What genre is a gay historical puppet love drama?
And who cares? Do you? How about judges on awards panels? Or the reader shin-deep in BOOK who just wants to figure out if this is a piece of writing s/he wants to spend time with?
“This week, the chair of this year’s Man Booker prize, Robert Macfarlane, published an introduction to a new edition of M John Harrison’s Climbers. In it, he says ‘let me try to express a little of the amazement I feel when standing in front of the work of Harrison, who is best known as one of the restless fathers of modern SF but who is to my mind among the most brilliant novelists writing today, and with regard to whom the question of genre is a flimsy irrelevance’. Are we witnessing the end of the genre wars? … Well, not to publishers and booksellers, who seem the section of the literary world most wedded to genre distinctions: you’ll still find China Miéville and Lauren Beukes in fantasy, Ken MacLeod and Iain M Banks in sci-fi, Sophie Hannah and Ruth Rendell in crime, Brian Evenson and Kathe Koja in horror. We critics can praise them to the high heavens, but it doesn’t change where they end up in a bookshop. It does seem odd that historical fiction isn’t segregated in the same way (and ‘literary’ historicals – yes, Wolf Hall et al – sit next to ‘genre’ historicals such as those by Robyn Young or Simon Scarrow).”
Very pleased to see my work cited as one of these non-genre examples – writing books classified as, yes, horror, then YA, now historical, and all of them the product of the same sensibility and skills, illustrates both the reach and the limits of genre classification. Because it’s not always a limitation: those who like to read in a particular genre will give a new byline a chance simply because it’s in that genre, and that’s a boon to reader and writer alike.
But in the end, if you select your fiction (or films, or music, or theatre or whatever have you) strictly by its classification, it’s like ordering the chicken friend steak every time. Sometimes it might be great, and sometimes it might be, well, chicken-fried steak. And if you never order off the menu, you’ll never know what you might have loved, hated, swallowed, been nourished by forever … It applies to people, too.