I had this epiphany recently.
I gave a talk at ArmadaCon on ‘Genre’ and I was thinking about the Powerpoint slides on the drive down to Plymouth (great convention by the way) when this lightbulb pinged on.
As chance would have it, a friend and fellow author, Andy Conway, had just given a genre lesson as part of a script writing course, so I nicked some of his slides. You could easily them apart: his had an orange background and mine had unnecessary animation.
One of his defined genre.
A set of conventions that shapes the telling of a story and, in so doing, produces a film that meets an audience’s expectations in a satisfying way.
Mark Kermode in his recent, and excellent, BBC4 The Secrets of Cinema series covered exactly this. Romcoms, Coming of Age and Heist movies were all defined by their structure, their conventions and our expectations. Romcoms are a sub-genre of Romance, but with jokes. Romances are all ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again’ and anything missing from that leaves us disappointed. (There are variations, of course. As Mark Kermode pointed out, these range from Splash (boy meets fish, boy loses fish, boy gets fish back again) to The Shape of Water (girl meets fish, girl loses fish, girl gets fish back again).
Some genres that have the same expectations, the same structure, and so they translate easily. Consider all those Samurai movies that have been turned into westerns: Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars, etc. A lone Samurai or Ronin or gunslinger walks or rides into town, kills the baddies and walks or rides on. It interesting to note that High Noon was remade as Outland, starring Sean Connery, and despite all the futuristic trappings, it is so obviously still very much a western.
But what about Science Fiction?
The Secrets of Cinema had an episode on ‘Science Fiction’ and it was merely an unsatisfying list of types of SF film. Some SF has spaceships, some robots, some both, some encountered aliens, some none of that… it’s like defining, say, Literary Fiction as fiction that has cars and houses, or sometimes doesn’t.
So, Science Fiction is not a genre, but rather a category. Somewhere were you collect spaceships, robots, aliens and so on. Or none of those, but other stuff.
Unless, when thinking about Science Fiction’s expectations, it is to expect the unexpected.