Friday, February 22, 2013


By Russel D McLean

This week I was lucky enough to read an ARC of Lauren Buekes' THE SHINING GIRLS. Its a genre-bending novel that is at once a serial killer thriller, a time travel masterpiece and something altogether a little weirder.

It grabbed my attention straight away.


Because it was taking risks. Because it was doing something very different. And because it was doing it well (although that was a bonus)

I do think that writers can often be pigeonholed into a genre, that they can be associated with one type of fiction and one type only. I think that they can sometimes be afraid to experiment. I think that sometimes their readers can be afraid, too.

Best example of someone always genre shifting is Iain Banks. He has two distinct fan bases, that do occasionally cross over. But it was interesting when tried to blur the two in TRANSITION, because suddenly people seemed not to know what to do, as though he had committed some grievous sin akin to crossing the DNA of a shark with that of a human being*. Really, folks? Because it dared to have elements of various genres, you threw up your hands in despair?

But its an old problem. I remember Banks talking with despair about readers who give up on perfectly good novels because they come across the word "space" and suddenly their brain shuts down.

And I remember some of the reactions to one of Chris Brookmyre's best novels, PANDAEMONIUM: "but there's deeeeemoooons! That's not realistic!" as though abseiling down a cliff-face using your enemy's intestine as a rope was any more so.** I can only wonder what their reaction to the more pure-SF BEDLAM is going to be like...

Sometimes, playing strictly within a genre becomes limiting. I read a lot of good crime novels, but many of them while competent and entertaining (and sometimes even quite brilliant) can suffer from adhering too strictly to a jaded formula or genre boundaries because that's what's expected***. I find it very interesting that John Rickards (aka Sean Cregan) has started rewriting his earlier novels which were published by Penguin, talking on twitter about how they made him pull back from some of the genre hopping elements he tried to put into them.

Variety is key to life.

Now, not every book should be a genre-hopper. I mostly write straight up crime fiction and I'm happy with that, but I hope if I ever should decide to hop about the genre playground, you, my dear readers, will trust me enough to know that this is what the story needs to be and that even if it plays a little outside of your comfort there is a method in my storytelling madness.

Because fiction should be about experimenting, about trying new things, about attempting to cross-pollinate ideas, themes and characters. Fiction is about possibilities. It should never be limiting.

Not even within a genre.

*apologies, I wound up watching DEEP BLUE SEA the other night primarily because as cheesily insane as it is, I can never resist that brilliant Samuel L Jackson chomped by a shark scene

**one of the best and funniest (in a dark way) moments in BE MY ENEMY

***note I said some, not all. Pure genre storytelling can still be very very very powerful and so well done you don't give a toss what genre it is at all


Thomas Pluck said...

A fine post. Needed more mutant sharks, though.
Expectations are a big part of our enjoyment. There's no real magic formula for how to please everyone. Some will like to be surprised, some will loathe it. All we can do is write the best story we can, and not be swayed by market forces.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I agree completely. The best novels bend all the so-called "rules."