Tag Archives: science fiction

Current Trends in SF/F/H

At my most recent Writing Popular Fiction residency, I took a class about current trends in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. We were lucky enough to have award-winning thriller writer Jonathan Maberry visit us to discuss his view on these topics, and the class turned into a fun exercise in analyzing the changing interests of readers.

While, of course, marketing trends are constantly in flux and subject to change at any moment (like, as soon as I hit Publish on this blog 😉 ), I think it’s fascinating to take a look at what is “cool” right now in fiction.

Here are some of the main points I wrote down from my notes. Readers and writers, would you agree? Is anything mislabeled? Missing altogether? What do you like to read in these genres?

What’s Hot

  • Zombies
  • Bio
  • …punk (steam, bio, diesel, etc.)
  • Dystopian
  • Vampires
  • Werecreatures
  • Urban Fantasy
  • YA SF/F/H

What’s Not

  • Classic science fiction
  • Epic fantasies
  • Sword and Sorcery (this led to debate)
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Firefly and writing westerns

I’m finishing up a fantasy/scifi western novel right now. It’s a bunch of fun to write because it gives me an excuse to look at classic cowboy stories and tales of men riding through the desert on awesome horses, carrying really cool guns…

Over and over again people who hear this ask me whether I’ve seen Firefly. “Not that your story is the same,” they tell me (for one, it’s not in space), “but it’s a really good show in the same genre you’re doing.” My answer was always no. I hadn’t seen Firefly. Until recently. I figured after the fifth person recommended it I might as well give it a try.

Now that I’ve watched two episodes, all I can think is

What in the world was I waiting for?

Hopefully you have experienced this amazing show yourself. If you haven’t, I really think you should. Netflix allows you to stream it instantly, so there’s really no excuse for not switching it on as soon as you’re done commenting here that you’re about to obey the call.  😉  Then come back and tell me how glad you are that you did.

As I mentioned, I’m only two episodes in, and I’m trying to take my time, so please don’t spoil anything for me!

But, for those of you who are already big fans of the Show That Died Too Early, please tell me this: how can I possibly pace myself and not watch every episode back-to-back until it’s all over?  🙂

How many genres can you list?

The other day I was talking about genres, and someone mentioned chicklit and urban fantasy. This got me thinking about the way we group our fiction and how these groups evolve over time — they sometimes even blend with one another. I normally think of genres as having “parent” categories with related subgenres within those larger groups. Maybe I just like to be over-organized.  🙂

For example:

Parent Genres

Romance
Fantasy
Science Fiction
Horror
Mystery
Adventure

Chicklit would likely fall under the Romance parent category, and Urban Fantasy would fall under Fantasy. Pretty easy.

But are there other parent categories? Is Thriller its own genre, or would you put that under Mystery – or Horror? Are Fantasy, SciFi, and Horror all part of a larger group that would technically make them subgenres, and smaller categories within those sub-subgenres?

It can get a bit complicated, especially when we look at a story that seems to blend several genres at once. Does this count as a “cross-over” story – and, if so, is that a genre of its own? – or does it fall primarily into one genre and simply dip into others for fun?

How many genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres can we come up with?  🙂

Genre Fiction = Trash?

Have you ever met someone who insisted, “I just don’t like to read”? This kind of thing blows my mind. Who doesn’t enjoy a good story once in a while?

In my opinion there is probably at least one of two problems at hand when someone says that reading isn’t fun:

  1. That person has only been introduced to school reading, which they believe must be boring on principle, and is often more “literary” than “genre.”
  2. That person may have difficulty visualizing what he or she sees in printed words.

I’ll probably address problem #2 another time. Today I’m thinking more about #1.

There are plenty of literary classics and short stories that have lots to offer in the way of entertainment and education. Some are happy, some are sad, some are serious, etc. I teach a handful of these, and I appreciate them. A few are even my favorites of all time.

For many of these titles, though, the Genre Factor is left a little cold. By this I mean that a non-reader who loves science fiction – eats up any movie about the future, watches every TV episode involving space, and has a wall covered in art depicting androids – often finds little to pique his or her interest in literature while taking a standard survey lit. class. The same goes for a fantasy fan or a mystery nut. There are a few stories here and there that break the mold, but they aren’t often the majority, and many professors choose to leave them out altogether. After all, “genre” fiction is just “trash” fiction, right?

I disagree. While I appreciate and enjoy the literary classics or mainstream stories that sometimes don’t fit into a specific genre, I also believe that they should be taught alongside quality genre fiction. This practice, I believe, may begin to dispel the incorrect assumption that all reading is dull.

In my own studies right now I’m taking two genre courses: Horror and Science Fiction. For one we’re starting with Matheson’s I Am Legend, and for the other we’re starting with Robinson’s Red Mars. Both are great reads for someone with my literary tastes.

Instead of wading through story after story that doesn’t appeal to me, I’m going to spend most of my time having fun. And, in addition to that, I’ll learn about the genres and how they have evolved over time due to various historical factors. I’ll analyze specific tropes (why do I hate this word?) that contribute to our fiction and our culture.

And, most importantly, I’ll be reading, and I’ll feel energized to read more because I enjoyed myself.

Now, I’m already a reader, so there’s no work required to persuade me to keep reading. But isn’t this exactly what many parents and educators say they want to do? Persuade kids and young adults to read more?

I say keep the literary fiction. A lot of it is great, and some readers will enjoy it most of all. But perhaps it’s a good idea to think beyond those titles as well. Throw in a little fantasy here, a little mystery there. Or perhaps give students a general sampling of everything and then let them choose which genre (or non-genre) to pursue for future readings.

My question here is this: what significant differences in quality do you see between genre fiction and literary fiction? Are those differences enough to discount the best sellers that students may love — and leave them out of general literature studies altogether?

War of the Worlds

“2X2L, calling CQ New York.”

Confession time: though I admire and respect Orson Welles, and I have heard parts of his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and I know all kinds of odd stories about people who mistook it for a real Martian invasion – I haven’t actually listened to the whole thing before. Well, until yesterday.

“Isn’t there anybody on the air?”

Yesterday I not only listened to the Mercury Theatre’s loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel for the first time. I listened to it twice.

“Isn’t there anybody on the air?”

Because this production aired over 70 years ago, I don’t believe a review would be considered timely.  🙂  However, it’s probably safe to assume that I’m not the only person who missed the show. There are people out there, right now, who are just like me yesterday morning. They woke up today never having listened to War of the Worlds, and they might even go to bed tonight without listening to it.

Some people may live their entire lives and never hear this show.

“Isn’t there… anybody?”

That’s tragic. Now that I’ve learned what I was missing, I’m going to do my part to help others by simply telling you this: go here, sit back, and listen.

I’m a big fan of radio dramas. ZBS produces some of my favorite shows, and the #1 reason I miss my XM Radio is for the books and plays I used to hear every day (my wires and dashboard frame often melted in the Florida heat, and eventually I just gave up).

Once, I even made a radio drama of my own, with the help of my creative team. It was an indie job, but I enjoyed the process, and our listeners seemed to like it, too.

Radio performance is a special art that requires its own kind of writing and acting, I’ve found. The entire concept is something I thoroughly love.

And yet, there I was yesterday, unaware of how awesome the War of the Worlds radio play had been. *shame*

Now, thankfully, I can hold my head high and carry on loving radio dramas and Orson Welles alike, confident that I have listened to one of the very best productions ever put on the airways. And I can move on to find more exciting shows I may have missed… after I listen to WotW just once more.  🙂

“2X2L…”

Ebooks or No?

I love my Kindle.  It’s impossible to ignore the convenience of being able to purchase a book at any time, even hours after books stores are closed, and then to carry around hundreds of books at once in one small device. I get periodicals, classics, nonfiction, and new fiction on my Kindle, and I simply love the experience.

Right now I’m reading a science fiction novel – but in paperback. This seems ironic to me. Shouldn’t a futuristic book be read on a futuristic device?

There’s no way to fully explain my logic with this one, probably because there is no true logic at work. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (cool site!) is a hefty book, weighing in at 572 pages, and it is the first of a trilogy. It’s available on the Kindle. In fact, I might have gotten a better deal with an e-version, as some appear to combine two of the three books in one package.

Still, something about the size of this novel and the scope of its story made me yearn for the feel of actual pages and the smell of paper. At about 200 pages in, I’m glad I bought the print version. It’s great to hold the publication in my hands and hear the sound of the thick book as I flip through its leafy pages to re-read a line I particularly appreciated. The subject may be futuristic, but my enjoyment of it is strictly old school.

This makes me wonder: are there certain books that simply feel better in “real life?” Are some books easily transferable to the monitor – or even made specifically for it – while others are more fun to read in the traditional format?

Or was it just my mood at the time?  🙂

Dead Fairies

“I found the dead fairy on our back porch during last week’s spring cleaning.”

From “An Emmet Lost,” by Irene L. Pynn

The January print edition of Golden Visions Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy arrived in my mailbox this week, and it contains a story I wrote called “An Emmet Lost.” If you like dead fairies, then this might be the piece of short fiction for you. 🙂 If not, there is plenty of other fantastic content to check out.

This publication is packed with original fiction, reviews, articles, and more. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys SF/F, and I’m very happy to have my work appearing in Golden Visions for a second time (the first was with a short story called “Mind Reader”).

If you get a chance to take a look, please let me know what you think!