiction because it depicts a period and place the author did live through? Does the magnitude of events depicted (their historicity) affect whether something is historical fiction? Does the age of the narrator? (I&#8217;ve been considering the idea that my internal genre-o-meter reads <em>I Sailed with Magellan</em> as non-historical because the 1950s protagonist is a child, thus implying an older narrator in a later time-period. If he were a child protagonist in the 1850&#8217;s, thus rendering his imagined adult self &#8216;historical&#8217; as well, would it twitch the genre-o-meter in a different way?)</p> <p>I have thoroughly confused myself, and should go to sleep. How about you? Got clarity?</p> Top Ten Ways to Tell You're a Loony Fangirl 2003-07-01T14:40:05+00:00 2009-11-05T17:44:38+00:00 <p>Ah, to be a fangirl. Unfair as it is, &#8220;fanboy&#8221; is pejorative: most male fans don&#8217;t want to own a term associated with shrill youth, lascivious adults, myopic internet rants and over-insistent behavior<br /> in autograph lines. &#8220;Fangirl&#8221;, on the other hand, tends to be used positively. Because of real or perceived statistical rarity, the fangirl is rare and mysterious: she escapes the contempt bred of familiarity. Thus it is, perhaps, that I have no particular shame about the fact that I am a big ol&#8217; fangirl. Diagnostic help:</p> <p><b><u>Top Ten Ways to Tell You&#8217;re a Loony Fangirl</u><br /> 10.</b> You don&#8217;t wear your Batman hat shooting because of Batman&#8217;s aversion to guns.<br /> <b>9.</b> You have dreamt entire episodes of &#8220;Star Trek: The Next <br /> Generation&#8221;.<br /> <b>8.</b> You watch movies and either loudly shout or inwardly mumble, &#8220;Batgirl could kick his ass.&#8221;<br /> <b>7.</b> Your high school crushes were almost all fictional <br /> characters.<br /> <b>6.</b> You own at least one piece of merchandise from a webcomic.<br /> <b>5.</b> Your last three Halloween costumes were Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Hutt Leia.<br /> <b>4.</b> In high school you once wore black for 6 months &#8212; not because you were depressed,<br /> but because all your sci-fi T-shirts are black.<br /> <br /> <b>3.</b> Somewhere, you have 4 &#8220;X-Files: Fight the Future&#8221; movie posters. <br /> Even though you didn&#8217;t really like the movie. <br /> <b>2.</b> You started wanting merchandise that said &#8220;<span class="caps">WWBD</span>&#8221; (&#8220;What Would <br /> Buffy Do?&#8221;) before you knew they actually make it.</p><p></p> <p>And the #1 indicator that you are a loony fangirl:<br /> <b>1. <a href="" target="links">You compare Rand al&#8217;Thor and Clark Kent in your blog</a>.</b></p><br /> <p>Yes. Yes I am.</p></p>