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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 maybe work in publishing or we’ve been lucky enough to hit on the type of books you like to read.

If these questions caused you to scratch your head though, it could be that you’re missing many new reading experiences.  Which we think is a real shame.  So, to help you expand your reading pleasure, here’s our guide to the world of modern fiction genres.

Thanks for reading…


C c

Contemporary Fantasy (subgenre of Fantasy)

Contemporary Fantasy describes stories that are set in a here and now where magic exists; magical creatures will coexist (maybe in the shadows) with the populace, or will cross over from other worlds.

Contemporary Fantasy is sometimes confused with Horror Fiction, which can also have contemporary settings. The key difference between the two is how characters react to magical events and / or creatures.

In a horror novel, the characters will be well... horrified. In a fantasy novel though, the characters will react with a sense of joy and wonder. And while (seemingly) horrifying events may happen in fantasy stories, this basic distinction is vital.

Modern Fantasy and Indigenous Fantasy are both alternative names for Contemporary Fantasy.

Crime Fiction

Crime fiction is the literary genre that fictionalises crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives.

Most – though not all – crime novels share a common structure.  First, there is the crime, usually a murder or the threat of death; then there is the investigation; and finally the outcome or judgement, which often leads to the criminal’s arrest or death.

While this structure will normally make a crime story stand out from other types of fiction, other genres will sometimes make use of a crime subplot.  For example, the urban fantasy Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch centres on crimes investigated by the Metropolitan Police in present-day London.

This cross-genre flexibility is just one of the reasons for Crime’s wide and enduring appeal.  Another is, unlike some literary fiction, it unashamedly makes full use of the established techniques of fiction: character, theme, narrative, tension, etc.

Crime fiction has such a wide variety of characters, plotlines and settings that a number of subgenres came into being to help the reader identify stories they would enjoy.  These subgenres include caper stories, courtroom dramas, detective fiction, hard-boiled fiction, historical whodunits, legal thrillers, police procedurals, Scandinavian noir, spoofs and parodies, spy novels and thrillers.


F f

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.

Fantasy has a large number of subgenres, which include comic, contemporary, dark, epic / high, hard, heroic, historical, low, medieval, mythic, paranormal, superhero, sword and sorcery and urban.


H h – I i

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!


S s

Scandinavian crime fiction (subgenre of Crime Fiction)

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.  This stripped-down, empathetic way of writing is what makes genre so successful.

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).

Sci-Fi has spawned many subgenres and these include alternate history, anthropological, apocalyptic, biopunk, comic, cyberpunk, feminist, hard, military, new wave, soft and social, space opera, space western, steampunk, superhuman and time travel.

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 put 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

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for the more highly imaginative fiction genres.  These include fantasy, horror and science 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.

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 common themes.


U u – V v

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.


Modern Signed Editions Ltd