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What do I call that? Genre 101 with Georgia McBride

I love speculative fiction so much that when I started Month9Books, I added the commonly misunderstood term to our tagline: “speculative fiction for teens and tweens where nothing is as it seems.” Those of you who are genre fiction fans, and in particular speculative fiction fans, may already know what it means. But for those of you who hear only the “wah wah wah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher when I use it, this one’s for you.

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to encompass a variety of genres and sub-genres. The easiest way to understand what it means is to break down the word speculative. It has “speculate” in it. According to Barron’s Reference Guides Pocket Dictionary and Thesaurus, to speculate means to “form an opinion without any definite evidence.” As a transitive verb, Merriam Webster says in essence, to speculate is to theorize or wonder. As in, I wonder what would happen if, or I think if  X happened, we would all do Y.

I like to say that speculative fiction encompasses all of the “what if” genres. Like, what if your boyfriend were a vampire? Or, what if you had to fight to the death on national TV so that your family and everyone in your district would survive? What if you found out you were a wizard endowed with the power to defeat the greatest evil ever known? The previous “what if” scenarios are taken from Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, classified as paranormal romance, dystopian fiction, and fantasy respectively, and all under the speculative fiction umbrella. See how easy that was?

Also included under the speculative fiction umbrella are science fiction, horror, high fantasy, urban fantasy, utopian/totalitarian, steampunk, and supernatural. I may be missing a few sub-genres here, but these are the most commonly referenced ones.

 The boundaries between these genres aren’t entirely set in stone, and many novels can be fairly classified under two or more of them. That said, below are my personal definitions for various genres of speculative fiction, as well as some examples of recent books, TV shows or films that fall into them.

Science Fiction: One of my favorite genres has been making a comeback in young adult literature. Though we tend to enjoy watching our science fiction (SciFi), including shows and films like Star Wars, Star Trek, A.I., War of the Worlds, and even Transformers,  those of us in children’s book publishing have also enjoyed titles like Across the Universe, Mila 2.0, Beta, Ender’s Game, and classics like Fahrenheit 451. Fans of science fiction might also like films like Minority Report; I, Robot; 12 Monkeys; Terminator; etc.

Star Wars helped make science fiction popular. But today purists may ask whether certain works are really science fiction or are something else. The answer, IMHO, lies within the name of the genre itself. I like to say that science fiction is a story that presents circumstances and outcomes that would not be possible outside of the realms of science and/or technology, and often a science or technology not yet created. In other words, a world where robots replace service personnel, or a where inter-galaxy travel is possible, or where clones are standard fare, would not be possible were it not for imagined future advancements in science and technology.
 
 
Fantasy: Another favorite of mine, this genre includes stories that are made up of fantastical occurrences (superhuman powers, magical creatures, etc.), and characters, beings, and settings that seem to come from the imagination and folklore, rather than from scientific fact or speculation. Generally, comic books fit into this category. Fantasy normally unfolds due to magic or some other supernatural force, and may be set in either the real world or in an imagined one. Most fantasy involves a quest or adventure. Some of my favorites include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Emissary, which releases in December, 2013. On TV, look for shows like Once Upon a Time, and check out films like Snow White and the Huntsman, Avatar, and The Avengers.
 
 

Paranormal: This includes stories where supernatural or otherworldly elements influence the outcomes and occurrences in a story, whether those elements be a force, a being (person), or an idea. The genre is often associated with otherworldly beings, such as vampires, angels, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, etc. Some of my favorites include Shiver, Anna Dressed in Blood, Rot and Ruin, and A Shimmer of Angels, which releases January 29, 2013. On TV, look for The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, Teen Wolf, Arrow, 666 Park Avenue, and Grimm, Heroes (no longer on the air). Check out films like Underworld, Wrath of the Titans, Hellboy, and The Mummy.

 
 
Dystopian: Some of you were first introduced to this type of book via The Hunger Games. These stories show the evolution of characters as they navigate a society in which conditions are less than ideal, or even the complete opposite of a utopian (or ideal) world. Other examples include Breathe, Divergent, and one of my favorites: Lord of the Flies. On TV, shows like The Walking Dead, Revolution and Falling Skies represent the dystopian genre.
 
 
High Fantasy: This genre, like other fantasy, usually includes magical or imaginary events and ideas, but it is also normally set in a fantastical or alternate world other than what we understand to be the “real” world, whose existence may or may not be acknowledged. Some of my faves are The Girls of Fire and Thorns and Graceling. In both book and film formats, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are also standouts.

Steampunk movies like the (IMHO) ill-conceived Wild, Wild West (starring Will Smith), or one of my favorites, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, have never really caught on. I fear the same is true for books set in a time when steam powered the world, although titles such as Leviathan, Boneshaker, and Clockwork Angel lead the pack in young adult and are wonderful examples of how to use steampunk elements to drive a story.

Next time we will devote an entire post to one of my favorite genres, horror!

Georgia McBride
Georgia loves a good story. Whether it’s writing her own, or publishing someone else’s, story is at the heart of everything Georgia does. Founder of YALITCHAT.ORG and the weekly #yalitchat on Twitter, Georgia spends most of her days writing, editing, or talking about books. That is, of course, when she is not reading submissions for Month9Books or Swoon Romance.
With a particular interest in and passion for genre fiction, Georgia seeks to fill the gap left by major publishers who may have had their fill of paranormal, horror, and fantasy novels. And it’s a good thing, because Georgia has never met a vampire, angel, or werewolf she didn’t like.
In Month9Books, Georgia seeks to create a niche imprint that publishes deeply emotive works for teens and tweens set in worlds not too unlike our own.
Georgia is seeking middle grade stories with heart and engaging characters who experience life a bit differently. She especially enjoys mysteries, fantasy, and superhero and antihero stories. For young adult, Georgia seeks works that make readers think, and aren’t afraid to be smart, different, or off the beaten path. She is especially interested in genre mash-ups, and welcomes character-driven, coming of age stories with a romantic element. Fangs and zombies welcome.