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Weaving mystery into other genres
Marshall R Maresca
Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2011 1:13 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 56

I'll admit it, mystery isn't my genre.  I'm a fantasy and sci-fi guy.  But I think mystery can work as the plot engine in an SF/F book.  Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite my books, and it's essentially a "locked door" mystery in a sci-fi setting.

I'm trying to do the same thing with "Maradaine Constabulary"-- it's got the bones of a mystery/police procedural, but in a fantasy setting.  I'd love to get the perspective of mystery people on it.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 2:57 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

I actually love when mystery is incorporated into other genres. I'd say that a whole lot of urban fantasy wouldn't even exist without elements of noir. Richard K. Morgan's books are really great at incorporating noir and murder mysteries into hard SF stories. In fact, I would go so far to say that his first book, Altered Carbon, is really more noir that SF, even though it's set 500 years in the future. Blade Runner is another good example of SF as noir.
Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2011 1:27 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

I totally agree with Colleen on this one; mystery is _such_ a great addition to most genres, especially sci fi / fantasy. If anything, I love when mystery crops up in sci-fi/fantasy the best... it is very reflective of the real world in a made-up world.

The nice thing about mystery is that it is capable of adding such a great amount of depth with what I view as little effort -- humans naturally try to solve mysteries. It is one of the driving forces behind our evolution. Many problems start as mysteries of a sort, if you think about it... (Why does the sun shine? is not a murder mystery... but it _is_ a mystery that humans set out to 'solve'.)

I'm working on a tentative project that involves mystery elements in a fantasy piece, but I'm still hashing out the details on that one
Dave McClure
Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:43 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 21

And I love a mystery wrapped up in history.  My newest book, Cross Keys, begins in 1862 and ties to the present.  Plenty of plot twists and danger, but to understand what it is really all about requires an understanding of the histories involved.  No reason why science fiction can't wrap around a mystery.  And Asimov was a master at it...an excellent model to study!
Shannon Borg
Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 4:58 PM
Joined: 1/16/2012
Posts: 7

I agree with Dave. I was having a hard time figuring out my genre, because mystery to me seems like there is a "crime" and then it is solved. In my book, the protagonist first is on a search for a lost ancestor in a painting, and THEN the mystery (both in past times, i.e. 1840s) and present day is revealed. Two stories, one in the past, one in the present occur, and then the connections between the two are eventually revealed. Complicated, but not too, I hope!

I agree with the noir element of urban fantasy. There needs to be some question, some mystery driving the narrative forward in ANY book, but the noir construct is a simple equation and yet is open for a myriad of complications.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 11:03 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

I would love to see some mystery novels done with other furniture!  A good high fantasy mystery for example. 

Brian Lowe
Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 11:40 PM
Joined: 1/31/2012
Posts: 16

I would recommend Jim Butcher's Dresden Files for any fan of fantasy/mystery. I believe they work equally well on both levels.

Oddly enough, it seems to me that you have to start with the mystery and weave the SF/fantasy elements into it, not the other way around. Any thoughts?
Tom Wolosz
Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 4:19 PM
Joined: 5/25/2011
Posts: 122

Well, years ago, the big criticism mentioned over and over was that the SF mystery always turned out to be a bit of a cheat – the alien always did it, and you didn’t even know there was an alien around until the big reveal at the end.  This, of course, did not apply to Asimov’s stories which were quite good.

The big problem you face when trying to write a science fiction mystery is that you are serving two masters.  I found this out while working on my story, “Agony of the Gods.”  You have to create a realistic world which is internally consistent (the sci-fi aspects of the story), but then you also have to write a good mystery that will keep readers guessing (or at least wondering).  That requires all the necessary mystery plot points – murder, motive, suspects, method, etc. all tied up nicely and fit into the world you’ve created. The most obvious example I can think of comes from historical fiction, not sci-fi - the Brother Cadfael mystery series by Ellis Peters. 

The difficulty increases as the contrast between your created world and our own increases.  If you are writing a story about a murder on a moon base fifty years from now, you can pretty much expect a given level of familiarity between the reader and your setting.  If you are setting the action in a (non-StarTrek) world three hundred years in the future you have a lot of set design to add in just to bring the reader up to speed on the surroundings.  In the early chapters of my story I tried to set up the plot to allow me to feed information to the reader.  This has met with reviews ranging from “well done” to angry cries of “info-dump!”  Like I said, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012 1:05 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

I think, too, that the advent and success of so much urban fantasy is making people more aware of mystery themes in fantasy, because so much of it contains noir elements.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012 5:32 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Tony, i've actually seen a similar story done to that, where the opening of the story was they defrosted the worlds best detective, who had been in cold storage for about 400 years, since the last criminal was captured. There hadn't been crime in that time, and suddenly there was a wave of murders. So the detective, from our timeframe, roughly, had to have a lot of society explained to him.

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 7:07 PM
Joined: 7/25/2013
Posts: 1

Unless a book tells you what is going to happen on the first page, all books have a certain mystery to them. I know there is a difference, but isn't that why we read as well as write...to tell a story that one has yet to hear. Most all book genres have a conflict and some conflicts  may not come to light until a little further into the book. Books, like life, are a mystery until you read the last word.
rj Sezack
Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 1:05 PM
Joined: 8/10/2013
Posts: 1

This is a very interesting idea. I, infact am working on a murder mystery/western. And would like some input from ya'll on just how it might go over.

Thank you

rj Sezack

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 11:03 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

An editor and I were talking about genre fiction recently, and she told me to think of urban fantasy as mystery with a supernatural twist. This really changed the way I perceive about the genre. There might be romantic elements or cool magic stuff in an urban fantasy, but at the heart of the narrative must be the protagonist's quest for the truth. 

Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Seanan McGuire, Chuck Wendig--I can keep going. What are their books but well-plotted mysteries with a little bit more leather and ass-kicking than usual?


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