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.