Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vanished Genres

Several days ago I saw a list of reasons that writers seem to disappear. One of them is that their genre vanishes. I've seen some genres and sub-genres disappear in my lifetime. Here are some examples off of the top of my head.

The big one is gothic romance. In the 1960s and 1970s this was the biggest genre. Book displays in supermarkets and drug stores were usually evenly divided between gothic romance and everything else. Romance novels are still around but gothic romances are gone (I assume since I don't read romance novels). The gothic romance was basically retelling the classic novel Jane Eyre. The novels involved a young woman being introduced into a new environment. Often she was a governess or tutor (just like Jane Erye). the setting could be modern day or historic (especially the 19th century). Not long after her arrival mysterious and possibly supernatural things began happening. Along the way she met a handsome young bachelor who was unobtainable for some reason and often was the chief suspect for the mysterious occurrences. At the last minute everything would be explained and the heroine and the tragic hero would express undying love for each other.

Science fiction used to be divided into two camps. There is the hard science fiction and the space opera. In hard science fiction the plot was often inspired by the science itself. Larry Niven was a master at this and has survived the collapse of his genre. His short stories almost always revolve around a single idea like the tides caused by a neutron star. His novels have bigger ideas like exploring a world the size of the Earth's orbit.

In the 1950s through the 1980s, the space opera was a staple of science fiction. It always involved a young man leaving his home and discovering that because of luck, special knowledge, training, or genetics, he was the only person who could save his civilization or who could bring down a corrupt government. Where gothic romance was aimed at young women, space operas were aimed at young men. For all of George Lucas's talk about classic myth making, the original Star Wars was nothing but a space opera with good special effects.

A sub-genre of science fiction from the 1980s and 1990s was the shared universe. These were collections of short stories. the idea was that the editor would create the backstory then allow different writers to continue it from there. Each writer could use characters from previous stories. The main stipulation was that a character's creator was the only one who could kill off a character. The original shred universe was "Thieves World". One of the best implementations was George R. R. Martin's Wilds Cards. While most of the Wild Card collections were consecutive short stories, a few were novels where multiple writers followed different characters in overlapping events.

Horror novels were fairly popular in the 1980s and 1990s but have morphed. In a real horror novel, the vampire/werewolf/etc. is a monster who must be hunted down and killed to stop further deaths. Stephen King's Salem's Lot is a great example. His vampires are actually scary. Since then the monsters became domesticated. They can coexist with humanity.

One genre I really miss is the historic novel. This is not to be confused with the historic romance. Historic novels used to be fairly common and were a great way of absorbing history. I am including the historic adventure novel in this category. Think of Treasure Island or anything by Rafael Sabatini. Alexandre Dumas also counts although he changed history around to make his plots easier. There are a few of these still around but not many and you have to search for them.

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