Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fun Friday 22 ~ Are Sub-Genres Even Useful?

Mulluane | Saturday, June 21, 2014 | 17 Comments so far
Another Friday, another thought provoking question to play with!

So here is the usual weekly recap before we move on to the fun stuff.
Now on to the Question! 

Are Sub-Genres Even Useful?

I can't take full credit for this question. I got the idea while I was reading my favorite fantasy forum and somebody asked what constituted "Dark Fantasy."

saturn with revolving moonsCurious as to what the "official" definition was I went looking. What I discovered was -- there isn't one. Oh there were alot of opinions but none of them agreed with the others. It literally meant something different to different people. Including me. My definition didn't exactly match any of the ones I found online.

But that was just an example. I've read Epic Fantasy that was anything but epic. I've read Epic fantasy that to me, was actually sword and sorcery. It has gotten so bad that I have no idea what anything is anymore. I even got asked to review a book recently that was billed as sci-fi when it was clearly secondary world pure fantasy; no aliens, no technology, no mention of space or the future at all. Of course maybe I have no idea what sci-fi means anymore either.

So my question is, how seriously do you take how a book is marketed when choosing what to read? As near as I can tell, that is all those labels are, marketing tools. They have very little meaning outside of that. It appears like some publicist decides a book will appeal to epic fantasy, dark fantasy, sci-fi or horror fans and so forevermore, that book is filed under that genre. Even if the contents prove otherwise.

So what about you? Do you...

Have a different take on the whole thing?

Please leave a comment and let us know!

Don't like this question? Look here "Fun Fridays" and see if there is one you do like! Comments are always welcome, even on older posts.

Mulluane is a 55-year-old proud grandmother of 4, who is passionate about her pets, blogging, traditional fantasy, and tinkering with webdesign. She is obssesively photo shy but she uses an avatar that accurately represents her dreams. ♥ You can also find her on:

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Dragons, Heroes and Wizards


  1. {Sigh} I know there are problems with sub-genre and even genre classifications. However, I still use them to help me sort thru the books I notice. Yes, I'm sure there are some mysteries I'd like, but they're a small enough minority, I skip the genre anyway. Likewise, I have found urban fantasies that I like. However, I've found enough urban fantasies I don't like, I generally don't consider them unless and until a friend calls a book/author/series to my attention. {spread hands}

    I know I'm missing books I'd love this way, but it's not like I'm not finding books I love in the genres and sub-genres I usually look at. When I limit myself to those, I still end up with more books than I can buy. At that point, choosing the most likely selections is more important than finding even more books. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Maybe it is just me but it is driving me nuts.

      Just about any book can be called "Dark" for one reason or another.

      Epic Fantasy seems to refer to anything that is multiple books of 600+ pages each.

      Secondary world is lumped into sci-fi because said world is obviously not earth. (multiple moons, suns, etc.) Sometimes but not always.

      I've even seen prehistory referred to as fantasy. Which I guess it is -- in a way -- we can only guess what things were like based on archeology. The rest is imagination but "back in my day" it was simply called prehistory. (ie pre-recorded history.)

      Mists of Avalon is called Epic Fantasy but it is alternate history. There is no world wide conflict, no forces of evil against forces of good. It is Britain against the Saxons and Arthur against Mordred in one small corner of our world.

      I just wonder how many great books I miss because they are labeled generically by some unknown algorithm nobody understands.

    2. Oh, it would drive me nuts too, if I let it. It's just that if I'm going to let a Problem with Books drive me nuts, it's going to be the size of my to-read collection. {Chuckle} That's just totally out of control. I figure anything that helps me tame -- no, not tame it, but limit how much more out-of-control it gets -- is as much a solution as a problem. Yes, even if it's as flawed a solution as the genre and sub-genre assignments. Because my to-read collection alone would fill two floor-to-ceiling bookcases - one with hardcovers and large paperbacks, and the other with little paperbacks, and that only counts the books I own that I haven't read. If I count the books Mom and Dad own that I'd like to borrow to read, that's probably another two or three floor-to-ceiling bookcases full... and I study books too intensely when I "read" them to finish quickly. {rueful smile}

      So I figure I have bigger problems than the occasional good read missed due to sub-genre misidentification. {Smile, wink}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. I think that the borders between sub-genres (and in some instances main genres as well) are becoming more blurred with every passing day, since more and more elements from one keep trespassing into others. The problem, IMHO, comes from publishers (or their marketing departments) when they feel the need to adapt a book to the current "fashionable" trend: that's why some books are labeled one way but do really belong somewhere else.

    My criteria for choosing a book? Well, story first and foremost: it the story appeals to me in any way (no matter the genre or sub-genre it's been labeled with), then I give it a try. Of course, if the book has been written by an author I enjoy I might buy it no matter what - there are a few authors that are on my "get it first, ask questions later" list - but otherwise the story has to have some appeal to me.
    That's why genre and sub-genre are far less important.

    Attentive readers (or compulsive ones? that might be another case of blurred borders - LOL) don't need guidelines, because I believe they are guided by instinct: that's why I'm asking you a question of my own that might be related to this week's question. Do you ever feel a sort of... magnetic pull (for want of a better word) toward some books that is stronger than the one you feel with others? In other words, do you have an instinctive perception that you might like/dislike a book just by reading the plot summary? It happens to me, and my "radar" is often right. I'm curious... :-)

    1. I assume you were primarily asking Mulluane, but I do notice that some blurbs do attract me, while others turn me off. Very often, this initial impression is right. Sometimes it's wrong. I have thought I'd love a book, but failed to enjoy it. I've also avoided a book, then discovered I love it. But more often my initial impression is at least somewhat correct. I tend to like - if not necessarily love - the boks whose blurbs grabbed my attention. I tend to not care that much for - if not fully hate - the books I whose blurbs kind of pushed me away. So I definitely read blurbs, and regularly judge from them whether to continue to look over their books. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    2. Interesting point. I'm very much a mood reader so my radar will often point towards my comfort rereads. Maybe that is why I'm so frustrated atm. My radar is pointing to old when I really need to be reading new. But none of the new is appealing to me atm because the current trend is towards dark in all of its forms. I don't need more dark. I need uplifting, humorous, light at the end of the tunnel is NOT an oncoming train. There IS a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

      I'm sure there is some of that out here, somewhere, but I don't know exactly how to find it.

    3. @ Anne: so I'm not alone with this "radar" thing, and yes, most of the time my instincts are right also - every time I tried to go against them, the book proved to be a disappointment.
      In recent times I've discovered that, in case of doubt, what really helps me are the negative reviews (1- or 2-stars) over at GoodReads: what I find in there either confirms my feelings, or points to something that might appeal to me. It's a convoluted way to get there but...hey, as long as it works... :-D :-D

      @ Mulluane: too much darkness (even if one sort of enjoys it) can be indeed too much.
      Yes, this is the current trend and publishers are exploiting it, but there is a lot of good, non-dark fantasy around to be enjoyed. Right off the top of my head I could recommend Abrahm's "Long Price Quartet", Lynch's "Gentlemen Bastards" series (there is some drama, ma never of the grim-dark kind) or N.K. Jemisin - the first (and only) book of hers I read was just *great*. And I'm sure there are many others out there: maybe a query over at some GoodRead's groups could provide you with some information....

    4. Awesome! Recommendations! I've been eying Lynch. Is the series done yet?

    5. I'm glad Maddalena came up with some suggestions. The best I can think of is trying to catch up on things authors you like and trust have written that you haven't gotten around to yet. There are always some of those around for me. I tend to choose them when I feel like I ought to read something new, but I'm just not feeling adventuresome at the moment. {Smile}


    6. @ Mulluane: Lynch's series is on the third book (I've read the first two) but it's not over yet, while Abraham's "Long Price" is complete. I also suggest Mary Robinette Kowal's "Glamourist Series" - Regency era with magic: it's still ongoing, but each book is self-contained, so you won't suffer from cliff-hanger from one book to the other.

      @ Anne: happy to be of help! :-)

  3. Confuses the pants off me. In some areas it is worth knowing. Dark Fantasy conveys what that is but Urban Fantasy?? Set in a city I guess. Are there sub categories of say Westerns? Dark westerns, urban Westerns, Cowboy and Indian Westerns?? As I say - confused.

    1. I bet that really makes your wife happy! (As long as you only get confused at home that is...)

      I spent way too much time figuring out Urban Fantasy and aside from deciding I hated it, I came up with modern setting, normally within a city, that includes supernatural elements but may take the term "urban sprawl" to extremes.

      The Fantasy Westerns that are popping up? Technically alternate history but nobody uses that term anymore. Plus alot are actually mysteries, with detectives or paranormal or you name it.

      Yep... crystal clear!

    2. Fantasy Western?? I was kidding about sub-genres. I've read Joe Abercrombe and the books work very well without needing to relate them to a Western theme. Mountain Men could exist anywhere and anyone living in mountains is likely to be grumpy as hell.

    3. This is an old thread but they have been around for a few years. Plus you have the Steampunk westerns too.

    4. Western fantasies are mostly a sub-set of SteamPunk these days. If a steampunk novel isn't set in London or might-as-well-be-London, it usually involves six-guns, sharpshooters, sheriffs, cowboys, and outlaws. {Smile}

  4. Omg, it is not just me who is claiming that "Epic" fantasy is a useless tag.


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