Which I know has been DONE TO DEATH as a topic, but
a) I like this post on genre over at Omnivoracious, and
b) As it happens, I was recently, for no reason in particular, trying to sort out all the different SFF subgenres that exist. (What? Pointless hobbies can be fun, too!)
I particularly liked this bit from the Omnivoracious post:
Genre Helps Discoverability
This hankering for a certain kind of thing, which afflicts books as well as food, makes discoverability key. And that? Is where genre is a Viking. I mean, could you imagine if all food looked exactly the same on the outside? Every piece a spherical white blob with absolutely no identifying marks? And the only thing you know is that some taste like kimchi and others like bananas foster—but there are no ways to know which are which? Yeah. That would give a whole new meaning to the profession of “food tasters.”
Hah! That is such a fun analogy! It’s a bit like the Harry Potter any-flavor beans, only for all food — scary thought!
And the take-home message from the Omnivoracious post, also nicely put:
Genre was never intended to be used as how-to guidelines, or enforced as stringent limitations (sorry, can’t publish your story: needs more elves!). It’s really just to help readers identify books they might like. But, as harsh as that sounds, this is really awesome news. It means that you have a ton of available space to explore with innovative characters, your own unique writing style, and whatever crazy plots you dreamed up but haven’t seen yet.
So — if you were going to try to describe what genre your newly completed manuscript falls into, what would you say? I mean, you could say: It’s like Patrick Lee’s THE BREACH meets THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, and that would certainly give us a startling but fairly precise idea of what your book is like, or what you hope it’s like. And the idea it would give us is: a thriller with at least one uber-competent main character and with SF and mystery elements.
Which is to say, we would be pegging your manuscript by genre.
So: subgenres. Here are the ones I came up with. I think I got them ALL. Maybe.
Epic fantasy (old style: Tolkien; modern: GRR Martin)
Heroic fantasy / sword-and-sorcery (Fritz Leiber)
High fantasy (The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon)
Lyrical fantasy (Patricia McKillip, for example; and MAN are people overusing the term “lyrical” these days; PANTOMIME by Laura Lam got described as “lyrical” and it is not.)
Contemporary fantasy (Wide Open by Deb Coates)
Urban fantasy (everything, these days)
Paranormal (everything else these days)
Magical Realism (The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen)
Fairytale (The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell)
Supernatural fantasy (I have Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series in mind here, not sure if it’s a good example, though.)
Gothic fantasy (which to me means castles and haunted forests and dead wives in walled-up rooms and, you know, Gothic.)
Historical fantasy (Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr)
Alternate history (SM Stirling)
Gaslamp fantasy (Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio)
Steampunk (Airborn by Kenneth Oppel)
Dark fantasy (The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick)
Lovecraftian (not my thing, but does it need an example? I mean, Lovecraft.)
Slipstream (where fantasy meets literary; I’ve heard The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold described as Slipstream, but I don’t know that I agree. I think maybe Slipstream might be a term used by people who like the literary genre to describe fantasy they actually like, because they don’t want to admit it’s fantasy? That’s just a guess.)
Science fantasy (The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff)
Hard science fiction (Kim Stanley Robinson)
Space Opera (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Military science fiction (The Valor series by Tonya Huff)
Cyberpunk (Snow Crash by Neal Stevenson)
Psychological science fiction (The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon)
Sociological science fiction (The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh)
First contact science fiction (The Demu trilogy by FM Busby)
Alien invasion (And All The Stars by Andrea Host)
Post-apocalyptic (Alas Babylon by Pat Frank)
Dystopia (everything other than paranormal and urban fantasy, it seems like)
Time Travel (my favorite recently is Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card)
How about it? Anything I obviously missed?