Thursday, August 6, 2009

Science Fiction =/= Paranormal

Please allow me a mini rant and a wall of text as I become a bit of a stick in the mud. :-)

I'm not quite sure where it began but I notice a change in publishing industry genre labels. Of course, it's to be expected with the rise of urban fantasy and paranormal romance selling like hotcakes. And naturally the industry would want to label it best so the readers can find it more. But I notice a lot of mislabeling in doing so which has lead to a bit of confusion for books that are normally "out of the ordinary".

Science Fiction fans have been a bit miffed that the section in the bookstore has lessened over the years with the amount of fantasy and "romance" crowding the shelves. I would imagine romance readers would feel the same if the romance section was taken over by straight fantasy. The genres have blended so much that it's lead to the overall umbrella to be called 'speculative' fiction encompassing paranormal romance, sci-fi, fantasy and horror since books usually have elements of one or all. Unfortunately, I've seen some folks call things sci-fi when it wasn't. This is like the debacle that went down when Juno Books' former Best Paranormal Romance anthologies originally translated romance as adventure rather than a love story between a hero and heroine with an HEA. PR fans were in an uproar and went crazy because they went in expecting a paranormal romance: a love story with an HEA centered around supernatural characters and/or happenings.

Although I understand both sides, the popular fiction industry has changed much of the old time definitions to fit a new mold. Sci-fi fans are going through something similar as romance fans did in that situation, especially with SF romance still finding it's grounding. I sometimes hear readers recommend sci-fi and/or fantasy books. I'm all jazzed getting my list ready to take down some good reads when I notice they aren't sci-fi but urban fantasy or paranormals. Hmph. When I sit down and want some sci-fi I'm expecting some futuristic elements, dystopia goodies, social commentary to mirror our own and some high techie goodness amidst awesome world building. Sure there may be some things that are possible in that world rather than ours, but instead of the magic that is shown in fantasy and it's subgenres, this is happening through science. Of course you get a little bit of both if say, you get a vampire via genetics or a wizard uses "magic" with advanced nanotechnology but that's when it gets all sketchy.

Basically, it's all about reader expectations. Readers, no matter what they enjoy, expect a certain book when they grab some titles. Sometimes they're in the mood for one genre over another and if you go in expecting one to get another, that can be pretty disappointing right out the gate. Which is a bummer for the author because the story doesn't even get a chance. But in this crazy, pressed for time world you often get that one shot to grab the reader.

I know there are tons of sites out there chatting about the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy but I'll go ahead and reiterate the two along with adding some descriptions of science fiction and fantasy.

While writing my world building chapter for the upcoming Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal (plug, plug), I had to explore what exactly "Paranormal' was genre wise. After all world building in paranormals have a different approach than it does in Fantasy and SF. Here's a snippet:
The Paranormal genre can lie in reality with a hint of the extraordinary. Science fiction usually employs science and technology as a reason for the ‘what if’ whereas fantasy often uses magic to explain everything, the paranormal creates a world that makes use of our world while adding elements of the supernatural. This can be explained with science or magic, yet it takes the story beyond these realms to make a genre of its own.

The genre usually includes such creatures as ghosts, witches, shape-shifters, vampires, or werewolves among others. These beings can also be found in straight fantasy; however, most fantasy worlds take place in ancient times such as the medieval period or lands far off that mirror our own world in the past.

The April 2008 issue of Writer's Digest is one that's fascinating in that it talks about the rise of paranormal in current trends. But it also shows a great Genre Tree.

Check it out:

The Writer's Digest website even has a wonderful subgenre list to match the tree, complete with extensive definitions under each main genre umbrella. You can check that out here.

As more stories explore various aspects of each genre in one single story, I can feel it's going to get more complicated to label the books. For instance, steampunk is a niche that's gaining popularity as we speak and, as mentioned before, Sci-Fi Romance is still tapping the line between paranormal fiction, romance and futuristic sci-fi.


Rebecca Royce said...

Wow. This is an amazing post. I learned a ton Rae and its stuff I hadn't thought that much about but its all so true. Please, keep talking about this. I think its important to start a dialogue!!

Annie Nicholas said...

Super fab post. I have been thinking about this topic as well being a huge sci-fi fan, I'm having trouble finding anything new to read. I can't wait for the epub industry to grow enough to include these genres, not just the romance sub-genres. Love the tree.

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thank you for a very informative blog post.
I loved the links.
I agree with you on the blurring of genres.
Best wishes,
PS - Have you read Regenesis by C.J. Cherryh? Best SF book of the year so far.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Thanks Rae. I know as a reader I'm not a big fan when something is billed as paranormal and it ends up being sci-fi. Just don't care for that genre LOL Of course, I did stretch the bounds and straddle lines with my last completed ms which was historical/paranormal with a dash of steampunk :-)

I just think writers don't like to be bored or burnt out and we like to challenge ourselves to do something different. Well, at least I do :-)

Happy reading!

Annie'ji said...

Charron'ji, I LOVE CJ! It's on my TBR list. I'm rereading the Chanur series right now. I think its the third time I've read it. LOL Pyanfur is my idol.

Anonymous said...

Excellent informative post, Rae. I always considered the lines between genres so close that they at times did blur. I didn't realize until recently that one of my favorite genres would be considered sci-fi due to technology, etc... Pleasant surprise.

Again, great post!


Rae Lori said...

Thanks guys! I'm always on the lookout for some good SF too and am coming across some interesting small press titles. If anyone here is on Goodreads I'd love to friend you guys and share some book recs! :-)

J Hali said...

What an informative post! To have it finally explained in a way I can understand it is wonderful. Rae, thanks for the insight.

Rae Lori said...

My pleasure, Joann! Glad to be of help! :-D