I remember reading Edgar Rice Buroughs’ John Carter of Mars series when I was a little kid. It was labeled science fiction because of the idea behind the premise of the stories. But they were really romance novels as much as anything else. I suppose some of them could have been called military sci-fi, too, since there is a lot of fighting in them.
I know that genre was created to help readers find what they are interested in, but just as often genre leads people away from the most interesting and unique approaches to a subject. There are times that genre can lead readers into a pit of stories that are all similar as well. I’ve read that many readers don’t want to be too surprised. They want to feel as though they know what to expect. That you, as a writer, can only throw in very little surprise—within the limitations of the genre—or readers will review your book badly.
Amazon goes to great lengths to make sure readers get the same thing over and over again. With the “People who bought ________, also bought ______” statements. They continually watch authors and publishers closely so that we don’t “misrepresent” our titles. But the truth is that readers are bound to find what they enjoy in almost any book. The romance that takes place on Jupiter after a crash landing; the mystery that happens while a cop and social worker are falling in love; the thriller that takes place in the military.
I often think of authors like Kurt Vonnegut, who didn’t want his books to be labeled science fiction, and was therefore on the shelf with other mainstream novels. Many of his books were actually fantasy. And then there’s Alice Hoffman, also a mainstream novelist who has elements of fantasy in her books that are essential to the plot. There are many other writers, like Sharon Shinn who writes beautifully about relationships, love, politics, and much more, but her books are labeled Fantasy.
I wish we could easily categorize our novels by how many pages are devoted to certain types of genres. Although this, too, would be extremely difficult, it might help. I think then we’d find the romance novel, with elements of fantasy; the thriller, with elements of politics; the science fiction, with elements of mystery; and on and on.
I want people to find new books to read, new authors to fall in love with, and new genres that take them to a place they’ve never been before. I know this is what “cross-genre” novels are supposed to be doing, but many I’ve read can’t do the term justice. Often the author is skilled at one genre and very weak in the other. The novels are being written to “capture two audiences” rather than because they are good books with great ideas and characters.
One last thought about this: whether you’ve read the classic sci-fi novels of H.G. Wells, or the adventures novels of Jonathan Swift, most novels have elements of several different genres in them. Maybe we should just label everything the same and let readers discover new books on their own—just a thought.
Terry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee. His latest poetry collection is “And Now This”. His novels, “Wolf’s Rite” and “Cathedral of Dreams” were ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalists in the science fiction category, and his novel “Sweet Song” won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest science fiction space opera is, “Hear No Evil”, his latest fantasy is “Doublesight”, his latest mainstream/literary novel is “Ten Months in Wonderland”.