In science fiction canon, big-scale far-future stories usually get all the glory. Books set on other worlds, with space ships and alien encounters are what many people think SF is all about. And those books are great. I love space opera, and I love far-future SF books like Dune or the Culture books by Iain Banks, or Peter F. Hamilton’s crack-o-liciously good duology of Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained. But there is something equally appealing about near-future SF stories. (more…)
Category: Featured Microgenre
Anyone who has read their share of science fiction and fantasy knows that war is a large part of the genre. Every story needs a catalyst, something that sets the characters in motion and gives them a conflict to push against. War stories can be an easy way to put your characters in danger, give your story a high stakes outcome and create drama. But as common as war stories are in SF and fantasy, most of the most famous stories are about men going to battle. This is perhaps not surprising as in our own world it is only very recently that policies were put in motion to allow women to official hold combat roles. The major wars of the past were fought by men, and that inevitably trickles down into our literature – even our imaginative literature. (more…)
In the process of making the huge chart featured earlier in the week, I spent a lot of time thinking about the genre. There are so many good stories about terrible things happening! Here are some of my personal favorites.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This tri-part classic of Science Fiction is about the rebuilding of society after a nuclear holocaust. In the aftermath of devastation, the world rejected technology. The novel follows the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz over hundreds of years as they attempt to preserve relics of the world’s technological past until civilization is once again ready for them. (more…)
I recently decided to chart another genre, this time post-apocalyptic fiction. I love the genre, which has more variety that most people suspect. Why do we love books about the end of the world? In a way, it is the ultimate triumph-over-adversity narrative. Whether ante-, mid- or post-apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it is a pretty good conflict for characters to strive against. Usually characters are a big part of the appeal in apocalyptic fiction. You need characters you can root for to SURVIVE. Readers like to imagine how they would behave in the world possible scenario of a world-ending catastrophe, and these books can showcase the best in humanity, while it usually also shows us a vivid portrait of the worst we can do to each other. (more…)
Even before I became a fan of the horror genre (thanks in large part to my three years judging the Reading List Award), I always loved a good ghost story. Creepy and scary – without usually being gory or bloody – they remain a favorite horror monster. And while there are tons of excellent ghosts in horror proper, you can find them in a lot of other genres as well. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
For me, this is a perfect combination of urban fantasy, romance and spooky horror. Start with the heroine’s profession and nickname: she restores old cemeteries and is known as the Graveyard Queen. Now this would, on the surface, be a pretty stupid career for our heroine Amelia Gray, who is from a family especially susceptible to ghosts. He father taught her to never acknowledge a ghost, or it could torment you forever. But she loves her job, drawn to the beauty of the old graveyards of the South. When she meets Detective John Devlin over a dead body (of the fresh kind) in a cemetery she is restoring in Charleston, she knows she should keep her distance from the man, who is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. But they end up working together as more people are killed in Charleston. The sequels never captured the magic of this one, unfortunately. Very gothic, and very good. (more…)
While the rest of the country is enjoying crisp fall days, colorful foliage, and excellent sleeping weather, Southern California had Santa Ana winds blowing through over the weekend. If you’ve never heard of the Santa Ana winds, they are supposed to drive people a little crazy. Raymond Chandler has a typically awesome quote:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. “
In fantasy there are often two camps of readers. Epic fantasy fans love the completely immersive experience of losing yourself in a new world, where everything is different and magic things are as normal as breathing. Urban fantasy fans prefer the familiar setting of our own world, with magic and monsters layered into the streets we know, as it has a lower barrier of entry in terms of believability and expectations. But there is a way to have your cake and eat it, too. There is a subgenre of fantasy known as portal fantasy. And some of your favorite books when you were a kid? Those were portal fantasies. Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia books? All portal fantasies. (more…)
Periodically, rather than focus on a Featured Blend, I thought it might be fun to look at a popular microgenre. Not sure what I mean by that? Many people have favorite genres — the big categories that books that share characteristics can fall into. And even in a genre there are subgenres that they are more likely to read and enjoy — readily identifiable groupings under the big genre categories. A example for genre might be “Fantasy” while a subgenre of fantasy could be “Epic Fantasy.” But any readers’ advisor worth her salt knows that there are sometimes even smaller subdivisions of genre that readers are drawn to. Particular story lines that are catnip to the reader or tropes that they look for in their reading again and again.
One popular storyline for epic fantasy fans is one that I call “The Hidden Heir.” This story follows a general opening pattern that a young man or a woman who was for some reason or another passed over as the ruler of a realm is suddenly brought forward to claim the throne. The story can evolve in many ways from this premise, including a regal coming-of-age story, a rags to riches odyssey, an exploration of political intrigue, or a full-out battle for the crown. But there are people who love the idea of a character who did not think they were going to rule suddenly stepping up as the rightful heir.
This week a much buzzed debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling (already headed to movie theaters with Emma Watson to star), takes this premise and runs with it, but there are some other popular examples of the microgenre. Some of my favorites are below, but what are yours?
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The death of her mother prompts Kelsea to come out of hiding and claim the throne that is rightfully hers. She will have to prove herself quickly as her uncle has made an alliance with the the Red Queen of neighboring Mortmense and breaking the treaty with that sorceress ruler will bring her country to war. (more…)