Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[guest post: Michael J. Martinez] Dear God, not another genre-blender

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the cover of The Daedalus Incident, which is really nice, though somewhat misplaced. I didn’t draw it; Sparth did, and the folks at Night Shade Books came up with the design elements. Every now and again, though, I get some confusion about the cover. It’s…different, after all. My host on this very blog thought it was steampunk – understandable given the fonts and the sepia tones. Indeed, the folks at Library Journal used steampunk in their description accompanying the starred review of the book (which gives me a convenient excuse to link to the review, of course).

But there’s no steam in The Daedalus Incident, and neither of the two settings in the book are in the typical Victorian era one might expect. I admit, The Daedalus Incident is a hard book to describe. When I’m asked, I usually just say that I’m crashing an 18th century Royal Navy frigate into 22nd century Mars. That’s usually enough for eyes to go wide, smiles to appear and follow-up questions to be asked, and that’s all I can ask. But it’s not time-travel. It’s…a genre-blender.When you think about it, steampunk itself is a genre-blender: a combination of alternate history and science fiction. More recently, it’s been inflected with the occasional horror and fantasy tropes. I can think of at least two books off the top of my head that could be described as steampunk-urban-fantasy-horror…which seems cumbersome, I admit.

But then, if I were to list genre descriptions for my own book, I think I’d end up with alternate-history-alchemypunk-space-opera crossed with hard/military SF…and you may un-cross your eyes as soon as you’re able after reading that. It sounds like a lot to get one’s head around.

I think the problem with SF/F novels that purport to combine various genres is that they can easily fall into setting traps. Relying solely on the interesting dissonance of the combined setting elements – without really building it out into a full setting, let alone a full story – results in a very shallow work that quickly wears out its welcome once the novelty wanes.

When you take a sailing ship and put it in space, but don’t give it the depth of setting, plot and character to make it really work, you end up with, say, Treasure Planet. What I wanted to do was to give the idea that depth. I wanted to know why and how my sailing ships voyaged between worlds…and that led, I hope, to a setting that doesn’t just blend genres, but defies them except in the broadest terms.

That, I think, is the real promise of genre blending. It’s not just shuffling the deck, picking four cards, and ending up with faerie-werewolf-romance-cyberpunk. It’s creating something from the tried-and-true elements of SF/F that’s refreshingly new, well thought-out, and ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

And someday, just as steampunk has become its own subgenre, maybe these new blends become accepted parts of the SF/F canon and become an inspiration to the next generation of writers. That’s ambitious, and maybe my book isn’t the one to break that ground, but an author can dream, right?

So maybe there’s a book out there that’s a strange brew of genres. But check it out…it may be something altogether different and new.


[Thanks, Michael, for stopping by!]

1 comment:

Paul Weimer said...

I have seen a number of genre-benders this year. I think you're on the upward wave of yet another cycle.