Thursday, June 28, 2012

With regard to genre, are you an elitist snob?

If this dragon rode in a spaceship,
is it still fantasy? What if the
spaceship was headed to Eden?
is it still fantasy even though now
it is infused with spirituality?
According to sci-fi super magazine io9, San Diego Comic Con 2012 is set to be overwhelmed with fantasy picks this year, chief among them are legions of George R.R. Martin fans followed closely by Hobbit buzz which is filling in the gap for Star Trek 2 (which is absent this go around).

Now, I started to look at the titles of all the things that are going to be there, and I saw the following list:

List of Fantasy at Comic-Con 2012:

- The Hobbit
- Breaking Dawn
- ParaNorman
- Evil Dead Remake (not confirmed)
- Maleficent (not confirmed)
- Oz: The Great and Powerful (not confirmed)
- R.I.P.D. (not confirmed)
- 47 Ronin (not confirmed)

- The Legend of Korra
- Game Of Thrones
- True Blood
- Once Upon A Time
- Vampire Diaries
- Adventure Time
- Dreamwork's Dragons: Riders of Berk (the TV show version of How to Train Your Dragon)
- Teen Wolf
- 666 Park Avenue
- Supernatural
- Once Upon A Time
- Beauty And The Beast
- Grimm
- Merlin
- Being Human
- American Horror Story (not confirmed)

It gave me pause to think...what exactly is fantasy? Is science-fiction just another flavor of fantasy in which there is pseudo-scientific techno babble instead of pseudo-Latin sounding spellcasting? Can "Twilight" be called a fantasy? What about the "Evil Dead" remake? What about the fairy tale shows like "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm"? Maleficent is a dragon but it's also a repackaging of the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale.

"Merlin"...yes that's a fantasy. So is "Game of Thrones" and "The Hobbit". But none of these others seem to fit the type of fantasy that I have in my mind. The kind that has a medieval setting with knights, wizards, and dragons yet tries to hold to the authenticity of a world and is not structured from anything written by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson.

I struggle with genre labels. I labeled my own book as science-fiction because it has techno babble galore, and some spaceships, and super cities, and some neat gadgets. There is no magic in it though. But you could kind of call what Jordan does as "magic". However, I use scientific mumbo jumbo to explain why it's happening so that makes it more science-fiction, right? The protag is 17 so that counts as young adult right? But not really, if you see what happens to him in the story.
When we talk fantasy do we mean this?...
One elitist snob on Amazon that absolutely hated my book said, "Now I guess if the reader likes a lot of spirituallity mixed up with their science fiction, it may be just fine. But to me it just sounded ridiculous and pulled it down..." I wanted to respond to this person and ask, "What exactly do you think science-fiction is? What exactly do you think fantasy is?" I'm sure the response would have been "Science fiction should only happen where the main characters are a man and a woman and in space (and barring that please god don't let them get together and get busy because it's blasphemy I tell ya...)"

Humor aside...I think that there is a strange kind of nonsensical, non-logic that flows through the minds of some of the elitists of science-fiction and/or fantasy. It's similar to the kind of nonsensical, non-logic that occupies the minds of those who oppose gay marriage. Maybe the writing and plots have gotten so weird and crazy as authors and writers seek to distinguish themselves with an original idea, that boundaries in fiction essentially no longer exist with the lone exception being that of the obsessive compulsive elitist with boxes clearly labeled for organization and consumption of stories.

In other words, I think that "Twilight" and "Being Human" are now as much science-fiction and fantasy as "Ender's Game", "Dune", and "Foundation". "Harry Potter" IS science-fiction. "Battlestar Galactica" IS a fantasy. They are two sides of the exact same coin.

As for me, I'm going to keep churning out stories for the time being that infuse spirituality with scientific techno babble that no one understands anyway. I'm going to do it until I grow tired of it and then move onto something else.

My question to you is, would you agree that paranormal, cyberpunk, medieval fantasy, science-fiction, steampunk, horror, dark fantasy, and countless other similar genres are now all blended and stuck on the same coin?

With regard to genre, are you an elitist snob?

How do you categorize what you write?


  1. One thing I always try to remember is that books and movies are put into genres mainly for marketing reasons. It's hard for an audience to pick what they want without it being made clear what "box" the product goes in. They want a good idea of what's inside, I suppose, before they spend their hard-earned money (even if it's a mere $2.99, I guess).

    In regards to fantasy, I call my work fantasy for my BONDED collection. They are fairy-tale inspired novellas in one collection, but I still call them fantasy. Technically, however, they are not pure fairy-tales (far from it), and they are not pure fantasy, and they are not pure literary. They are bit of each. Fantasy, in my understanding, breaks down into a lot of different categories. What you mark as dragons and knights, etc., is epic or high fantasy, usually, and Twilight would go under paranormal fantasy. Add a spaceship and it's science fiction, but I personally think of sci-fi as fantasy with space elements.

    I like Wikipedia's description: Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.

    In the end, it's all fiction. :)

  2. This is a timely topic as I just had this discussion with a friend. Editors and authors are telling my friend that a sci-fi book must show the sci-fi elements within the first five pages. I'm like...WHAT? She has people telling her that her book about genetic manipulation is not sci-fi. I'm arguing that it is. But, I obviously have genre-labeling confusion.. I pitched my YA series as sci-fi and sometimes as paranormal and was told it is fantasy by many. My publisher labeled it fantasy as well.

  3. Maybe instead of science fiction we should call it "space fantasy" or "technological fantasy" and Game of Thrones type stuff "medieval fantasy" and Twilight and such "supernatural fantasy" and so forth down the line.

    In a sense all fiction books are a fantasy in that they all (no matter how hard they try) bend reality to suit their stories.

    I think my book should be categorized as "urban fantasy" since it's not science fiction. Even though the main character is a scientist, there's not a lot of science going on. I think "urban fantasy" is the label they give to stuff that involves the supernatural and is set in the modern world. But don't hold me to that. In the end it's always up to the publisher what they want to call it, though it helps if your publisher actually reads your book first. If you're self-published then it can get dicey.

  4. I infuse different genres in my writing...or cross lines...or whatever you want to call it.
    Actually, I think that indie publishing has chipped away at the walls separating genre. The big six used to keep the lines firmly drawn, now us hordes have had the nerve to trample those lines. In the end, we are all speculative writers, are we not? Fiction is make-believe.

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  6. At 4th Street Fantasy, a convention i attend every year, the general consensus is that Sci-Fi is under the umbrella of Fantasy, which is an exploration of the different or the other. Sci-fi is just fantasy in space, or with tech.
    Lucky enough for me, my fantasy is pretty much all high fantasy, so i don't have to worry about micro labels. I can just say i write YA Fantasy and leave it at that

  7. This is a hard question because so many books cross different genres. Few books fit neatly in one group. Someone asked me what genre Nightfire was and I started to say paranormal. My boyfriend (who hasn't read it ) cut me off and told them it was fantasy. I was like, no , it's paranormal. His reply was, yeah that's just another term for fantasy. I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. I actually think Slipstream fits pretty well under speculative fiction, which is a cross between sci-fi and fantasy (as I understand it.) But most people don't know what that is, so mentioning it is kind of pointless.

  8. I think there's room for different flavors of fantasy and everyone doesn't have to like all of it. I don't consider King Arthur legends to be fantasy - it's specifically King Arthur legend the same way I consider Clash of the Titans to be Greek mythology.

  9. I completely get what you're saying here. I had similar comments that my Gravity trilogy wasn't science fiction. But there are aliens, new planets, and space travel. If it's not science fiction, then what is it? I also admit it has elements of fantasy too. I call it space fantasy, but really it is two sides to the same coin.

  10. Great post for discussion, Michael. For TV and movies, I think Michelle's comment above hits on something important: for the most part, they are blended--perhaps watered down--versions of genre in an attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. There are exceptions, sure. Bladerunner was pretty sci-fi, for example. As you said, Merlin is pretty much pure fantasy.

    You're much more likely to find "pure" forms of the genres in literature. And I do think they exist. For me, pure science fiction bases its answers purely in science. If there's a problem or solution in the context of the story, ultimately science will fix it. Not magic. Maybe religion, but that religion has to be found--at least partially--in scientific reasoning.

    Look at Star Wars and, God help us, the whole Jedi midichlorian thing. Star Wars as it was originally presented was very much a sci-fi/fantasy. There was all this technology and science, but also this religion. This unseen "Force" that seemed to hold sway over the universe.

    With the introduction of midichlorians, or the naturally occurring Jedi juice in certain people, the story went back toward straight sci-fi. Yes, there was religion, but suddenly it could be explained away biologically. With science.

    As for your stories, and the ridiculous review. I'd say it depends on how you explain/explore the religious themes. If there is no plausible scientific reasoning for the religion, and if it plays a major part in the resolution/answers, then it's probably sci-fi fantasy.

    That's how I reason them out anyway, which is probably completely backwards. In the end, we are so influenced by movies and television, finding pure written forms of sci-fi or fantasy is hard to come by. Personally, I don't care for the pure stories all that much anyway. I don't know enough about either genre to really "get" the minutia of high moon elves powers and sentient android aliens who are controlled by their pets. :)

  11. Great subject! I think books often need several words to describe their genre. Mine is sorta dystopian, with fantasy magic, but could be for a religious market...I think good cakes have lots of ingredients!

  12. Yes. Yes, I am. *laughs* Now, I better read the post. Good title.

  13. Labels. We give them too much power. Sigh.

  14. Glad Michelle posted Wikipedia's definition because I agree with it. Twilight is NOT fantasy. It's horror. Most of what is classified as 'paranormal fantasy' is horror.
    Maybe we need more genres?
    There is a group of elitist science fiction fans that think the genre must be heavy on tech. I ran up against that a lot with my first book. However, since the bulk of my fans have stated they were really glad my books aren't heavy tech, I'm glad I didn't insert it just to please the die hard tech science fiction fans.
    And spirituality mixed with science fiction isn't allowed? What the heck was Dune then?

  15. Well, there's a long tradition of commenting on religion and culture in SF. I think your commentator didn't appreciate that.

    As for being a genre snob. You know, I don't really care. I'll just keep on writing and reading and watching what I enjoy.

  16. I do like my science fiction but any flavour can be tested, Michael. I think variety will appeal to more generations.

    I prefer Hard science fiction (so I'm a bit of a purist - DUNE, Asimov's Foundation, Promethius?) but I'm open to reading new material. e.g., reviewed a new book by MPax, a scifi author and blogger, at my blog today.

    I like robots, alternate intelligences, and other worlds - I'm tired of reading about planet Earth - it's starting to remind me of 'Blade Runner'.

    To me, vampire novels are fantasy, as is anything with magic, spells, werewolves, wizards and dragons. I'd lump Potter with Twilight, but not with DUNE.

    Reading fantasy led me to reading science fiction, so the trick is to keep an open mind. . . as long as there aren't any mind readers around.

  17. I think part of our challenge is that we can't bear not to put a label to everything and then we want to place them neatly into a box. So not happening.

  18. Wow. Well, I suppose I am going to sound snobbish when I say there is no freakin' way Twilight is Fantasy. The majority of that list doesn't qualify as fantasy as far as I am concerned. Seems to me there has been a blurring of the genre lines as of late and I wonder if it is being done as a way to help people get over their fantasyphobia? Normally, people hear the word "fantasy" and start snickering, looking around for the geeks wearing plastic swords and have fake elf ears. Fantasy has always gotten a bad rap, sci-fi as well. Are they trying to make fantasy and sci-fi look cool now? Puhleeze... we do cool very well on our own. I mean, I do know that you should never, ever wear your laser gun UNDER your cloak, it isn't easily accessible. ;)
    I dunno what to say about this other than that. I sort of feel insulted now that they consider Twilight to be fantasy... Maybe I should go rant about the spiritual undertones of it? Meh. Not worth the trolling effort. XD

  19. Aw, why don't I get the olympic station park person spamming my blog?

  20. I think it just comes down to preferences. Some people like their science fiction focused on the technology. Others want it focused on the people and are bored with too much science. Often time (especially if it's a free book or cheap) readers don't carefully consider if the book is something that they like to read. Next thing you know they're whining about it.

    You know the book Red Mars. I couldn't get through it. Too much science. So I guess you could say I'm a snob to against hard SF.

    BTW...Twilight is Fantasy with a subgenre of

  21. I don't think of genres as a fixed thing, it changes over time, like culture. But the people within the culture think they know what belongs and what doesn't. It's only when you view the changes over a long period of time that you see the constant shifting.


  22. While I categorize my writing as crime fiction, I know my writing is not fantasy or sci-fi. Personally, the two are so interconnected that I can't tell the difference anymore.

  23. TWILIGHT is craptasy not fantasy :)
    Mmm Merlin nom nom.... Did you see the fourth season over in USA? I thought it was the weakest one so far, even though they've finally killed Uter.

  24. These are labels so we know what section to put the books in in the bookstore.

    What people expect will vary from person to person. I could get into a whole long thing about what I consider to be each genre, but then again, many bookstores have sci-fi/fantasy sections, so everything gets blended anyway.

    What I write depends on how you look at it. Some is fantasy. Some is sci-fi. Some is I don't know what.

  25. There are some genres you forgot or didn't consider. There is magical realism and surrealism...

    I think trying to pinpoint genres is ridiculous. I write what I need to write and whatever happens within that context just is what it is. If it must be categorized for publishing then I would say "surrealism/magical realism/fantasy/syfy. That should take care of it, I think! :) Cheers!

  26. I guess fantasy can be anything

  27. I usually view the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy to be the development of technology in the former. Regardless of specific categories, however, I would say that both good SF and F have to deal with human stories, in the end.

  28. Maybe I'm a genre whore. I'll read anything.

    I don't really pay attention to genre, and I enjoy stories that mix it up. I just want a good story, with three-dimension characters, and maybe excellent writing that makes me think.

    Easy to please.

  29. I have also heard talk of "sci-fantasy", which is a deliberate combo of the two. One of last year's NaNo novels that I wrote was in that genre, or at least I considered it to be so - it had spaceships but also magic.

  30. I think labels are meant to give the reader an idea of the story they're going to get if they read. Nothing else. That publishers famously tell some authors that they love their book but don't know what genre it fits into and then turn around and tell people they are interested in reading genre mashups makes me think that they struggle with labels too.

    So, I call what I write science-fiction. If I've written something that is more fantasy-like (with medieval villages and stuff) then I'll describe it as fantasy, but it's really science-fiction.

    That's just me though.

  31. To be honest the ridiculous amount of genres and sub genres today just confuse me. I think of fantasy/sci-fi as being in the same tree with all the sub genres branching out from them.

    Luckily since I don't write I don't have to worry how to classify anything really.

  32. To be honest the ridiculous amount of genres and sub genres today just confuse me. I think of fantasy/sci-fi as being in the same tree with all the sub genres branching out from them.

    Luckily since I don't write I don't have to worry how to classify anything really.

  33. There is definitely a lot of cross-genre going on. Yes, it's hard to distinguish what it really is.

    I think "they're" coming up with new genre's, though, since so many people are crossing genre's. New Adult (NA) for one, for writing that fits between YA and A.

  34. I'm hearing a lot more use of "speculative" fiction to cover all of the above. Even with all the division, bookstores still keep scifi and fantasy in the same section, so why do publishers need to market them as different?

  35. I was looking at comic books today and wondering ... what the heck are they? They're superhero books. They say the people get their powers from radioactive spiders or other planets, not from magical amulets, but come on, they're totally doing some non-spell magic. Is Spiderman "Fantasy"?

    (Read this in a crotchety old lady voice:) Why, when I was a kid, you just had your straight-up spaceship stuff over here, and your dragon stuff over there, none of this crazy crossin-over-stuff the young folks are into these days.

  36. Your post certainly peaked my interest Michael.

    Interesting topic. I guess I am more the purist... not snob. I believe fantasy is with magical creatures, Druids, wizards, dragons, and being earthbound.

    Sci-fi always meant to me some sort of space travel, other planets, aliens, that sort of thing.

    Can there be crossovers? Of course, it they are done well. Good writing wins out always. A good story will always hold true whether it's paranormal, magical realism, scifi/fantasy, etc.

    I think if we bring it back to the basics, writer's and readers might be less confused.

    It's like the classics in design. SO MANY trends have spun from clear and simple basic design.

  37. It seems that genres have become so intermixed now, it's probably hard to call many new works one genre. I think book sellers do this to categories things for their ease, as publishers probably do to. But ultimately, it's a blend of genres.

  38. I have a hard time querying my writing because I write short stories in: fantasy, twisted fairy tales, erotica, women's fiction, contemporary, sci fi, horror, thriller.

    I read in all those genre's too. Not that I enjoy every story in them, but I'll read just about anything, regardless of the label, because you never know what might be interesting. Lately I pick up a book, read the book blurb/synopsis, and buy it or not, regardless of where it sits on the virtual shelf.

    You have a good point Michael. I think an author just needs to write, and figure out what genre to plug it into when querying/marketing. The world has changes so much since the Big Six controlled all the gates to publication.


  39. You've got me thinking now. I quite like sub-genres because they can help to give you a better idea of what to expect from a book. But I won't not read a book just because it falls into a specific genre if I like the sound of the blurb. So I'm thinking that spares me from the tittle 'Genre Snob'. Would you agree?

  40. "Any sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke.

    You're right that fantasy and sci-fi, and all their sub-genres, are like many sides on the same die. To a certain extent, ALL fiction is fantasy because it deals with some aspect of the unreal and the imaginative.

    I'm not sure how true this is, but I've been led to believe that until very recently no one actually know how aspirin worked. They knew that it DID work, but not how. Isn't that a reliance on magic? You take this magic pill and your head pains go away. What's not fantastical about that?

    People like to put labels on things, and labelling created these eltist snobs. Can't we all just get along?

  41. i AM an elitist snob [maybe slob, too?]... i refuse to do the publisher's work and put my stuff in any particular genre... they change it to what they want to, anyway...

  42. Elitist Slob ... heh. I want to steal that and change my screen name on everything to that. Only two words but it says so much.

    I know there's supposed to be a formula to writing these days but it seems to me that most of the best works come when authors break the rules. Of course that creates a "new rule" and the cycle continues.

    I saw Legend of Korra on the list. If anyone hasn't seen it or its precursor, Avatar: The Last Airbender (The movie did not exist!) you should try to pick up a copy. Avatar's 3 seasons are streaming on Netflix and Korra just finished its first season on TV. It's on Nickelodeon but don't let that fool you. The story is a great mesh of science fiction and magic but the stories are so timelessly human that anyone will love them.

  43. what if i sue for theft of a term? :P lol

    aw, what the hell? go for it!

  44. After reading most of Slipstream. Yep, almost done. :) I would call it sci-fi. I would not call it YA even though the prag is 17. One of the best things about your book is the Science behind it all. I love the fact you back your plot with such interesting science.

  45. I think you've hit on why sci-fi and fantasy are in the same section of the book store; often, people can't differentiate them.

    I hate when someone says, "I don't like sci-fi," because what does that even mean?

    I don't have a better answer, though.

  46. Enjoy your break Michael.
    Me, at the risk of sounding an elitist snob, prefer the non mixing of a particular religious ideology, which a lot of sci fi authors clandestinely indulge in. philosophy is fine as long as it isn't preachy, the basic concept of good versus evil makes the world go round and so it stays, myth, legends, beliefs without taking sides or being subtly racist or xenophobic, homo/hetero/gender phobic is very good, political leanings which don't cast their dark shadows is ok. But it is a fine balance which, when lost can burden the book with "having a hidden agenda - so avoid" label.
    My tuppence. The reason, why even (classified as realistic fiction) Ayn Rand books have people either loving her or hating her. While I realise her Objectivism is a bit too much, the truth is, merit and talent often gets a bad treatment under incompetent, power hungry hands.

  47. I suspected some people would say that about your book. And to those people I have this to say - HIS DARK MATERIALS. I mean, THE GOLDEN COMPASS was on the big screen. That makes it basically mainstream.

  48. Fantasy is one big umbrella. There's high fantasy, in which it's a whole other reality. Contemporary fantasy, which takes place in modern times (Harry Potter). Paranormal (gag, Twilight), and science fiction--to name a few. There are many books that cross genres too--paranormals with mystery, and so on. The one thing I get snobby about is urban fantasy. People will use it because they think it sounds cool, but it actually needs to have a city setting.

  49. I don't think it's an accident that writers often get labeled science fiction/fantasy writer rather than just science fiction writer or fantasy writer. The borders between these genres are very murky. I identify a lot with what you're talking about because in my own WIP, the alien technology is so ridiculous it's basically magic and honestly, if I was being really accurate I would call it fantasy but because it has aliens and space ships I'm inclined to label it science fiction.

    If you're a reader gets so enraged though, they're missing the point. It's about the story, not the label.