Friday, November 14, 2008

Genre Evolution

Genre Evolution:
Establish patterns. Set rules. Debate rules. Break rules. Argue rules. Ignore rules. Establish new patterns. Set new rules. Debate new rules. Break new rules. Argue new rules. Ignore new rules. Romanticize old patterns. Repeat until nothing really changes.


Moribund means almost extinct. It means doomed. If something is moribund, it means it is on its last legs. It is dying, fading, going, nearly gone.

Take science fiction, or any other genre you wish, as an example. It’s been moribund since inception. Since first noticed it has been decried as a lost cause.

This means genre evolution happens the instant a genre is identified. It’s inherent in genre itself. Humanoid primates break things, rules prime among them. We are destructive even in our creativity. We set up patterns and rules to react against. Rebels all, we keep asking, “Whatcha got?”

Collective boredom sets in now and then. During the Pulp Era one of the biggest categories was Sports Fiction. It bloomed and withered within a decade or so. Yet Hollywood retains it as a market category, having refreshed it with the simple addition of the phrase, “Based on a True Story.”

Space Opera, a subcategory of science fiction, went through a similar cycle. It faded as harsher views blossomed in Dystopia. Realpolitik kept things grim for awhile. Dystopia is currently waning even as space opera is being revitalized by an injection of romance, of all things. Gone are the days when sf was all male and all females brought to it were cooties.

In mystery fiction, Tea Cozy gave way to Hard Boiled, which paved the streetwise way for Police Procedural. Spenser wore his feelings for hire on his sleeve, much to Mike Hammer’s disgust, while Spade kept digging and Archer kept flinging outrageous arrows against a sea of sorrow.

Philip Marlowe loosened the terse vocabulary of the crime novel and Dame Agatha stripped away the upper crust’s haughty veneer. This led the way for Tony Strong’s GLBT fiction and van de Wetering’s Zen explorations.

Genre reflects current culture, in short. Evolve means change: Genre changes with the times. Attitudes, venues, and crime scenes vary with our world experience. Locked room gives way to locked email files.

We see ourselves in the victims and the detectives; in the space aliens and astronauts; in the unicorns and wizards; in the monsters and survivors; in the Catherines and Heathcliffs. We are what we write and read.

We are genre, despite much academic sneering. Even literary fiction for tiny, prepared audiences forms a genre, after all. Just more patterns and rules. More debate, argument, and ignorance.

As genre evolves our own changes are chronicled. We look inward sometimes, at other times we look outward. Occasionally we lie to ourselves, and most of our fiction remains a way to get at truth mere fact will not support or reveal. Next time you hear someone decry a genre as worn thin, as ready for the garbage heap, as hopelessly dated and ridiculous, remember, it was always that way and always will be. Genre is nothing but change.

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