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  • the "supernatural" genre
    by jawad at 23:47 on 11 December 2013
    Is there such a thing as "high brow supernatural fiction?"

    Most of the supernatural fiction I have read is all about vampires and ghosts and is mainly directed towards teens and bored housewives who spend their spare time and money on the phone to premium rate number psychics.

    What about fiction which has religion, or an invented religion, miracle or cult as a main theme, but which provokes philosophical thought. Is there a different name or genre for that?
  • Re: the
    by Annecdotist at 10:17 on 12 December 2013
    Not sure if it's exactly the same thing, but I've been pondering something similar lately, in connection to trying to nail the genre of a couple stories I've written. I'm thinking what I might be doing is slipstream fiction, although I haven't come across a clear definition. Here's an extract from the blog post I'm drafting on the subject and would be really interested to know if it clicks with what you are doing.

    The what-if nature renders these stories speculative, although without an entire alternative scientific or mystical world they donít qualify as sci-fi or fantasy. For want of an alternative, Iíve been labelling them slipstream, a position midway between speculative and literary, with elements of strangeness, although Iím not sure if Iíve got it right.
    All fiction asks readers to suspend disbelief to a certain extent; slipstream, as Iím choosing to interpret it, asks them to go a step further, not only to care about made-up characters as if they were real people, but to accept a situation where a single law of physics or history or biology has been turned on its head. By my reckoning, The Time Travelerís Wife meets slipstream criteria, as does Never Let Me Go, both novels where critics have disagreed over genre.
  • Re: the
    by Anna Reynolds at 17:24 on 13 December 2013
    Anne, slipstream is a great definition and makes a lot of sense of something I've been reading recently. Did you invent the term?
  • Re: the
    by Annecdotist at 17:55 on 13 December 2013
    Did I invent it? Oh, lordy, no, I hope I didn't give that impression!
    Was hoping someone else might have a clearer idea of what it is (there's a bit of info on Wikipedia but it doesn't nail it for me).
  • Re: the
    by EmmaD at 00:12 on 15 December 2013
    For want of an alternative, Iíve been labelling them slipstream, a position midway between speculative and literary, with elements of strangeness, although Iím not sure if Iíve got it right.


    It's a great term, though - and a much more appealing kind of thing that straight spec fic, for those of us who don't really get full-on sf/f

    Angela Carter springs to mind...
  • Re: the
    by jawad at 17:09 on 17 March 2014
    I completely agree with your definition of slipstream fiction.

    Do you think this is an actual genre that literary agents or publishing houses are aware of? Obviously they want the book if they read it and it happens to have a slipstream element to it (like The Time Traveler's Wife) but do they recognise it as a genre in itself?

    Also I guess it depends on the kind of suspension of disbelief you are asking the reader to have. Before a reader embarks on a vampire novel, they are accepting a world in which vampires exist. If your fictionalised world is identical to earth apart from one supernatural aspect, I feel that it would divide people who want it to do what it says on the tin.
     
  • Re: the
    by Annecdotist at 18:51 on 17 March 2014
    Glad my definition works for you, though I'm not sure what agent/publishers would have to say about it. There was some discussion from writers when I posted my blog post on this: http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2014/01/any-thoughts-on-slipstream-fiction.html
    I agree, all fiction asks us to suspend disbelief, but we'll have different ideas about where we are happy to do so and when we are not.
  • Re: the
    by Catkin at 22:40 on 17 March 2014

    Do you think this is an actual genre that literary agents or publishing houses are aware of?


    Yes, definitely.

    When there are strong supernatural elements in very highbrow work, it just gets called "literary" (I'm thinking of writers like William Golding and John Cowper Powys).

    Then there are things like Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. I think that would probably be classified by most people are more middlebrow/mainstream than literary, and I don't think anyone has put that kind of book into a genre, beyond just "mainstream".

    bored housewives who spend their spare time and money on the phone to premium rate number psychics


    Ooooh, you have just given me a great idea for a character: a cool young man who spends a lot of his spare time and money on the phone to psychics ... I think that could be quite good ...
  • Re: the
    by Terry Edge at 14:00 on 19 March 2014
    Big subject! It's dogged by genre limitations, snobbery and marketing considerations. Personally, I think what you may be alluding to lies outside the way fiction tends to be compartmentalised, either by publishers or reviewers/critics/tutors, etc.
     
    So, if you look at Science Fiction and Fantasy, there are some writers who've produced very thoughtful work. In SF, for example, Theodore Sturgeon and Philip Wylie wrote books that asked big questions and did so in a very intelligent, challenging way. In Fantasy, writers like Ursula Le Guin did/do the same thing ('The Dispossessed', 'The Left Hand of Darkness' etc). In mainstream/literary fiction writers like Herman Hesse and Kurt Vonnegut did a similar thing, in a similar way but weren't branded with a genre description.
     
    However, a lot of SF/Fantasy is generic, derivative and pretty low brow really. Then you get mainstream/literary writers like Margaret Attwood who insist they don't write SF when they do, but produce work that really isn't as deep and questioning as they think it is, and certainly nowhere near the level of the authors mentioned above.
     
    Complicated!
     
    Incidentally, I think your statement about teens and bored housewives etc is a little patronising. If you go to SF/Fantasy cons you may be surprised at just how intelligent readers/fans are. Yes, they might like some of that vampire/ghost stuff but they're well aware it's comfort reading, and just as happily also read the spec. fic. heavyweights both in and out of genre.
     
  • Re: the
    by jawad at 00:49 on 21 March 2014
    Hi Terry, I agree on all the different types and especially about Margaret Atwood!

    When I mentioned bored housewives I was actually thinking about something very specific and I made it sound like I was condemning a whole genre, completely by mistake. Magazines like Take a Break and Chat put together anthologies of their "sensational" ghost stories and there is a particular writer I know who takes all her stories from these magazines.

    The reason I asked was because I saw (as I'm sure we've all seen) that Bloomsbury are looking for Supernatural fiction and I was trying to get an idea of how broad that was.
  • Re: the
    by Terry Edge at 11:24 on 21 March 2014
    Re Margaret Attwood, you might want to check out the free Ansible SF etc newsletter -newsletterhttp://news.ansible.co.uk/a319.html - Ms Attwood frequently appears in the 'As Others See Us' section.
     
    Understand what you're saying about those kinds of mags.
     
    Are you referring to Bloomsbury proper or Bloomsbury Spark? The latter appears to be their self-publishing services department. In which case, I guess the decision an author has got to make is whether the cut they're no doubt making of your royalties is worth whatever assistance their name offers. I couldn't see any mention of their cut but given they're charging for services, you could do exactly the same thing with someone else and keep 100% of the royalties.
     
    If Bloomsbury proper are looking 'supernatural' fiction, I assume they're trying to cash in on the current YA wave that seems to slipstream across dystopian SF and Fantasy (angels, vampires, werewolves) etc, ideally, I suspect, with some Harry Potteresque selling power thrown in
  • Re: the
    by Laevus at 14:47 on 24 March 2014
    I like the sound of slipstream, although my first thought was that it would just be fantasy or one of the many sub-genres.

    Unfortunately, these days you say fantasy and everyone imagines Tolkien and the classic styles of dragons, dwarves and wizards. I've always considered fantasy as much more than that, but there are sub-genres to offer more divisions, even if they can get very confusing.

    Slipstream sounds like it's bridging the gap between other genres and fantasy or sc-fi and could possibly be classified as one or the other.

    What about fiction which has religion, or an invented religion, miracle or cult as a main theme, but which provokes philosophical thought. Is there a different name or genre for that?

    I'd say that would depend on the style and format of the rest of the book, but generally I'd consider that some form of fantasy.

    As a matter of fact, I'm working on something that's pretty much that idea. A religion I've created that has it's drawbacks and doubters, often leading to philosophical and theological arguments. However, mine is done in a fantasy setting, with magic bestowed by the Deities in the form of Gifts, and where the technological advancement of the people has faltered and stalled in the typical medieval setting because of it. I consider mine to be fantasy because of all that, including the creation of the fictional religion.