If You Like It Then You Should Have Glued Some Gears On It

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have a rather uncomfortable relationship with the concept of genre.  On the one hand, I really, really don’t like it, on the other hand, I absolutely hate it.

Genre has always struck me as the lowest sort of pseudo-intellectual caste system, a hierarchy based on superficial characteristics.  It shoehorns stories into stereotypical circles.  If you write a Science Fiction story, then you must write about Science Fiction characters doing Science Fiction things in a Science Fiction world.  It’s a one-dimensional systematization  driven by a marketing paradigm that internet shopping has made obsolete.

Lately the tendency has been to increase the numbers of genres without altering the basic linear structure of the concept.  Speculative Fiction gets broken down into Science Fiction and Fantasy, then Fantasy splits into Epic and Modern, and Modern Fantasy gives rise to Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance and Paranormal Romance undergoes mitosis into Shifter Romance and Fae Romance and so on ad infinitum.

This continual subdivision is like a Cantor dust–an infinite set of infinite sets that nonetheless leaves out everything.

Recently I encountered the term Slipstream, which seems to be a term for the literary set of all sets not included in other sets.  A brief look at the works considered to be Slipstream Fiction includes most of my main influences–William Burroughs, Phillip Dick, George Alec Effinger, Tim Powers, Samuel Delany, Thomas Disch, Umberto Eco, even as far back as my hero of heroes, G K Chesterton.

Consequently, I am going to start referring to my work as Slipstream Fiction.  It’s not a genre, it’s a refusal to abide by the conventions of any genre, a nod to my ontologically perverse imagination.  Any time that I encounter a wall I have a pathological need to break it down, climb over it, or if prevented from doing either of those, simply bang my head against it until someone comes and leads me away to a more open part of the asylum.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Writing, Who I am and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to If You Like It Then You Should Have Glued Some Gears On It

  1. Betty Burnett says:

    love it 😊

    Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2015 11:18:30 +0000
    To: bettyburnett@msn.com

  2. The ever-increasing number of sub (sub sub sub) genres annoys me. I suspect much of it is an attempt by some (mostly indie?) authors to create private niches where their stories can reign supreme due to lack of ANY rivals. I like having broad categories, but the finer they get sliced, the more confusion as to what is even meant by those labels. (“No, no — THIS isn’t urban fantasy, because it has no vampires!” And then I’d have to beat that person to death with a copy of War for the Oaks, and I’d probably het in trouble for that…) *sigh*

    Given what you write, I think slipstream is the best thing to call it. Also, the term isn’t common enough for the Trendy Kids to rush in and take over and start making lists of what is and isn’t allowed to be called slipstream based on the latest movies of that genre…

    The title of this post had me worried: Has someone been telling this author to make all of his stories over-the-top cliché… steampunk?!? *shudder* (Oh, how I long for the day when we have real airships in the skies again and all the “If it has an airship, it’s steampunk — EVERYTHING is steampunk!” kids have to shit down and shut up because the real world.)

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It would guess that it takes fewer sales to get to the top of the Time Travelling Firefighter Gay Erotic Romance* list than say, Courtroom Drama, so there may be something to what you say.

      And no, no one suggested that I go Steampunk (although I have loved the look since before it had a name–when I was a kid I wanted to be Captain Nemo when I grew up and became a locksmith largely because it’s a field where the technology was largely Victorian when I entered it.)

      *Now I want to write a story about a modern Chicago firefighter who is hit on the head and wakes up on October 10th, 1871 and must use his modern skills to try to save the lives of a group of strapping, ill-clothed, and potentially very grateful young men trapped in the burning YMCA.

      • Somewhere there is a market for this idea… probably a large one. And you’re practically guaranteed to become a #1 Amazon Bestseller (In Category, of course.) 😉

  3. Pingback: If You Like It Then You Should Have Glued Some Gears On It | mishaburnett - A Writer's Journey

  4. larryhogue says:

    Check out http://interfictions.com/, the Journal of Interstitial Arts.

  5. sknicholls says:

    About banging your head on the wall: It feels so good when you stop. Marketing and writing commercially suck the joy out for me. I’m still struggling with genre conventions. I want to tell a fascinating story. I really don’t care what where it falls in someone else’s definition of genre.

  6. My worst nightmare is when a non-writer – actually, scratch that – when anyone one asks “So what type of book is it?” and then I feel compelled to come up with some neat genre niche, and finish up adding endless variations of “But it’s not actually just…” and so on. Bleh.

    On another related note – and I think you and Thomas will appreiate this – this week I came across a massive SFF review site that has every possible imaginable (and unimaginable) genre listed. I’ve only just got the hang of the ‘rules’ for steampunk, and now discovered there is such a thing as …Arcanepunk.

    Er, pardon me?

    And it has rules, too. Apparently, I don’t comply.

  7. lalouziane says:

    Reblogged this on Swamp Sass and commented:
    Love this. Reblogged on SwampSass.
    I am not sure what genre I write in either. It’s romance, action/adventure and I thought… paranormal romance. Then somebody told me it was definitely sci fi. lol

  8. As a reader, I’m fond of subgenres, mainly as a defense against misleading marketing blurbs. Booksellers or reviewers sometimes place a book in a genre I wish to avoid, such as romance, when the blurb makes no mention of such content.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      And there is much to be said for that. However, I think that genre should be descriptive, not prescriptive. Once a book is written the task of getting it to the proper audience begins, but I think that writing to fit a bunch of rules is putting the cart before the horse.

  9. jenanita01 says:

    Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes and commented:
    agree with you entirely…

  10. I’ve personally never minded genres, in terms of a large sweeping description of basic elements; “romance” means it’s going to be lovey-dovey, sci-fi means technology and rules governing that technology, horror means people are going to die or poop themselves, western means there’s a guy with a gun and a horse (or a bow and arrow, or a gun and a motorcycle, or whatever), and so on.

    It’s when people started deciding that “Well, if this is sci-fi, you can’t have that horse!” or “But it’s horror, so people can’t kiss!” and when, in response, roughly 8,000,000 “subgenres” that get steadily more ridiculously specific were born, that I began to have issues.

    If you ever want to laugh, start clicking randomly through Amazon and checking the subgenres of books. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in there is your gay, time-traveling fireman as a “legitimate” category; which only serve for some people to say “I was #1 on Amazon!”… thus rendering the phrase and “award” useless. Ugh. Drives me nuts.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I agree that as a description, genre is okay–it lets readers know, in broad outline, what to expect. If I’m in the mood for a mystery or horror novel, it helps me to be able to have a word to search for.

      As you say, it’s when genre starts being used to exclude story elements that I have a problem. Firefly had horses (and cows) but was definitely science fiction. Clive Barker includes lots of kissing in his books, but is unquestionably a horror writer.

      • It’s amusing to me that you mention Firefly, because I really would call it a Western, m’self. XD But I think it’s one of those “chocolate in my peanut butter/peanut butter in my chocolate” things, so it’s probably safe either way.

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