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[writing] About them there genres - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-02-01 16:45
Subject: [writing] About them there genres
Security: Public
Location:Omaha (for a little while longer)
Music:hotel noises
Tags:books, publishing, writing
So I was given this list of genres and sub-genres and asked to identify my short fiction corpus according to the parameters of the list. It was sort of whacky. Which led me to wonder what a relatively accurate list of genres and sub-genres in our field would look like. I fully realize this question is akin to sticking my hand in the blender to learn how sausage is made, but nonetheless, it's Friday night in Omaha and I have an hour or two before crashing out in this here hotel room.

So here's a crack. Hideously incomplete no doubt, but I encourage both serious commentary and a whale of a snarkfest. Not to mention suggested improvements.

(Note this post is being edited on a rolling basis in response to comments.)

Gothic Romance
  • Protogenre — Weiland, Manuscript Found in Saragossa

  • Promethean — Frankenstein

  • Tartarean — Dracula

  • Pre-Tolkien — Worm Ouroboros, Well at the World's End

  • Mid-Century — Gormenghast

  • Tolkein — The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings

  • Neo-Tolkein — Sword of Shannara

  • Post-Tolkein — A Game of Thrones

  • High — Tigana

  • Epic or Quest — The Dragonbone Chair

  • Dark — Pillars of the World

  • Romantic — Princess Bride

  • Humorous — Discworld

  • Urban — The Etched City

  • Literary — A Shadow in Summer

  • Contemporary — The Lovely Bones

  • Weird — Conan, Jirel of Joiry

  • Fetish — Slave Girl of Gor

  • Postapocalyptic — Hiero's Journey

  • Fairy Tale — Wizard of Oz, The Last Unicorn

  • Middle American — Something Wicked This Way Comes

  • Anthropomorphic — Watership Down, Redwall

  • Urban Faerie — War for the Oaks, Moonheart

  • Academic — Fool on the Hill, Tam Lin

Science Fiction
  • Early Modern — From the Earth to the Moon

  • Golden Age — The Skylark of Space

  • Silver Age — Foundation

  • New Wave — Lord of Light

  • First Wave Feminism — The Female Man

  • Humanist — The Left Hand of Darkness

  • Literary — Shadow of the Torturer

  • Cyberpunk — Neuromancer

  • Space Opera — The Mote in God's Eye

  • New [British] Space Opera — The Reality Dysfunction

  • New [American] Space Opera — Honor Harrington

  • New Weird — Perdido Street Station

  • Slipstream — The Physiognomy

  • Time Travel — The Time Traveler's Wife

  • Alternate History — The Guns of the South

  • Contemporary —

  • Outsider — Valis

  • Hard — The Star Dragon

  • Soft — The Martian Chronicles

  • Bio — The Helix and the Sword

  • Linguistic — Native Tongue

  • Epic — Dune

  • Transhumanist — Accelerando

  • Postapocalyptic — A Canticle for Leibowitz

  • Utopian — The Dispossessed, 1984

  • Prescriptive Political — Double Star, The Handmaid's TaleMilitaria — A Hymn Before Battle

  • Gedankenexperiment — The Machine Stops
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User: djonn
Date: 2008-02-02 10:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have some serious issues with the fantasy subgenre listings, which strike me as wildly incomplete and -- in some places -- severely misleading. Here's an attempt at further subdivision (also incomplete):

Period Fantasy
Neo-Tolkien — Sword of Shannara; The Fionavar Tapestry
Post-Tolkien — Memory, Sorrow & Thorn
Arthurian — Once & Future King; Mists of Avalon
Medieval — Chronicles of the Deryni
Mythic — Grendel; Bridge of Birds
Heroic (Sword & Sorcery) — Conan the Barbarian
Epic — Wheel of Time; Riftwar/Midkemia
Dynastic — Game of Thrones
?? — Arrows of the Queen/Heralds of Valdemar

Based on what Tad Williams himself has said about his Memory, Sorrow & Thorn sequence, it's clearly intended as a response to and commentary on Tolkien, so it belongs in "post-Tolkien"; I classify Game of Thrones as "dynastic", characteristic of that cluster of fantasy cycles concerned with generational and political intrigues among rival kings/families/rulers. (There's arguably overlap between that class and "medieval", but I'd contend that whereas many dynastic fantasies have medieval or quasi-medieval settings, not all medieval fantasies are necessarily dynastic.)

I think most of the other tags are fairly self-explanatory. I'm still thinking about the label for Mercedes Lackey's "Valdemar" novels, which strike me as the prototype/template for the particular class of fantasy they represent.

There are holes in this taxonomy. There ought to be something under "historical" (as distinguished from "medieval"), and it's eluding me just now. There's a distinct substrata of Elizabethan and Renaissance-flavored fantasy that doesn't necessarily fit into the above categories. Also, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant cycle seems as if it should fit here someplace, but I'm not sure where.

Early Modern Fantasy:
Fairy Tale -- Wizard of Oz; The Last Unicorn
"American" — Something Wicked This Way Comes
Anthropomorphic — Watership Down; Redwall

I don't think you can do a modern taxonomy without acknowledging Bradbury and Beagle as two of the foundational authors, nor can one omit Baum.

Contemporary Fantasy:
Urban Faerie — War for the Oaks; Moonheart
Academic — Fool on the Hill; Tam Lin (Pamela Dean)

I want to think some more about the rest of the tags here. The ground underneath "dark fantasy" is awfully slippery; nowadays, it bleeds over into "paranormal romance", and there's the question of when and how "dark fantasy" split from what we used to call "occult suspense" and where one draws the line between "occult suspense" and horror. And there are vampire novels all over the landscape, with enormous variations in tone, thematic content, and plot dynamic.
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