Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My neighbourhood is undergoing genrification

The Erudite Ogre today led me to a series of musings by various folks - Catherynne Valente and Cheryl Morgan herein name-dropped to drive pageviews and develop e-popularity - about the term "speculative fiction" and who hates it and who likes it and why. Well! I think I've already gnashed this subject to bits before but I haven't blogged recently so


There's a video somewhere on the Internet where Chuck Schuldiner, the musician behind the revolutionary metal band Death, rejects his band being labelled death metal and criticizes the dicing of metal into "heavy," "power," "black," "doom," "death," "industrial," and et cetera; in other words, criticizing genre. Schuldiner says (something like), "If you're playing metal, you're playing metal. And that's it."

Maybe that's not exactly how the video clip goes, but that's how it's stuck with me because that's how it rang with me: metal is metal. Similarly, when it comes to fantasy and science fiction, it's fantasy and science fiction; you can conjure up all sorts of names to make yourself different, but sooner or later you'll have to rely, not on the familiar elements that a particular genre is known for, but what you can add to it that is new and different - i.e., outside the pale of the current canon.

Excuse me, but I am desperately
in search of categorization.
This kind of scheme is problematic, because on the one hand, genrification helps give us the frame of reference to understand the basic underpinnings of a specific work: neither "fantasy" nor "science fiction" adequately indicates the elements that make steampunk steampunk. But on the other hand, knocking up your writing with a title like "speculative fiction" or "hard SF" - to distinguish it, of course, from those of us who need prescription drugs to get our science on - is pretty much big-time lame. My last band, which mixed elements of death, black, and thrash metal with progressive jazz, doom/drone, and acoustic stylings, was self-referentially "heavy [expletive deleted] metal." We demonstrated on stage what we were doing; we didn't need fancy titles to lay claim to an invented originality. And writers need to do the same.

That said, I am a base and callous person and I like to trot my writing out as New Weird. Ostensibly, a lot of the New Weirdos I like to read don't consider themselves thusly; and some of them are considered just plain "fantasists." (Aside: My personal definition of New Weird might, right now, but not later when you read this, read as, roughly, not-steampunk-soft-science-no-dragons). Admittedly, I write various kinds of fiction that can easily be pigeonholed as straightup fantasy or space western sans gras. But, when pressed to explain myself, I like to say:

"Yeah, you know, I be writing some weird stuff."

At least that way, I don't walk away worrying that the people I've just met are imagining me gallivanting in the park on Saturdays dressed in chainmail.

Because I just bought a suit of full plate and that's, like, way better AC.



  1. If I understand the term correctly, Old Weird is Lovecraft, New Weird is China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer, & Newer Weird is you.

    Unless you prefer Paleo-Weird, Neo-Weird and Post- Neoweird, respectively.

  2. The problem is sometimes I'm New Conventional, or Conventionally Weird, or New Boring. But I'd like, in the future, to be called the New Wave of Avant-Weird.

  3. And upon your pedestal shall these words appear: "I am New-Wave-Avant-Weird, King of Things. Look Upon my Works Ye Might, and Despair."

  4. Must... play... Civilization... IV!

  5. When I tell people I write "sci-fi" they wrinkle their noses at me in disdain. When I say "speculative fiction" they say "Huh?" So, like you, I stick to "weird stuff" and they leave me alone.

  6. In my experience, "speculative fiction" encompasses both fantasy and scifi, but is mostly used by those who write something within that arena but, for whatever reason (often they fancy themselves "literary" and look down their noses at genre) they don't want to admit it. That's why I don't like to use it unless I'm having trouble classifying a story. But, like you said, I usually don't really care to clasify that badly.

  7. I embrace saying "I write Speculative Fiction" for convenience.

    It's quicker than saying:
    "I write Science Fiction colon Alternate History comma Hard S F comma Space Opera comma Biopunk and Political S F slash Fantasy colon Magical Realism comma Urban Fantasy comma Industrial Fantasy and Non dash Medieval Era Fantasy slash Romance colon Historical and See above. Also sometimes Literary Fiction."