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genre distinctions and the bastard child of proper fantasy, a rant

So, I recently ranted about Star Wars NOT counting as Sci-Fi {because in a civilised society, we don’t}.

The problem is, pretty much all SF (speculative fiction) which isn’t tropetastic [and some which is] can be arguably Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Alternate History. That’s not even counting the numerous {and oddly done} subgenres.

I have a particular bugbear about the categorisation of things like urban fantasy (the titular bastard child) being shelved in the same place as pure, worldbuilding fantasy {though that’s arguably my petty self whingeing about not being able to find stuff I like in a bookshop} and even YA dystopia [yes, I’m aware YA covers a broader area, and no, I don’t care <these days it’s mostly a moneymaker for that particular chimaera {my goodness, it took a while to confirm that proper (read: British) spelling} of a subgenre anyway>]. <– look at my nested brackets!

This, added to the fact that for a long time (since I was like, 12) the shelving procedure of my local bookshop [once Ottakar’s on Strand Street, then various Waterstoneses* in various parts of the UK] has been to lump Sci-Fi with Fantasy, a source of enormous annoyance and confusion to me {yes, everything is a source of annoyance and confusion to me. Hence the use of ‘enormous’}.

My problem [and the source of fuel for this rant] is as follows: since there seems to be industry-wide collusion not to tag books (a la Twitter or Tumblr) with subgenres or tropes {dragons, aliens, portal to another world**, etc.}, I have to spend a frankly ridiculous amount of time sifting through the books in the relatively tiny section for SF in search of something I actually want to read.

That’s not even getting into the thorny issue of whether you read some of the content before buying {I stick with the blurb, which results in the occasional Dire Pronouncement when someone mystically manages to completely mis-sell the story**, but feels less like cheating} or go on the quotes from other authors on the cover (ew, no), or even just pick up something else by your favourite [I do this, but never in a physical bookshop; if I’m that interested in someone, I order online].

This problem persists in online bookshops (like I bother going to more than one!), as all of the subgenres tend to filter out, and you can’t choose more than one. There’s still no tagging, and the blurb-content differential can actually be worse for some ebooks, but at least I don’t feel as though I’m due some bad luck for downloading a sample.

What I want to know is best divided into two questions.

  1. Why do publishers think that everyone who reads one kind of SF must read the others***; and
  2. How has the GIANT of internet book retailing not yet capitalised on the use of tags?****

I’ve gone off on a tangent; apologies. Back to the main topic-ish: Urban Fantasy, the bastard child of Proper Fantasy. I have no tolerance for lack of proper worldbuilding, though in honesty I like urban fantasy when written with something original and more than a passing nod to good writing. I can only take it in small doses, however, so I tend to consume it with my romance doses.

That doesn’t really cover the issue, however; Portal Fantasy is for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do A Proper Intro. Dark Fantasy is for People Who Write Horror But Want To Be Taken Seriously. And “Low Fantasy” is for People Who Are Edgy. And really, why can’t it be made clear (with the exception of stuff which attempts to pull a bait-and-switch and turn tropes on their head {which on reflection ought to be labelled ‘Literary Fantasy’}) to which category a story properly belongs? I’m not even asking for discrete shelving here [‘discreet shelving’ is another matter, and highly relevant to explicit and purple materials*******], merely some kind of organisation which doesn’t rely on the potential buyer reading every. Single. Blurb. To find out whether they want to spend their hard-earned money (and Obligatory Birthday Book Tokens*****) on this thing. This lying, misleading thing. How has this business model sustained itself?******

Please don’t mistake me: there is always joy to be found in searching through books, even if it ends without a purchase, but that doesn’t mean that the process can’t be made a little more enjoyable (and efficient) for the consumer – and cheaper (and more efficient) for the producer.

{future rant: book cover design practices}


**this has happened to me a stunning number of times, but doesn’t stop me feeling like a thief if I crack a tome before I’ve handed over my paltry salary in pursuit of ever-more-absorbing escape.

***I loathed the thought of picking up Sci-Fi until I discovered space opera, and I still can’t conceive of alternate history filling my shelves.

****if you’re already using a keyword search, how difficult can it possibly be to allow certain things a distinct filter? I appreciate that the programming is different {I work for a software developer}, but it’s not actually a world apart.

*****Much, much less fun now that they look like bank cards rather than bank notes

******Short answer: captive audience. Long answer: {future rant: the traditional publishing industry and why it should die}, to be followed by {future rant: gatekeepers and how to keep them}.

*******Purple being a beautiful euphemism for Activities Which Make You go Purple From Exertion********

********I need to figure out how to superscript symbols in WordPress. Comments welcome.

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