Straddling the divide

For some reason, Janet Reid is picking up a bunch of questions in a row that kind of address the same issue from different directions.

1. I decided #1 is urban fantasy / paranormal romance. There are hints that some people are not from our world in the first book, but it all takes place in a very ordinary town. At the end of the book, the main character is taken to another world . . . and the story takes place in a city with a castle and royalty… more of a sci-fi / epic fantasy with still that paranormal romance as another main story line.

2. I like my mix but I don’t know, do readers fall too cleanly on each side of this? What about agents, do I need to just go for those who rep both literary and crime genre or either or what exactly? Might one genre ‘trump’ another here, the crime drive incidental to the character-drive or the retrospective parts just icing on the plot? Will I just end up too slow and preachy for the crime market but not intellectual enough for the literary market?

3. Is it okay to write a novel in past and present tense? I’m talking about changing tenses in different chapters. I’ve written a crime novel which is narrated in first person/past tense by the criminal and the detective who is trying to catch him. I thinking about changing the criminal’s part so that it remains in first person, but in presence tense while the part of the detective remains in past tense. I wonder if this ok with agents and publishers.

In all three cases, Janet’s advice is, as you might expect: You can do it if it works. If it works, your agent will figure out what genre to call it.

It’s good advice, as always. If you happen to be an aspiring writer, you really should be dropping by Janet’s site frequently.

A couple personal comments:

1. I am suspicious of a writer who can’t tell whether he/she is writing SF or epic fantasy.

Having said that, I can think of epic-ish science fantasy that I suppose would blur the boundaries. Pern, say. Or the Warlock books by Christopher Stasheff.

2. I liked Janet’s comparison of literary crime vs commercial thriller, and let me add that I LOVED Patrick Lee’s first trilogy, starting with THE BREACH. Which, incidentally, also probably counts as a science fantasy triller if you’d like to categorize it that way.

3. Sounds interesting. Also potentially confusing. Janet says “there are lots of good novels written in two tenses” but right now I can’t think of ANY that alternate past and present in the way described here. Can any of you? Did you find it distracting or did it work for you?

Please Feel Free to Share:


5 thoughts on “Straddling the divide”

  1. I know Pern straddles the boundary since it demonstrably gets put in different categories by different people. But it’s really hard for me to see something with an explicit space colonization backstory, orbital mechanics as a plot driver, psionic and selective breeding/genetic engineering explanations for all the unreal elements, first publication in John W. Campbell’s Analog, and a Hugo back when fantasy was at a serious disadvantage for winning as anything but science fiction. :-)

    (I’m not sure there’s anything much more Analog than using ancient lore and Science! to rediscover nitric acid and invent flamethrowers.)

  2. On #3. Warchild by Karin Lowachee actually uses different persons in different parts, and I think also jumps from present to past tense. Starts in second person, then first person. I can’t remember reading any other books written in second person. Change in person reflects the protagonist’s psychological state. It’s a pretty amazing book, addresses some compelling issues. Highly recommended.

  3. Telepathy with special animal friends is magic. I have a hard time viewing psionics as an SF trope in the same way that orbital mechanics is an SF trope.

    True, the telepathic animal companion trope is seen in both SF and F, no matter what an utterly nonscientific pure fantasy wish-fulfillment trope it is. But if you put in spaceships, it’s SF (David Weber). If you put in dragons and low tech? Totally fantasy.

    Anyway, I think that’s why I have a hard time thinking of Pern as an SF background.

  4. Thanks, Mary Ann. I’ve wanted to read Warchild for a while now, ever since I read this review by Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe. If part of it is written in the second person (!), that makes me move farther up toward the top of my TBR pile.

  5. Psi doesn’t really belong in SF (though I think it was legitimately more of an open scientific question at mid-century). But JWC jammed it in there by main force, and the subsequent development of the genre, especially in popular media, suggests it’s not going away.

    (I suspect there are fewer big space TV/film/game franchises without some form of psi than with it.)

    But I can’t say you’re wrong about Pern’s taxonomy, especially given how many people come down on the same side of the fence. It just feels off to me personally.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top