A problem with genre boundaries

Posted: December 10, 2013 in writing
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There’s a saying that the definition of science fiction is the thing that we point at when we say science fiction. It’s an approach that has also been applied to fantasy, and could probably be applied to any genre. Up until now it has just seemed like an interesting and abstract debate to me, but today I actually came a cropper on the boundaries of genre.

This morning I received feedback on a story that was being rejected by a magazine. I’d got through to the final round of consideration and it was a lot of very useful feedback, with positives as well as things to work on. But one thing that quickly became clear was that several of the editors reading the story had thought that it was meant to be science fiction and that it would have worked better as fantasy. Which was weird because I had intended the story as fantasy.

Clearly something in the story, or the way I presented it, had led them down an unexpected path in the way that they read it. It wasn’t what kept it from publication, but it clearly coloured their reading in a negative way. It was also interesting that a piece I’d intended to be reminiscent of colonial India came across more as American deep south, though I suspect that came from a combination of British author and American readers communicating across a mere thousand words.

I have no problem with the blurry lines around sci-fi and fantasy or with people reading my stories in ways I hadn’t intended, even in genres I hadn’t intended. But what’s interesting is that that kind of interpretation could actually cause me problems.

Anyway, I’ve edited the story based on their other feedback and now it’s back in the world again, waiting for its next rejection or that golden, shining day when it might get accepted. And in the meantime I should get back to work, setting words on the page no matter their genre.


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