The Pitfalls of Genre-Bending in SF&F

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As a First Reader at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, I’m currently responsible for working through the Science Fiction slush pile. In the past, I’ve done fantasy too. It’s very common and completely acceptable for stories classified in either genre to contain elements of the other. It’s also totally fine for these stories to contain horror, humor, mystery, romance, or any number of other genre elements. We don’t discriminate. Encouraging writers to be creative, branch out, and cross boundaries is what keeps any fiction magazine fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, there are mistakes that can be made, times when a story has been misrepresented to us, or when the blending of elements is illogical, confusing, or inappropriate.

Let me give an example. During my last Fantasy reading period, I came across a story that started off very innocent and child-like. It seemed like more of a fairy-tale than a fantasy story, but again, I didn’t see a problem with that. The issues arose when it abruptly morphed into a sort of death-as-escapism paranormal romance.

I want to make it clear that I have no problem with romance or erotica, if they are tastefully done. It’s just that when they aren’t, they leave a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just read something that would have been better told to a therapist than submitted to a magazine.

Of course, all of this is subjective on my part. The internet is vast, and it’s possible to find a home for every type of fiction. I try to be as inclusive as I can in my tastes. After all, a truly unique blend of genres and elements often makes for an interesting read even if I don’t end up approving it. I don’t set out to draw lines of what’s acceptable and what isn’t, because frankly,  I don’t have to. The author will do it for me.

The solution for the writer is simple. Read the damn magazine. See for yourself what sort of work the publication you are submitting to is interested in. The spectrum of work that speculative fiction magazines publish is broad, delightfully so, but everyone from First Readers right up to Editors-In-Chief have their own tastes and judgement. More importantly, we have the obligation to deliver content that the largest possible selection of our readers will enjoy. Mixing the wrong genre elements can weaken a story just as surely as combining the right ones will get you published.

 

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