As probably everybody knows now, I am trying to read more science fiction this year. I have started to collect books I want to read this year. While doing some research on what I want to read I stumbled on one particular road block: genre distinctions. Which got me thinking.
There are some books that are obviously science fiction (like the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, or the Imperial Ladch trilogy by Ann Leckie) but quite often I am not sure what genre a book really fits in. Which I love by the way. I adore books that straddle the line between different genres and mix different tropes inherent to them. But it makes deciding what counts towards this goal a bit tricky. For example, I have been reading the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer and hope to finish it this month. Does this count as science fiction or is it more of a dystopian novel? The same question works for the first book of his that I read: Borne. What makes a novel dystopian as opposed to science fiction? I mean, obviously there is a certain degree of pessimism involved. Dystopia takes trends from today and thinks them to their (inevitable?) extreme. But doesn’t science fiction often do something similar? One can argue that science fiction focusses science and creates a world based on this. But then again, does it have to be science as in inventions or can it not also focus social sciences and their possible differentiations? Arguably, this is what Becky Chambers does; sure her books feature scientific inventions but the focus is more on the different social structures of the different groups and their interactions.
Science fiction is not the only genre where I struggle with genre distinctions; another is magical realism. Sure there are typical examples that can be used to extrapolate what magical realism has to be like (Gabriel Garcia Marquez comes to mind) but newer magical realism does not always fit neatly into these ideas. When does magical realism become urban fantasy? And when does urban fantasy become paranormal? And when does paranormal become paranormal romance?
Genre fiction is not the only time I wonder: when does general fiction become literary fiction? Also, who decides how a book is marketed? I am sure there are lots of studies done on whose work is classified as literary and whose isn’t. (Please do link me some articles if you know of any)
It doesn’t always matter to me but I do like to put my books into nice little shelves on goodreads and I do like knowing what genres I read the most of.
What are your thoughts? How do you differentiate between similar genres? Does it even matter to you?