Friday, August 9, 2013

On Genre: Dystopian vs. Sci-Fi

Monday, I wrote on what I feel is the exact difference between fantasy and paranormal.

Today, I want to go into more detail, and outline two more genres: dystopian and sci-fi.

Genre has always seemed like a strict rule, with clear boundaries: there is this, and there is that. But with more and more hybrid books and sub-genres out there, genre strikes me as less a strict rule and more an ambiguous identity, where the boundary between two genres is one thing to one person and something completely different to another.

What does that mean? What effect does that have on literature? You already see the influence: think of books labeled wrong. I once read a book I thought was strictly paranormal... until I realized it was romance, with paranormal elements. But the summary didn't mention any romance -- the central element -- at all! (needless to say, I was a bit ticked off.)

The beauty of it, though, is that you draw the line. Usually, I think the author's right, or the publisher or the bookstore/library, in deciding genre. It's a lot easier to walk through a library and let a book catch your eye when it's labelled with that purple unicorn that means fantasy, or the two hearts that mean romance. Because, well they've read the book.

And after YOU'VE read it, you can sort that book into what you think its genre is, in your little mental library.
(Did anyone else automatically think of Sherlock's "mind palace" when they read that? Ooh, a "mind library" where you store all the books you've ever read and sort them into the genres you think they are.)

[Anyways. Back to my genres -- as a disclaimer, I say again: this has little to nothing to do with AGE GROUPS. I realize there can be some elements or tropes different between YA and, say, MG, within the same genre. And I read mostly YA, so my opinions are decidedly biased toward YA, but I do think, overall, it applies to all age groups.]

def. -- type of fiction that often focuses on technology, with a sub-focus on society or worlds. A different world, but little to no magic or supernatural elements like in fantasy. A lot like dystopian, but less focused on the negative aspects and it's a lot older as a genre. 
often seen -- new types of weapons (light sabers, etc); new types of conveniences or luxuries; the kick-butt hero whose sides are dripping with weapons; future or otherworldly settings
common plots -- saving the world, high-action-y sort. (I admit, I don't read as much sci-fi. Sorry.)
Examples: Star Wars, War of the Worlds, (Doctor Who? It's a bit hazy, with the paranormal elements)

Some Science-Fiction Sub Genres:
  • Sci-fi/fantasy, where those two genres mix. (Decently common, especially in YA.)
  • Steampunk, where history and science fiction meet! (That sounded like an ad.)
  • Dystopian/sci-fi, where there's a balance in focus on government and technology. 
def. -- type of fiction that focuses on government and society, typically set in the future. Specifically, it focuses on the negatives or downsides of a certain government/society, with a sub-focus on the downsides of technology.
often seen -- war, death, brainwashing; set in the future of an already existing society (ex: America); struggling, world-weary, rebellious characters
common plots -- overthrowing a government; saving the world; struggling to remain a human in inhumane societal conditions.
Examples: The Hunger Games, numerous YA novels or novels from the 20th c. looking forward (ex: Animal  Farm/1984, two of Orwell's novels)

Some Dystopian Sub Genres:
  • Sci-fi/dystopian, because these two are pretty interwoven.
  • Dystopian fantasy, in which fantasy elements -- such as magic or otherworldly settings -- are included.
  • Dystopian romance, in which characters struggle to maintain a relationship in a strict or inhumane societal condition.  

These two genres, to me, are very interrelated and the boundary's even more ambiguous than others. I think the pulse here is that dystopian highlights the negative aspects of a way of being, while sci-fi will focus more on technology and futuristic society and is less... how do I say it... negative-oriented. Dystopian is a warning for the future; sci-fi is action that happens to be set in futuristic elements.

How about you? Where do you draw the line between these two? And what do you think on the boundaries between genres?

Have a blessed Friday!

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