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The Death of Genre?
Nicki Hill
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 10:33 AM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


Really, guys, I have no original thoughts, but I always find it interesting to see what you think of original thoughts by other people.  For instance, Mr. Chuck Wendig is of the opinion that genre is a construct in need of exploding, and I can't say (from my own readerly habits) that I disagree with his observations.  Give it a look-see and tell me what all of you think:  http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/09/05/the-death-of-genre-drifting-toward-a-post-genre-future/

Timothy Maguire
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 2:06 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272


I definitely agree with him on the need for more division in the genres. Just defining a lot of my own stories on here can be quite difficult, even with all the options. His point on how often we'll read based on author rather than genre is pretty accurate if nothing else. 

As an SF&F writer more than anything else, I tend to think of genre as a setting rather than the central point. Most SF&F is really a different genre wrapped in a fantastical setting (Military SF is really a military thriller with an unusual ruleset, etc). Wendig's suggestion of classifying works by their aspects' definitely intrigues me as it's a far more useful way of looking at a book than a single blunt pigeon hole (it should be noticed that I've seen one or two UK publishers doing something similar with their books, including ~4 descriptors on the back to help you pigeon hole it).
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 9:13 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I love me some Terrible Minds!

I read the same article and I'm on the same page as Timothy. Classifying books by their aspects would make things more useful. I like epic fantasy, but I'm pretty picky about it. I'm not really into the long, purple-prosy stuff. Same with urban fantasy. I prefer mine with limited romance and vampires.

Take the works or Christopher Moore (whom Mr. Wendig also is a major fan of). His books based in San Francisco (Blood Sucking Fiends, Bite Me, You Suck, and A Dirty Job) could all be urban fantasy, but he is often classified as absurdist fiction. Thus you find him in the section with the more literary works. It's silliness and comical situations is an aspect that sets it a part from other urban fantasies. Even then, there is no section in book stores for absurdist fiction.
Nicki Hill
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 10:07 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


Yeah, Terrible Minds rocks my world, too. 

The part that really drove home for me was his observation on YA fiction, and how it's essentially unclassified.  Or at least, it's very broadly categorized.  I love YA fiction - sure, some of it's complete suck and people just riding the coattails of popular fiction, but I think there are a ton of authors who just blow the doors wide open to brave new worlds of writing, precisely because they're not held down by the constraints of genre writing.  (The fact that nearly every main character in every YA novel is 16 - no older, no younger - is something that does drive me a little insane, but otherwise...)  The next major revelation for me was realizing that I only read adult fiction if it's on the new releases shelf of my local library - which is not categorized into genres.  And if I like the authors I find there, I then trace them backwards to the old fiction shelves.  But I swear I go into anaphylactic shock just thinking about perusing the adult fiction genre shelves.  It feels tedious and boring to me, and I don't have a go-to genre that I can identify as one that I consistently enjoy (besides gay erotic romance, and that's just because I love junk food).  I have eclectic, wandering tastes in both music and literature, and I just really find myself drawn to the freedom (and excellent writing) of the YA stacks.


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012 1:01 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I'll be honest, YA doesn't do it for me. It knocks me out so hard you can see the ZZZs floating out of my mouth. Being an English Literature student ruined me, despite that I abandoned YA when I was 11 in favor for second hand adult mystery novels. I can't do YA. I just, can't.

I agree that adult sections seem so tediously boring, but I mostly go off word of mouth recommendations these days. The current book I'm reading is more out of research into American based Steampunk than for pleasure, and has been the only one I've picked for myself in a long time.

(By the way, if American based, Steampunk comes off as more Western. It just does. Don't argue. Angel Eyes would fit in just fine.)

That said, I have a tendency to categorize books by aspects anyway. I see SF as an aspect of the Fantasy genre because Fantasy simply refers to an imaginary place, time, or reality. The science tells you that there is an advanced or alternate scientific aspect to to these stories whether hard or soft. Steampunk, for instance, is often alternate history and science. (Unless your the creators of Bioshock who managed to seamlessly integrate steam and diesel punk to create a video game that acts as literary and philosophical criticism of Ayn Rand. Super jealous over here.) But no one looks at Steampunk as alternate science, only alternate history.
GD Deckard
Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012 10:29 AM
Maybe genres are the invention of publishers, categories to fit their marketing strategies and of no importance save in the selling of the book. I don't write a genre. Sometimes, talking like I do makes it easier to answer the question, "What are you writing?" But I wouldn't want what creativity I have to be stifled by genre definitions.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012 12:55 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


Dashed-off notes:

Ray Bradbury was always quick to correct interviewers that he was primarily a writer of fantasy, not sci-fi. More accurately still: a teller of metaphors.

Vonnegut, who mostly was a sci-fi writer (& a damn good one) was able to jump out of the "genre ghetto" into general literary fiction, as have others of his literary caliber.

My personal feeling: Genre is useful for purposes of classification but shouldn't become a story-limiting, mind-rigidifying straight-jacket for writers or readers. 

Nicki Hill
Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012 10:06 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


GD and Carl: What you've said seemed to be exactly where Mr. Wendig was coming from; that genre is useful for publishers and booksellers, and outside of that, it becomes too rigid for writers who have stories to tell that don't really fit into the existing boxes.

I think for us writers, it's just a matter of continuing to write what we wanna write, and then figuring out the selling points later.  While I generally write towards a genre, I don't want to limit myself prematurely - maybe the story will take a twist, or there will be elements that don't really fit in the current romance mold.  Whatever.  Then that's where it's going to go, and I'll figure the rest of it out later. 


Robert C Roman
Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012 8:32 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


I would love to see categorization become 'tag' rather than 'genre' based. I'm not sure it's happening any time soon, but I'd love to see it.

Also, as noted, Wendig Rocks.

@Leanna - some Westerns *are* SteamPunk. Just as not all Victorian / Edwardian pieces are SteamPunk, not all SteamPunk is specifically British. Not going to argue with American ones feeling more Western-ish - You're probably right.

Nicki Hill
Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012 11:26 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


Yes, Wild Wild West was a bit steampunkish, no?  I mean, obviously not a book, but it still fits.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:38 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


My point with steampunk was that, if set in America (I know not all are based in Victorian England) the setting comes off as more Western in genre. This happens because the Civil War and the development of the West post-war actually helped develop technology in real life. Advanced machinery feels perfectly natural in 19th century America. We had submarines, iron sided ships, arial photography, ambulances, advancements in prosthetics, and invented the modern bullet. The industrial revolution kicked steam tech and mass production in the ass, but when it comes to gadgets, a steampunk staple, 19th century America nailed it.

I've been doing a lot of steampunk research because I have a beta reader who said that my epic fantasy is slanting in that direction do the nod towards industry. It's not quite there yet, but I'm going to run with the steampunk angle. I was thinking about it since I want to play with the effect of a tech boom on ancient traditions like Meiji Era Japan and post-Civil War America. Obviously Japans was more drastic, but I'm trying to find a balance.

Wild Wild West was very steampunk. The spider said it all.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:15 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195


OK, I'm going to be the villain here, because I think the notion that genre should be abandoned so readers won't be able to find what they want is...wrongheaded.  Wendig seems to oppose making it easy for readers to find stories they'll probably like on the grounds that they should be forced out of their comfort zones and into discomfort zones.   Um...no.  That's rude.  That's being a bully.

When I was a kid, I loved horse stories.  Back in the antediluvial times when I was a kid, horse stories were about realistic (more or less) horses and the people around them.  No cartoons, no animations, no rainbow manes or glowing eyes or that stuff.  I looked for horse stories because I liked to read about horses.  And I will insist to my dying day that there's nothing wrong with wanting to read books, yes, fiction books, centering on any topic.  It's OK. 

Once you're an adult and don't have teachers hovering over you, you can read what you want, and that includes books about horses, or dogs, or magicians, or circuses, or politics, or theater, or solving murders, or...whatever.   When you go to the library or the store (or look online) and you're in the mood for a book about, say, life in a space station...why shouldn't you be able to find it and others on the same subject easily?  What is the benefit to the reader (and to the writer wearing a reader-hat for the moment) in having to search the whole library/store instead of just a section?    (Confession, though:  I have at least five sections I hunt through every time I'm in a store or library.  But not all of them.)

Yes, we should all write what we want to write and worry about the marketing later.    But as readers, with limited time in the store or library...most of us would rather head to "crafts" when we want a book on knitting socks than to hunt through all the nonfiction, and "mysteries" when we want a mystery novel, rather than hunting through all fiction. 

Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:58 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


@Elizabeth - I got something very different from Wendig that you did. I didn't see where he was saying we should make it harder for readers to find what they want. Instead, I heard him talking about about how technology can allow us to abandon the parts of genre that are making it harder for readers to find what they want.

In other words, instead of forcing someone who wants to read horse stories to poke through half a dozen different genres looking for stories with horses, let them search on a 'horse' tag. Instead of making someone who likes Mike Hammer search through all of mystery, have a 'pulp detective' tag. Instead of searching through all crafts, have a 'knitting' tag.

Then again, I may very well have heard a good idea totally unrelated what he was saying.


GD Deckard
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:34 AM

As a teen, I read all of the science fiction books in my hometown library. I can still picture their physical location in the building. That would not have been likely without genre classifications, a Dewey filing system and a knowledgeable librarian. But here we are talking about the storage & retrieval of books, not the writing of them.

Classifications are needed for identification, retrieval & storage but maybe it's time to rethink the concept of genre. Genre is broad. Keywords are specific. Genre has baggage. I expect a host of attributes different in hard sci-fi vs. fantasy. But why not a hard sci-fi that uses Quantum Mechanics to create a magical world? Without the old genre classifications, we might see more interesting stories, hybrids that exist outside any genre.

All I really care about is what the writer has written. Today, I can identify a book I want to read with a keyword search and retrieve it electronically. For all I know or care, that book may be stored under a pile at the bottom of an abandoned library's stairwell. "Come writers and critics, " Bob Dylan sang in "The Times They Are a-Changin'"


Nicki Hill
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:44 AM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175


Robert, that's what I got from it, too.  I'm a big Pandora fan - I've found a lot of amazing artists I never would have heard about otherwise - and I really love the idea of a Pandora-style book recommendation system, which is something else Wendig suggested.  It can't be done under the current classification system, though.  The best that can be done there (as far as I can tell, but then again, I'm not tech-y) is what we've got on Amazon, where similar authors or titles under the same genre are suggested regardless of whether the themes in the books are actually similar.

Robert C Roman
Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 7:55 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


Amazon *does* have a tagging feature. Unfortunately, it's entirely crowdsourced, with no management. In other words, there are separate tags for 'Vampire', 'Vampires', and 'Vampire Novel', and you can only search for one at a time. Having crowdsourced tags is fine *if* you have some kind of pruning, merging, and selection process, but without any controls much of the convenience and power of such a system is lost.

Then again, it's early days yet. Early attempts are always rife with prototype glitches.

 

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