“Dragons? Awesome. Napoleonic wars? Awesome. Together? Even more awesome.” So said Naomi Novik in kicking off yesterday’s Comic-Con panel on combining genres. Novik was so happy with that particular mishmash that she used it in her Temeraire series, which reared its dragony head for the sixth time with the publication of Tongues of Serpents this month.
All of the authors on the panel write in genre-bending styles, but they use the technique differently, and their reasons for doing it vary, too. Novik said her motivation for crossing the streams was simple: “It’s absolutely for short attention spans. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup theory.”
Daryl Gregory, author of The Devil’s Alphabet (“transcription divergence syndrome” turns residents of small town into three different kinds of monsters—sci-fi/small-town drama), said it allows authors to reach out to more readers: “It lets you combine things and bring someone into something new. If they know dragons but not regency fiction, you can bring them in.”
Messing with genre came more serendipitously to Justin Cronin, author of the bestseller The Passage (immunity-boosting drug made from bat virus turns humans into vampirish things; apocalypse ensues), the movie rights to which were bought by Ridley Scott. Cronin said he used to write “regular fiction,” but then questioned it when his 9-year-old daughter became concerned it might be boring. So he planned The Passage in consultation with her. “The one rule we had was ‘be interesting.’ That was the goal. The Passage is a combination of all genres, everything I loved. Adventure novels, post-apocalyptic stories, Westerns, thrillers, Poe, in a big happy bag. You put ideas together, they have idea sex.”
So fusing genres is inclusive, sexy, and fit for the short-attention-spanned. But it’s not all smiles and sunshine.
China Miéville, creator of the Lovecraft-inspired New Weird style, said the “aesthetic arithmetic” didn’t always wind up as described by Novik. “Awesome plus awesome is not always two awesomes. Sometimes it’s an abomination. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.” (Apparently, taste in confections is a pretty subjective thing.) He said that the mashup style is not as new as it’s sometimes thought, and sometimes it’s just “gimmicky marketing…It’s the classic Hollywood formula: it’s dinosaur love story; it’s steampunk cookery.”
And other panelists came up with a couple of combinations that should never be perpetrated upon the reading public: young-adult erotica and driver’s ed books with unreliable narrators.