Genderification of Genre

Several of us here on scienceblogs have recently discussed the stereotypes of women who read science fiction. Syaffolee puts an interesting twist on it: what about men who read romance novels? She’s reporting on an article that says almost a quarter of the readers are men.

Nobody seems to be speculating on whether guys who read bodice-rippers are cuter than average.

There is an interesting idea there about the genre ghetto. I’ve read a few, years ago, and didn’t care for them much…and now I judge the whole genre by a fuzzy memory of a non-representative sample. Are there great authors I’m missing because I can’t get past the pink covers with bare-chested men on them?

Another genre I avoid is the cowboy novel (in my local library, cowboys and romance are probably the dominant forms of literature, too). I read some Louis L’Amour, also years ago, and was shocked at how bad the writing was, and haven’t gone back since.

Genre fiction seems to be a tool to lock in to a specific segment of the audience, but it’s also an effective way to lock out an even larger audience, because we’ve all got these biases.


  1. Will E. says

    –Genre fiction seems to be a tool to lock in to a specific segment of the audience, but it’s also an effective way to lock out an even larger audience, because we’ve all got these biases–

    This is true. I worked in bookstores for 10 years, and it was interesting to see genre books that were re-printed with different covers and blurbs in order to appeal to the larger audience. Off came the spine label “science fiction” or “horror,” the spaceships or bloody fangs on the cover. Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler and Clive Barker are examples of genre writers whose books in recent years have been shorn of limiting, too-specific covers, so they can be shelved in with “literature.” “The Sparrow” by Mary Dorio Russell was huge with book club ladies in the ’90s, but they couldn’t understand why it was shelved in science fiction. They seemed to think it was too well-written or thought-provoking to be “science fiction.” That’s a shame–genre fiction has as much great writing as “literature.” J.G. Ballard makes Don DeLillo look like an ivory tower pantywaist, yet who gets shelved in SF, and who is out there mixing it up in “real” world? I long ago learned to ignore bookstore classifications, but you’d be amazed–or maybe not–that the biggest genre snobs tend to be bookstore folk.

  2. michelle says

    Diana Gabaldon is a fantastic author that used to be classified as ‘romance.’ She’s recently been moved to plain fiction.

  3. B. Dewhirst says

    Nobody seems to be speculating on whether guys who read bodice-rippers are cuter than average.

    That may be so, however I expect there is also a presumption of disproportionate homosexuality due to normative assumptions.

  4. says

    Are there great authors I’m missing because I can’t get past the pink covers with bare-chested men on them?

    I can’t comment as to the literary edification you might be missing from not reading this genre, but there’s one guy who’s taken the lurid romance novel cover and has run with it.

    Check out Longmire does romance novels .

    “Chili Supper for Satan” and “Lord of the Hissy-Fit” are among my favorites.

  5. says

    I like to be educated when I read; unless someone finds a way to fictionalize the Kama Sutra into an engaging narrative, I’ll probably stick to Larry Niven and his ilk.

  6. says

    Speaking of genres, I once saw the “Flash Bible” (programming (If you can call Flash programming) book) in the religious section of a bookstore. That was somewhat amusing…

  7. Brian says

    Mainstream cowboy novels are bad enough, but Chuck Norris’ Christian cowboy “Justice Riders” series is horrible to the point of being sadistic.

  8. says

    I tend to stick with stuff shelved in SF/fantasy because I’m proportionately more likely to enjoy it. I’ve read some mysteries that I liked, some plain “fiction”, a few westerns… There are good writers everywhere, but stories in SF/fantasy are more likely to interest me AND I’m more likely to put up with mildly bad writing in that category (emphasis on mildly).

    The other genres, by and large, bore me unless they’re EXTREMELY well done. *shrugs* So while I wander through the other genres, I stop and look thoroughly in SF/fantasy.

  9. Eveningsun says

    How about reading a nice, violent, extremely well written anti-Western like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood meridian? And if you hate romance novels, you’ll probably like Dorothy Parker’s poetry or Anita Loos’ classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the book, not the film).

    A sample of Parker:

    Woman wants monogamy;
    Man delights in novelty.
    Love is woman’s moon and sun;
    Man has other forms of fun.
    Woman lives but in her lord;
    Count to ten, and man is bored.
    With this the gist and sum of it,
    What earthly good can come of it?

    By the time you swear you’re his,
    Shivering and sighing
    And he vows his passion is
    Infinite, undying –
    Lady make a note of this:
    One of you is lying.

  10. Kseniya says

    Category Romance is – by definition – very formulaic, and as it serves as a kind of minor-league for budding romance authors, there’s a lot of bad writing to be found there. But good writers do emerge from the primordial ooze. Here’s one I had a lot of fun reading. It’s not going to be taught in American Lit classes 100 years from now, but it’s a fun read and there’s more there than what first meets the eye.

    FWIW, I consider Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor – a compilation of Shards of Honor and Barrayar – to be Romance. Of course it’s categorized as S/F but, as many fine books do, it transcends the genre to which it is assigned. I bought it because it was S/F, not because the cover had a Romance-y look to it, but it does not surprise me that the Vorkosigan series is popular with women who aren’t primarily S/F fans.

    My mother – a life-long S/F fan – took one look at Cordelia’s Honor and declared that it “looked stupid” – LMAO. I cautioned her not to judge a book by its cover. I am sorry to say that never did read it, though I recognize that she had other priorites. :-/

  11. Flex says

    A little off topic, but I realized recently that while I’ve seen many of the James Bond movies, I’ve never read any book by Ian Fleming (not even _Chitty_Chitty_Bang_Bang_).

    So I picked up _You_Only_Live_Twice_ at the used bookstore, and was dissapointed. I’ve enjoyed any number of spy novels, and I’ve gotten into Le Carre again recently, but I found Fleming’s prose to be poor. I’ll try a couple more, but for once I think I like the movie better.

  12. Johnny Vector says

    I totally concur with the above comments about “Cordelia’s Honor”. We read it in my S-F book club recently, and when we got the books in I took one look at the cover and thought, Oh lord, it’s a romance novel!

    And there certainly is a strong scent of Jane Austen in there, but “transcends the genre” is quite accurate!

    “The Sparrow”, on the other hand, was the second-worst book we’ve read in said book club. [SPOILER ALERT]Alien anal rape as a metaphor for God. Or something. Just Eeeew.

  13. says

    I once gave a presentation at an SF con about “How to read romance novels,” since I read a lot of them, especially bodice-rippers. I pointed out that the pulp romance novels, the onces with the solid primary-colored spines, are as targetted and blatant and segmented as pornography: The color of the spine indicates how much sex you’ll find in the book (green: none. pink: one scene, camera fade-out. blue: one scene, euphemistic. red: it may as well be porn!) and there’s a letter code too (it’s different for each publisher, but Silhouette’s codes, in order of blatancy, are S(uperromance), R(omance), T(emptation), B(laze). Harlequin briefly flirted with black covers for their “S&M romance” line, which died; black is now used for “Supernatural romance,” which is the current hot thing.

    Along with the color code, there’s a content code, a symbol on the spine. A stork indicates the heroine is pregnant by the end of the book; a carriage indicates she gives birth; a bottle, on the other hand, indicates a single mom who needs a rescuer. A clock indicates a “whirlwind romance” taking no longer than a weekend for the heroine to fall madly in love, rings indicate a lavish marriage scene toward the end, while a pistol or handcuffs are two different takes on “woman needs police protection from a bad guy, falls in love with her protector” stories.

    I’ve never been in the closet about my being a Bertrice Small fan, anyway.

  14. Billy says

    About 15 years ago I worked at a small public library, processing new books. Among my duties was putting those little genre stickers on the spine. After a few months, I was cautioned to be a little stingier with the stickers.

    It was explained to me that while the stickers are used by genre fans to locate books they might enjoy reading, they are also used by other patrons to identify books they will not enjoy reading. Thus, a mainstream book with devices borrowed from science fiction (Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha was an example) shouldn’t be stickered, since it might appeal to people who generally don’t read science fiction.

    Thus I learned the distinction between science fiction and stickered science fiction: Orwell’s 1984 is an example of the former but not of the latter.

  15. says

    The supernatural romances can be surprisingly readable; I would not necessarily categorize them as romance. I’ve read a few, and they are better than, say, Dean Koontz (but so is electroshock therapy) and not as good as the better Steven King stuff. But they’re fun.

    I have read precisely one bona-fide romance novel. It was “Halfway to Heaven” by Susan Wiggs; she contacted me as an advisor of sorts because the lead character was an astronomer. I found it to be pretty good, and my wife read it and picked up a few more by Susan as well. It goes to show you that you can’t judge a book by, well, by something. You really just have to get past the cover.

    There must be a better way to phrase that.

  16. says

    Hee. Came here from the SmartBitches website and I am soon off to lunch, but this whole thing makes me giggle. I had no idea that women who read sci fi were being grouped in such a manner. I have read several fantasy writers. Is there any delineation between the female sci fi readers and the female fantasy readers? I, for vain and obvious reasons, what to be in whatever category is for the “hot” female reader.

    As for Elf M. Sternberg’s categorization of sexual “heat” in romance books, that’s hysterical. I think, Mr. Sternberg that you refer to Harlequin/Silhouette romance books in your post. Those are category books and do often serve as a training ground, so to speak, for authors. Many Bestsellers like Tess Gerritsen and Nora Roberts started out in category romance.

    Romance books, though, comprise a much greater spectrum than defined. I haven’t really looked at my spines lately to see if the overall genre matches the description provided. (I think green covers are out though). Romance is formulaic. It requires a HEA or some type of committment by two main protagonists in the book. But it is no more formulaic than say a mystery which requires a crime to be solved. What happens that leads you to the predetermined end is what makes the story any good.

    I’ll be back with some recommendations cuz, no offense to Ms. Small, but there are much better romance authors out there. IMNSHO.

  17. Michael says

    As LlamaT mentions, Zane Grey was the master of the cowboy novel. Plus he has a whole Mormon villain thing going on that you’ll probably enjoy – start with Riders of the Purple Sage.

  18. says

    These are authors oft mentioned by readers in the romance genre as “cross overs”:

    Anne Bishop
    Sharon Shinn
    Lois McMaster Bujold
    Patricia Briggs (her new series is interesting, but I loved the Hurog series).

    Linnea Sinclair’s Gabriel’s Ghost won the RITA for best paranormal even though her book is a sci fi romance.

    I liked the first book in Maria Snyder’s Magic series published by Luna, a division of Harlequin.

    Shana Abe has recently gained a huge readership with her dragon series: Smoke Thief and Dream Thief.

    For romantic suspense: Karen Rose, Mariah Stewart, JD Robb

    For straight contemporary romance: Deidre Martin’s Body Check (hockey).

    For historical romance: Elizabeth Vaughan’s WarPrize series published by Tor (this is a fantasy but reads more like a historical, imo). Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince (very romancey, I mean, if you like this one . . .well, you’ve gone over to the dark side or the pink side. it’s even an ebook at so you won’t be embarrassed to buy it at the store.).

    For paranormal romance: Meljean Brook’s upcoming book Demon Angel. It’s got excellent worldbuilding. Neat story behind this woman’s career path. She wrote fan fic re: Wonder Woman and Batman and her fan fic was read by a NY editor and got offered a K. Her first book is out in January and has great world building based upon angels and demons. It has a bit of a comic book feel to it, without the pictures of course. Marjorie Liu, who I have not read, is known for her Dirk & Steele paranormals which has a comic book underpinning. Emma Holly is an erotica writer who has translated that into some pretty steamy romances. Prince of Ice is a very good read until the end.

  19. says

    I was a science geek in high school who ended up with a Bacherlor’s degree in English literature. I read and love just about everything except self-help books and New Age pap (The Celestine Prophecy made me want to choke a bitch, and reading PZ’s critiques of Deepak Chopra makes me happy–in my pants, even). The bulk of my reading nowadays consists of SF/F and romance, with a good dash of literary fiction and non-fiction.

    So, now that I’ve waved my street cred all in yo’ face, here are some recommendations for romance novels or books with strong romance elements that (hopefully) won’t make you want to choke a bitch, some of them with an SF/F bent.

    Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper has a really strong love story element to it. It’s both a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty and a story about saving the world. Excellent and thought-provoking.

    Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series (the original trilogy is Archangel, Jovah’s Angel and The Alleluia Files) is quite interesting as well–decent world-building, but not quite as much rivetty crap as I would’ve liked, because I like rivetty crap in my SF. DO NOT, FOR THE LOVE OF A NON-EXISTENT GOD, read the cover blurb for Archangel, because it gives everything away.

    To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis also has a romance as an integral part of the story. If you haven’t read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, read that first before embarking on TSNOTD, because you’d appreciate that book so much more.

    And then there’s Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time trilogy, which also features a romance; it has a special place in my heart because of the fin de siècle air Moorcock imparts to the book.

    Jennifer Crusie is an excellent author of contemporary romances. Anyone But You is a brilliant romance about an older woman and a younger man, plus it has MST3K references in it. If you like a touch of mystery with the romance, then I’d recommend Fast Women. Strange Bedpersons has some interesting political commentary, especially for a romance novel, which typically avoids overt politicization.

    For proto-romance novels, look to the classics. Evelina by Fanny Burney and most of Jane Austen’s ouevre are entertaining love stories.

    My favorite romance novelist is Laura Kinsale. If you want to read a book with dialogue in Middle English (I can’t even tell you how much it thrilled my nerdly heart when I first found this book), then check out For My Lady’s Heart. She tends to deal with characters who’ve been deeply damaged, some of which manifests as actual physical injury (the hero of Flowers from the Storm is a recovering stroke victim who has trouble understanding language, for example, while the hero of The Prince of Midnight has inner ear damage), so if you’re not into Teh Angst, you’d do best to avoid her.

    If science is important to you, DO NOT pick up Strange Attractions by Emma Holly, because the perversions she wreaks upon quantum mechanics nearly made me cry. The perversions the characters wreak upon each other, however, was hot enough that I managed to ignore the incredibly awful science. Emma Holly’s a good choice if you enjoy lots and lots of (mildly kinky) sex with your romance. Her contemporary romances tend to be better than her historicals.

    As Jane noted, there’s one huge convention in Romancelandia that’s never violated, and that’s the Happy Ending. If that bothers you a great deal, or if you like your endings to be more varied, chances are romance novels are going to irritate the hell out of you.

    One recommendation for a cowboy novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Not a mainstream pulp western, by any means, but so, so good.

    OK, I’ll shut up now.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    Odd that nobody’s mentioned Catherine Asaro’s “Skolian Empire” novels, which pretty thoroughly blur the line between thundering space opera & dynastic romance. According to the author, their plots also represent various abstruse concepts from mathematics & astrophysics – mebbeso, but the only one whose purported substrate is allegedly within my undereducated scope, The Moon’s Shadow, lost me when I tried to map the four major characters as construing an eclipse (a three-body problem, no?).

    Best-written western I’ve read: A.B. Guthrie, Jr’s The Big Sky.

  21. Azkyroth says

    Jane Austen. Entertaining.

    Does not compute…

    *gags* my wife loves those. I think it’s a classic case of gendertyping socialization coupled with her escapist tendencies which seem to have latched onto cotton candy storylines in movies and books.

    That said, my impression of the “Romance” genre of writing in general is that it’s largely female-oriented porn with a thin layer of plausible deniability, aimed at women who aren’t comfortable enough with their sexuality to read straightforward erotica. I suppose I should actually read some of it, but I’ve cracked the covers of a few and found them painfully indigestible.

  22. says

    I guess it depends on how you define female-oriented porn? If the existence of sex scenes in books that can titillate is defined as porn, then sure, many books fall into that category. The purpose of sex in a romance book can be multi-purposeful and it usually is only good (value judgment) when it advances the plot. For example, in Nalini Singh’s summer release, Slave to Sensation (terrible name and cover), the setup was that the world was peopled by three cultures: Psy, Changelings, and Humans.

    The Psy underwent a change at some point to stamp out any emotion. This was due to the belief that emotion lead to undesirable “human” type traits such as violence, jealousy, and so forth. Sascha Duncan, the Psy, begins to believe that she is going crazy because she is starting to feel. Changelings are diametrical from the Psy. They glory in feeling, touch, sensation.

    The sex in the book, while it can be deemed titillating, is to demonstrate the ultimate acceptance by Duncan, the Psy, of the Changeling world and a renouncement of her society.

    Karen Rose’s book, I’m Watching You, a police procedure I read just a few days ago, features a vigilante serial killer ridding society of sex abuse criminals. The female protagonist herself is a sex abuse victim and that abuse limited her ability to have a relationship. IMO, without a sex scene between her and the male protagonist, I would have had a hard time buying her ability to live HEA? The sex scene served to define her healing and triumph over the past abuse.

    Sex is often deemed to be the physical expression of love and romance is about love. If a reader believes that that explicit sex scenes are all porn, regardless of purpose in a book, then romances are definitely not for that reader.

  23. Azkyroth says

    Like I said; my impression remains that much of what is sold as “romance” is essentially material intended to be sexually stimulating, and to appeal to the idiosyncrasies and biases of a stereotypically “feminine” reader, with just enough plot and message layered around it for a fan to be able to say “it isn’t porn, really…” with a straight face. I don’t recall mentioning a lack of exceptions.

  24. Nix says

    I’d call Tepper’s _Beauty_ a retelling of a whole bunch of fairy tales in one book, intentionally tangled (plus a bit of very nasty dystopian SF as well).

    And if you want romance from Bujold, I think _A Civil Campaign_ must count. It’s cleverly done: romantic comedy that starts by tricking its readers into thinking they’re reading SF, but then dispenses with most SF elements for the remainder of the book (excepting only one major theme of the Vorkosigan universe, the effect of uterine replicators/exowombs upon social structures.)

    Her _A Hallowed Hunt_ and her latest series underway also count as romance in part. Love stories work well as part of other stories, and if well-done, anyone male or female will be able to identify with *one* protagonist at least. (You might turn off any slugs or bacteria reading, though.)

    (Jacqueline Carey’s astonishing Kushiel series is in small part a romance — and in large part medieval political maneuvering, wonderfully told — but that’s fantasy, not SF…)

  25. says

    As someone who has worked to classify his own library, I’ve realized what a nightmare classification of books is – and I haven’t done much literature yet, mostly nonfiction. (Even that category is problematic. Where do you put a Platonic dialogue or Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?)

  26. says

    But you are saying “much of what is sold” is porn, right? And there are only exceptions to that rule? Generally, I would say that it is the other way around. The romance books are becoming increasingly more sexual, but I am not really sure why “sex” is equated with “porn.” Perhaps you could give some examples of romance books that you believe to be thinly vieled “porn”.

  27. says

    Addressing Azkyroth’s comment above:

    Jane Austen. Entertaining.

    Does not compute…

    You’re addressing a girl who reads veterinary textbooks for fun. What I find entertaining can obviously verge on the esoteric. However, vast numbers of people find Austen fine entertainment–including a goodly number of men.

    I think it’s a classic case of gendertyping socialization coupled with her escapist tendencies which seem to have latched onto cotton candy storylines in movies and books.

    Interesting that you tar love stories (including, presumably, Austen) with the “cotton candy storyline” brush. Why so, I wonder? Love stories need not be saccharine, though Hollywood has a deplorable tendency to render them so. Austen isn’t particularly saccharine, for example.

    That said, my impression of the “Romance” genre of writing in general is that it’s largely female-oriented porn with a thin layer of plausible deniability, aimed at women who aren’t comfortable enough with their sexuality to read straightforward erotica.

    Speaking as somebody who’s extremely comfortable about her sexuality and who’s not at all abashed about reading romance, erotica and porn (though the last admittedly more for the kitsch and the hilariously bad writing than for stimulation of the fiddly bits–how can I resist books with titles like Nazi Sadist and Black Punk Hustler?), I can tell you that your impression is wrong. You’re subscribing to a rather clunky cliché that doesn’t apply to many modern romance novel readers, I’m afraid.

    And Nix:

    I’d call Tepper’s _Beauty_ a retelling of a whole bunch of fairy tales in one book, intentionally tangled (plus a bit of very nasty dystopian SF as well).

    Oooh, yes, I’d forgotten about how she worked in the other fairy tales as well. I read this book about twelve years ago. Clearly, it’s time for a re-read. Also, does Tepper deal with ANY sort of SF other than those with dystopian overtones? I’ve read about three or four books of hers, and they all seemed to have a fairly strong dystopian outlook. She’s written quite a few books, so I’m willing to cop to the fact that I might’ve picked a non-representative sample. Not that there’s wrong with dystopian SF novels, necessarily….

  28. Kseniya says

    Re; Austen. Entertaining? Yes! Elizabeth Bennett is one of my all-time favorite heroines, and she can’t even fly an X-wing. She’s up there with other mundanes like Ellie Arroway, Cordelia Naismith, and Hazel Stone (circa “The Menace from Earth”, of course!) Of course, Austen is not for everyone. (What is?!?)

  29. mjfgates says

    SF romaance writers.. yeah, Bujold and Willis and Asaro and bits of Elizabeth Moon… why hasn’t anybody mentioned Anne friggin’ McCaffery yet? Go back and read her stuff from thirty-some years ago: “Restoree” is a classic bodice-ripper (“WITH SPACESHIPS!”), “The Ship Who Sang” is a PERVY bodice-ripper (“she IS A SPACESHIP!”), and the first couple of Pern books, well, I don’t even want to think about it. Not that she’s gotten LESS bodice-y over the years, i’m just pointing out that she has seniority or something.

  30. George says

    Jane Eyre is worth reading (or seeing). The first few pages contain one of my favorite passages in English literature: Jane’s encounter with that little tyrant, John Reed. It doesn’t get much better than this (sorry for the length):

    John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month or two, “on account of his delicate health.” Mr. Miles, the master, affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats sent him from home; but the mother’s heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John’s sallowness was owing to over-application and, perhaps, to pining after home.

    John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy to me. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions; the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind her back.

    Habitually obedient to John, I came up to his chair: he spent some three minutes in thrusting out his tongue at me as far as he could without damaging the roots: I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him who would presently deal it. I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly. I tottered, and on regaining my equilibrium retired back a step or two from his chair.

    “That is for your impudence in answering mama awhile since,” said he, “and for your sneaking way of getting behind curtains, and for the look you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!”

    Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it; my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the insult.

    “What were you doing behind the curtain?” he asked.

    “I was reading.”

    “Show the book.”

    I returned to the window and fetched it thence.

    “You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they ARE mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.”

    I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.

    “Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer — you are like a slave-driver — you are like the Roman emperors!”

    I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never thought thus to have declared aloud.

    “What! what!” he cried. “Did she say that to me? Did you hear her, Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell mama? but first — “

    He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer. I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort. I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and bellowed out aloud. Aid was near him: Eliza and Georgiana had run for Mrs. Reed, who was gone upstairs: she now came upon the scene, followed by Bessie and her maid Abbot. We were parted: I heard the words –

    “Dear! dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

    “Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!”

    Then Mrs. Reed subjoined –

    “Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there.” Four hands were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs.

  31. Kaleberg says

    I’m with Michael Chabon, modern literature is a genre, and a very limited genre at that. It’s all about image. Consider the music business. Before Soundscan actually measured the music that people bought, no one wanted to sell country music even though everyone wanted to buy it. I’m not surprised that bookstores want to sell “literature”. It’s a class thing, but the other genres are where the money is.

    I’ll go with any genre – romance, science fiction, childrens, fantasy, medical, horror, battle, fantasy, mystery, you name it. Some of it is terribly written, but I’m a sucker for narrative, and I’ll put up with a lot for a good yarn. Bad plotting is worse than bad writing. Sometimes I’ll catch myself reading absolute dreck, but I’ll plow on to find out what happens next. (This happens with books as well as with scholarly journals).

    I love all sorts of romance writers. Jane Austen is acid, Marion Chesney hilarious, David Weber programmatic but sweet, Rafael Sabatini swashbuckling, Edgar Rice Burroughs most imaginative and Judith Kranz captured the 1980s oh so well. It was a romance writer, Margaret Mitchell, who wrote THE great American novel, Gone With The Wind, even if it is a piece of racist trash.

    As for science fiction versus fantasy, I’ll stick with Dr. Who’s law, “Any magic sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from technology”.

  32. says

    Interesting thread. I still don’t get how “1984 is science fiction” but I’ve given up wondering about it. I have decided genres are bunk and it’s a rule I hold to be as inviolate as Sturgeon’s “90% of anything is crap” and Wilde’s “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well-written or badly written.”

  33. says

    I love SF. I also read fantasy — and have enjoyed some of it greatly — but I usually only read it following specific recommendations, while I pick up SF a lot more indiscriminately.

    I like my romance as a side dish with a main course of something else (preferably SF :D ). If I want stimulation, I’ll read porn. If I’m reading about characters having a relationship, I have to *care* about the characters, otherwise I won’t care about their relationship at all. So I want the rest of the book to establish why they’re interesting people worth caring about, by involving them in some kind of interesting story.

    I’ll happily read fanfiction which is purely a vehicle for a pairing which floats my boat — because in that case the canon material *is* the main course (and the reason the pairing floats my boat in the first place). But fanfiction with a plot is even better.

    The nice thing about fanfiction is that for every cliched piece with a sappy happy ending there’s an angsty, gloomy one where people dramatically die at the end, so there’s something for all tastes.