Posts Tagged: genre

So something is clearly broken somewhere

It’s been a while. August was a series of daily struggles at work with the evenings spent exhausted and trying to rest. September looks the same. Everything might get easier a few weeks into October once Jen’s move to mine is completed and we’ve settled down to a new routine. What little time there’s been has been spent reading/dissecting V.S. Pritchett and Lydia Davis stories.

The two things that have caught my attention recently are Paul Kincaid’s review of two of the 2012 best of the year anthologies and Ian Sale’s post on the continuing parochial nature of the Hugo awards.

The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion.

Paul Kincaid makes very few new allegations: the charge that the genres of the fantastic are exhausted is not new. Cheap Truth asserted the same thing about fantasy way back in its first issue. The symptom Paul identifies is that science fiction’s authors and audience have lost confidence that the future can be comprehended. It seems that few have been able to get over that crisis; most seem to have resorted to repeating the same faded tropes endlessly. Even the best stories are exercises in nostalgia. I’ve had similar feelings for years. But then I grew up in the noughties when everything was already broken. I suspect what excites me as a reader and writer in their mid-twenties doesn’t overlap much with what gets Gardner Dozois & Richard Horton excited. I’ve an affection for the motifs of SF but find the content lacking, so get better literary kicks from other genres.

Last Sunday saw Hugo Awards handed out to several people for producing, or so the award would have us believe, the “best” of their category in the previous year. It’s complete nonsense, of course. The Hugos, despite half-hearted changes implemented over the years, are based on a model of fandom which hasn’t existed since the 1960s.

Ian Sales criticises the Hugo Awards again, and I mostly agree with him as the Hugo’s bore me senseless. Its voters are all older and more American than me: we’ve lived very different lives and it shows in the books and other media we get excited by. It’s that difference in generational and geographical demographics appearing again.

People have disregarded Paul and Ian’s criticisms. I don’t care to argue against them for doing that. They have reasons to preserve the status quo; I don’t. If nostalgia is the prevailing mood then it’s time to examine the foundations of science fiction for extensions, restoration, even, if needed, demolition.

Something is clearly broken somewhere. This is clearly an opportunity to rebel and explore new space.

Playing Games with Genre

I love games. Everything from the many flavours of video games, tabletop role-playing games, board games, card games, even, as a spectator, team sports like football, rugby and cricket get my attention. Hell, one of the points of rock climbing, for me, is its arbitrary rules that create interesting experiences.

Due to this deep passion for games I treat my own encounters with the arts playfully. Take the idea of genres. Now at this point I’m convinced that trying to define broad labels such as Literary Fiction & Science Fiction is foolish. Definitions abound at this level of labelling but none of them satisfy, either being too universal or too selective without hitting that hard to describe aesthetic sweet spot that makes a game interesting. So I don’t care about these labels or their many definitions apart from when they are used to stamp on other people.

Really from a game point of view I’m interested in the playgrounds that sub-genres create. Now sub-genres, because they have a tighter focus, do have characteristics that can be identified and played around with. They can start with a name and a short list of requirements to sketch out playground’s toys and conventions. If you like, a form of OuLiPo applied to genre. How can this work? Well these playgrounds don’t have any intrinsic meaning so make up a name: Dirty Mediaevalism. Decide on some conventions that apply to it.

How about:

  1. Dirty Mediaevalism is the fiction of everyday life in a society that is post-classical age but pre-industrial.
  2. Dirty Mediaevalism protagonists are not wealthy or powerful.
  3. Dirty Mediaevalism shows are world where magic & religion are always oppressive forces.
  4. Dirty Mediaevalism cares about small personal incidents portrayed within the landscape of the characters.
  5. Dirty Mediaevalism has a muddy and foggy colour palette.

So there’s a new sub-genre and its manifesto, of sorts. A new playground to write in created in five minutes. Genres are just games. Go play and let thousands of new playgrounds be built.