Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't Let Your Genre Define You; Define Your Genre

A good writer improves upon an existing genre; a great writer defines it altogether (this is either a moment of sheer genius for me--one that comes around even less frequently than Haley's Comet--or I've heard this somewhere that I can't quite put my finger on).

One of the very basics in writing is genre selection.  We all have that one niche in the literary world that enthralls us, grasping our attentions without letting go.  Whether it be romance, paranormal, chick lit, faith-oriented, fantasy, or, in my case, science-fiction; we all have that one special piece of literature that inspires us enough to put finger to keyboard.  When I first started writing, I had absolutely no idea what genres were.  All I wanted was to write stories that people wanted to read and didn't understand why writing for a specific audience was so important.  Well, one novel down, a second one in the works and a slew of rejections later, you could say I'm more or less being forced to see the light. 

Which brings me to my blog for today:  Why must writers be forced to stick with the stringent guidelines and boundaries genres bind us to?  What ever happened to creativity?  After all, the genres of today were once, themselves, defined by someone or some piece of literature.  Why are the genre police seemingly stepping in now?  And exactly where is  Jimmy Hoffa?

Enough of my mindless ponderings--although, I'm officially claiming dibs on the superhero-science-fiction-dystopian genre in lit form.  The point is that there was once a point in time where a defined genre was rendered virtually undefined with its very definition skewed by works never before seen (and sometimes panned).  If it's one thing I hope to accomplish, in my literary career, it's to produce work never before read by the public or, so clearly different that my story stands out from the pack.  I realize that these are all very grand dreams, but if you don't try to shoot for the stars how do you ever expect to land amongst the puffy white clouds of greatness?  I don't want to nor do I need to be catapulted into the stratosphere, I just want to be recognized.  To have my work admired and its meaning pondered like so many clouds in the sky would be the biggest high a writer could achieve.

This blog is going to kick off a series of blogs wherein I showcase those pieces of literature that, at their time, not only defined their genres, but created an entirely different sub-genre in their wake.  Not surprisingly, I will kick off my first blog in this series with those works of science fiction.  For this blog, I am incorporating the article "Science Fiction Books That Launched Their Own Genres" written by Charlie Jane Anders from the website ww.io9.com  (a link to this specific article will be included below).

Military Science Fiction-(Book:  Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers)-Despite the popular works of H.G. Wells, the book that seems to be given the credit for the institution of military science fiction is Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein (yeah, this perplexes me too).  With it's futuristic setting and incorporation of interplanetary warfare involving the inclusion of the military, Henlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers, as Fandomania's survey stated, "put Military Science Fiction on the radar."

Cyberpunk-(Book:  William Gibson's Neuromancer)-Althought there's some debate over who really came up with Cyberpunk as a genre (several sources have noted Asimov to be the first writer to consider the ramificaitons of artificial intelligence seriously).  Bruce Sterling's 1986 anthology Mirrorshades helped shaped the genre.  However, it was Bruce Bethke who invented the term "cyberpunk" with his 1980 short story aptly entitled "Cyberpunk", but even he admits:

 "I never claimed to have invented cyberpunk fiction! That honor belongs primarily to William Gibson, whose 1984 novel, Neuromancer, was the real defining work of "The Movement." (At the time, Mike Swanwick argued that the movement writers should properly be termed neuromantics, since so much of what they were doing was clearly Imitation Neuromancer.)

 Neuromancer, by William Gibson, helped to popularize brain-computer interfaces and dystopian paranoia which few could only come close to imitating.

Gothic Science Fiction-(Book:  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein).  To be honest, I never knew such a genre existed and I must say, I'm intrigued.  Oh the things we find out when we're tooling around online instead of working on our books.  Shelley's Frankenstein has commonly been referred to as the very first science fiction novel in general. It was also the first of its kind to meld gothic literature with abuse of science and an obsessed mad scientist.  Since the publication of Frankenstein, gothic science fiction has been affiliated with any science-fictional story that incorporates terror a horrendous monster or some other kind of scientifically engineered horror.

First contact with an alien race-(Book:  Arthur C. Clark's Childhood's End).  I'm not really sure how this is a genre, so I will let Ms. Anders explain:  "This was a tough one - even if you only define "first contact" as being a scenario where human society, as a whole, comes into contact with an alien species (and not just one solitary human explorer) you still have tons of early stories about aliens showing up. Some would say the earliest notable "first contact" novel is H.G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds. But let's say that a crucial component of the "first contact" story is that the aliens are friendly - or at least reasonably well-intentioned. Otherwise, you just have an invasion or war story. In that case, Childhood's End, with its super-advanced Overlords showing up and guiding humanity to a higher plane of existence and merger with the Overmind, although somewhat disturbing, is still a more benign story than Wells'. And thus a more proper precursor to books like Carl Sagan's Contact and Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis saga."

Utopian Science Fiction-(Book:  Jane C. Loudon's The Mummy!; Or a Take of the Twenty-Second Century).  For those of you who don't know what "utopian" means, look up antonyms for "dystopian" and you will be lead to worlds filled with rainbows, sunshine and unicorn farts (I tend to stay away from those worlds).  Utopian novels are those that present the future in an optimistic tone.  An excerpt of Loudon's book is as follows:

"The ladies were all arrayed in loose trowsers, over which hung drapery in graceful folds; and most of them caried on their heads, streams of lighted gas forced by capillary tubes, into plumes, fleurs-de-lis, or in short any form the wearer pleased; which jets de feu had an uncommonly chaste and elegant effect."

Apocalyptic Fiction-(Book: Nevil Schute's On The Beach).  The first popular novel featuring all out global fuckery features a nuclear holocaust that devestates the Northern Hemisphere leaving its survivors in Austrailia and New Zealand where they drink way too much (why wait for the end of the world for that) while awaiting their end as well.

Steampunk-(Book: K.W. Jeter's  Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy).  Incidently, for those of you who write based upon trends (shame, shame), Steampunk is highly in demand at the moment.

"K.W. Jeter not only invented the term steampunk, in an interview around the time this 1987 novel came out. A weird comic twist on the Victorian adventure novel, Infernal Devices stars George, a young watchmaker who discovers that his father was the greatest inventor of all time - even creating a clockwork automaton version of George. The clockwork duplicate of George plays the violin better than Paganini and has greater sexual prowess than George himself, leading to all sorts of wacky adventures as people mistake George for his automaton twin. Other books that could claim to be steampunk pioneers include Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983) and Homunculus (1986) by James Blaylock. But to be fair, the book that really popularized the steampunk genre was 1990's The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling."->I reposted this as I'm a tad too tired to summarize  it.

Time travel-(Book:  H.G. Wells' The Time Machine).  Oh H.G. Wells, you science fiction God and inspirer of Doc Brown in the Back To The Future series, how your presence in this blog is 100% necessary.  "The best-known early time-travel saga, and still one of the best, Wells' story launched a whole flotilla of time vessels into the distant future as well as the past. Like War Of The Worlds, it has been adapted into movies and various other formats, and the Eloi/Morlock dichotomy has become a sort of shorthand for a type of future dystopia rife with exaggerated social division."

Alternate history-(Book:  Histoire de la Monarchie universelle: Napoléon et la conquête du monde (History of the Universal Monarchy: Napoleon And The Conquest Of The World.) "Screw those "Hitler wins World War II" books. How about this popular "Napoleon won the Napoleonic wars" book, published back when Napoleon was still a living memory? Louis Geoffroy imagines Napoleon's First French Empire defeating Russia and then going on to invade England in 1814. Result: Game over. Napoleon rules the world."  Okay, this was too good as it was for me to paraphrase it.

Last but not least:

Posthuman space opera-(Book:  Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas).  Personally, when I think of space opera, I think of Star Wars--don't ask me why....

"I have no idea what book launched the "space opera" genre originally - that might be a question for another day. And there's some debate over which book inspired the resurgence of space-opera books loosely called "the new space opera." But to me, it's probably more accurate to call this genre "posthuman space-opera," since it so frequently deals with artificial intelligences, augmented humans, beings who live for millions of years, and generally a set of characters who far exceed the capabilities of a regular human. And for my money, the first really influential star-spanning novel about a civilization of A.I.s (the Minds) and superhumans whose concerns are much farther reaching than our pathetic horizons was 1987's Consider Phlebas. I freely admit this may be a bit of personal bias showing through, since Phlebas was the first novel I read which really knocked my head off and made me see the awesome potential for this type of story."

My Wonderfully Informative Source

Now that you know entirely too much about science fiction genres, I'll conclude my post.  All of the authors above have one thing in common:  they weren't afraid to buck trends and take control of their writing.  In doing so, they singlehandedly created their own genres, re-drawing the lines in the sand in which one can cross.  Without authors such as them, genres as a whole would inevitably grow monotonous.  Therefore, dear reader/writer, I implore you to grab your genre by the reigns.  Define your genre; don't let it define you.

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