My Favorite Genres

06Feb14

If you’ve spent any time skimming this blog, you will quickly come to realize that I prefer reading genre fiction. I do read a fair amount of literary fiction, especially the classics, but I always gravitate back toward the genres. I also enjoy fiction that plays with the norms, that combines two genres or experiments with style or structure.

Genre for me is much more nuanced than the broad, traditional categorizations of science fiction, fantasy, horror and so on. I’ve been zeroing in on the genres I most like, so I can do an even better job of picking books that are worth reading. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Social science fiction: This is science fiction that explores themes like the nature of society and our purpose as human beings. It has fewer spaceships and laser blasters, more alien planets and future societies. Key authors: Octavia Butler; Ursula K. Le Guin; Mary Doria Russell; Sheri S. Tepper; Connie Willis.

Big idea science fiction: This is more traditional science fiction, which explores really big ideas with a grounding in science. Fewer space battles, more philosophical musings. Key authors: Ursula K. Le Guin; Ray Bradbury; Arthur C. Clarke; Philip K. Dick; H.G. Wells; David Brin; Kim Stanley Robinson; Neal Stephenson.

Dystopian fiction: Certainly, traditional dystopias and post-apocalyptic fiction fit into this category, but I would expand the category to include any fiction, including contemporary and historical fiction, that examines the darker side of human culture and warns us about what can go wrong. Key authors: Margaret Atwood; Octavia Butler; Kazuo Ishiguro; David Mitchell; Cormac McCarthy; Jonathan Lethem; Kurt Vonnegut; Joseph Heller.

Dark and weird: I like supernatural and dark fiction with a specific mood, one that explores the psychological realm as much as the paranormal. The people in these stories are always more interesting–and often more frightening–than the monsters. Key authors: Shirley Jackson; Stephen King; Ray Bradbury; Joe Hill; Neil Gaiman; Richard Matheson.

Beloved classics: These works are “classic” for a reason. Decades or even centuries after they were written, they still have so much to say to us and deserve reading once, twice, several times. Key authors: Harper Lee; Jane Austen; Charlotte Bronte; E.M. Forster; F. Scott Fitzgerald; John Steinbeck; Mark Twain; William Shakespeare.

Of course, I’m always looking for something new, interesting and completely different from what I’ve laid out here. I enjoy exploring the frontiers of genre fiction. New fiction has become very exciting lately, and there are a lot of new books on my reading list. I’m happy to see publishers taking some risks and trying to move past the boundaries of traditional genres, which maybe aren’t as pertinent in this era of e-books.

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3 Responses to “My Favorite Genres”

  1. 1 Guilherme

    I enjoyed getting to know the genres, but I’m quite an inexperienced reader and am deeply interested in the futuristic fantasies with underlying sociology/philosophy motifs behind them. I know you listed the authors but could you tell me some titles to start from? (radel1102@gmail.com)

  2. Sure, Guilherme, these are going to be more science fiction than fantasy, but here are a few of my favorites to get you started: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell; Grass by Sheri S. Tepper; Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler; A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.; Anathem by Neal Stephenson; The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin.

    Also, if you check out my reviews of these books on the blog, you’ll find more suggestions of similar reads at the end of each review. Good luck with your reading!


  1. 1 What’s my frequency, Kenneth? (Musings on genre) | Crissi Langwell ~ Author

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