Sci-Fi or Fantasy

“What genre is it?”

That’s the most common question I get about my book, second perhaps to “what’s it about?” After all, readers want to know what they’re getting into before they hand over their money, or decide to invest their time. No one wants to be disappointed, and book stores and portals especially don’t want their customers to be upset, so they adhere rigidly to the genre model, and force authors and publishers to pigeon-hole their books whether or not they behave like good pigeons ought to.

So where does The Defender of Rebel Falls fit? It’s a tough question to answer, not because it’s a special snowflake of a book, but because I can make reasonable claims for four or five genres. But at the same time, there are good counter-arguments to all those claims.

If you look closely, you’ll see a dragon flying around the bottom right of the book cover. Sure enough, dragons play a significant role in the story, so one could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that it belongs in the fantasy section. The medieval sword clashing with the quill would seem to support this view, at least on the surface. But what about below the surface? There’s no magic in the story, nor are there elves, dwarves, unicorns, vampires…in other words, nothing related to fantasy. Furthermore, the story takes place in our universe, not some alternate plane of existence, or dream world.

So…science fiction, right? Makes sense. It takes place in the future, after all, on a distant planet colonized from Earth. But where are the space ships? The robots? The advanced technologies? Heck–the technology on Esper is seriously regressed, not advanced. Readers expecting the trappings of a space opera may find themselves disappointed.

I could claim–a stretched one, perhaps–that William’s character arc makes this a coming of age story. On the cusp of manhood, he faces both internal and external struggles that force him to both grow, and to accept who he is over who he thinks he should be. Satisfying as that may be, it’s not as though it’s the main point of the plot. Necessary, maybe, but not central. Also, it seems to me that a true coming of age story needs to take place in something closer to the here and now, otherwise readers may fail to identify with the main character on a personal level; their circumstances are too different. It’s one thing to imagine you could be the main character; it’s quite another to imagine you are.

Perhaps RPG, then. A group of five adventuring across the wilderness, facing all sorts of obstacles sounds a little like World of Warcraft to me. William Whitehall himself is paladin-like, fighting with righteous indignation to protect the innocent and purge the world of evil. I may be overstating the case, but all he lacks is mana and spell-power. Well, that and plate metal armor. The rest of the group can easily be compared to a rogue, a healer, a hunter, and a warrior respectively, which I did deliberately, I admit, but not with the intent of writing a D & D story or WOW fan-fiction. I’ve written stuff like that before, and I know the difference. At most, I borrowed a few ideas from the gaming world. Or maybe I stole them outright, like a light-footed halfling thief.

Okay, confession time. The decision of which genre my book belongs to wasn’t as difficult as I’m making it out to be. But it’s still an important question to address, again because of reader’s expectations. In the end, I decided on science fiction, with adventure as the sub-category, and I’m quite satisfied with this. While important parts of the book were inspired by fantasy, or gaming, or even coming of age, the implementation was decidedly sience-y (I won’t call it scientific, because, frankly, a lot of the science was simply imagined). I took elements that I wanted–such as dragons–and asked myself what if at some point in the future we found out they really existed, and the old stories were based on fact and not fantasy? How could we explain it? And when our explanations don’t contradict known facts–or try not to, anyway–we’re definitely leaning toward sci-fi and not fantasy.

Will this genre straddling be a good thing or not? I’m not sure. It wasn’t a calculated thing; it was simply the story I wanted to write. My hope is that this comes through in the writing, and that readers will enjoy it, regardless of what they expected.