On Getting Genres Right

I don’t know about you, but I really dislike it when people call a book “science fiction/fantasy.”  I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard this; when someone is naming a book and just kind of lumps those two genres together in describing it.  I really want to tell them that they really aren’t the same thing.

I realize the two genres are related in a lot of ways and grouped together often for those reasons, but that’s not to mean that we can call a book both things.  If you’re going to categorize a novel, you have to know where to put it.  Unless the book is actually both science fiction and fantasy.  In which case, go right ahead.  Now, let’s take a moment to look at what the differences are between these two genres:

Science fiction is generally accepted as something having to do with space and aliens and mad scientists (hence the “science” bit).  In my mind, however, this category can be stretched to include any book whose apparently fantastical occurrences are explained to have a basis in science.  So, I might consider Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps to be science fiction, because the vampire-like peeps are actually hosting a certain parasite.  Parasites are scientific and explainable.

Fantasy, on the other hand, has to do with anything that is not explainable by what we know as science.  Magic is a good example.  So are supernatural creatures.  This is a pretty broad category.

Gandalf VS. Yoda: fantasy meets sci-fi in an epic showdown.

While I realize that there is some overlap in some books between the two genres, we should be able to take a closer look at most of the ones we are putting them together for, and decide on a definitive, single category.  The double genre doesn’t work for everything, at least in my mind.

Twilight is the example that most comes to mind here.  I’ve definitely heard people call it a “science fiction/fantasy” thing.  While there may be some elements of the former, I’d say this saga can be placed firmly in the latter.  The werewolves, for a start, are completely supernatural even though they do have an origin story.  And while Stephenie Meyer has explained the nature of the venom that causes vampirism in her creations, enough of it- the powers, for instance- goes vaguely explained enough that it slides out of science fiction.

A Google search tells me that Twilight is officially in the fantasy category.  This leads me to believe that whoever is responsible for officially determining these things never strays into the double genre trap.  Apparently it’s only an unofficial thing.  That doesn’t make it any less prominent, however.

Of course, Twilight is romance, too, but in this case the two genres can coexist, I think.  They’re unrelated.

Well, that’s about it for me.  Have you ever come across this?  Do you know of any books that should only be categorized as one or the other?

Happy reading!

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6 thoughts on “On Getting Genres Right

  1. Twilight as science fiction? …How? No, no, I don’t want to know. Nevermind.

    I’d say subgenres help clear up confusion too. Instead of calling Twilight fantasy, we could narrow it down to Teen Paranormal Romance. The advantage to this is that it gets rid of the potential cross confusion. HP and LotR are “fantasy” too, as is Jim Butcher’s Dresden series.

    Sub genres for the win, chirp!

    • I’m not saying I think it’s sci-fi, just that I’ve heard it described as such and can sort of understand where they’re coming from. But not completely.
      I totally agree: subgenres rock.

  2. Genres defy all common logic. Some books are just impossible to classify, while others are placed in categories that make no sense. How can you pigeonhole an art form?? You can’t, but that doesn’t stop the industry from trying.

    • That’s an awesome point. People write what they want, and some things are just really out there, but we insist on putting it together with lots of other books that don’t really compare.

  3. Genres are tough, but i think “Wolves of Mercy Falls” would fall into both because you have the werewolves, but Maggie Stiefvater really goes into depth on why, how , and when they shift from one form to the other.

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