by Helena Fairfax
If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I write contemporary romance novels. All my stories centre on the relationship between the hero and heroine, and they all have a feel good factor and a guaranteed happy ending. They’ve been described as “beautiful reads”, “gentle, old-fashioned romance” and “guaranteed to leave a smile on your face”.
The question is, is this the type of book I also love to read? I’d say definitely yes, but I also read a whole range of other genres, from crime to biographies to literary fiction, and – after thinking about this question – I think the genre I love the most besides romance is science fiction.
It might seem a strange leap from a romance to sci-fi, and I’ve been asking myself what it is about the genre that I love so much, and why I like sci-fi and not fantasy. Both sci-fi and fantasy have fantastical elements – they are both genres that describe imaginary worlds. But I think what I love about sci-fi is that the imaginary world of sci-fi authors is grounded in reality. I’m a logical person, and even though I write romance and my characters come out of my imagination, I like my romances to be credible and for my characters to act in a way that’s believable.
A sci-fi novel tells a story the author believes could actually happen, even if it takes place on an imaginary planet. Fantasy novels are just exactly what they say – they are a fantasy. I have no desire to read about worlds full of dragons and elves, witches and wizards, and yet I devoured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.
The reason I could engage with the series is that the worlds Philip Pullman writes about are parallel universes, and so they could in theory be possible. There is a theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes – that with every decision or action we take, we split ourselves and one version of us carries on in one universe, and the other in a parallel universe, and this happens an infinite number of times.
So according to this theory there is a parallel planet earth right this minute where no one has invented the petrol engine, or where the UK is still in the European Union, or where Adolf Hitler has never been born, or where you never did that stupid thing you once did. I can believe in parallel universes – but I can’t believe in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and I’ve never managed to read past book two of The Lord of the Rings.
Apart from when I was a child, the only fantasy series I’ve read all the way through is the Harry Potter books. Books with magic in that are aimed at children are perfectly OK. The only time I got a bit frustrated was when J.K. Rowling conveniently brought out the Invisibility Cloak.
This is another problem I have with fantasy. If the author has a plot hole or a situation they can’t resolve in a realistic way, they can just invent an invisibility cloak or a mystical creature or a rain of fire, or any other thing that leaps to mind, and the problem is solved. Writers who are writing books grounded in reality find it a lot harder to resolve plot dilemmas in a realistic way.
My favourite sci-fi authors are Ursula le Guin, Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem. Stanislaw Lem wrote one of my favourite sci fi novels ever – Return from the Stars – which is a mixture of a romance and sci-fi. What could be better? (Lem also wrote the brilliant novel Solaris, which has been made into a film twice – the latest version starring George Clooney.)
As for the question “What attracts readers to certain genres,” I’m not sure I can speak for other readers, but I was at a talk recently at the Bradford Literature Festival called Book Bidding Wars. The panel – Lisa Milton of Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Nash and Ailah Ahmed of Little, Brown, all believed that because we’re going through troubled times, and because we’ve seen a lot of violence on the streets in the UK recently, that feel good books, escapist will become more popular. I thought that was interesting, and I can believe it’s true.
Guest post contributed by Helena Fairfax. Helena writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was written through the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.
I like mystery/romance and science fiction. My Sci-fi book is for children. I don’t see why writers can’t do more than one genre.
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My thoughts are I may only have one novel to publish in my head. I’m not sure what genre it should be, the reason I write micro-fiction of all genres I love
If there are an infinite number of universes, there’s probably one with Middle Earth. Let’s just hope they stay put. I’ll admit, I’d succumb to the One Ring. I’m not proud.
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Well, not all genres are for everyone, that’s why there’s so many. However, as far as magical solutions go in fantasy novels, they aren’t a completely convenient fix. Good fantasy writers put limitations on such solutions, so they shouldn’t be able to use it every time they have an issue. When I’m writing magic into a book I always think about limitations. I love both science fiction and fantasy, it’s fun to choose if you feel like living closer to reality or in a completely different universe.
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Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.
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Agree completely with quirkywritingcorner: never build a box around yourself… tell your story no matter what category Amazon or the NYT Book Review puts you in. All my books are about relationships: friends, family, lovers; they just happen to involve machines.
To wit, the lovers example: https://tinyurl.com/ybypvrft
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Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
I like romance, mystery and sic-fi. I am working on a fantasy novel for children also. It’s not easy to fit some of us writers and readers into specific cubbyholes.
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I believe you have captured the difference between SF and fantasy exactly. I do see value in metaphorical fantasy worlds, however, when truth is told as a parable or folk tale to make it more understandable and acceptable, e.g., Aesop and Jesus used this technique. I post SF/F stories on my blog site with this theme in mind.
Ursula le Guin and Philip K. Dick, two of my favorites, and I have collections of most of their stories on my shelf. On your recommendation I will look for Stanislaw Lem.
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Great post! Keep it up!
I love science fiction because it allows a whole new world of possibilities. I enjoy romance but I can only be transported to Victorian England so many times before I want to read about exploring new planets and such.
I too prefer Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings. Can we SAY that? 😂
Philip K. Dick is my favorite Sci-fi writer! “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is my favorite of his! I can totally relate to how you feel. Although I love romance, sometimes it good to mix it up. Sometimes when I write I think about things happening in an alternate universe. I think of things such as: what if he doesn’t get the girl in the end? What if something happens and they can’t be together? What if they can? Thinking of infinite possibilities is something that excites me because it gives me flexibility in my writing. It’s nice to know there are more of us that explore other genres instead of sticking to one. 🙂
My favorite sci-fi writer is Gini Koch. And, she focuses on romance, even though her story contains aliens, androids, inter-dimensional travel. I think genre novels, like hers, are more common. We no longer have to worry about choosing one novel over another. Now many books contain romantic elements, they are almost required to have them. Anyway, I enjoyed this article, it was a great read!
Science Fiction and Fantasy are my favorite genres to read and my favorite writers write both. Love Ursula Le Guin—The Left Hand of Darkness is my favorite book of hers, but I also love her fantasy novels. The reality-grounded extrapolations in SF yields fascinating stories and the fantastical worlds of fantasy—Tolkien, Tanith Lee, Fritz Leiber, Anne Rice, Susannah Clarke—fire my imagination and inspire me in writing my fantasy novels. Good article!
Stop ratting it out on fantasy! it’s not that easy! why do people always hate us? Uggh. What did I do wrong? Magic can have limits, and I love it when magic comes with like, non-cheap prices. Harry Potter? ICK. Now, on the other hand, I am writing something where the character is paying BIG TIME for magic.
But romance is awesome, I agree. And no way I could ever write that of all things. Romance for me is just awkward (ex. “Oh, so, Ummm, err, hi!” and then I’d like immediately regret saying that and then decide to try inconspicuous mode, which of course turns out really terrible and makes everything worse.) Now, I’ve been thinking about historical fiction but I can’t figure out when cause I’ve got so many detailed ideas.