Genre is a funny thing, isn't it? My days working in a bookshop taught me to both appreciate it, and rebel against it. Most of the time the categories on the back of the books made it easier to shelve a whole trolley's worth as quickly as possible -- particularly first thing in the morning and with only one coffee to help! But sometimes they were just wrong. Like they said thriller when really I knew I was holding a big fat fantasy tome, or (and less often, I have to admit) YA Fiction 8-12 on the back of a gruesome true crime.
But things really got interesting when the lines between genres started to blur, and that's when my deep-seated need to rebel kicked in. What makes some books set in the future literature and some science fiction? What's more important in a supernatural crime thriller, the 'crime' or the 'supernatural', and how do you decide where to shelve it? Do you let the computer do all the work for you? Or do you make sure no one's watching, take that 'obviously belongs in science fiction' book out of the thriller section and place it lovingly in the genre where it belongs?
Maybe it depends on the kind of day you've had, the amount of caffeine consumed, and just how invested you feel in that particular genre. Maybe it's all linked so your hidden agenda to single-handedly ensure that fantasy and science fiction get the recognition they deserve!
Anyway... moving on. So, genre's a funny thing. But nothing felt as strange as seeing the genre debate applied to my own book.
You see, as far as I was concerned, Debris was always fantasy. It has a hero with a special power, a motley band of companions, and creepy evil-doers with end of the world aspirations. Core fantasy values all. But, at the same time, it is a bit different. Tanyana might be a hero with a special power, but she also has to worry about paying the rent. She lives in a semi-industrialised world, with a class system based on skill, not birth. Almost everyone has the ability to use magic -- a pseudo-scientific magic involving the manipulation of subatomic particles -- and the few that don't are forced into low-paid work collecting the waste this produces.
Still, you know, fantasy. Surely chatting to subatomic particles just isn't possible, and neither is threading them together to create grand and powerful structures, or seeing them as glowing beads of friendly light embedded in all matter -- no matter how far technology advances in the future. Ergo, magic. Fantasy. With a few hints of steampunk. And maybe even some cyberpunk... but that's in book two.
By now I really should have realised that genre isn't that simple. At the very least my days of bookshop rebellion should have taught me that. But no, I hadn't learned, so I was more than a little surprised when my publisher started talking about science fiction instead of fantasy. First reaction: "OMG they've confused me with someone else and actually they don't want to publish my book at all!". Once I got over that little hiccup (meltdown) we realised it was more an issue of definitions, instead of horror stories involving manuscripts swapped at birth. I'd say 'magic' they'd say 'subatomic particle'; I'd say 'carriages' they'd say 'on giant invisible spider legs instead of wheels'; 'clockwork and gas pipes' vs 'futuristic city'. You get the idea.
Genre was blurring again, but this time I'd drawn the lines, and it was difficult to watch them dissolve before my eyes. We've decided on 'manga-inspired science fantasy', which is a pretty good description, although I also like to include 'dark-fantasy steampunk-ish' whenever I can.
I guess the point is, that along the way I learned to let go a little bit. Genre isn't only about the appropriate code printed on the back of a book. It's also in the eye of the beholder. And I was holding so tightly onto the way I saw my story, and the (not-so-neat) little box I had squeezed it into, that I couldn't understand that anyone else might see it differently. But you know what? They can. In fact, they will.
And that's okay, because their view of Debris is not wrong at all, just different. Like some of those books, back in my old bookshop days, weren't categorised on the wrong place, just differently to the way I saw them.
DebrisThe Veiled Worlds 1
(Angry Robot Books, October 2011)
In a far future where technology is all but indistinguishable from magic, Tanyana is one of the elite.
She can control pions, the building blocks of matter, shaping them into new forms using ritual gestures and techniques. The rewards are great, and she is one of most highly regarded people in the city. But that was before the “accident”.
Stripped of her powers, bound inside a bizarre powersuit, she finds herself cast down to the very lowest level of society. Powerless, penniless and scarred, Tanyana must adjust to a new life collecting “debris”, the stuff left behind by pions. But as she tries to find who has done all of this to her, she also starts to realize that debris is more important than anyone could guess.
Debris is a stunning new piece of Science Fantasy, which draws in themes from Japanese manga, and classic Western SF and Fantasy to create this unique, engrossing debut from the very exciting young author Jo Anderton.
FILE UNDER: Science Fiction [ Sentient Matter | Cast Down | Cruel Betrayals | All Is Lies ]
What: One commenter will win a Mass Market paperback copy of Debris from The Qwillery. Please note that the book has not yet been published so the winner will have to wait until it is published to receive the book!
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
Have you encountered genre blurring? OR What do you think of genre blurring?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Thursday, August 25, 2011. Void where prohibited by law.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*