In which I propose a crude categorisation of genres, and set myself up to be insulted by people with more strongly held opinions than me (pre-emptive passive-aggressive defence against people with more deeply considered and informed opinions than me).
It turned out that romance is a very good way of exploring quite a lot of speculative themes.
And that word, "themes", became central to the thought process I'm about to lay out.
What, exactly, is 'romance', as a genre?
The simplest way I can put it is: A story where a romantic relationship is central. Deep, I know. The point is: Take it out, and the story is different. It may still work, but it will be fundamentally different. It's not, and I wish to make this very plain, so pay attention at the back, it's not a story where the relationship is the only thing. My first romance story was a self-actualisation road trip. My second, a supernatural coming-of-age search for absolution. My third, a violent search for revenge. They were all romance, because the first one was a road trip to the relationship, the second was the attempt to repair and continue the relationship, and the third, the discovery of the relationship. I followed them up with the story of a woman whose secret past became the only way for her to survive her violent future. Yes, that's a romance story. Set in space, by the way. With pirates.
The relationship in each case provides the motivation, meaning and development, to varying degrees. It drove two stories, it was a surprise discovery but ultimately vital part of two more.
Here's the thing: The first story was steampunk. The second, contemporary supernatural. The third, fantasy. The fourth, space opera.
(probably should put a sub-heading here)
Which has lead me to consider what this bloody term "genre" even means.
This question has been greatly kicked along by a a very good and interesting editorial blog post contemplation thing on the World Weaver Press website, here, which I strongly advise you to go and read if you haven't already. The thesis is: Horror is not a genre, it's an aesthetic. It infiltrates and inhabits other genres, and the tools and themes of horror are used widely in movies and stories not traditionally described as horror - qv Tim Burton, if you can stand to (well, I like him).
Well, I go beyond and say that horror is not alone in that.
Here's what I propose: Genres are divided into setting genres and story genres.
Genres such as science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, historical, etc. define the world: They place limits and opportunities in terms of how the universe is constructed. But they say absolutely nothing about the story. The world is ever present, but "science fiction" is not a story theme. It's the stuff of which the set is made. It provides ways to tell stories, and frequently the setup is a crucial part of the point of the story, but it does not provide the story itself. It offers otherwise unobtainable ways of making metaphors, but doesn't determine what those metaphors are.
On the other hand, genres such as horror, romance, mystery, etc., define the nature of the story but say nothing about the setting. A romance story has strong romance themes at the heart of it, but can be set in the middle of wartime in ancient Pompei with the involvement of mythological creatures (pretty sure that one's been done). A mystery story contains within it a mystery which must needs be solved, but that can take place in a parallel contemporary noir Chicago with magic and a girlfriend with justifiable reasons to be jealous (I know that's been done).
Let's not even get into format genres, like poetry, saga, graphic novel, first person ... (you can argue with me about these some other time)
And so on.
Mix and match.
- Science fiction horror (Alien)
- Historical mystery (In The Name of The Rose)
- Contemporary action relationship counselling (Die Hard)
- Noir romance philosophy.
- Cyberpunk comic war satire.
- Alternate history murder mystery.
- Steampunk zombie fetish murder porn.
Fun for the whole family.
Now: Obviously, this is quite simplistic. And there are Conventions, and Usual Story Lines and Expectations, to which I say: Fuck that, have fun. Break the conventions.
I don't believe for one second this distinction is absolute. I believe in shades of grey. One of my strongest beliefs is "Rule #1: Reality is more complicated than you think it is". I tend to immediately discount the opinions of anybody who claims that any given situation has a simple and absolute cause, explanation or solution.
But I do think the basics are pretty much right, and I'd like there to be a little more realisation of the fact that "science fiction" doesn't have to be about space battles or comic alien encounters, and "romance" can include things like blood, high technology, or bloodthirsty vampires.
I know mine does. If you wish to read any of them, go here, on www.lessthanthreepress.com.