I was at Bampton Charter Fair last Thursday, as part of the Exeter Authors Association contingent; we had a pop-up bookshop and a stall in the craft tent.
It was a very successful day; I sold quite a few books and gave out a lot of promotional material, which hopefully will lead to website visits and future sales. Not only that I read a couple of Halloween themed short stories to a reasonably good response.
When it was my turn to man the stall in the craft tent, funnelling people towards our main display, I was faced with a question by one of the potential customers.
“What genre do you write?” he asked.
“Science Fiction and Steampunk,” I replied confidently.
I was about to say, “here are some samples of my work,” I had a collection of the freebies that I usually hand out all ready to go when he looked me in the eye and said, “yes but what sort of science fiction, is it hard sci-fi, fantasy or space opera?”
That floored me for a moment, I had to think, in the end, I muttered something trite about the eternal battle between good and evil, love, loss and redemption…, blah…, blah. He took the samples and thanked me, walking away with a strange look in his eye, like he had won some sort of battle.
As I lost sight of him in the crowd, I wondered if I had said the right (write) thing? had I described my work properly? Had I done myself and my novels justice? Is my work hard Scifi or Space Opera? or is it something else? Had I put enough question marks in that paragraph?
So I had a look online to get an idea of what the general view is regarding the correct term for what I do. Here are the most popular definitions that I could find.
Science Fantasy: Technology and abilities (psionics, the Force, et.al) are way beyond our own; some may be extrapolated from real-world science. FTL travel, lots of aliens. There is a slim to zero chance of this being our future.
Space Opera: Epic in scope. Plots have larger than life heroes. Villains are evil, almost melodramatic or archetypical. While the plots may be over the top, this sub-genre of SF is not distinguished from others by issues like FTL travel, alien lifeforms, and supernatural abilities. Instead, it has more to do with the characters and plot.
Hard-SF: FTL travel, ships, aliens, technology, and star-spanning empires that have been extrapolated from real-world science. In this case, there are few aliens and the empires aren’t as large as in science fantasy.
I was relieved to see that the definitions overlapped, as my particular efforts don’t fit completely into one or the other.
In general, I write about the future on a grand scale, so I have colonised galaxies but no aliens, at least not yet. I have FTL travel and all my science is based on fact, just adapted and modified a little, indeed a lot of my science is no more than what we have now, merely moved to then.
I try to make my plots character driven, using the setting as an extra character rather than the main focus, so that my plots could take place anywhere, they are not dependant on the technology to exist. Human emotion is more important than a bit of fancy kit. And settings can have emotions; just think of how your favourite place makes you feel. (or the least favourite.)
So if my visitor asked me again tomorrow, what would I say, well I guess that I would have to fall somewhere between Hard Scifi and Space Opera.
Perhaps I could invent a new genre to add to those above, how about this?
Fi-Sci: Character-driven futuristic adventures, where the plot, and not the setting is the overriding emphasis of the book. Technology is advanced, with FTL travel and many new gadgets and inventions, but everything is purely functional and plot related. There are no aliens or magic abilities. Characters have all the virtues and vices of people today; they are just living out there. And to them it’s normal to be where they are, doing what they do.
I think that fits the bill perfectly.
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