Poll: What genre does my current novel project belong in?

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Genres? Genres? We don’t need no stinkin’ genres!

Writers of a certain stripe hate fiction genres. Committed writers focus on character and plot, and the fact that a story takes place in space or another historical era is secondary. Writers can live with basic genres, such as science fiction or mystery, but when things get fine-grained, such as paranormal romance (the Twilight series, for example), they have a tendency to go ape-shit. The labels are too constraining, too arbitrary, they complain. And when you bring up the newest sub-genres, such as “solarpunk” or “climate fiction,” you get strange looks or outright hostility, pure and simple.

I once thought I wrote science fiction, but my editor on Carbon Run convinced me that it’s a dystopian thriller, more in line with Hunger Games than Star Trek. In truth, only booksellers care about genre, apart from the readers they’ve trained. Genres are simply conveniences that writers have to live with. Put another way, genres are the old solution to the discoverability problem: How do writers find readers and vice versa? You want sci-fi, you look on the sci-fi shelf, or enter “sci-fi” in the Amazon search box. Continue reading

More Skirmishes in the Genre Wars

Real sad puppy

Oh god, not another genre. When will it end?

I find the genre wars incredibly entertaining, mostly because they’re pointless, and the participants waste an amazing amount of time making their points when they could be writing good stories. The kerfuffle everyone in the scifi universe talks about these days concerns the definition of “science fiction.” Traditionalists, who call themselves the Sad Puppies, have a stereotyped, populist view of science fiction, defined as technology-driven dramas and masculine adventure stories. On the other side are the “inclusives,” as I like to call them, which have an expansive, sociological view of speculative storytelling. This scifi is more about societies than gizmos and evil aliens. Both sides, particularly the Puppy partisans, behave like a two-year-old having a meltdown in the supermarket’s cereal aisle.

Any close examination of genre shows its meaninglessness. I’ve completed another draft of my novel Carbon Run, and although I’ve pitched it as science fiction, my editor suggested I call it a dystopian thriller. I’m in the midst of reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, widely regarded as a master science fiction writer. Though I’m in the early going, Kindred is closer to fantasy or possibly magical realism than scifi. Amazon, however, classifies it as African-American women’s fiction. I’ve just finished The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfield, described in its blurb as a “dystopian parody.” Amazon classifies it as dark humor. Continue reading

Is fiction about climate change for real?

Still from Interstellar

Climate change is a driving force in Interstellar’s plot. Still courtesy Warner Bros.

The movie Interstellar opens on November 7 and climate change drives the story. Stills and leaked reports about its plot point to an agriculture irreparably damaged by global warming, forcing the protagonist to leave Earth in search of greener pastures. Commentators are lumping Interstellar into the current crop of post-apocalyptic thrillers, which include Hunger Games and Divergent. A few writers and activists are pegging it as “climate fiction,” though others say such genre thinking trivializes a disaster unfolding in real time.

Hollywood embraced global warming as a theme only recently. Young Ones, released on October 9, posits a future with little fresh water, and Into the Storm, which opened August 8, shows a small town devastated by a series of climate-driven super-tornadoes. Science fiction writers, however, have imagined a climate-ravaged world since the early 1960s. One of the most prescient early books is George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, published in 1987. His vision of an Australia flooded by rising seas is echoed by Paolo Bacigalupi’s Bangkok in his 2010 novel The Windup Girl. The Thai capital is kept alive by dikes and gates reminiscent of the Thames Barrier in London. Continue reading

Thoughts on climate fiction from a writer and a publisher

Climate fiction books

A table of climate fiction books at Foyles’ bookstore in London. Photo courtesy Dan Bloom.

Mark Nykanen, author of Primitive, Carry the Flame, and other environmentally themed novels, and Mary Sands Woodbury, editor at Moon Willow Press and the website Clifibooks.com, offered their thoughts on climate fiction and its future in publishing. (Material is edited.)

What is “climate fiction,” and is it a new genre of fiction?

Nykanen: I like “climate fiction” as a separate category of fiction entirely. I don’t think it works as a sub-genre of sci-fi. Cli-fi can have roots in sci-fi, of course, but also in thrillers and literary fiction. Right now there’s a fuzziness about cli-fi, though the term is clearly gaining traction. But I also think sales will dictate whether cli-fi gains a sharper profile.

Woodbury: Climate fiction is fiction related to climate change, usually anthropogenic. It’s a genre by itself but can overlap with speculative, literary, and science fiction. And even though it’s new, some critics call the very term “climate change” a tired trope, and some climate change authors might not even totally identify with the genre (yet), seeing it more as a motif than a genre. Continue reading