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The needs and thoughts and social struggles of the time
October 26, 2010 9:29 AM   Subscribe

"The successful genres of a particular period are reflections of the needs and thoughts and social struggles of that time." Daniel Abraham offers some thoughts on the nature of literary genre, including urban fantasy, complete with specific predictions for the future of science fiction.
posted by Zed (77 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The successful genres of a particular period are reflections of the needs and thoughts and social struggles of that time."

Hell, I could have told you that. Why do you think we have SO DAMN MUCH zombie fiction, movies and video games today? It's because ordinary life has become so awful that people like to fantasize about having the whole world to themselves and carte blanche to kill everyone else (who happen to be completely unreasonable, bloodthirsty individuals who only want to drag you down and make you into one of them).

OK, going to RTFA now.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:38 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


But why do people want to boff werewolves?
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on October 26, 2010


Beause they're dreamy.
posted by brundlefly at 9:41 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fiction reflects contemporary issues? Whodathunkit?
posted by kmz at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2010


Why do people want to boff werewolves? Because they yearn for the '70s when body hair was cool, but can't bring themselves to admit that they'd want to be seen in public with Burt Reynolds in full chest hair regalia.
posted by straw at 9:44 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still remember the immediate humbling I got the day I saw a stack of Snow Crash in the middle of a B&N "Urban Fantasy Picks" table, otherwise occupied by werewolf-fucking bodicepowered-armor-rippers.
posted by griphus at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2010


Genre is just a convenient way to categorize books which are similar to each other. It's also multi-dimensional -- that is, you can have a novel which is romance, or paranormal romance, or paranormal mystery or sci-fi-noir-romance, or what have you.

If you have any collection of objects, it's always possible to separate them into 'genres'.

It doesn't mean anything more than any other collection of adjectives describing a set of things.

Music is the same way (funky-tech-house, epic trance, soulful r&b etc).
posted by empath at 9:48 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But why do people want to boff werewolves?

It's all about the yearning.
posted by morganannie at 9:49 AM on October 26, 2010


I love urban fantasy but disagree that it has a female main character and romance. Maybe it has romance but that isn't why I read it and mostly think that romance sort of ruins half of it. Stuff like Angel and Harry Dresden are better when they leave the heaving angst out. Maybe I like detective stories with supernatural characters.

My son likes the Walking Dead and Y the Last Man, I'd always assumed that growing up in the eighties with the threat of nuclear war made me like zombies and post-apocalyptic stuff but my kid barely even registers the possibility, so now I dunno why it's so popular.
posted by shinybaum at 9:49 AM on October 26, 2010


Plus a big element of "I like book X and bet I could so something just like it, it will sell like crazy!"
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2010


I disagree, empath. There's a perpetual-motion point where the works are genre because they are written for the genre, rather than to compose the genre. As in, there becomes a canon of works that form a genre that one would consciously try to write themselves into.

Don't get me started on "literary fiction," though. Christ.
posted by griphus at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2010


I love urban fantasy but disagree that it has a female main character and romance.

It depends how you define it, and it is pretty much defined that way. Sorry other things that could be plausibly deemed "urban fantasy" if it didn't have a particularly marketing meaning.
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on October 26, 2010


Don't get me started on "literary fiction," though. Christ.

Settle down professor! Have a whiskey and a nice affair, that will help with the ennui.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ahh for the simple days of yore when urban meant black.
posted by Mister_A at 9:53 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Me, all I want is a nice ongoing series about a special secret force that kicks the crap out of the worlds monsters, but nooooo, it’s got to have girl-stuff in it now.
posted by Artw at 9:55 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


(also there about a million of the fuckers now, which reduces my chances of success with that formulae significantly)
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on October 26, 2010


They could be double-dutch girls who use their rope skills to confuddle the monsters. And then they dance! Fuck yea, hello national crazy story writing month!
posted by Mister_A at 9:57 AM on October 26, 2010


*shrug* then I suppose I don't like urban fantasy, because Anita Blake and Twilight aren't up my reading alley at all. I dunno what people'd call what I do like :) That's where buying online comes in handy, you don't need to look yourself up on a shelf. If I'd had to hazard a guess I'd have called all that stuff modern supernatural bodice rippers, which doesn't quite roll off the tongue.
posted by shinybaum at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2010


Ahh for the simple days of yore when urban meant black.

From pure anecdata coming from working in a place where goth/punks/etc. gathered, I can say that urban fantasy was read primarily by girls from lower-income neighborhoods (the projects, usually) who had identified with a newer (established in the 1990s) and primarily minority goth culture.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2010


Oh hell yea. Double-dutch goth girls participating in gleeful monstermachy! This is a winner! They will wear matching suits.
posted by Mister_A at 10:01 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a perpetual-motion point where the works are genre because they are written for the genre, rather than to compose the genre. As in, there becomes a canon of works that form a genre that one would consciously try to write themselves into.

Well, it's more that they are just ripping off successful books. I mean, let's not kid ourselves -- Urban Fantasy = Authors ripping off Twilight to collect paychecks.
posted by empath at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2010


I miss the 80s horror novel boom.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on October 26, 2010


Urban Fantasy = Authors ripping off Twilight to collect paychecks.

Your causality is reversed. Twilight is Urban Fantasy adapted toward suburban girls. I've seen deep-in-genre Urban Fantasy books since the late 1990s. Of course the stuff coming out now is ripping off Twilight, but you can say that Stephenie Meyer is the Raymond Chandler of the genre while the seminal stuff from the 90s is the Dashiell Hammett.

I feel dirty now.
posted by griphus at 10:04 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why do you hate Raymond Chandler?
posted by Mister_A at 10:08 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh. I only knew Abraham for his economic fantasies - literally, fantasies that turn on economics. "The Cambist and Lord Iron" is a terrific performance, and his A Shadow in Summer had one of the more original magical systems in recent memory, though plot issues discouraged me from reading the sequels.

I had no idea that he wrote urban fantasies as "M.L.N. Montgomery." Midriffs, blades, and black leather, even! Not in any way my usual thing, but now I'm curious to see what a proven world builder can bring to the genre.
posted by Iridic at 10:08 AM on October 26, 2010


not very good - westerns are morality plays of good vs evil along with a frequent subnarrative of how the white man won/built america and how a good individual can go somewhere new and build a good life for himself - along with a touch of nostalgia

the reason they declined in the 60s was because we no longer found morality plays of good vs evil that believable - nor did we feel we could buy into the rest of it - nor did we feel much nostalgia for those times any more

the true confessions provided morality plays of good vs evil, more internalized - people would read them to reassure themselves that people, if smart, would turn back to the "good" - or have bad results if they didn't - and to live vicariously through things they'd never dare do themselves

then many people dared to do those things and it was no longer relevant

no idea about the nurse stories - but he did forget two other genres, the sports story and the war story

i also have in my collection of 60s mags an example of the genre one could call torture of women - they're always rescued or escape or let go - they're always pretty helpless and the main purpose seems to be to excite sociopaths who don't dare act on their fantasies - the writing is pure hackwork and it's worthless drivel, but weird worthless drivel

you've got to wonder what kind of people subscribed to this stuff

i haven't figured out why vampires and zombies are so big right now in the teen market - not to mention the teen drug and sex nightmare stuff like ellen hopkins - (hmm, maybe true confessions aren't dead) - my guess is that they express a lot of insecurity over sex, subcultures and multiculturalism, but i don't read them, so i can't really say

my guess is that genre fiction is only going to get stranger - there's a lot of weird stuff in the american subconscious these days

and nothing about the gangster/player/prostitute genre? - that's getting pretty big
posted by pyramid termite at 10:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


vampires: stranger danger is sexaaaaaaay!

zombies: OMFG I hate working retail.
posted by bonehead at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


IOW: fanatasy genres for girls are transgression without consequences
posted by bonehead at 10:24 AM on October 26, 2010


not very good - westerns are morality plays of good vs evil along with a frequent subnarrative of how the white man won/built america and how a good individual can go somewhere new and build a good life for himself - along with a touch of nostalgia

10,000 Ways to Die is a great history of the Spaghetti Western, from it's prototypes (the American films) to it's birth (basically a bunch of Italians cashing in on the popularity of the cowboy films post the decline of the Swords and Sandals genre), it's great heights (somehow works of great art result), the weird subgenres that evolbed and the descent into self parody and rote formula. It's a genre that's always commercially driven hack work, right from the start, but there's great commercially driven hack work and there's awful commercially driven hack work, and eventually the later will always choke out the later.

...which happens in any tightly defined genre, I'd say, but is particularly interesting in Spaghetti Westerns as it happened over such a short period of time.
posted by Artw at 10:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


All I want is a big, fat warning label on everything labeled science fiction that's really fantasy/religion. I'm looking at you LOST, Battlestar Gallactica, 90% of the "science fiction" out there.

Or we could just start classifying stuff correctly.
posted by callmejay at 10:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting topic, but the article's pretty weak. This guy just kind of says that culture is reflected in the popular genres of the time, admits he can't explain past genres with this lens, and makes a wild-ass speculation that hard sci-fi is doomed. Not much to go on there.
posted by echo target at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2010


fanatasy genres for girls are transgression without consequences

Definitely sometimes true, but I think more broadly what you see in a lot of YA-targeted pulp (good and bad) is "responsibility fantasy."

Some of it is the 'maturity fantasy' ... anything involving a protagonist who suddenly gets handed a lot of adult responsibilities and is thus relieved from their life of boring tedium and of being treated like a child. I think the canonical example is going to be Harry Potter, and the Golden Compass books probably qualify, too, but it's certainly not new; I'd say that the majority of "boy's adventure" books from the 19th century onwards all qualify. ("Treasure Island" comes to mind.) Boy gets kidnapped by pirates, boy gets shipwrecked, boy gets lost in the wilderness, etc. It's not hard to see the appeal, particularly to younger adolescents struggling to be treated in an adult way they feel they deserve.

What I find interesting though are the analyses of Twilight et al as 'immaturity fantasy' ... they begin with a protagonist who has a lot of adult responsibilities who is then presented with a way to dodge them, or at least dodge some consequences. (Apparently -- and I haven't read them so I'm going on hearsay here -- the Twilight series' conclusion turns it into sort of a morality play, although I get the impression that it may be more about the author's feelings on sex rather than on responsibility per se.) I'm sure there are historical examples here as well, although I can't think of any off the top of my head. It's unsurprising that the 'immaturity fantasy' appeals more to older adolescents (and adults), since you have to have some responsibilities to really appreciate why it would be attractive to run away from them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:00 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


zombies: OMFG I hate working retail.

OMFG YES YES YES
posted by dunkadunc at 11:07 AM on October 26, 2010


I hurry to add, I don't think transgression fantasies are the only kind, but they do explain a lot of genre targeted at women: romance, "true confessions", nurse fantasies. Power fantasies are the equivalent marketing cattery aimed at boys: Hugo Gernsback-scifi, westerns, and of course, superheros. The coming-of-age bildungsroman, Treasure Island and Harry Potter (and the Lord of the Rings, and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret) is another.

I read (not really) Twilight as a pretty standard transgression fantasy: it's about a girl doing things with boys she isn't allowed to be doing, chucking her responsibilities to domestic duties in favour of running around in the woods with boys. Heightened sexual tension is a hallmark of this. It's not coincidence at all that this was written by an author from one of the most socially conservative communities in an already comparatively socially conservative nation.

Girls often like power fantasies as much as boys, however, and that's also a major sub-theme in Twilight. Vampires as superheros. This is why gender-targeted genres are kind of dumb. Boys like sneaking around too, after all.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But why do people want to boff werewolves?

It's so you can be a furry but still think you're dangerous.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was going to come in here and be all "What are you talking about there has always been zombie fiction.

But then I did a quick keyword search at my library and came up with 256 items for zombies.

Then I limited it to items published before 2000 and only came up with 48.
posted by morganannie at 11:24 AM on October 26, 2010


There's a good argument to be made for zombies, as we know them now, being the first fictional monster type to originate in film rather than on the page.
posted by Artw at 11:25 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Harry Potter" is a fantasy about being super special in a world of ordinary people. You have amazing abilities that no one knew about until now. You have a destiny. These boring people aren't actually your parents. You don't belong here.

Attractive stuff for awkward tweens, huh?

There's some of this in "Twilight" as well.
posted by chrchr at 11:49 AM on October 26, 2010


"Harry Potter" is a fantasy about being super special in a world of ordinary people.

Same with Ender's game and a whole host of books that people love as children.
posted by callmejay at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2010



But why do people want to boff werewolves?

Because we are hairless babies with developed genitals who are haunted by the terrifying yet fascinating possibility of an encounter with the truly mature adult we can never become.
posted by jamjam at 12:52 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Therefore, dogs must want to boff wereapes.
posted by jamjam at 12:54 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If "urban fantasy" has female protagonists and romance overtones, how do you define the genre of something like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere? It's fantasy, it takes place in a city, but it's not exactly a bodice-ripper.
posted by MythMaker at 12:57 PM on October 26, 2010


Why do you think we have SO DAMN MUCH zombie fiction, movies and video games today? It's because ordinary life has become so awful

Which is different to any other period in history how? As pyramid termite suggests, I think there is more to unpack here.

I'm not convinced by Abraham's argument. Mainly because there isn't much argument there. He says science fiction is divided into hard science fiction, dystopian science fiction and nostalgic science fiction but he's sweeping an awful lot up under the banner of "nostalgic". Why is this section of SF, the majority of the genre, going to die out within a generation? He doesn't say. As for the harder end of the spectrum becoming an esoteric, inward-looking genre like modern jazz, well, a) people have been saying this for years and b) it already is! 0And as for Bacigalupean dystopias, you might as well talk of Doctorovian utopias; they are individuals ploughing a certain furrow, not nacent movements.
posted by ninebelow at 12:57 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread is more interesting (and much, much funnier) than the actual article.
posted by lodurr at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2010


If "urban fantasy" has female protagonists and romance overtones, how do you define the genre of something like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere?

Someone really needs to do a timeline. At one time, urban fantasy did indeed mean Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint and Emma Bull and all those guys (Abraham mentions them in his piece). If you look in the Clute/Grant Encyclopedia Of Fantasy published in 1999 it only refers to these types of authors, there is no mention at all Laurell K. Hamilton. But some time since then it has come to mean novels set in our world with arse-kicking protagonists fighting and fucking supernatural beings.

Even then its not clear though. Again, as Abraham mentions, Jim Butcher falls under the bracket of the modern version of urban fantasy but he doesn't do female protagonists and romance overtones. Really that describes paranormal romance which makes up the majority of the genre and is hence often considered as synonymous.

To further complicate things, they've recently started using dark fantasy and dark romance in the UK as a terms for these sort of works.
posted by ninebelow at 1:09 PM on October 26, 2010


I dunno, Dark Fantasy as a term for your Gaiman/Barker fantasy-in-a-contemporary-setting stuff has been around for quite a while.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on October 26, 2010


MythMaker, welcome to my theory of the mutation and co-opting of UF in it's original virginal, geeky form (elves at sciffy conventions) by the Romance editors after reading too much Anne Rice. In short, I blame Laurel K. Hamilton.

Neverwhere is part of the early geeky UF tradition prior to the invasion of the Anita Blakes and their lower-back tatoos.
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next they'll have dark comedy! I mean come on!
posted by Mister_A at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2010


I dunno, Dark Fantasy as a term for your Gaiman/Barker fantasy-in-a-contemporary-setting stuff has been around for quite a while.

Well yeah, exactly; they've re-purposed not one but two existing terms to mean something similar but different!
posted by ninebelow at 1:17 PM on October 26, 2010


Bastards! :-O
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2010


...and still not a penny for poor old Kim Newman.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2010


With romance, it's "supernatural romance."

I daresay most urban fantasy is supernatural romance, at least right now. They are overlapping categories. AFAICS it's inaccurate to conflate or confuse the two.

To a great extent book marketing has not kept up with tagging. I don't think most modern book-consumers have that problem -- they get that something can be more than one kind of thing at once. That makes it confusing for them when they go to B&N or Borders and can't find The City and The City with the mysteries or Angels & Demons with the SF.
posted by lodurr at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2010


The cover is more important than the genre tag anyway. That's how readers sorry, consumers, buy books after all. Does it have a draon on it? Does it have a woman facing away from the viewer with wind-blown (brown or black) hair? Is she wearing tight leather pants and how many tatoos does she have? These are the important literary questions of our time.
posted by bonehead at 1:27 PM on October 26, 2010


Nostalgia SF, BTW, is pretty much what Mundane SF was a reaction against - SF as the tropes of yesteryear endlessly reassembled in new configurations no matter how worn out of implausible they are now.

I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand Nostalgia SF can be pretty dumb and lacks a lot of what appeals about SF proper in terms of it being a way of thinking about things that could happen in the world, on the other hand dumb stuff can be pretty fun and you can still be pretty inventive even though you're just recycling old stuff.

FWIW I'm really not noticing any lack of "Hard" SF to keep up with, just a lot of other stuff around as well.
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


(And of course outside of books it's all soft, soft, soft, but lets face it, movies are for the most part fucking dumb anyway)
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Music is the same way (funky-tech-house, epic trance, soulful r&b etc)."

Yeah, but trance sucks.
posted by klangklangston at 1:45 PM on October 26, 2010


Does it have a draon on it? Does it have a woman facing away from the viewer with wind-blown (brown or black) hair? Is she wearing tight leather pants and how many tatoos does she have? posted by ninebelow at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think we're in a mini-golden age of hard sf, myself. I mean, I can't think of a time since the 1970's when it would have been possible get enough contributors together to publish this, let alone do it again two years later. Dozois has always produced quality anthologies, but those two collections are some of the best stuff I've seen in years, decades even.
posted by bonehead at 1:59 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next they'll have dark comedy!

I submit for your consideration: Resumé with Monsters, Grunts and A Nameless Witch
posted by bonehead at 2:12 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are the laundry novels urban fantasy? There's sex and there's computers and there's gibbering. Sometimes all in one go.
posted by Mister_A at 2:17 PM on October 26, 2010


At one time, urban fantasy did indeed mean Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint and Emma Bull and all those guys (Abraham mentions them in his piece).

I still reflexively expect this sort of modern-day take on faerie to be what I get when I look for "urban fantasy" and I'm always disappointed when I see what's being marketed under that genre. It's not that I think that stuff is bad, it's that I'm not interested in it and I want to find more of the stuff I already like. I'm glad to hear there's a new genre term that I can look for when I want more works in that style.
posted by immlass at 2:20 PM on October 26, 2010


In comics it's pretty easy, you just say "Vertigo".
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on October 26, 2010


Are the laundry novels urban fantasy?

No. They're hard to classify but fall more easily into straight horror, particularly after the last one which is much grimmer than the previous volumes.
posted by Justinian at 3:51 PM on October 26, 2010


Urban Magitechnothrillers?

I'd put them on the Dark Spy Novel shelf, comfortably between Tim Power's Declare and Gibson's Spook Country. Stephenson's stuff is nearby, especially Cryptonomicon. I'd even put Gentle's Sundial in a Grave up there to keep them all in line.
posted by bonehead at 4:41 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, at some point you end up with such fine genre distinctions that you start looking like house/techno/electronic music where they have different names for the type of music you play depending on if your band was formed on a wednesday or a thursday.
posted by Justinian at 4:45 PM on October 26, 2010


Music is the same way (funky-tech-house, epic trance, soulful r&b etc).

I want to hear some soulful trance and some epic r&b. Also, some brutal twee pop and anarcho-disco.

please oh please
posted by dunkadunc at 4:56 PM on October 26, 2010


THURSDAYCORE RULES!
posted by klangklangston at 5:04 PM on October 26, 2010


I am surprised that there is no love here for Abraham's Long Price Quartet, which I think is one of the most original fantasy series of the decade.
posted by Ber at 6:50 PM on October 26, 2010


I think the Laundry novels are actually counter-espionage eldritch horror, written on Thursdays. Declare is close, but it's more Catholic wartime espionage supernatural fantasy, written on a Friday.
posted by gentilknight at 8:39 PM on October 26, 2010


Delta Green materials are written on the secret unavailable day between Thursday and Friday.
posted by Artw at 8:51 PM on October 26, 2010


Artw: "Delta Green materials are written on the secret unavailable day between Thursday and Friday"

I was just about to say, isn't Delta Green pretty much exactly what you're asking for when you mention "special secret force that kicks the crap out of the worlds monsters"? I mean, except for it being an RPG instead of a book series.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:04 AM on October 27, 2010


Re. the idea that there's more hard-SF or as much or it's a golden age: I understand why you feel that way. I disagree pretty strongly.

As an example, there's a lot of math and physics SF right now. And most of it really has very little to do with physics or math as such, and a great deal to do with physics and math as new forms of mythology. E.g., Greg Egan's 'dark integers' stuff: Where is there actual science to suggest that doing math can affect reality? It's just rune magic in new clothing. I get that people like it, that it speaks to them, but this is not really hard SF, it's fantasy in hard SF drag.

I have absolutely no problem that Greg Egan wants to write that, nor do I have a problem with it showing up in Analog. What irritates me is the idea that this is hard SF. [I say this as a person who's not particularly fond of hard SF (anymore); these days I often find I prefer fantasy, in fact.]

Occasionally there are some really nice hard SF pieces, and there are a lot of general SF pieces that have a hard edge, but in general I think it's softer than it's been in a long time.
posted by lodurr at 7:32 AM on October 27, 2010


Last night I downloaded and played around with Calibre, which is an ebook-management program. It's sort of like iTunes for ebooks. (Except that it doesn't suck, and it's not crippled based on the whims of somebody's corporate masters.)

What really caught my eye is that there's no single "genre" field. Instead, you have a "tags" field, where you can put in as many descriptors as you want. As a result, you don't need to find or invent a single descriptor for a book; rather than having to wonder if Charles Stross is best catagorized as "urban fantasy" or "science fiction" or "fantasy" or "alternate history," you can tag it as all of the above. Or as "Cthulhu, Nazis, Bureaucracy".

Eventually I think this is going to be where things go. With physical books you're generally forced into picking a single overarching category for a book, because you need to physically shelve it according to some schema, and it can only be in one place on the shelf (unless you want a lot of duplicates in your library...). So the organization is inherently one-dimensional.

But with electronic books you can have a multi-dimensional sorting scheme. Each book can be in many categories (really, tags) and then you can browse or sort through any of them, or view intersections / unions of them as desired. Granted you can do that in a traditional library's catalog, and many libraries have had paper card catalogs containing more than one card for a particular book, allowing for multiple organizational schemes, but now you can do it with the book itself and without a whole lot of effort.

It'll take a long time for "genres" to disappear, if they actually do, just because they're useful for marketing purposes and as dog-whistle ways of letting readers know what's likely to be in a particular book. ("Supernatural romance" might be more appealing than "Vampires, Sex, Erotica" to some readers.) But the increased use of tags might lessen to some degree the nitpicking over genre definitions.

It's unfortunate, in retrospect, that iTunes wasn't built on a tag system rather than simply genre-as-a-string, because then we'd probably already know how something like this was likely to play out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:23 AM on October 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am surprised that there is no love here for Abraham's Long Price Quartet, which I think is one of the most original fantasy series of the decade.

Abraham is awesome but his books aren't urban fantasy which has mostly been the focus of this thread. But, hey, if it helps unsurprise you I will plug Daniel Abraham. Plug his books I mean.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on October 27, 2010


That does raise an interesting point: has anyone read Long Price quartet and The Black Sun's Daughter series? how do they compare?
posted by ninebelow at 2:32 AM on October 28, 2010


Jo Walton on Abraham's article: Why Science Fiction May Not Be a Genre
posted by Zed at 4:19 PM on November 4, 2010


Red Plenty - "It's a fictionalised account, or a non-fiction novel, about the project in the early 1960s to use computers to plan the Soviet economy. A key figure is the genius Kantorovich, who invented the mathematical technique of linear programming in 1938. (We follow his mind as the idea dawns on him, on a tram.) He and other real characters such as Kosygin and Khrushchev mingle with fictitious characters – some based on real people, some not, but all convincing. It's a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin – or maybe a mashup of all them; full of arguments between passionate and intelligent people, diverting (in both senses) infodumps, and all about something that actually happened – and, more significantly, about something that didn't happen, and why it didn't." [1,2]

The Half-Made World - "A splendidly-written high-fantasy western. (It is by no stretch of the imagination "steampunk".) Gilman takes great themes of what one might call the Matter of America — the encroachment of regimented industrial civilization, the hard-eye anarchic men (and women) of violence, the dream of not just starting the world afresh but of offering the last best hope of earth — and transforms the first two into warring rival pantheons of demons, the third into a noble lost cause. (I think Gilman knows exactly how explosive the last theme is, which is why he manages to handle it without setting it off.) Beneath and behind it all lies the continuing presence of the dispossessed original inhabitants of the continent. A story of great excitement and moment unfolds in this very convincing world, tying together an appealing, if believably flawed, heroine and two finely-rendered anti-heroes, told in prose that is vivid and hypnotic by turns. The story is complete in itself, but leaves open a return to the world, which I really hope will happen soon. The most natural point of comparison is Stephen King's The Dark Tower, especially The Gunslinger, which I love; this is more ambitious in its themes, sounder in its construction, and more satisfying in its execution. The Half-Made World is the finest rendition I've ever seen of one of our core national myths; go read it." [1,2 - not only did Le Guin and van Lustbader both praise it, the latter did so by saying it "Reads as if it's the love-child of McCarthy's The Road and Le Guin's The Dispossessed"]
posted by kliuless at 11:34 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


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