January 29th, 2007


Genre marketing vs genre writing

I've been thinking about genres some more, partly as a function of the IROSF article specficrider and I finished over the weekend, and party as a function of the conversation I had with karindira. In both cases, the concept of tropes figured prominently in the discourse.

We as writers often argue that genre is a marketing tool. I've made that case here before in so many words. How else do people find books in the store? Just like having a space ship in the cover art signals "science fiction" to the bookstore browser, so does the little word "Science Fiction" printed on the spine. Spaceships on the cover of a hard boiled 1940s Hollywood murder mystery would be misleading at best, unless there was a very specific plot element in play.

However, during the writing process, the author's conscious choice of genre can be important. Critically so, I'm starting to believe. (This is a new line of thought for me, so bear with me.) The example case is one specficrider and I raise in our February article (no link yet).

By the same token, when literary writers adopt science fictional language, while still employing their core emotional tropes, the result is often oddly unsatisfying to genre readers. Kirstin Bakis' Lives of the Monster Dogs (1997), Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), and Michel Faber's Under the Skin (2000) are examples of this trend.

I'm not going to steal further thunder from the article right now in this forum, but I will put up a link as soon as it's available. However, I find it interesting that this seems to be a clear case where authorial intent matters considerably. Imagine a non-genre writer addressing a generation ship story, for example. If they are not an experienced genre reader, they won't be familiar with the tropes of FTL and sublight travel, Mayflies and For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, and so forth. However they choose to address generation ship issues, the writer is quite likely going to violate the expectations of a genre reader, which are based on a long-running conversation in the field around the trope of generation ships.

Does that count? Does that matter? karindira thinks it arrogant of SF to claim ownership of such topics as time travel, genetic engineering and generation ships. Yet this is an established literary and even cultural tradition, with a body of thought and experience. As I pointed out to her, some of our reactions to outside (ie, non-SF) writers using our tropes amount to professional jealousy -- when *I* write about post-apocalyptic religious cults, I'm dismissed as a mere genre writer1, but when Margaret Atwood does the very same thing, she's lauded in the press and academe as an innovative literary figure.

Like I've said before, millions of people who wouldn't touch that science fiction trash read that nice Mr. Crichton's book about cloned dinosaurs. Oh, the irony.

1 A theoretical example. I've not yet written a post-apocalyptic novel, nor have I yet been excoriated in the press. I figure if I stick around long enough, both of these things may happen.

SF for the 21st century

A Canticle for Lebowski -- Jeff Bridges as an immortal Dude wanders post-apocalyptic America searching for an intact bowling alley.

Your suggestion?

ETA 2/1/07: Voting poll for the contest is here. Be sure to vote for your favorite. (Due to LJ restrictions, you must have an LJ handle to vote.)

ETA 2/1/07: This comment thread will remain open indefinitely for your reading and posting enjoyment, but eligibility for the voting poll and prize giveaway is now over.

ETA: The morning of 2/1/07 I'm going to pull these comments into a voting poll here on LiveJournal. We'll have a vote through the weekend. The winner will receive the coveted Greetings From Lake Wu limited edition from Traife Buffet Haute Biblio. The runner up will receive a copy of Mainspring Amazon ] from Tor Books (as soon as I have one to send).

Technical blather: Entries must be related to fantasy and science fiction. Qualifications to be determined solely by me. Judging is by community poll here. Entrants without a LiveJournal handle must enter their name and email addy to qualify for the prize ($150 retail value). I reserve the right to disqualify any entry for any reason at my discretion. I will also post only one entry per person, so if you enter more than once, I'll pick my favorite of yours. As usual, ties to be settled by

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Dieting mit der Soap

Went to the Diet Soap reading tonight. Well, gig, I suppose. I sat with mkhobson and deedop while douglain performed hostly duties. tillyjane and my long lost step-step-step brother S. were there as well. (No, I'm not kidding, and no, I can't explain it either. Maybe tillyjane can. But he's a real sweetheart.) Various music and verbal performances, including me reading "Bird of Leaves", all around a strong anti-consumerist, anti-war theme.

Also popped out 2,100 words on a pirate short story, one of two I'm working on. (This was originally on the slate for this past weekend.) Me and half the rest of the world are doing this. Trying to hit some markets and build some inventory before I dive back into novels for a while.

For those of you in the Portland area, S. is an experienced proofreader looking for local work. (He's done newspaper proofing in the past.) If you've got any leads, or are willing just to chat with him and point him in the right direction, can you drop me a note?