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Get Your Science Fiction Fix with New and Improved Genre Headings

Post by Lauren Kage
Posted April 10, 2014 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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Genre is an integral part of recommendations in NoveList. Genre resonates with readers and is a key component of effective readers’ advisory. In the interest of genre control, and as a self-confessed science fiction fan (alright, nerd), I’ve been heading up a team to examine our application of science fiction subjects and subgenres. Hopefully our refined definitions and new headings will help my fellow science fiction fans narrow down their reading choices and find exactly what they’re looking for.

Alternative histories has been redefined to exclude more fantasy-inclined elements, placing works like Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels into Historical fantasy fiction instead. Look for magic-free historical extrapolation in this genre.

Our use of Space opera has been expanded to describe those thought-provoking works of science fiction (think Vernor Vinge's Hugo-winning A Fire Upon the Deep) that might be shelved comfortably beside any denizens of the 'Trek or 'Wars universes, thanks to the grand scale of their narratives. For all you Trekkies and Star Warriors out there, we've removed the genres Space opera and Science fiction from these tie-in novels, referring to them specifically as Star Wars fiction and Star Trek fiction in order to curb them from overcrowding recommendations.

Social science fiction is applied to deeply thoughtful science fiction books which convey, though metaphor, the author's fears and hopes about humanity. These authors approach social science subjects with the same deliberation that Greg Bear exhibits to write about math. The Martian Chronicles, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Sparrow, and A Canticle for Leibowitz are all good choices for readers looking for Social science fiction.

A haunting political dystopia is, of course, another form of Social science fiction (1984 and Brave New World upset our peace of mind to this day). However, in creating Dystopian fiction we had to account for the boom in YA dystopias with weak claims to social commentary (looking at you, Divergent trilogy!). We've allowed these related genres to be used together only when warranted by classic status or the author's subversion of identifiable political figures or legislation rather than concepts (homogenization, bad!). Dystopian fiction used without Social science fiction will satisfy Suzanne Collins fans.

Looking for something with less metaphor and more science? Hard science fiction identifies those works whose authors keep science and science fiction together, absorbing readers in detailed technical schemata or extrapolating highly plausible forms of interstellar travel that avoid the handwavium of FTL drives.

The borderlands of Science fantasy required careful consideration. Pern may be protected by dragons, but we decided that science-based world-building (like planetary colonization and genetic engineering) trumps the presence of fantasy archetypes, making McAffrey's Dragonriders Science fiction. Our Science fantasy, rather, combines equivalent levels of magic and science and is applied when authors explore the clash of concepts between unexplained mysticism and rational science. Science fantasies may feature contrary universes (as in Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series) or the resurgence of magical power in our own future (as in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series).

Our two other blended genres, Science fiction mystery stories and Humorous science fiction are straightforward by comparison! Here, readers will find the traditional detective story removed to a science fictional setting or science fiction that, through sly wit or oddball comedy, strives to amuse. Don D'Ammassa's spacefaring sleuth Sandor Dyle exemplifies the former, while Douglas Adams fans will feel right at home in the latter.

Finally, we created Science fiction classics. Some titles are continually recommended, despite the abundance of new releases, and deserve special distinction. Science fiction that predates and helped define the genre automatically received science fiction classic status. We identified hundreds of highly influential, respected titles across the 20th century as well (works by Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, yes, but also Butler, Zelazny, Niven, and more). Though the 21st century has given us much excellent science fiction already, we placed the cutoff for classics at the year 2000.

I'm sure there are at least a few more nerds in library land with opinions to share regarding our take on the strange intricacies of genre in science fiction.  Please send us feedback!


Lauren Kage is a Cataloger at NoveList.