I was working on a post about the covers that end up on genre blended books and I fell down the hole at the intersection of amazing and ridiculous that is romance covers. Rather than do a whole post with link-y links, I simply have to throw some of these up there for your enjoyment. The best are no doubt the ones from the 1980s for sheer ridiculousness. I’m sure I was reading the occasional romance in the 80s, but perhaps the fashion and style of the 80s was so terrible (in an awesome way) that they just washed off me like water flowing off thebare chest of a Fabio clone. The 1990s seems to be where some discretion came into the art departments for romances. Lots more still lifes with flowers or swords or flowers and swords. Broaches were big, too. Then we moved into the period weith the headless pretty dresses, which we are mostly still in. (more…)
Every month there are more new books that don’t fit neatly into one genre. Here are some of the genreblended books coming out in September 2014. Usually there is a bias towards books with a SF, Fantasy or Horror element, but I also include blends from other genres from popular authors or to which I’m especially looking forward. Genres are listed in my best estimation as to the order of prominence to the story. For example, if the first genre listed is SF, that is probably the first audience for the book. What are you most looking foward to?
Week of September 2
Genre Blender = work in progress
Some folks have asked me where the idea for the Genre Blender came from. A few years ago, I was asked if I wanted to write a volume in a readers’ advisory series of guides from ALA Editions. Spitballing ideas with the two editors of the series, I decided I would write my guide not on one genre (most of the good ones were taken!), but on books that blend genres. The book will be out in a month or so, and can be ordered here: Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Blends.
Yesterday, I presented a flowchart that would allow a reader to navigate a plethora of SF Mystery blends depending on what kind of plot they were looking for. But plot is by no means the only way that readers determine what they want to read next. For a lot of readers (especially mystery readers, I think), they are looking more for a certain tone in their mysteries. Some like things dark and gritty, other prefer a lighter cozy with a minimum of violence. These shades of tone are present in blends that include mysteries too.
I think that it’s interesting that so many blends that include a mystery go self-consciously for the trappings of a particular subgenre: noir. Although non-readers think noir is all about film, but the dark, cynical and fatalistic tone that directors brought to the many, many film noir movies from the 40s and 50s is equally present in books from the same era. But I think we can thank film for locking in the imagery of a lone investigator in a trench coat, beset by femme fatales and double-crossed by those he trusts most. The reason we continue to see mysteries with these elements is because 1) They WORK. Dark brooding protagonists working slightly outside the law and with the rich and powerful arrayed against them are crazy appealing. 2) You can use small cues like a fedora to conjure up a whole mood. Shortcuts are awesome.
But even if a detective is in a fedora, that doesn’t necessarily make the book noir. And here I mean specifically books that are dark. Super dark. On my graphic, some of the darkest are novels that start from the SF premise of the end of the world, and add a mystery. Ben H. Winter’s truly marvelous series that starts with The Last Policemanis an example of one of those. Just as there are mysteries that look at the darkest impulses and actions of man, so does some SF. Although there are many SF writers that look to the future and see possibility and progress, there are just as many (maybe more) that see the shadowy paths that technology can take us on. They look to the future and see that humanity will probably take all their bad habits forward with them, including killing each other. The dark side of technology plus murder? These can be some pretty grim books.
But it’s not all gloom and doom! Looking at the right side of the chart, there are mysteries that are low-violence puzzle plots with an SF twist (You’ve Got Murder), whimsical time travel stories with romance and a cozy mystery (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and undercover dinosaur private investigators (Anonymous Rex). In between there’s a nice variety of social SF, space operas, and near future thrillers. So pick your place on the spectrum below, from the darkest and bleakest to the funny and lightest. There’s an Science Fiction Mystery for everyone.
This year there have been a couple of great new SF/Mystery blends published. I already blogged about Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which I loved. This month there’s John Scalzi’s latest Lock In, which is a fascinating look at a crime committed in a society recovering from a pandemic that left a sizeable portion of the population unable to interact with the world without the aid of technology, locked in to their heads. But there are so many more! While you could use the blender to get a full list, one thing that I love about genre blends is that are so many ways to mix genres together that no two blends read the same. I thought it would be fun to put the blends together in a flowchart to show off the variety just in plots. Click to embiggen!
Earlier this week I posted some of the literary fiction authors that I thought fantasy fans might enjoy. When I was trying to think about the flip side of the coin for this post, I had a much harder time. Not because there aren’t dozens of beautiful writers working in the fantasy genre that I think deserve a wider audience — there are. But while I think I would not have too hard a time convincing most of the fantasy readers I know to take a chance on someone from outside their genre, I’m afraid I can’t say the same about those who self-identify as literary fiction fans. Those readers willing to take even the trippiest of trips with Murakami or go off with the fairies with Donohue if they are shelved in literature have a built in resistance to stepping over a few aisles to the SF/Fantasy section. Of course, that’s why displays exist, right? Pull those suckers out of their genre ghetto and display them with some of your LitFic fabulists and you just might make a sale. I would love for those who refuse to read anything marketed as fantasy to get a chance to read the gorgeous prose and bravura feats of imagination found in that genre. But I have tried to keep my expectations realistic. No dragons, no magic wands. Here are just a few of the fantasy authors that I think could work with the literary crowd. (more…)
Every time a new book by Haruki Murakami comes out, like this week’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I am reminded how much I love him. The language, the characters, the totally bizarre stuff he sneaks in when you’re not looking — I love it. His books are always beautiful and often weird. But amazingly they are all also very different — weird in their own unique way. He is one of the most respected writers in the literary fiction field, and it is surely only a matter of time before he wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. But I also find he is a popular choice for the discerning fantasy fan. His books are highly erudite, and they deal with universal human desires for connection, the question of whether you can ever really know another person, and the search for a sense of self. But they are also very high concept in their trappings and sometimes downright bizarre. It made me think about other literary fiction standbys that could be happily read by fantasy fans. Some of these have wilder flights of fancy than anything with a “fantasy” sticker on the cover, but for one reason or another they never get the sticker. Others are books that tell a mundane story, but with an offbeat sensibility; a heightened sense of destiny at work; a hint of something not “normal”. I think these kinds of books would appeal to fantasy fans because they share that sense of visiting another quirkier world, even if just a half-step away. Here are some authors that I think live on the literary fiction shelves but deserve a place in a fantasy reader’s heart. Since turnabout is fair play, later in the week I will share some fantasy authors that I think should be read by literary fiction fans. (more…)
AUTHOR: Diana Gabaldon
PUBLISHER: Dell, 1991
SERIES: Outlander, Book 1
THE BOOK: As the new STARZ adaptation gets going, I’ve been thinking a lot about these books. When I first read Outlander (and I came late to the party, only reading this first book after many of the sequels were published), I had the series recommended to me by several people. What I remember is that the recommenders took completely different tacks in their pitch. (more…)
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…)
As I said in yesterday’s post on mystery series with slow-building romance, I’m a shipper. I adore relationships that take a while to kindle, where you watch two people dance around their attraction before acting on it. Love at first sight kind of bores me (although attraction at first sight — YES), as it seems far-fetched and leaves no place for your couple to go. But a romance that has its ups and downs, setbacks and betrayals? That’s just more interesting. Series books have a great potential to string along a good attraction across multiple volumes. In paranormal romance, a sort of sister to urban fantasy, you are often dealt a different couple in every book, and the happiness of the couple is never really in any doubt. The worldbuilding might be important, but the thrust of the plot will be getting this couple to their happy ending. Urban fantasy that includes romance (and they don’t always — I promise to roundup some great ones that are love-free for those who don’t want any k-i-s-s-i-n-g in their fantasy) can have devastatingly swoony love stories, but that is not usually the point of the story. And because urban fantasy often runs in series, authors often spin out the arc of the couple over many, many books. Let’s face it: the obstacles to love in urban fantasy are high. You might not even be the same species as the object of your attraction. And then there’s the whole “have to save the world from monsters and evil” thing that can get in the way. But when it is done well, the slow burn romances of urban fantasy are some of the best around. Perhaps I should say here that there are SPOILERS for those who haven’t caught up on some of these series. While a lot of urban fantasy telegraphs the love interest to come loud and clear, there are at least a couple that caught me by surprise. In the best way possible. (more…)