вторник, 9 октября 2007 г.

jennybeast: genre musings

asked me to give her my opinion on the matter of genre, and how it works with regards to the following categories: paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi/fantasy, sci-fi, magical realism and urban fantasy.

I'm rather pleased with my reply, and it's an interesting subject, so I invite responses to 
my essay

I find genres to be tricky, unless, like romance, there's a higher power dictating the genre characteristics. But here's what I think:

Nancy Pearl draws the line between science fiction and fantasy (not taking all the little subgenres into account) as rivets vs foliage, and I think that's as good a place as any. She presents it as a continuum, with sci-fi on one end, fantasy in the middle and dark fantasy/horror on the opposite edge. I like the continuum, but I think it's a sci-fi and fantasy bounded continuum, with romance to the north and horror to the south...more of an axis than a line. She lumps sci-fi, fantasy, and horror/dark fantasy into speculative fiction, which is all neat and tidy, and not always helpful. I think paranormal and urban fantasy would definitely fit under that banner, but magical realism is a different thing. (I'll get to that in a moment).

I had an interesting conversation at the con with Jay Lake, who posited that genre is based more on sales than on subject or plot points -- basically that if you sell enough books you leave your genre behind, enter the realm of the bestseller, and eventually become just fiction. He gave Stephen King and Anne McCaffrey as examples. I think he has a point, or at least it's interesting to think about, but I also think there are hallmarks to each particular genre, and also that genre busting is in right now.

I can accept Speculative fiction as an umbrella term for books that take place outside our current, accepted bounds of reality as we understand it. The majority of the book takes place there.

The reason Magical Realism isn't under that umbrella is that the entire book does not take place outside the bounds of our current parameters. Generally, magical realism is a conceit that introduces brief impossibilities as a counterpoint to realistic extremes in otherwise straightforward narratives that take place within a contemporary or historical timeframe. Wonder to counteract horror and make both seem more or less possible. I think the other point of magical realism is to acknowledge the ineffable within human life. There are experiences of faith, of spirit, of art, of odd coincidences and of trance that have taken humans outside their known reality since reality has been agreed upon, but they are difficult to portray, and they are almost always intensely personal. Magical realism tries to touch upon those moments without imposing them on others.

Now, on the other hand:

If the impossibility changes the course of history as it is known, then it's not magical realism, it's alternative history, which can be either science fiction or fantasy or paranormal or anything, really, but always something speculative.

Paranormal seems to me to be seeping more and more into the other genres. I classify ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves or really anything that used to be human but decided to keep walking around as paranormal. Witches and wizards can be paranormal or can be fantasy. Likewise superheroes, unless they are heavily pictured, in which case it's probably a comic, a graphic novel, manga, or an illustrated novel.

Aliens, robots, machinery, space travel and scientific messes are generally sci-fi. Science fiction is generally set in the future.

Sci-fi/fantasy are frequently lumped together because people who are interested in the one are more willing to explore the continuum created by the other, so there's an assumed interest in unreality. Vampires don't really go here, because before the advent of the vampire romance, they were generally considered to be horror.

Fantasy more frequently deals with fairies, witches and wizards in other realities, kingdoms, and sometimes the development of societies on other planets/worlds/dimensions, but that's part of the overlap with sci-fi. Time travel can be either fantasy or sci-fi. Likewise post-apocalyptic stories, depending on their focus.

Urban fantasy begins like magical realism, with the depiction of a fictional but fairly realistic/ believable urban center. The difference is that magical realism hits on the magical thing and then snaps back to reality, where urban fantasy hits on the magical thing and catapults headlong into the fantastic. Also, magical realism tends to go all great literature on you and either end badly, or at the very least, dwell significantly on horrifying and perfectly believable events. Urban fantasy tends to end more happily, although the dark urban fantasy dwells just as much on the horrific.

Finally, young adult and children's stories do not hesitate to play with and mix up and generally mess around with these genres all over the place. Go figure. I think it's because they know reality sucks and they still believe there might be an alternative.

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