Archive for the ‘Genres’ Category

What’s scarier: supernatural horror or science fiction horror?

October 26, 2016

What’s scarier: supernatural horror or science fiction horror?

Literature can take us to impossible places…and they aren’t all feel-good fairy lands.

In fact, some of them are scary…very, very scary. I have no doubt that the vast majority of “impossible” fiction contains an element of fear-generation. Fear suggests risk, and risk is the very (rapidly beating) heart of drama.

I’m leaving purely psychological horror out of this discussion. If you read a book about a person whose cruelty is within known human behavior, who doesn’t use extra-reality techniques, it isn’t an impossible fiction…horrifying, yes, and by definition horror, but not what I consider small “f” fantasy or what I consider geeky**.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of impossible horror fiction.

In one, the thing that creates fear is presented as being based on science. We the readers are to believe that it could at some point happen within the “laws” of physics (and other science). It could be an alien invader, like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. It might be from experiments in biochemistry, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. It may be a social dystopia in the future (anything set in the future is by definition impossible for the reader), or artificial intelligence, or a new disease.

In the other, the thing that creates the fear is “supernatural”. It’s not based on science. It’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Jacob Marley in Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s not something that is just waiting to be invented.

They both can be scary. While it might seem like science fiction horror would be scarier, because it could happen in the real world, there are two things arguing against that.

One is that something that is created by science can hypothetically be fought by science. The tools that create it are here…the weapons to stop it must be as well. What can be made can be unmade…at least, the possibility exists.

The other thing is that many people believe in the supernatural. They may call it different things, and their beliefs may vary wildly and they may be accepting of one type of the supernatural and condemning of another.

Roughly one third to one half of Americans believe in ghosts, according to polls. Does that change ghost stories into science fiction? There are science fiction ghost stories, where the ghosts are explained by science. However, belief in non-science based ghosts is clearly sizeable. It’s possible, again based on polls, that more people believe in ghosts than in the Big Bang theory.

Interestingly, supernatural doesn’t usually mean without rules. The rules can be very clearly defined…we certainly see that in vampire literature, even though the rules may not be the same from one vampire “world” to another. Can a vampire enter a home without being asked? Can they walk around in the daytime? Do they have to sleep in a coffin with some of their native soil? No…and yes. 🙂 Depends on the book.

I think it could be argued that supernatural systems can have more precision in their rules. The real world is messy…it’s much harder to define a rule in reality than it is in fiction.

Perhaps supernatural horror is scarier if you don’t believe in the supernatural…and science fiction horror is scarier if you do believe in science. 🙂

There’s another whole subset that uses science to create the beings we know from the supernatural. One that I enjoyed was

World Enough, and Time by James Kahn (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

but there are many.

For me, bad science fiction is still in the science fiction category. By that, I mean science fiction based on bad science…if someone said, “I combined aspirin and lemonade and it created an invisibility formula because it blocked out visible wavelengths,” that’s not going to happen based on commonly accepted science, but it’s suggested that it happens based on known science, not on magic. That makes it “bad science” fiction, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s not a big deal to me: I don’t clearly separate science fiction from the supernatural, although I know it’s a passionate argument for many. I’m a “lumper” not a “splitter”. I look for elements that justify that something is fantasy, not that it isn’t.

It’s much harder to find a “classical” author who hasn’t written any “impossible” fiction than many of the literati might want you to believe. Dickens, Shakespeare, Jack London, on and on.

Well, what do you think? Do you find that horror based on science is scarier or that horror based on the supernatural is…or that it just depends on the book? If it does matter, why? What novel has scared you the most? What would recommend? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

** At TMCGTT (The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip ) I consider any “impossible fiction” as geeky. The Lord of the Rings, non-science based, is geeky in my book.

Twilight on sale for $2.99…and other vampire fiction

October 15, 2016

Twilight on sale for $2.99…and other vampire fiction

One of today’s

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

is

Twilight (The Twilight Saga Book 1) by Stephenie Meyer (at AmazonSmile*)

for $2.99.

The young adult vampire novel was a huge hit, reaching #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, spawning three direct sequels, a gender-swapped 10th anniversary version (the book was released in 2005), a massive movie franchise, a graphic novel, and more.

It arguably ushered in a new era in young adult success (especially if you consider Harry Potter to be for a younger set of readers)

It’s often credited as bringing back from the dead (so to speak) vampire novels…but I would suggest that Anne Rice’s

Interview with the Vampire (at AmazonSmile*)

had already done that in 1976…with its sequels continuing the mainstream acceptance.

Being about a generation apart, though, Twilight deserves its own spot in popular vampire literature history.

That history is a long one, going back (in popular prose fiction form) to

The Vampyre; a Tale by John Polidori (at AmazonSmile*)

in 1819.

It was clearly inspired in part by Lord Byron’s 1813 poem, The Giaour, which I’ll excerpt below:

But first, on earth as Vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Polidori was Byron’s personal physician, and was part of that ghost-story-telling summer that also produced Frankenstein from Mary Shelley.

1847 saw the publication of a “penny dreadful” called

Varney the Vampire Or the Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest (at AmazonSmile*)

A penny dreadful was the British equivalent of a “dime novel”…and what mass market paperbacks and later the early popular e-books largely were: unpretentious, often clearly-defined genre fiction.

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, published in 1872, was another important piece of vampire fiction.

Admittedly, those aren’t well-known nowadays…but Bram Stoker’s 1897 “Dracula” certainly is. It’s been adapted for movies and TV, many, many times and in many ways. It established much of the modern mythology of the vampire…although some of it really derives from the 1931 Bela Lugosi adaptation of the stage play. In that movie, Dracula can only change into a bat, while in the novel, the Count can (and does) become a mist and a wolf as well. It’s worth noting that Le Fanu and Stoker knew each other.

Vampires continued to be a part of genre fiction over the next fifty years or so, but weren’t really part of the mainstream. There were a lot of variations, including vampires from space.

1954’s I Am Legend (at AmazonSmile*) by Richard Matheson was highly influential. It brought us the urban vampire, one that existed in our world, our neighborhoods. It also had a scientific explanation for vampires, although that had happened before. One human besieged by “monsters” was used by other works (such as Night of the Living Dead), and the demoralizing tone was different from the adventure or horror stories that had been commonly seen.

Outside of these, there are literally hundreds of vampire books, and notable series. A handful of others:

  • Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris’s  (the basis for the True Blood TV series)
  • Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • The Hollows series by Kim Harrison
  • The Hunger by Whitley Strieber
  • ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

You could probably just read vampire fiction for the rest of your life, if you wanted. 🙂

On the other hand, maybe you’d rather not spend a lot of money on vampire novels…well, you can get some of the ones I mentioned in this post for free, and this is a really good deal on Twilight. It’s the right month for it… 🙂

Do you have other vampire novels you’d particularly recommend? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

Why we geeked

December 17, 2015

Why we geeked

At midnight tonight, the whole world will proclaim its geekness.

That’s when Star Wars: The Force Awakens officially opens, and it may go on to be the biggest box office hit to date.

No one is going to hide the fact that they are going to the movie.

No one is going to hide a Star Wars shirt under a YourLocalSportsFranchiseHere shirt, and then take off the camouflage before going into the theatre.

Every mainstream news outlet on TV will have a story about it. Even The Economist has found not one, but multiple angles for stories.

It wasn’t always that way.

When I was a kid, loving science fiction and fantasy cut you out of the inner circle.

That doesn’t mean that we all hid it. I never hesitated to be seen reading a current science fiction novel…or one from the 1930s…or the 1800s.

I think it’s safe to say that there were a core of us who were never ashamed of being geeks. Some of us might find each other in school and hang out, but if we weren’t part of the social scene, so be it. We had worlds to visit.

I was lucky enough, in high school, to be able to take a science fiction elective. I had a wonderful teacher…we weren’t made to take the joy out of geeky literature in order to dissect it and look at it dispassionately in order to give it gravitas. We often got to choose or suggest books. My teacher was as willing to learn as to teach, which is one of the things that can make a great teacher.

As a result of that class, we did form a club, and we did publish a “fanzine”. We even had a library.

It’s safe to say, though, that while there were tremendous benefits to being a geek, there were costs, too.

So, why do it?

It’s easier to give a reason now: geek is the in crowd. The biggest movies, TV shows, and even some of the biggest books are geek-friendly. There is even a stereotype of people being fake geeks…I don’t find that to be impossible (I’m sure some geeks have pretended to be sports fans from time to time to fit in…not that some geeks aren’t big sports fans in reality and vice versa, of course), but I think it can be…unfairly belittling. For me, part of being a geek is embracing diversity, and that should include being accepting of people who don’t know the difference* between Star Wars and Star Trek, or are new to the party, or who like what you may derisively call “skiffy”.**

Embracing diversity: certainly, that’s one of the reasons people were geeks pre-1977 (when the first Star Wars movie was released and became a big hit).

While there is no question that geek-friendly works could be full of prejudice (racial, class, sexism…and a noted lack of diverse characters in terms of sexuality), they were also a place where an alien could be a hero, and women could be social equals.

Before I give some examples of that, I’d better define what I mean by geek-friendly, although I’ve done that before in the blog.

In a geek story, there is something to it that is impossible in consensus reality. It might be that there are dragons or spaceships or telepathy. For more of a discussion of that, see

Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre?

Since they are outside of consensus reality, they have often been able to “get away” with showing things outside of social norms as well.

Let’s take the idea of women as social equals.

In

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

I wrote an appearance by Gerry Carlyle, the “Interplanetary Huntress”. Carlyle, who originally appeared in stories in the 1930s an 1940s, was not only a superior adventurer, she was the captain of the ship. Her love interest, a man, was clearly the less powerful one of the pair.

That would have been a very difficult sale to a mainstream audience.

Think it would have been tough in the 1930s?

How about the 1870s, when Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race had women as the dominant gender?

It was not unusual for people of different races and perhaps species to work together…even fall in love and have intimate relationships. After all, Dejah Thoris in the John Carter of Mars Barsoom stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs is not the same race…or species…or even, arguably, the same class of life (she may not be a mammal, like humans are…her species lays eggs).

One thing we were told as geeks: it didn’t matter who you were, or even what you were…you could contribute and be accepted.

Another reason to be a geek back then was that you saw and wanted to see that there could be more to the world than was generally believed.

A lot of fans of hard science fiction believed that, within the confines of current scientific thought, there were many more possibilities. That was sometimes the purpose of a science fiction story…to explore a possibility, perhaps to suggest it as an option.

For fantasy fans, it could be, “Don’t tell me what’s possible.” Anything could be true.

Geek-friendly literature has been described, in a belittling way as escapist, but yes, it could be that, too. When things in the real world didn’t look good, it could be fun to go to Narnia or Middle Earth. Now, it’s worth noting that if you could get to either of those places, it wasn’t likely to mean that your life would be any happier than it was in the “real world”. Both of them had some pretty horrible things happening in them, with an abundance of violence and a low life expectancy. “Escaping from” doesn’t necessarily mean you want no conflict. You might just want to get away from something for a while.

It could also simply be fun. 🙂 Yes, Oz had problems…there was violence, and a surprising predominance of slavery, but at least after the first book (which really doesn’t fit in with the rest of the stories), you weren’t going to die. You could have fun adventures and read a plethora of puns. We geeks would get criticized for being childish. Kids were encouraged to stop living a “fairy tale life”, and get serious. We didn’t agree that having an imagination and getting things accomplished were contradictory. With the rise of technology, our case was strongly made…imagination could be what made you a material success, not a failure. Maybe, if you were going to work on an assembly line, letting your mind wander wasn’t a good thing. You needed to focus on the physical reality in front of you. As jobs became more varied, that became less of the only option.

I’d say those are some of the main reasons, but whenever I write a post like this, I expect (and hope) that someone will add to it. So, I’ll ask you: if you were a geek before geek became cool, why did you do it? Do you agree with my assessment that you can openly be a fan of geek-friendly works now? Do you think that there were hardcore fans who weren’t ashamed, hardcore “realists” who were never going to accept it, and a large group in the middle that weren’t passionately for or against, and have now decided it’s not a bad thing to be a geek? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Oh, and may the Force be with you! 😉

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*The fundamental difference between Star Trek and Star Wars

** “Skiffy” is a belittling term I would never use. It’s a deliberate corruption of “sci fi”, which was coined by the great Forry Ackerman as an abbreviation of “science fiction”, which went along with the then popular term “hi fi” for “high fidelity” (sound). It’s used to refer to works which the speaker thinks are not worthy of being called “science fiction”…they may have the accoutrement of more serious or “nobler” works, but are considered poor imitations. Interestingly, many people saw Star Wars as that when it was released…it was space opera, not an extrapolation of science, and they didn’t like it being called science fiction
When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime

October 8, 2015

Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime

I really appreciated that Amazon sent me an e-mail on this one! For some reason, I’m not seeing a press release, so this definitely gave me a needed heads up.

Amazon has done their latest list of “Books to Read in a Lifetime”, and I figured I would have read pretty much all of the “Science Fiction & Fantasy Books”**. 🙂

While I do think of myself as an eclectic reader, that wasn’t always really the case. I used to read a lot (a lot!) of SF&F.

After I became the manager of a brick and mortar bookstore, though, I made a conscious effort to broaden my reading. I encouraged (not required) my employees to read a book from every section in the store…and I did that myself.

I suppose the fact that I haven’t read as many as I had anticipated has to do with the chronological distribution.

However, it may have to do with the selection as well. 🙂

I would certainly recommend some others…that’s not to say that these aren’t all worthy: as I mentioned, I haven’t read quite a few of these.

First, here’s the list on Amazon:

100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Second, Amazon was also nice enough to include a table for me of the list…I added a column to indicate whether or not I have read it.

First Pub Title Author Read?
1949 1984 (Signet Classics) George Orwell Yes
2001: a Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke Yes
1960 A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter M. Miller Jr. No
1996 A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) George R. R. Martin Yes
1968 A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle) Ursula K. Le Guin Yes
1962 A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet) Madeleine L’Engle Yes
2003 Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels) Richard K. Morgan No
2001 American Gods Neil Gaiman No
2011 Among Others (Hugo Award Winner – Best Novel) Jo Walton No
2013 Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch) Ann Leckie No
2014 Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) Jeff VanderMeer No
Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1) Robin Hobb Yes
1985 Blood Music Greg Bear No
1932 Brave New World Aldous Huxley Yes
1953 Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke Yes
2004 Cloud Atlas: A Novel David Mitchell No
1998 Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels, Book 1) Anne Bishop No
1975 Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany Yes
1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick Yes
1992 Doomsday Book Connie Willis No
1968 Dragonflight (Dragonriders of Pern – Volume 1) Anne McCaffrey Yes
1965 Dune Frank Herbert Yes
1985 Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet) Orson Scott Card Yes
1953 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury Yes
1994 Foreigner: (10th Anniversary Edition) C. J. Cherryh No
1818 Frankenstein Mary Shelley Yes
1990 Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch Neil Gaiman No
2008 Graceling Kristin Cashore No
1989 Grass Sheri S. Tepper No
2002 Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Book 1) Laurell K. Hamilton Yes
2005* H. P. Lovecraft: Tales (Library of America) H. P. Lovecraft Yes
1997 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling Yes
2010 How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel Charles Yu No
1986 Howl’s Moving Castle Diana Wynne Jones No
1989 Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos) Dan Simmons No
1954 I Am Legend Richard Matheson Yes
1950 I, Robot Isaac Asimov Yes
1976 Interview with the Vampire Anne Rice Yes
2004 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel Susanna Clarke No
2003 Kindred Octavia E. Butler Yes
2001 Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy) Jacqueline Carey No
1977 Lord Foul’s Bane (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Book 1) Stephen R. Donaldson No
1984 Neuromancer William Gibson Yes
1984 Nights at the Circus Angela Carter No
2005 Old Man’s War John Scalzi No
1991 Outlander Diana Gabaldon No
1982 Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad) David Eddings Yes
2000 Perdido Street Station China Miéville No
2011 Ready Player One: A Novel Ernest Cline Yes
1993 Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) Kim Stanley Robinson No
2014 Red Rising Pierce Brown No
1976 Riddle-Master Patricia A. McKillip No
1970 Ringworld (A Del Rey book) Larry Niven Yes
1995 Sabriel (Old Kingdom) Garth Nix No
2009 Sandman Slim: A Novel Richard Kadrey No
1969 Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut Yes
1992 Snow Crash Neal Stephenson No
1961 Solaris Stanislaw Lem Yes
1959 Starship Troopers Robert A. Heinlein Yes
2010 Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang No
1961 Stranger in a Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein Yes
1983 The Color of Magic (Discworld) Terry Pratchett No
2001 The Curse of Chalion (Chalion series) Lois McMaster Bujold No
1984 The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising Sequence) Susan Cooper No
1974 The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle) Ursula K. Le Guin Yes
1988 The Dragonbone Chair: Book One of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Tad Williams No
1990 The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, Book 1) Robert Jordan No
1974 The Forever War Joe Haldeman No
1995 The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Philip Pullman Yes
2013 The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel (P.S.) Helene Wecker No
1982 The Gunslinger: (The Dark Tower #1)(Revised Edition) Stephen King No
1990 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood No
1979 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams Yes
1937 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien Yes
2008 The Hunger Games (Book 1) Suzanne Collins Yes
1968 The Last Unicorn Peter S. Beagle Yes
1969 The Left Hand of Darkness (Ace Science Fiction) Ursula K. Le Guin Yes
1984 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2) C. S. Lewis Yes
1954 The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition J.R.R. Tolkien Yes
2009 The Magicians: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy) Lev Grossman No
2014 The Martian Andy Weir Yes
1950 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury Yes
1983 The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley Yes
2007 The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle) Patrick Rothfuss No
1987 The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure William Goldman Yes
2009 The Road Cormac McCarthy No
2012 The Rook: A Novel Daniel O’Malley No
1996 The Sparrow: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) Mary Doria Russell No
2003 The Speed of Dark (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) Elizabeth Moon No
1956 The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester Yes
1977 The Sword of Shannara Terry Brooks No
1895 The Time Machine H. G. Wells Yes
2003 The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger No
2010 The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive, The) Brandon Sanderson No
2009 The Windup Girl Paolo Bacigalupi No
1870 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne Yes
2005 Uglies Scott Westerfeld No
2015 Uprooted Naomi Novik No
2011 Wool Hugh Howey Yes
2006 World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Max Brooks No

One of the first things that stands out to me is the lack of books that are putatively for children. No Oz? No Wind in the Willows?

Second, and it’s understandable, it looks like it’s one book per author. 🙂

I may add to this post later (have to start my two hour commute this morning). 🙂 I’m hoping to be able to give you a little more insight into the list, but before I do…here are a few I might have included (sticking to my presumed rule above, one book per author):

  • The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
  • The Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum (I think the Wizard of Oz is actually the one in the series I like the least)
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer)
  • Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock (not sure if that’s necessarily the Elric of Melniboné book I’d pick but it’s the first one that comes to mind…and Elric would be included)

Hm…interesting to me that actual science fiction novels aren’t coming to mind first as much as fantasy. That might be because of how I’m reacting to the list.

What do you think? How many have you read? What would you include? What do you think of their selections? If you had questions to ask of the editors who compiled the list, what would they be?  Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Update: an earlier version of this post mistakenly thought they limited the list to books published in 1949 and later, because that was the first year in the first column. 🙂 Sorry about that…it’s not sorted by date.

Update: I want to thank my readers, and apologize to them at the same time. 🙂 I sent this post out this morning when it was half-baked: certainly, the sloppiest post in the more than six years that I’ve been doing ILMK. There were some mitigating factors, but that’s not important. The main thing is that my readers kindly pointed out true deficiencies in the post, and I have improved it because of that. Thanks, readers!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

** For my take on science fiction and fantasy genre definitions, see Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre?

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre?

September 22, 2015

Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre?

When I recently wrote

Stephen King given National Medal of Arts

the comments developed into an interesting discussion about genres with regular reader and commenter Lady Galaxy, and a comment I especially appreciated from Amy, who studies genre theory.

I know how I define at least one area of genres, and I thought about it a lot in the past.

However, in a situation like this, I always like to look at the references.

The dictionaries online actually have quite a fuzzy definition. They all agree that it has to do with similarity…but I saw a single source (Google, which does its own thing at the top or side of search results) that said it could be “…form, style, or subject matter”. If that’s an “or” (not an “and”), I would think almost any two books would be in the same genre. 😉

In the headline here, I listed “content, tone, or intent”.

The last one might seem weird, but it’s how a lot of people define horror. It’s a work which is intended to scare people.

That’s also how people define pornography, sometimes…that it is “intended to arouse”.

Now, I find intent to be an odd thing to judge. Legal cases often don’t even include motive as a requirement, since it’s very hard to prove what was inside someone’s head.

That’s why I’ve found it odd that people consider science fiction, fantasy, and horror to be a grouping.

Supernatural horror, sure…but psychological horror? Does Silence of the Lambs have a significant similarity to Sleeping Beauty? Well, the original versions of fairy tales, maybe…Cinderella, perhaps. 😉

There are certainly people who vehemently separate science fiction and fantasy. I can understand that…there are people who are  great proponents of science and reject fantasy. Some of them are…I’m going to use the word “offended” by unicorns and dragons, and they don’t want that mixed up with tachyons and tesseracts.

For me, I prefer definitions that have to do with content…it feels more objective somehow. I also like the idea that someone could be technically part of a genre, while being recognized as a mainstream, respected writer. That may tend to make people rethink how they define the genre…they might respect something they didn’t respect before, and I like everybody to respect every group of people.

I refer to fantasy as a work presented as fiction which contains elements which are presented to the audience that would be impossible in consensus reality.

That works for me, but even that one takes some doing sometimes.

It’s the consensus reality part, for one thing.

Let’s take reincarnation.

My understanding is that the majority of people in the world believe in reincarnation. A novel written for an audience which believes in reincarnation and contains reincarnation would not fall into my definition of fantasy. However,

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Max Ehrlich’s novel from 1973 which became a Michael Sarrazin movie (and which may be a movie soon from David Fincher)? Absolutely.

I felt like I needed to add the part about it being presented as fiction. When I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I had at least one customer who would regularly move the Bible into the science fiction/fantasy section. I understand that was probably that person’s opinion, but the book isn’t presented as a fiction, so I wouldn’t put it there.

I consider science fiction as a subset of fantasy, as I’ve defined fantasy.

I sometimes say that “Science Fiction and Fantasy are subsets of fantasy”. In other words, fantasy is just a word, but Science Fiction and Fantasy are names.

When I separate those two narrower categories, science fiction is possible within accepted science (but could not have happened in our current consensus reality), and fantasy is impossible.

Well, science shouldn’t have things defined as impossible, but that’s another whole discussion. 😉

That gets strange, though…some things are presented as being science, but could just as easily be fantasy. Telepathy, faster than light travel (in physical spaceships, without wormholes and such)? Fantasy.

Star Wars was clearly fantasy to a lot of science fiction fans…although a “scientific” explanation was given for the most fantastic elements.

Here’s another tricky group: alternative history. Should that be included in fantasy? If you write a book where you speculate what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War II (you could have a whole bookstore section just for books with that premise), or that Tesla had beaten Edison, would that be fantasy? Would it be Science Fiction? It’s not impossible in the same way that alchemical transmutation might be, but it couldn’t have happened in our consensus reality. I do want to include those, personally.

I also include works where we readers think something is supernatural, and then it turns out it was a hoax or a mistake . I argue with myself about that one…

I would honestly think that what would matter to most people was tone. It’s not so much what the person intended, or the “factual” elements, but how it makes you feel. Could you have a romance that was just mean, even if its primary focus was love relationships? Would it still be a romance?

I’m not as worried about tone when I define things…although I’m much more of a lumper than a splitter. I probably should explain that. 🙂

It’s used in a lot of fields. Let’s take zoology. Lumpers tend to have fewer total species, and splitters tend to have more.

I want as many books as possible to fall under fantasy. Why? I think it’s because fantasy gets ridiculed, and there is strength in numbers. 🙂

There are lots of sub-genres, of course. People will include “space opera” and “military science fiction” as both being science fiction…they are a bit more descriptive, and help you predict whether or not you would like it.

Perhaps the real purpose of a genre…to do just that.

What do you think? How do you define genres? Do you even care, or is it that a book is a book is a book? Have you ever gotten mad to see a book “miscategorized? What are your favorite genres? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

UNRELATED BREAKING NEWS: thanks to a reader who sent me a heads up in a private e-mail. Oyster is reportedly shutting down its book subser (subscription service) after two years. I think subsers (“all you can read” for a set monthly or annual price) are a big part of the future of publishing…but I think Amazon bigfooted the market with

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

of which I am a happy member.

According to this

Forbes post by Ryan Mac

and other sources, Google has hired some members of the team.

Does that mean Google is going to do a subser? Maybe.

The

Oyster website

still touts how great the subser is, but the blog (available on that same site) says the following:

“With that, we will be taking steps to sunset the existing Oyster service over the next several months. If you are an Oyster reader you will receive an email personally regarding your account in the next few weeks. We look forward to sharing more details soon, but rest aassured, your account will continue to operate normally in the meantime. If you’d like to request a refund, please contact us at refunds@oysterbooks.com.”
http://blog.oysterbooks.com/

Looking at this, I think they really are planning todo some other things, and that this current structure just wasn’t working for them after KU established itself.

Will Scribd (the other big book subser) continue? Does this strengthen or hurt KU (I think the former)? Interesting…

Thanks to that reader!

 

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

The Clone Ranger

April 17, 2015

The Clone Ranger

VERY MILD SPOILER ALERT

Amazon is making the first season/series of Orphan Black free to stream tomorrow. For details, see my post in my Measured Circle blog:

Free for all Friday: Orphan Black S1 from Amazon

Shh…the series involves clones. 😉

That’s not much of a spoiler, because it’s probably in every mention you ever see about it…and the fans of the show call themselves the “Clone Club” (in addition to referring to characters on the show).

So, it’s sort of as much of a spoiler as saying that Star Wars takes place partially in space…

END VERY MILD SPOILER

It’s amazing what can be a popular topic in the Kindle store!

I was inspired recently to look to see what I would find by using the search word “clone”.

“Clone” search in the USA Kindle store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I got 1,036 results!

373 of those were available to read at no additional cost if you have a

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

subscription.

Most of the books were listed as science fiction, but we have to remember that cloning isn’t science fiction…it’s been done in real life.

There are a lot of associations with cloning…some of them real, some not.

Clones occur in nature, for example, although many people have the connotation of them only being done by scientists.

A clone is produced without sex…bacteria clone themselves, for example.

In science fiction, though, we typically think of it as a scientist taking some small element of a person (they just need DNA…but the idea of cloning was around before DNA was defined) and “growing” an identical person.

Often, they have some highly accelerated way of growing them, so that a thirty year old person can meet their thirty year old clone. In reality, it would be much more likely that if you cloned someone at thirty, they could be sixty when their clone was thirty (give or take…some initial growth stages might be accelerated).

There is also a considerable amount of stories about cloning animals…including extinct animals if you can get the DNA. Jurassic Park is a particularly famous cloning novel.

There is real world talk right now of cloning mammoths…we could bring the species “back to life”, very much like Jurassic Park.

They would use an elephant in part as the incubator, or at least, that’s one suggestion.

Speaking of bringing things back to life, “reviving” specific people is also part of clone fiction: Adolf Hitler, for one, in Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil (and other books).

There are a lot of ethical questions involved here. A common theme is that the clones are seen as less than sexually produced humans…they may be used as “cannon fodder” (Star Wars does that), or to provide organs for transplant.

In many cases, the clones don’t know they are clones initially…that can make for some real drama!

Also, a clone need not be identical: it would be possible to manipulate the DNA to produce something different.

Here are five books which I think show some of the variety in clone tomes:

  1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro…who won the Booker Prize and wrote The Remains of the Day
  2. The Klone and I by Danielle Steele: probably not someone you think of as a science fiction writer
  3. The Third Twin by Ken Follett: again, probably doesn’t have a space reserved on your science fiction shelf
  4. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm: Kate Wilhelm, on the other hand, does…a Hugo and Nebula Award winning author, and many consider this book a classic of the genre
  5. Clone: The Road to Dolly, and the Path Ahead by Gina Kolata…non-fiction

Do you have a favorite clone book? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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