Monday, July 19, 2010

Paranormal Fantasy or Light SF?

Between you and me, genres and subgenres can be confusing. Let's say your new novel is about a vampire detective solving crimes in the mean streets of New York. Vampires are definitely paranormal. New York is definitely urban. And detectives are definitely mystery, but no one wants to hear your genre is "paranormal urban mystery". Your other project might be about a group of kids who accidentally invent a laser that blows up the moon. So it's light SF, or is it mundane? Or maybe because of that one paragraph explaining the history of the laser its actually hard SF. And if one of the kids in in ROTC, does that make it military SF?

Yes, I certainly get this. Picking the right subgenre is confusing at best. It's down right treacherous at other times. Authors heads spin trying to imagine all the implications when choosing one label.

But not on any planet is paranormal fantasy the equivalent of light science fiction.

I bring this up because recently on several blogs I've read a comment that says "my work is paranormal fantasy/light SF." Every time I stop and think "WHAT?"

Now, I get the lines between fantasy and science fiction are blurry in some peoples minds, especially when talking about something like science fantasy. But we're not talking about science fantasy here. We're talking about paranormal fantasy versus light science fiction.

In my mind, the difference between fantasy and science fiction is the difference between magic versus science. Is there magic in your world? I don't care if they have space travel. It's fantasy.

So unless your vampires are caused by a mutation or virus (like in I am Legend), your vampire novel is paranormal. Unless your ghosts are actually trans-dimensional beings, your ghost story is paranormal. Unless your werewolves are the result of genetic mutation, your werewolf story is paranormal.

Now I'll admit, zombies can be confusing - so let me define this right now. If your zombies were brought back to life by necromancy, that's fantasy. If your zombies exist because of a virus, that's science fiction.

Am I the only person who struggles to see how people can confuse these two genres? Or maybe I'm the dense one, and its really obvious to everyone else?

I'm not sure, but now I'm going to get back to working on my hard science fiction thriller and my paranormal mystery romance.


  1. I scratch my head at these sorts of comments, too. Maybe it's because "light SF" - which I think a lot of writers use as code for "dystopian" or "futuristic," which always makes me wonder why they don't just call it one of those things - has really caught on, so they slap on the label to attract more attention.

  2. You're probably right, Krista. It seems that some people like to over label their stories while others like to under label. It would make a lot more sense to call a dystopian novel "dystopian" instead of saying its "soft (or light) SF"

    And thanks for coming by and commenting!