Genre Part 1 – A Genre Defining Moment

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.

Genre

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.

Facebook

The Earthman

I wrote this for a Book Club and decided to include it here.

Earthman picture

Launch Day (Wed 27th May)

Launch Day (27th May) – I was in Works and saw The Martian for sale.  On a whim, I bought it.  It’s the Andy Weir indie-published book that was such a breakout.  It went on the ‘to read’ shelf.  Perhaps it was an omen, a sign of things to come, but the book wouldn’t fit vertically and so had to lie upon its side on top of other books.  It was the first of many of what are called in the trade ‘challenges’.

Sol 1 (Wed 15th June)

Less than a month later and I discovered that the BSG Book Club is doing The Martian.

I have the book, I could read it, but the first snag was discovering what day they were due to have the meeting.  This was straightforward to solve: it was on the internet.  It turns out it’s on Sunday 26th June, which seems far away and doable.

No, wait, it’s the other one!

I did the math: it’s 11 days.  That’s 11 days including this one.  So, in keeping with the book (and retrofitting this log), today is Sol 1.

Is it possible to read the book in time?

If I’m going to do it, I have to start now.  That’s now!

But the book is at home and I’m at work.

Five miles is not the distance between the Earth and Mars, but it might as well be.

I have a plan.

My book may be at home, but Amazon sells it and Amazon has a ‘look inside’ feature.  All is not lost.  I logged in and found it – fantastic.  I started reading and then disaster.  The ‘look inside’ feature ends on page 6, part way through Sol 6 in the book.  That’s only the first section of the first chapter.  I have made slightly more progress than that suggests as the book starts incorrectly on page 1, rather than proper publishing methodology of beginning on page 3.  Their mistake means an extra two pages for me, but that’s still scant progress.

My computing skills and my expertise in indie publishing came to the rescue.  I was reading the paperback on-line and ebooks have less of what’s technically called ‘front matter’.  I shifted over to the ebook version and sure enough, there was more there.  I’ve no idea how many ‘pages’ more, because ebooks don’t have pages, but I reached Sol 25 before this version ran out.

This all has a strange resonance because I was solving things much the same way as the protagonist, Mark Watney, does.

It’s a breakout indie book and I’m a fan already.

Home finally and I decided to read the book, the actual paperback now, in the bath.  It seemed like such a good idea, but my reading glasses steamed up.  All was not lost, because the water in the bath made an excellent cleaning fluid.  Glasses clean and it was on with the reading.

Sol 4 (Sat 18th June)

Having started so well, it’s been two days with no reading.  One lost to a writing group meeting in the pub and another to flooding.  (I swear it wasn’t the water from my bath, it was the rain.)

Anyway, today I had a kip in the afternoon, but beforehand I read some of The Martian.

Sol 5 (Sun 19th June)

A pattern to my life has developed, but today I went to bed in the afternoon and when I woke up, I read more of The Martian.

Sol 6 (Mon 20th)

Committed now.

I ticked the box to say I was going to the Book Group on the Martian.  I have to read 2.3 chapters a day, and I’ve just managed 3.  I split the days into ones that require 2 chapters and others that need 3 to be read.  It won’t do to try and predict what’s 0.3 of a chapter and it’s good to stop at a logical break.

It’s quite exciting in the sense of following Mark Watney, the protagonist, in problem-solving.  It’s not life or death mind, but it is real life, so my task is a lot harder.  It does mean that this has the priority over the novel I’m writing.  I am sort of stuck on that at the moment anyway.

However, I can’t just read haphazardly.  I must get organised.

So, I put post-it notes at each chapter break as markers of how much progress I need to do each day.  This was a very tricky operation because it required me to put the notes in the right place without looking.  It’s important that I don’t ruin everything by accidentally reading ahead.  I had to do this awkward task twice as I had to remove all the post-it notes and replace them with colour coded ones to indicate which chapters to read on each day.

All those people at University, when I was studying software engineering, mocking me because the construction of a revision plan left no time for actual revision will realise just how wrong they were.  This works really well.

And I managed an extra chapter too, so that’s 4 today.  I’m rattling along with one chapter in hand, so maybe I won’t need to push things on Friday (Sol 8) and read three chapters.

Sol 7 (Tue 21st)

I read two chapters today, which was my target for the day.  It means I’m still one chapter ahead.  The major difficulty has been that reading is a stationary activity and this room that uses a detector to cut the power to the lights if I’m still for too long.  It’s to save power, but it means I suddenly in the dark and I have to get up to turn the lights back on.

Sol 8 (Wed 22nd)

Catastrophe.

Absolutely no reading done today.

All that good work to get ahead undone in an instant.  Or a day.  That means that I’ve gone from a chapter ahead to a chapter behind and time is running out.

Sol 9 (Thu 23rd)

Back reading, one chapter done.  But the light still keeps failing.  It’s still on a timer and you don’t move much when you’re reading.  I have to get up every time it times out and flick the switch again.  I suppose I could drag my comfortable chair over to the switch or wave my arms about every page or so.

There’s another massive snag too.

I constructed a bookmark with everything on it: my reading schedule – lights just went out again!

Back on.

So, I’m crossing of the chapters and marking the day, and I’ve left space to make any notes for the Book Club.  Unfortunately, when adjusting the progress chart or making notes, I can’t keep my place in the book.  It would be devastating to lose my place and have to start over after so much progress.  The simple solution was to rip the bookmark in half.  I now have two: the main bookmark and a backup system.

The bookmark system failed.

I didn’t use both at the same time and somehow the blank one for notes (what notes?) ended up in the book.  It’s completely useless, there’s nothing written on it at all.  I don’t have the progress chart, so I’ve no idea whether I’m on schedule or not.

I sorted this by going downstairs and fetching it.

Sol 10 (Fri 24th)

Seems pointless to read something about Mars, when the Earth has self-destructed.  The UK left the EU, so the UK is doomed.  The EU will struggle as calls for more referendums for each country.  Will there be an Earth to return to when I’ve finished the book?  If I finish?  What is the point of anything?

Due to the battle with aliens today, the Earth is safe, but the amount of reading was sadly curtailed.

Only one day left.

Sol 11 (Sat 25th)

Sol 11 here already, but wait, I made a mistake in my maths.  It’s wasn’t 11 days to finish the novel, but 12, because I started on Sol 1.  There still tomorrow.  Finally, something goes wrong in my favour.

And I didn’t need it anyway, I managed a chapter and a bit, early in the afternoon and reached the last chapter.

Could I get to the end?

Was it humanly possible?

Well, it was.

With a day to spare too, so it wasn’t even exciting.  A lesson I learnt in my freelance software development days: a realistic deadline with safety margins and contingency, and you never miss a deadline.  I never did then, and I haven’t now.

I write this with the soundtrack to the film running in the background.  The point of this tale is that if you plan, and it’s a sensible plan, and you stick to the plan, then you can achieve anything.

All that’s left is to make it to the Book Club tomorrow…

Sol 12 (Sun 26th)

The day has arrived.  There’s nothing more I can do and there’s nothing more to do.  All the preparations are done: the train times checked, the soundtrack downloaded to the phone and the route to the Urban Coffee Cafe, I sit in my seat like an astronaut, the countdown to setting off already running.  Once launched, I’ll be rocketing to the Urban Coffee Café to rendezvous with the others.  If they are there, then everything is saved; if not, then there will be nothing I can do about it anyway.

Wish me luck.

Godspeed everyone.

Facebook