The Blurring of Lines

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January 31, 2012 by jcfarnham

Well, I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually blog about this. What specifically do I mean by the phrase “the blurring of lines”? In this case I’m talking about the boundaries between my favourite two genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy.

At one point in literary history (after the “invention” of pigeon holes no doubt…)  it was simple to label a book with a genre. It was usually clear and obvious. Then along came the pioneers of genre fiction trying their darndest to stretch classifications. Add to this the modernist, post-modernist, and post-post-and-so-on-modernist movements in fiction things got rather muddled. No longer where writers happy at being trapped by labels, or expected to usse a certain plot device on the merits of something their readers have gotten into. In fact not even Fiction Fans where that happy with sticking with one clear genre.

Very quickly the world was faced with efforts like Anne McCaffrey‘s Pern series. At first the books appear to be pure fantasy, topped off with dragons and swords and all the kind of trapping people have come to expect from the genre but then, what’s this, it isn’t a book about a fantasy world at all, but instead a Science Fiction one?

Pern is an oft debated series, with people coming down on both sides of the genre divide insisting it is “with out a doubt” one or the other not both.

I am over joyed that plenty of authors don’t feel restricted by their genre’s common trappings. I, myself wouldn’t want to limit my imagination because “that just shouldn’t happen in a Science fiction book”. I seem to be giving the following author a lot of free publicity these days, but the perfect book (and one I’m currently reading) to exemplify what I’m talking about in this post is Flank Hawk by Terry W. Ervin II (And knowing Mr Ervin he won’t mind me talking about his book much).

I won’t spoil too much, but what is at first glance a fantasy romp of sorts is infact a fantasically imagined second civilisation after our own civilisations downfall. I can’t do it justice so, Terry says it best, “Flank Hawk is set in the distant future where magic exists and brutish ogres are more than a child’s nightmare.”

Often these days I still find that some amateur authors feel obliged to, say, include elves in their Fantasy, or write a trilogy “because that’s what successful Fantasy authors do”. I got thinking about this. People’s expectations of the genres are clouding and obscuring true genius, experimentation and the pushing of boundaries. The forefathers of genre fiction did it and look what their legacy accomplished! A set of fantastical genres that huge amounts of people find hard to put down. Why can’t we push the boat out in this day and age? Aren’t we far too modern to be so closed minded?

It is no secret that I MUCH prefer the term Speculative Fiction (I’ll happily tell anyone who asks, in workshops, in real life, where ever). Such a neat and tidy no nonsense label should never have been left by the wayside by Publishers and Book stores and the like, in my opinion. While painfully simple (and maybe thats a good thing) it accurately describes both Fantasy Fiction and Science Fiction… And more importantly any thing that falls between the metaphorical cracks!

The above is my perfect world. One where a nice simple term like Speculative Fiction is enough for everyone. Of course in reality the public are far too used to seeing the seperatist genres to even have any recognition of the term. Above I talked about how I’m happy to tell people my new preference in genre terminology, but more often than not (we’ll ignore the writing community for now shall we?) I find myself have to give this very explanation.

Any way, I leave you with one final thing: 

Speculative Fiction as a term is so tidy that we Science Fiction writers could even keep our precious abbreviation.

What’s not to love?


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January 2012
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