Modern Fiction Genres – a guide for collectors of signed first editions
Do you know what ‘steam punk’ or ‘urban fantasy’ is? Or what’s the difference between contemporary and literary fiction? If you know the answer to these questions, you’re maybe in the book trade or we’ve been lucky enough to hit on the type of novels you like to read.
On the other hand, if these questions caused you to scratch your head, you’re probably letting quite a number of new reading experiences pass you by, which is a great shame.
So, to help you broaden your reading enjoyment, here’s our guide to the world of modern fiction genres for signed first edition collectors. And because we know that new genres will evolve, we’ll update this article as and when needed.
Thanks for reading…
Fantasy (subgenre of Speculative Fiction)
Fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other paranormal events as a key element of plot, theme and / or setting. Many works within the genre take place in fictional worlds where magic is the norm, not an exception.
Fantasy is usually distinguished from science fiction in that it does not offer a logical (or pseudo logical) explanation for the scientifically impossible events that occur, though there is a great deal of overlap between the two.
Hard SF (subgenre of Sci-Fi)
Hard science fiction is typified by painstaking attention to accurate detail when writing a story which is based on, or alludes to, the quantitative sciences (e.g. physics, astrophysics and chemistry). Alternatively, the plot will try to faithfully depict worlds that more advanced technology may make possible.
Many of the future predictions in this science fiction subgenre turn out to be correct… but treat with caution; incorrect predictions have emerged as well!
Scandinavian crime fiction has certain common features that help to define the genre. That is, most stories will marry a realistic style of writing with a dark, morally complex mood. Central characters are routinely detectives worn down by any number of personal flaws, which tends to make them more human than heroic.
According to literary agent Niclas Salomonsson (who represents almost all the up and coming Scandinavian crime writers), it’s this style of writing that makes the genre so successful. In his words, the books are “realistic, simple and precise… and stripped of unnecessary words.”
Established, and up-and-coming, authors in this genre include:
- Denmark – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q series)
- Finland – Antti Tuomainen (The Healer)
- Iceland – Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series)
- Norway – Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole series)
- Sweden – Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson (Kurt Wallander / Millennium Trilogy)
Note that Scandi-crime and Scandinavian noir are alternative names for this genre.
Science Fiction (subgenre of Speculative Fiction)
Science Fiction deals with the effect of imagined innovations in science or technology with the narrative often located in futuristic settings that are contrary to known reality. The majority of stories rely on the possible scientific explanations to various fictional elements offsetting, to some degree, any feeling of disbelief the reader may have.
It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically recognised or assumed laws of nature (though some parts in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).
Note that SF and Sci-Fi are both commonly used abbreviations for Science Fiction.
Space Opera (subgenre of Sci-Fi)
The focus of the space opera subgenre of sci-fi is interplanetary travel and it will typically entail high adventure and contact with alien beings on a grand scale. Or, as sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss affectionately puts it, “the good old stuff.”
So, why space opera when there doesn’t appear to be any music? This is because, in this context, the link is to soap not arias.
With soap in mind, the term space opera can imply poor quality science fiction. That is, improbable plots, absurd science and cardboard characters. But the term can also imply nostalgia and modern space opera may be an attempt to evoke the sense of wonder of the golden age of science fiction.
Many consider Edward E. (Doc) Smith’s Skylark (1928) and Lensman (1934) series as the forerunner for this subgenre. While newer examples of space opera include the immensely popular Star Wars series and China Mieville’s 2011 novel, Embassytown.
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for the more highly imaginative fiction genres. These include fantasy, horror, sci-f, superhero, supernatural, utopian and dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.
Steampunk(subgenre of Sci-Fi)
The starting point for Steampunk is the idea of futuristic technology existing in the past, usually the 19th century, with locations often set in Victorian / Edwardian England. It uses key elements of science fiction such as imagined technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. This technology is more often than not powered by steam, hence the name for this subgenre of Sci-Fi.
Steampunk can also dip into the realms of fantasy and horror by using paranormal, magic, occult and Gothic influences. Secret societies and conspiracy theories are also fairly common themes.
Urban Fantasy (subgenre of Fantasy)
Unsurprisingly, the defining feature of Urban Fantasy is place; i.e. the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, as long as they are primarily set in a city, the stories can take place in historical, modern or futuristic periods.