You’ve Got Chocolate In My Peanut Butter!


Once upon a time, science fiction meant it happened in space.  Out there in orbit, there were robots and exploding stars and an impressive amount of chemistry performed by evil scientists.  Fantasy was always a quest through a vaguely medieval landscape for some world-saving object of power.  Magical critters and a beautiful princess were likely to accompany the questing hero.   It was darned easy to recognize the two genres.  But after a while, writers got tired of writing the same old things.  They wanted to try something new.  They started blending genres – putting a little romance in the science fiction, a little mystery in the fantasy.  Some even put a little fantasy in the science fiction – horrors!  But readers liked it.  So the writers tried other things.  They mixed history and mystery and fantasy.  They brought science fiction back to Earth, and used literary styles to communicate what they wanted to say.  Pretty soon SF and fantasy stopped being the only speculative fiction genres around.  Soon there was science fantasy and urban fantasy and sci-fi romance and steampunk and cyberpunk and paranormal romance and whew!  I could go on and on. 

Last week there a bit of a kerfluffle when a blog post by a speculative fiction author appeared on a fairly well-known site.  The writer complained in the post about authors who, in his opinion, tricked their readers by writing books they claimed were SF or fantasy and then changing genres mid-book.  He caught flack for his opinion, as you can imagine, partially because he chose to diss a few authors by name in his article.  Which wasn’t the best move ever, but at the same time, I felt a little bad for him.  He was bemoaning the loss of what he loved in the old days, and he couldn’t let himself enjoy what’s available now because it’s different from what he remembers.  I can understand that.  I would love to experience the thrill I felt when I read “The Anubis Gates” or “The Dark Is Rising” for the first time.  I can’t though, because you only get the first time once, and what blows your mind at one age is not what will do it at another.   Things move and change and there’s no going back.  Instead of grieving for the stories we loved that will never be written again, maybe it’s better to keep searching for the next new, different, awesome thing.  The wonder’s still there.  We just have to let it find its way.




18 comments to You’ve Got Chocolate In My Peanut Butter!

  • Oh gosh, I agree! I organize a book club where we read (mostly modern) SF stories and I can’t stand it when someone complains that a story “isn’t really sci-fi.” Of all the criticisms of a story (“I don’t like the plot,” “this female character may as well be a sex doll,” “It was too long”), “it’s not really sci-fi” is one of the least meaningful.

  • Chris Branch

    Great post Misty! By any chance could you direct us to the well-known site you reference or is that against policy? 😉

  • It’s not against policy at all – here you go!

    I just hope no one gets crazy and decides to give the guy more grief. 🙂

  • I’ve never been a purist about anything but i can understand where this guy is coming from. I’ve read many books lately that weren’t bad, but didn’t seem to have the same affect on me as older books did. The thing is, I went back and re-read some of those older books and realized they didn’t have the same affect either. Still, I have found new books in new genres that are blowing my mind. By the way, your title is great.

  • sagablessed

    Mixing genres can be exciting. One work I can reference is 5/12th of Heaven. In that, they use alchemy to travel the stars, not science. Dune is also a good mix.

    While I love this post, I must disagree with one thing. “I can’t though, because you only get the first time once, and what blows your mind at one age is not what will do it at another.”
    I get the same thrills reading The Dark is Rising or The Bloody Sun now that did then. Maybe because like Peter Pan, my inner child refuses to grow up. 😀 Just saying.

  • kwlee

    I understand where the guy is coming from, I think. I mean, if you’re in the library or the book store and are looking for a certain type of book — and ONLY that certain type of book — then of course it’s going to be disappointing to learn it is a different type of story. And then to search again and be repeatedly disappointed and fear that I’ll be unable to find it anywhere, well I think I’d want to rant too.

    While I respect the fellow’s desire to search for that seemingly mythical beast that is the purist’s Science Fiction, I do feel sorry for him if it prevents him from enjoying the other things he might run across. When I read a good book I tend to forget that ‘Boy howdy! I’m reading science!’ or ‘That’s not found in nature! This must be fantasy!’ or ‘I’m reading a mathematical impossibility, 50% historical and 70% romance!’. Instead, it sort of muddles itself in my brain as a darn good story, no matter what genre the publishers decide to stick it in.

  • Mixing genres is sorta my thing. I just can’t help myself. Even the epic fantasy romance trilogy I’m working on right now has a sci-fi sort of element to it. I have two other works that I’ll eventually go back to that are full blown sci-fi fantasy crossover novels. I can’t help it. Ever since reading Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock of Gramarye series and Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series, I’ve had a fondness for blending genres. Heck, show ya how far I’ll go to be different, I have a novel series in the works that’s an Alternate History/Earth Noir Urban Fantasy with mutant/low power supers, elements of steampunk, and a zombie who risks his very humanity by having to eat the living to keep his humanity. 😉

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Wow. That *is* quite an article, Misty, and it *does* contain the phrase (paraphrased) “by now I’ve offended everyone, simply by having an opinion”… Let us just say that this kind of tone is…familiar, to those of us in science academia.

    On the other hand, while I couldn’t quite follow all of his arguments, I do sympathize with his sense of frustrated loss. *However*, I think that loss is due just as much to social progression as it is to what kinds of books people are writing today. In some senses, I feel like he was bemoaning the trend toward the inclusion of women and of female sensibilities into today’s mainstream thinking. The world changes. Some things are fads and some of those are annoying, but as you say, there is still wonder to be found in the *new* thought frontiers that are being explored.

  • Chris Branch

    Thanks Misty! Having read the article now, just want to add that it seems to me the problem is more a matter of marketing than content. If you go into a book expecting hard SF and find epic fantasy with a tenuous SF background, sure, it’s possible you’ll be disappointed when your expectations aren’t met. But assuming there are people out there still writing honest and thoughtful reviews that accurately reflect the content, for better or for worse, it shouldn’t be too much trouble for prospective readers to find out the basic nature of a story before deciding to read it.

  • I don’t care that there are miscegenated genres. I like the intersection of SF and F. But increasingly, there’s stuff that’s thoroughly Mundane with just enough SF or F painted on top to disguise it… It may be all right as writing, and perfectly good as its own story — but if you really wanted SF/F or some mix thereof, such thinly-disguised mundania makes for a disappointing read.

    As the old saw puts it: The difference between “junk” and “antique” lies in the quality of the paint job.

  • Two things struck me about Cook’s article. One is that while the authors he names are classic sic-fi paradigms, all of them wrote very different kinds of science. In fact, I think you could argue that some of Clarke’s stuff isn’t really science-y at all – it’s mysticism with maybe a scientific buzz word attached. (Childhood’s End, for example.) I’m not knocking Clarke for that because I’ve enjoyed reading his work. The same could be said for Heinlein’s book _Stranger in a Strange Land_. It’s got a martian in it, but beyond that it’s a piece of social realism(ish) with religious and mystical implications. _Weird Tales_ used to print sword and sorcery stories in the same volume as rocket ship stories. Bradbury’s writing was labeled sic-fi in the day, but a lot of it could be re-labeled paranormal horror, slipstream, spec fic, etc. My point is that the “real sci-fi” Cook is bewailing doesn’t really apply to the masters he points back to. It’s more a nostalgia for an imagined purity of genre that never really existed.

    The second issue I have with him is that he complains that writers suddenly “reveal themselves” as not really scifi writers. He makes it sound like they’re movie villains pulling off the mask. HA HA! Now that I’ve lured you into my lair, prepare to be assaulted with….FANTASY! I can see feeling that way if a book is marketed as one genre and is completely different inside – if the cover has cyborgs on it, I expect a cyborg to at least show up. But he seems to be arguing that authors should never grow or expand, that an author who made a name in one style can’t ever do anything else lest they be labeled a con artist. That’s just childish. Jim Butcher isn’t ruining anyone’s day by writing _Furies of Calderon_ after the Dresden files. If reading the blurb and looking at the cover doesn’t tell you enough, read the first page and decide if you like it. If you don’t then don’t take it personally. Butcher, nor any other writer, isn’t required to go on cranking out novels all from one simple template just because some readers don’t want to deal with change.

    For my own writing, yeah I’d like to make it big with Knightspelle. But I’d hate to have an editor or fans tell me I can’t write anything but urban fantasy for the rest of my life. That would get boring.

  • Nathan Elberg

    I don’t understand what Cook is getting a diaper rash over. Genres are merely labels to help us get a quick idea of what the book or story is about. With jacket blurbs, GoodReads and Amazon, it’s easy to know what you’re getting into. Cook’s complaint seems more like nostalgia for an idealized past; a golden age, so to speak, whose literature was authentic and pure.

  • I miss the days when authors simply wrote fiction and genre was not even a consideration. It became such for economic reasons, pushing books into smaller and smaller niches for marketing purposes.

    Speaking of marketing, I have a fantasy with strong SF elements as well as an SF novel that keeps wanting to pull fantasy elements into it. It seems to me that modern publishers want a book to fall clearly within the borders of one camp or the other and that I am limiting the potential interest in both novels by mixing two different kinds of soup. (I am, incidentally, not trying to appeal to both market segments—in both cases, they are the stories that want to be told.)

  • There used to be such a huge divide between genres. It was like looking over the Grand Canyon and it was both wonderful and horrible. Even with the negatives of genre blending (yeah there are a few) I am still happy to be where we are. In the midst of change and evolution and even revolution in the publishing world. So many new new things to read for the first time!

  • Razziecat

    I’m not even going to read that article because this kind of thing seems to be popping up all over lately, and I just find it sad and annoying, and in at least one case, definitely sexist. As Nathan says, it’s an idealized past, not the reality. Frankly, I found some of the old “classics” flat, one-dimensional and simplistic. I would put some of today’s novelists up against them any day. Life is change, not stasis. I look at today’s fiction as the opening up of possibility and potential–which is what, after all, science fiction is supposed to be about.

  • We went to the mountains over Labor Day weekend, and since my son had never read them, we took along the audiobooks of the first two Dragonriders of Pern series. I loved those books when I first read them, but that was 20+ years ago, and the world has changed since then. I don’t know if you remember this part (I didn’t) but F’lar shakes Lessa all the time. Constantly. When he was mad, or worried, or confused, he took her by the shoulders and shook her. It was pretty darned abusive, but somehow back in the 70’s, we didn’t pay it much attention.

    So yes, there’s much to be said for the writers of today. 🙂

  • As a devoted genre-crosser, I both understand where Cook is coming from and have little patience for his lament. The last thing we need is to go back to a time when authors were pigeon-holed by their shelf position in the big stores. “Instead of grieving for the stories we loved that will never be written again, maybe it’s better to keep searching for the next new, different, awesome thing.” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Thanks, Misty.

  • Razziecat

    Misty, yes, I do remember that about F’lar and Lessa. It’s one reason why an author I know of thought those books were awful. I won’t go that far- I loved them- but I understand now that that’s abusive treatment. Lessa also worried far too much about F’lar’s opinion. I wouldn’t, personally, write a character like that now, and I wouldn’t want to read about them, unless they grew and changed enough to stop that kind of behavior.