The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing?

Now, I’m a geek – and one version of geekhood delights in the categorization and proper naming of things.  Among the various kinds of geekhood I subscribe to… that is one of them.  I like the proper categorization of things as much as the next category-geek.  But I’m also something of a Speculative Fiction omnivore.  With relatively few exceptions (full disclosure: Twilight and your ilk, I’m thinking of you right now), I cannot recall having declined to read a particular Speculative Fiction novel because of it’s subgenre.  That’s the lesson I learned after resisting reading the Harry Potter books for a couple years at first.  As long as a book falls somewhere under the greater aegis of Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi, I’m game to give it a shot, with the caveat that time is limited and I’m already way behind on a teeming horde of excellent speculative fiction that I want to read (partly on account of the three-year reading hiatus called “getting my MBA”).

And, it seemed to me, a lot of the speculative fiction fans I know are similarly omnivorous.  We have our preferred pet genres (Fantasy, for me), but we’re generally not allergic to any particular given subgenre of our greater genre community.  Now, I know there are your “Hard Sci-Fi Die Hards”, for instance, who won’t even look at your book unless you have an advanced technical degree and your book promises to contain complex formulas and plausible technical specifications in fictional format.  Every genre has a few grognards¹.   But in my experience – and experience is worth pretty little when you’re talking about markets and audience – the genre grognards are a tiny minority of the greater Speculative Fiction reading community.  If my experience is anything resembling reality, the vast majority of Speculative Fiction readers are, like me, omnivorous with few exceptions.

I’m open to the possibility that my experience does not paint a full picture.  I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case.  But I still find it hard to conceive of a world where the Speculative Fiction reading community is truly and nigh fully fractured: with Epic Fantasy readers, and Hard Sci-Fi readers, and Space Opera readers, and Steampunk readers, and Military SF readers, and New Weird readers, and so on, and never the many to meet.  Were it so, how could we have such mightily successful, multi-genre and all-nerd-embracing cons such as “Dragon*Con” or (as it is, these days) ComicCon (which has almost as much to do with Comics exclusively as Dragon*Con has to do with Dragons exclusively), and so on?  Rather, even if there is some division, the fandoms are intermingled and varied and generally open and inviting.  You can have Stormtroopers together in the same room as Vulcans, and Victorian adventurers, and Elves and Knights without any of them coming to blows or proclaiming their superiority over the others.

Still, I know the folly of trying to make generalizations about an audience or a market without data.  That’s part of what I studied in my MBA class.  One of the highlights of my MBA was a class centered on data-driven marketing approaches, which was all about using data to better understand a market or audience in order to better serve and/or market to that audience.  So, yes, I’d love to see some real data about the audience for readers of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and all of the countless Speculative Fiction genres.  But in the absence of that data, I have to assume that the largest segment of this population is generally non-specific, in any minute detail, as to the genres they’re open to reading.  Because with few exceptions (the phrase of the day!), that’s what my experience tells me.

And the end-user marketing, at the retail level, doesn’t seem to disagree with that conclusion.  Walk into a bookstore.  I challenge you to find a separate “Hard SF” versus “Military SF” section, or a separate “Epic Fantasy” versus “Sword & Sorcery section.  Over most of my life, I wouldn’t even find a separate “Sci Fi” versus “Fantasy” section: all of speculative fiction was usually shelved together in the Sci Fi section.  These days you’re more likely to find a separate Fantasy section right next to the Sci Fi section than in the past.  More recently, I did see a separate “Paranormal Romance” section, which I think makes sense since I don’t believe there’s really very much overlap between the greater Speculative Fiction audience and the Paranormal Romance audience.  It is only the trappings and aesthetics of the former which inform the latter, but the readers often have very different expectations.  What’s more… most Speculative Fiction books will give only a few clues to differentiate from one sub-genre to another.  You won’t find on the spine more of an indication, typically, than a book being either Sci Fi or Fantasy.  Cover art, and sometimes back-copy, are often the only indicators a reader will have, but there is a lot of cross-over in terms of aesthetics and techniques and symbolic representations for cover-art for Speculative Fiction.  An airship or goggles means Steampunk, a woman in tight-fitting leather clothing in a sultry pose with a medieval weapon in an urban environment means Urban Fantasy, and so on, but there is a lot of room for playing with expectations there.  These are images – art – not scientific binomial nomenclature.

That’s a lot to absorb, but it’s a long way of saying that I suddenly became skeptical of the importance of defining the genre of what we writers write in that minutest detail

Towards the end of Misty’s article, she says this:

If you recognize your work in what I’ve said, you’re probably writing high fantasy. But wait a second – high fantasy breaks down into further subgenres, and I’ll get into those next time.

Whoa.  Sub-genres of High and Epic Fantasy?  Which, itself, is a subgenre of Fantasy which, if we want to be purely technical, is a subgenre of Speculative Fiction?  A sub-sub-sub-genre? 

That’s a pretty granular level of detail.  Perhaps too granular.

If the greater Speculative Fiction community is already pretty open about its genre preferences, how much do we really need to classify a work to the level of “Epic Fantasy Type A” versus “Epic Fantasy Type B” and so on?

To a certain degree, though, it makes some sense.  For one, as is pointed out in the article, inside the publishing industry, these distinctions matter: to Agents, to Editors, to the Marketing Department.  I understand that – again, both as a geek and as a writer with an MBA with a focus on analysis, marketing, and data.  The nuance can matter – and inasmuch as a larger publisher might actually have a significant amount of data on the specifics of its audience, it can matter a lot.

Some of the ways it matters²: some agents only read specific genres or sub-genres.  Don’t bother submitting your story to an agent who does not represent your sub-genre.  The marketing department needs to know what kind of cover art to acquire for the book (to send that subtle genre cue to the potential reader).  And even for omnivorous speculative fiction readers, one commenter on that article made this point, which I paraphrase: “If I’ve just read a glut of Epic Fantasy, I may want to experience something different.  I might want to read another Epic Fantasy again later, but right now I want something else.”  Some of the professional writers stressed the importance of being able to say what, exactly, you are writing.

I ended up leaving a long comment on the article, however, with my own assertions about the importance of genre.  It’s not that I discount the importance of knowing in what genre you write.  But it’s even more important to understand your audience.  Your audience is not your genre.  When you are submitting your work, trying to attract the attention of agents and editors, your audience is agents and editors.  To that audience, the specific detail of  your genre quite apparently matters, and a great deal.  When you’re writing on your blog about your book, hoping to attract the attention of current and future readers, your audience is the reading public.  The expectations of those audiences are different.  And that difference is meaningful – and I think it’s meaningful when you’re discussing genre, as well.  In my comment, I said this:

At a certain level of hyper-specificity, however, I start to feel silly. Saying that a story I wrote is, for example, “contemporary pastoral/rural ironic fantasy” seems a little excessive and requires far too much explanation as to what each of the qualifiers means, and in marketing terms if I have to start explaining what I mean by that to a reader, I fear I’ve already lost the battle. The attention span of your average consumer doesn’t last that long, and categorizing a work in a hyper-specific genre label is probably too mentally taxing when you’ve got something like 10 seconds to make a positive impression. So I believe that simple, easy-to-understand and slightly broader genre labels are more useful in a marketing-to-consumer context – something more likely at the “Epic Fantasy” level than the “Urban Epic Fantasy/Steampunk Crossover” level. That’s my gut instinct, anyway.

I still believe that’s true.  I don’t want to get lost in a long explanation about the nuances of my genre with a potential reader when all I really want is to entice them enough to pick up my book and give it a try.  If I lose them because my genre is so narrowly and specifically defined that I have to explain what it is before I can even begin to tell them about the book, I fear that’s too specific.  Some readers will want that specificity.  I think most don’t.  For those that do, I’d be happy to get hyper-specific with them in a full-on classification geek-out.  For those that don’t, I don’t want to lose them.

If I was wrong – and I’m not sure how I would find out whether I was right or wrong – and it turned out that the high level of specificity was actually preferred by the majority of Speculative Fiction readers, I’d have to adjust my thinking.  Right or wrong, I’d dearly love to have evidence – data – demonstrating one way or the other.  And I’m happy to amend my prescription for how to interact differently with our different audiences – whether our professional, industry-insider audience or our general readership audience.  After all, if my long-term goal is to have readers read my books, I’m going to have to learn how best to interact with everybody who’s part of the process in making that happen, and to do it right.

At the end of the day – and I will here grossly generalize and paraphrase the advice of some of the published writers at Magical Words – you’ve got to write your story and worry about the specifics and nuance of how to label and market it later.  Maybe that’s not wholly correct.  You’ll probably have some idea of the broader genre category into which your story will fall.  But the fine-level detail… maybe you can sweat that later.

What about you?  Do you worry about the specific, minute detail of  your genre?  What do you say when someone asks what kind of story you’re writing?³  Do you read only a few very specific sub-genres, or are you more of an omnivore?  How important is it to you to know what sub-genre or sub-sub-genre a book is in before you’ll read it?  Tell me everything.


¹A word, I realize, that may be unfamiliar to some readers, “grognard” ultimately comes from French and means “an old soldier/veteran”.  In the Role-playing Game and Wargame community the term has come to be an old-timer who’s been playing the games since their early introduction and who still prefers – usually exclusively – to play prior editions of a game, even after rules updates have streamlined and vastly improved the game.  In this instance, I generalize the term for use in genre discussions to refer to someone who fastidiously clings to their own very narrow definition of a particular genre, – even when the publishing, reading, and fandom worlds have moved on – and religiously reads only that which conforms to that definition.  I don’t exactly use the term approvingly, but neither is it pejorative.  People like what they like, and you can’t fault them for that.  I just find it sad when they some folks aren’t willing to expand their horizons – sad because I’ve been there, and then I realized how limiting my horizons were, and when I expanded them, I was happier.  Even so, there are some lines you just can’t ask someone to cross: see, for instance, the above-reference to Twilight.  It’s unlikely I’ll ever read Twilight – but I will defend it as being exactly the right sort of fiction at the right time for an audience that was underserved by the market.  It’s an audience that may seem, thematically, to overlap with the greater Speculative Fiction crowd, but which actually includes a substantial subset of people who most probably are not and never will be counted in the fandom of the Speculative Fiction community.

²One of the ways a fine level of detail on sub-genre can matter, I realize, is at the margins where genres cross-over, but I couldn’t get this to fit into the general flow of my post.  By this I mean when multiple generic tags can apply to the same piece of work, such like Harry Potter is (a) YA, (b) High Fantasy, and (c) a British Boarding School story.  Any and all of these genre labels can apply, and applying them all creates a sub-sub-sub-genre that is effectively a cross-over of all of the above.  You can take any genre or sub-genre of Speculative Fiction and apply a genre label from outside the Speculative Fiction family and come up with a new sub-sub-sub-genre label.  For instance, take Urban Fantasy and add Noir.  You can keep elements, themes, and tropes from an almost limitless number of other genres to create some sort of hideous mutant-hybrid-chimera-genre.  And, chances are, you’ll still find an audience who’d read it.

³My own answer to the “what genre do you write” question I answered in my comment on Misty’s article this way: “I don’t fret or get stumped when asked what I write. Generally I just say “Fantasy”. And it seems like most people know what that means. Some people default that to meaning ‘high fantasy’ or ‘epic fantasy’, which wouldn’t bother me since mostly my work is in those sub-categories, but generally I find people are familiar with the idea of ‘stories with magic in it’ as a catch-all definition for Fantasy. [i.e. that ‘Fantasy’ is understood as short-hand for ‘magic and mythology’ more now than as just ‘Tolkienian rip-off’, which apparently is what it once meant.] If particular work is in some other specific sub-category, I may label it specifically as “contemporary fantasy” or whatever it is. Usually though, with most people I find I have to explain what that specific sub-category is, because people are more familiar with the broad-level categories than with the narrow, specific categories.”


19 thoughts on “The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

  1. This is awesome. I am currently staring at my computer screen in pure awe. I’d like to make a more valuable comment, but my brain needs some time to process. So I’ll be back. I just wanted to comment on your awesomeness before I wander off to mull it over.

    (As a note, I write Urban Fantasy (there’s sub-genres of that? really?). I read pretty much any type of sci-fi or fantasy going, although try to steer clear of paranormal romance, which has more in common with general romance than para-anything.)

    • Yeah, it’s amazing, but you can divide and subdivide and subdivide almost every genre ad infinitum – but I just have trouble believing that readers, as a general rule, care that much about such multiplicity of subdivisions. I agree about paranormal romance: it owes more to the romance side of the equation than the paranormal. That’s why I think it’s a legitimately new category, because it serves an audience that isn’t fully served either by the old romance category or the speculative fiction categories.

  2. I should point out that my posting of this article today is not meant to be in contradiction to, challenge to, or otherwise in any other way meant to be a negative reaction to the article I linked, or to the fine professional authors who maintain the site and offered their own opinions on the subject in the comments to that article. Rather, the article made me think, and I believe thinking deeply about some subjects is worth doing. My thoughts were pretty involved, and I’d already gone on too long in my comments there, so I felt I needed a full blog post of my own to parse my thinking fully.

    I’m very glad that the authors at Magical Words are able to provide the insight and analysis that they do, giving us a view from the inside of the publishing industry. I might not have known, for instance, just how important the complexity of genre was to industry insiders without this article. But it did give me further reason to see a bit of a difference between the business of the writing world versus the art of writing itself…

  3. Great post Stephen! It is a complicated matter, and the more I examine genre and subgenre, the more I see that the categorizations are often fluid, bleed together or overlap. As a reader, I really don’t care what subgenre I’m reading. I read omnivorously, and will try reading most genres. I don’t really have a favorite subgenre of SF/F. As a writer, I only think about genre on a broad scale, and take a closer look if I need to sell something (submissions guidelines). The reason I started the genre glossary was not to have a list of genres to write to, but to understand what submission guidelines mean when they say they’re open to several particular genres/subgenres.

    Personally, I think it’s a disservice to make a writer feel obligated to write in one particular genre box, when the boxes are really changing, being redefined, and not really box shaped at all.

    • I agree completely. One of the commenters on the linked post asked basically the same thing: is there a definitive source, somewhere out there, that tells exactly what all those subgenres are? The answer: no there is not. And your comment gets to why: because the genres and subgenres are ever-changing, fluid, and dynamic. It’s kind of a bizarre shibboleth in the publishing industry for genre fiction: you have to know your genre, apparently, to navigate your work through the publishing industry intermediaries… but because they are so fluid and changeable there’s no one who can say “this belongs to this and that belongs to that” with any realistic authority. There is no true, final authority or arbiter of genre, except as generally accepted by the common wisdom – but that common wisdom is pretty hard to tap into sometimes. (As an example, the Steampunk Scholar in this post argues that “Steampunk” is not a genre in part because there are so many arguments about what is and is not Steampunk – that is, what can and cannot be included in the genre. Unstated, but implied, is the idea upon which this article is predicated that genre boundaries are clear and easily defined, which is simply not the case.) So it helps to have an idea of what you’re writing in when you’re trying to sell and market – and to that end projects like your Genre Definition project or Misty’s genre project upon which she is starting are very helpful and useful.

      But I agree wholeheartedly that as a writer you can’t force yourself to bend around the strictures of a pure genre lable: you have to be able to write what is in your heart, because that is the only way you’ll tell a story worth telling. And hearts cannot be contained in neat little boxes, either.

  4. You know, I hate categorization just as much as I love it. On one hand I hate throwing myself or my work into a box or being labeled because of the general associations and assumptions that may come with those labels and don’t necessarily apply to me, but I do realize it’s sometimes necessary to give people an idea of what they can expect from me. In my limited experience, getting into specifics right off the bat is usually not a good idea, though it really depends on who I’m talking to. Having a brief pitch and sharing what genre I think my novel fits into does help immensely because it allows me to quickly gauge whether others are interested or not. If I still get that “oh, you write fantasy” look even after I give my pitch, then I don’t even bother going into the more specific characteristics or deeper aspects of my story.

    When I do come across friends or people who ask additional questions, then I know I can share those aspects I feel will set me apart from most other fantasy writers. “It’s inspired by the late 1930s…it’s got airships and early airplanes…kind of dieselpunk (which I usually have to explain)… toys with the idea of elemental magic in conjunction with psychic abilities—oh, and a bit of espionage adventure thrown in, as well…” Usually I just don’t get that specific unless someone asks more about it.

    As for reading, I’ve been pretty specific in what I choose to read lately. Since I’m a slow reader, I actually feel I need to be this way. Every book I choose is either because I think it could help me write a better novel/series or because it’ll give me a closer look at other novels that are similar to the one I’m working on—or both. However, this doesn’t keep me from reading outside of my mother genre. I am just as much interested in non-fiction reading as I am fiction, or historical fiction as I am sf/f. (Romance? Not so much, lol.) Even so, within these groups I tend to prefer books that have airships or earlier forms of aircraft in them (steampunk often pops up here), espionage, the paranormal, and/or an early 1900s setting—because that combination is the kind of story I want to see on the shelves someday.

    In a way, I guess I’m just trying to get a feel for what’s out there (compared to my work) and what’s been done before, though more importantly what hasn’t been done before. And the best way I know how to do this, while still reading for enjoyment, is by limiting my reading pool to works (ferreted out by research) that are relevant or similar to what I’m currently working on. I get the feeling that I’m working within a fairly uncommon niche of the speculative spectrum, so it helps to know what’s out there in other (sub)genres, too (since I’m combining elements of more than one), in addition to any common conventions I should be aware of because those could be elements that my potential audience might expect to see if I am published—depending on how the book is marketed.

    So in that way, the minutiae of subgenres are important to me for the purpose of building a sense of identity for my work, which borrows from more than one (sub)genre.

    • In a way, what you are doing is using the diversity of subgenres as a mechanism of inspiration, as an idea factory. When you start mashing things up, like you’re doing, I’m not sure that makes it any easier to be clear to any given audience exaclty what you’re writing. The approach you talk about, though, where you give them a little, then wait for the “tell me more” and give them another bit – that makes more sense to me. If I say “I write Fantasy” – those who know and care will ask for more detail. Those who don’t aren’t really going to be interested in a sub-sub-genre of Fantasy anyway. I guess what worries me, then, are the people on the fence – those for whom “fantasy” is non-threatening but for whom “Dark Epic Fantasy/Steampunk/New Weird” is vaguely uncertain and off-putting…

  5. Pingback: Monday’s Top 5 | The Happy Logophile

  6. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t even use terms like “epic fantasy” and “new weird” unless I was talking to another writer or someone in the business because in that circle it would make sense to use such descriptions for the purpose of quickly communicating the general “feel” a novel (though not so much the story itself). I think it’s a bit of a toss-up beyond that arena.

    I can’t remember where, but I was reading a forum where one guy said he actually doesn’t tell people what he’s writing up front; first he asks them what they like to read then tailors his pitch to appeal to their tastes. In a way, I can see how this might work, but at the same time it seems dishonest to me. If I ask you what kind of novel you’re working on and then you turn around and ask me what I like to read, then (1) I’m going to know right away that you’re trying to work angles like a car salesman and (2) I’m going to take that as a sign of manipulation because I don’t even really know you, for starters (well, not you, Stephen, just whoever, heh). I don’t like being around car salesmen, by default, and I don’t like to be manipulated, so this method would be an immediate turn-off for me as a potential reader.

    About mishmashing, I do have a tendency to mix things like this, even beyond writing, heh (particularly with interior design). No, it doesn’t make communicating my concepts any easier, but that’s all part of the challenge, I suppose, when synthesizing and “selling” new(ish) ideas. Though, the style of the world I’m writing about isn’t exactly the story itself, so it’s the summarized story aspect, or premise, that I try to communicate initially—main character(s), plot goal, and overall concept. Then I can tell people more about the details of the world if they’re interested.

    And I think that’s were many subgenre labels comes in handy with explaining stories with uncommon settings is to communicate a more specific flavor or style of the story and its world while genre gives you a broad idea of the story type.

    I’m actually really looking forward to Misty’s take on the various “punk” styles, btw, after reading her article. I didn’t even know that publishers actually acknowledged dieselpunk, haha. (It still seems rather fringe to me.) All of this has been churning in the back of my mind for some time now because I have grown fond of the term and idea behind it, though I’m not sure how acceptable it would be to use the label. I’d like to, though I don’t know how helpful or effective it would be as far as the “selling” aspect goes.

    *sighs* For now, I’ll just focus on getting this darn novel done, heh.

    • I’ll agree on the used-car-salesman technique. That’s why I don’t mince words. I write Fantasy. Make of that what you will – if Fantasy floats your boat, then I will float your boat. If Fantasy isn’t your cup of tea, then I am probably not your cup of tea. If Fantasy is a Mixed Metaphor, then I am a Mixed Metaphor. 🙂 But the turn-around of “Hey, what do you like to read? Why, what a coincidence, that’s exactly what I’m writing!” is just kind of sleazy.

      That’s a good insight about flavors, though, and how specific sub-genres might speak more to a flavor of the fiction than an actual genre. I think that’s sort of what is meant when folks like the Steampunk Scholar argue that Steampunk is an Aesthetic, not a genre.

      And yes, Dieselpunk has been an established thing for a few years, now, I think. I recall having a conversation with a speculative fiction fan and academic friend of mine. I had mentioned Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan books, referring to them as Steampunk, but he felt that desgination was incorrect and it was actually Dieselpunk (and he said in the same conversation, a year or so ago, that from conversations with another friend of his they’d determined that Steampunk was already passé and Dieselpunk was the hot-new-thing; I don’t think that’s fully materialized yet, and I don’t think it will for some time to come, for many reasons). Technically that might be true, but even Westerfeld refers to those books as Steampunk. That’s why I’ve said before that the industry hasn’t yet sussed out whether Dieselpunk is wholly differential from Steampunk or is rather a subgenre or subtype of Steampunk (my academic friend said in the same conversation, this was a year or so ago, that Steampunk was already passé and Dieselpunk was the hot-new-thing; I don’t think that’s fully materialized yet, and I don’t think it will for some time to come, for many reasons). I think that’s a legitimate open question. But certainly, for those within the industry, you won’t raise too many eyebrows if you talk about Dieselpunk because most industry insiders should know what you’re talking about.

      • Oh, I think Steampunk still has plenty of mileage left in it, though it definitely seems to be one of those “jump on the bandwagon” things now, you know? Like a fad. I like steampunk, but I don’t like how it’s become a fad. Makes it seem kind of frivolous when you think of it that way.

        Does that even make sense? haha

        On another note, I’m glad that dieselpunk is openly discussed amongst the “insiders,” heh. That is very encouraging. (And I’m hoping it can develop along the lines that there’s more to it than just aesthetics. Not sure how that’ll play out, though!)

        Btw, you’re academic friend doesn’t happen to have a blog, does he? ^_^ (I would agree with him on Leviathan as far as the technology goes, though not necessarily aesthetically–kind of like with that new movie coming out, Hugo. Though, I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, heh.)

      • Yes, my academic friend does indeed keep a blog (though I believe it’s academically-focused) and has a twitter feed. In time, I think Dieselpunk will expand beyond the aesthetic level. In part, I think that’s why right now it’s sort of adjunct to Steampunk – thematically it’s not terribly different, and aesthetically it’s basically just Steampunk incremented temporally and technologically by a few decades. But I think there are thematic elements that will rise to the fore for Dieselpunk – in particular since Dieselpunk covers the interbellum period from WWI through WWII (with WWI being the fuzzy dividing line between Steam and Diesel, and overlapping both; meanwhile WWII is the fuzzy dividing line between Diesel and Atom…), issues of global war and peace will probably be one of the dominant thematic questions of Dieselpunk.

  7. For sure. Certainly true for my story!

    P.S.: bah! Misty’s not doing the punks ’til next week! >_< I'm gonna go see Harry Potter now. /randomness

    • Also, I don’t really think dieselpunk is “basically just Steampunk incremented temporally and technologically by a few decades,” but that’s probably a subgenre debate for another place and time…heh.

      • Sure. I say that only because I’m not sure Dieselpunk has a clear and separable theme from that of Steampunk as yet. Although… Steampunk stories don’t always have a strong and consistent theme either. (I think good ones do, but there’s a lot of Steampunk that dodges it.) As I’ve said before, long ago – before Steampunk or Dieselpunk or other retro-punks gained cultural cache – I understood the existence of an entirely different genre that encompassed both of what we now call Steampunk and Dieselpunk, and that’s Retrofuturism. Retrofuturism was basically the idea of an imaginary future as seen through the lense of our own present-day impressions of the past: or in other words what we would today imagine the future of the past to have looked like. Of course, since then Steampunk has come closer to straddling the line between Fantasy and Retrofuturism. And it looks like you’re going to do the same with Dieselpunk.

  8. Mary Robinette Kowal had an interesting take on genre and related a discussion that she had with her agent. One of their concerns was that novels lead to expectations in readers and can lead to the author writing most of their books within the same genre that they publish their first story. Therefore, she explicitly attempted to write in many different genres when she was writing short stories.

    I don’t know that I agree entirely on the expectations. I can see how it gets started, but I know that I like to write all over the place and I like to read that way too.

    • See, I agree with that: I like reading a variety of speculative fiction types – and I generally don’t pre-judge most varieties of speculative fiction based on genre alone, with a few specific exceptions. And occassionally I like writing a few different types as well. At least in my short story work, I’ve tried to vary the themes and styles a bit. Most of my novel-length ideas, however, do tend toward a certain variety of Fantasy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s