Crossroads: Society, World-building, and Estrangement in Spy Fiction

Growing up in a household where the legacy of Communism loomed large (my parents had fled Communist Poland during the ’60s), poison-tipped umbrellas and double-or-triple-agents were regular mealtime conversation. And with no James Bond showing unviewed in our home, the romanticized adventure appealed: Fast cars, neat gadgets, romance, danger – what’s not to love? But […]

Crossroads: Speculative Devices in Police Procedurals

Character, Context, and Procedure: The Cores of the Police Procedural One can’t analyze science fiction and fantasy without running into certain words over and over again: World-building. Sense of wonder. Neologism. Cognitive estrangement. Novum. These terms crop up time and time again because they are narrative techniques and modes of reader experience which – to […]

Law and Order: SVU

Crossroads: The Difficulty of Police Procedural Speculative Fiction

Police procedurals are a complicated genre to explore because they intersect so fluidly with so many other genres. On the one hand, they solidly rest within the mystery tradition: there is a crime that needs investigation, there is typically a primary hero (investigator) and a villain, and over the course of the story the hero […]

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Crossroads: “Speculative” Literary Fiction and SF/F Techniques

Last week, we talked about how works of speculative fiction deploy techniques commonly found in literary fiction. This week, we’re going to flip that coin and look at how mainstream literary fiction employs techniques developed and refined in science fiction and fantasy. There are many theories as to what constitutes the “core technique” underlying speculative […]

Peace by Gene Wolfe

Crossroads: “Literary” Speculative Fiction and Literary Sensibilities

As I mentioned last week, trying to draw general conclusions about the relationship between mainstream literary fiction and speculative fiction is difficult at best. For every “general” hypothesis, a slew of counter-examples can be raised which undermine its veracity. If, however, we think about both genres as falling somewhere on various probabilistic spectrums, then generalizations […]

Venn diagram of Literary Fiction/Speculative Fiction along Character/Plot Spectrum

Crossroads: The Cores of Literary Fiction and Speculative Fiction

The relationship between speculative fiction and mainstream literary fiction is complicated by decades of group identity dynamics, mutual ignorance, and overbroad critical generalizations about both genres. However, if we try to put our long-held attitudes to one side and focus our attention on the works themselves, we find that the two genres are neither incompatible, […]

Magic Realism vs Fantasy - Venn Diagram

Crossroads: Negotiating the Unreal in Magic Realism and Fantasy

Perhaps the most important insight I’ve gained from my research for my Crossroads series is that the borders between genres are very fluid, and the more one genre (or sub-genre) resembles another, the more contentious their relationship is likely to be. Gene Wolfe once condescendingly remarked that “magic realism is fantasy written by people who […]

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Crossroads: Tensions between SF/F and Mainstream Literary Fiction

Welcome to the first week of May! This month, I’m going to be taking a look at the often-fraught relationship between speculative fiction and mainstream literary fiction. I’ve always found the love-hate relationship between devotees of each genre fascinating because each relies so heavily on the other to renew itself. But the ways in which […]

Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett

Crossroads: Satire and the Fantastic

NOTE: This week’s essay is actually an adapted form of an essay from December 18, 2012 that was originally published at The King of Elfland’s 2nd Cousin. Some changes, however, have been made from the original. For as long as I can remember, I have been in awe of literary satirists from Lucian of Samosata, […]

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Crossroads: The Importance of Parody to the Speculative Fiction Genre

Last week, we talked about how every piece of humorous speculative fiction inevitably gets compared to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But as I outlined, Adams’ comedy of the absurd operates very differently from the vast majority of humorous speculative fiction out there. Most funny speculative fiction squarely operates within the realm […]

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

CROSSROADS: Right Place, Time, and Tech – The Hitchhiker’s Guide

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (itself spread across five books with a six written by Eoin Colfer), with its friendly, green warning against panic, casts a huge shadow over the field of humorous speculative fiction. Though it is far from the only explicitly comedic science fiction (and far from the first), it […]

Make 'em Laugh from Singin' in the Rain

CROSSROADS: Make ’em Laugh – Humor and Speculative Fiction

Hello, folks! Now that I’m back on my feet, I find that April’s here. A few days ago was April 1st, also known as April Fool’s Day. And while I may not be clever enough to come up with fun jokes for April Fool’s Day, I can at least appreciate the humor. There’s something about […]

CROSSROADS: Western Series Interrupted by Illness

Sorry, folks. I know some of you were looking forward to the final installment in the Crossroads: Western series, but I’m afraid I have been laid low by a really nasty virus plague. As a result, I haven’t been able to get this post written in time for publication this week. But don’t worry! Next […]

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Crossroads: World-building in Westerns and Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction gives my imagination space to play. Whether it’s a strange, fascinating city, an entire alien world, or a different time/reality, the genre’s ability to transport offers both escapist entertainment and the insight into our own existence that only a skewed perspective can provide. This capacity isn’t unique to speculative fiction. Even the most […]

Unforgiven

Crossroads: The Western Hero in Speculative Fiction

Someone once said that every story starts with someone either coming to town, or leaving town. And there is no genre for which this adage holds more true than the western. It probably takes us all of a second and a half to recognize the western hero, whether he’s wearing the stereotypical white hat or […]

The Princess Bride: Is this a Kissing Book?

Crossroads: Is this a Kissing Book? SFF’s Relationship with Romance

Whenever I think of speculative fiction’s relationship to romance, I am always reminded of that scene in The Princess Bride where Fred Savage’s character interrupts his grandpa and – voice dripping with scorn – asks: “Is this a kissing book?” The implication is that romance is antithetical to the cool stuff at the heart of […]

Paranormal Romance Readership

Crossroads: Science Fiction Romance – A Niche Before Its Time?

Last week, we talked about paranormal romance and the ways in which it uses longstanding cultural archetypes (vampires, werewolves, etc.) to explore power, sexuality, and possibly even deeper existential themes. But speculative fiction is composed of both fantasy and science fiction, and speculative romance is no different. So how does science fiction romance differ from […]

Crossroads: The Power in Paranormal Romance

Happy Valentine’s Day! In my first draft of this week’s essay, I started to trace the history of the paranormal romance all the way from the Gothic novel, through to noir, into romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and to the ass-kicking, leather-jacketed heroine that fills bookshelves today. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, I came […]

Crossroads: Romance – More Powerful than You Could Possibly Imagine

Today is February 7th, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air. Which is why this month I’ll be taking a look at romance, and how it rubs up against speculative fiction. Before I get into it, I’d like to say that my analysis has benefited greatly from reading the many […]

Crossroads: Tripping the Noir Fantastic

Last week, we talked about some of the tensions between science fiction and noir. Fantasy, which relies on metaphor even more than science fiction, has an even more challenging time of it. Its traditional themes and techniques are oil to noir’s water, and yet the genre features some of the most compelling noir hybrids in […]

Crossroads: A Genre Darkly

World-building, extrapolation, analogy, conceptual breakthrough, thought experiment – these are science fiction’s basic methods. Other genres might occasionally borrow them, but SF has sharpened them to a razor’s edge. So what happens when this set of tools works alongside the themes, styles, and plot structures of noir?

Crossroads: Where Genres Meet in the Night

Speculative fiction’s ability to stay fresh is a direct result of its ability to blend with other genres: the mash-up, the hybrid, the literary crossroad are where science fiction has always found innovation. We’re a magpie genre, and I think that should be celebrated and explored.