I am still searching for a genre name for The Book Of Lost Doors. I’m currently going with Speculative Noir. I’m not entirely happy with it, but it’ll do until something better comes along.
In any event, I think I can sum up what I think are the defining characteristics.
Speculative Noir: A definition
- Metaphysics: The Universe contains elements which are both Fabulous (in the sense of violating natural law as we understand it) and Mysterious (in the sense of following laws which are not explicitly revealed to either the protagonist or the audience.) The sense of Metaphysical Anarchy is central to the cosmology of Speculative Noir–nothing can be trusted, even things so ubiquitous and quotidian as gravity may fail without warning.
- Epistemology: Existential truth has primacy over theoretical truth. In a world where reality is fluid, one can trust only the sensory data of the moment. Speculative Noir relies upon a hypnagogic attention to detail. Everything has the potential to be new and strange, and consequently everything must be treated as if it were sui generis. We are transported into the world of the infant, in which around each corner lurks a new world, full of new wonders and dangers.
- Ethics: What is good is what ensures the survival of the self–in this case the audience’s symbolic self of the narrator. Because nothing is certain, the social contract becomes a fragile construct, contingent upon the by no means certain continuity of identity of the parties involved. This strengthens rather than weakens the role of personal integrity–fragile things require protection. The Speculative Noir protagonist must be alert to the nigh-inevitability of betrayal while being scrupulous to the letter of the agreement so as not to prematurely provoke it.
- Politics: Following directly from the above, politics in Speculative Noir is ruthlessly pragmatic. The needs of the moment give rise to alliances of convenience. Rather than the tradition division of heroes and villains, the protagonist is faced with characters who offer both promise and threat. Success in politics then becomes a matter of finding as much common ground as possible.
- Aesthetics: The primacy of the sensual is the signature characteristic of Speculative Noir aesthetics. What is real is what can be seen, touched, and tasted. The audience knows that any theoretical structure will always be unstable and incomplete, so the author is obligated to compensate by hyper-realism. If pigs can fly (and they might) then their wings must be painted down to the littlest feather.
Speculative Noir is concerned with the struggle of a rational self against an irrational reality. It is a rage for order, not to discover an order that exists of itself, but to impose an order on the face of the howling void. The protagonist of Speculative Noir knows that the world only makes sense when you force it to, he or she fights an ontologically losing battle, building sand castles upon the shore.
The tide is coming, and it will wash it all away.
But not yet.
Not on my watch.