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On Genre

I wanted to start posting about Australia, but I need to get the photos up into Joomla, and for some reason I find it really slow and tedious.  (I’m probably doing something wrong.)  So I’ve tossed it over to the amazing Web Guru.  Once the photos are in the Phoca gallery I’ll start a write up of the trip.

Meantime, I have something else cool to discuss.  There’s a cadre of writers who tend to gather in Albuquerque once a week for lunch and conversation.  It’s usually just Daniel Abraham, Walter Jon Williams, Sage Walker and me.  Sometimes we just chat, but sometimes one of us comes to the table with a topic to discuss.

This past Thursday Daniel brought us a doozy.  He asked why genre fiction, which so often is dismissed as trite, unoriginal, not real literature, etc., sells better than serious fiction?  What is it about genre — science fiction, romance, mystery — that attracts readers?  What do they (we) find in these bastard step-children of literature?  Included in this was trying to figure out the appeal of urban fantasy which partakes of mystery, horror and romance, and blends them all together.

As we talked we all agreed there is comfort in familiar tales and happy outcomes.  Daniel then said something that I found to be chilling and profound.  He said, “genre is where fears go to pool.” 

Genre is the place where we try to calm the fears.  So, what is being addressed in these various genres?  Mystery it’s fairly clear.  Something dark and dangerous is threatening where we live, but it will be defeated and good will triumph and home will be safe again.

I suggested that what the readers of science fiction feared is that things _won’t_ change.  That the world as it is currently ordered is a good as it gets.

Romance — the fear that we will live alone and die alone.  The desire for connection and intimacy.

But what is urban fantasy?  It’s about women who have the same power for violence as men, but the message is that they can be violent and still be women.  Is it rooted in a fear of male power which can manifest as violence?

Genres can die.  Look at the passage of the Western.  What was satisfied by the western that is no longer present in society?  And is that the likely end for hard S.F.?  The space ship, blaster, distant worlds kind of science fiction, is it dying?

We didn’t answer all or even many of the questions, but we had a great time discussing.  I love my friends.  They are brilliant and they always challenge me.  And people wonder why I stopped being a lawyer.  Would I ever have had this conversation with a bunch of lawyers?

P.S.  If you want to see Daniel’s much more articulate and thoughtful analysis of the topic head over to his blog.

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