Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Things I like #5: smashing genres together

Aside from both being really good space operas, Elizabeth Bear's novel Dust and Ian McDonald's novella "The Days of Solomon Gursky" don't really have a whole lot in common. There is a connection, though, and with hindsight its so obvious I'm kicking myself for not noticing it sooner: although both are clearly science fiction, they've both got a healthy dose of fantasy mixed in.

I'm not just talking Clarke's Law ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"), although there's certainly some of that in there. I mean that each of them appropriates some of the trappings and stylistic conventions of fantasy. Dust has warring noble houses, a quest, mythical creatures (well, technology dressed up as a mythical creatures). "The Days of Solomon Gursky", in its later chapters, starts to feel as much like mythology as science fiction.

That's the connection it took me a silly amount of time to see: genre-mashing. I think the thing that clarified it for me was reading Greg Bear's Hull Three Zero. It was a much straighter science fiction novel, despite (I feel) plenty of opportunity to throw something else into the mix. And it just didn't capture my imagination like Dust did.

It doesn't just have to be science fiction and fantasy, either. The books that got me back into reading science fiction were Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space and Chasm City, both space operas smooshed with gothic horror. China Mieville seems to specialise in this sort of thing. Karl Schroeder's Virga series of novels, Finch by Jeff Vandermeer, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. A great many of the novels that have left me feeling like I just read something really exciting whacked genres against each other.

I really have no idea how difficult it is to write something like this. I suspect very. But I'm going to have to try. I wonder if it is something that the authors set out to do consciously? I'd guess yes for Lies of Locke Lamora and maybe Dust, but perhaps no for the Alastair Reynolds novels, but those really are guesses.

Yeah, I know, there's not a lot of deep insight in this post. I suppose time will tell whether that's because I'm just starting out at this sort of thing, or because I lack the capacity for insight. I'm hoping for the former!

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