Genre definitions and designations can be both helpful and somewhat harmful to writers. They help because they give us training wheels when writing and reading; we know what we like, it has this label, and we can find—or write—more of it. Despite these being marketing labels, genres can come with their own “rules” and guidelines. The problem, however, is when the “rules” get twisted and are used to gatekeep, limit, and exclude. Enter: subgenres. While bookshops and some libraries organise books by genre (Romance, Crime, Science Fiction, etc.), nobody organises by subgenre, and that’s where the fun starts.
Subgenres, in some cases, do have their own sets of guidelines, but these are based on the context they sit in, the primordial genre soup they grew out of, and the expectations that readers have built over time (and that have changed and will change over time). Are there walls, though? Not really. The fun thing about subgenres is that they’re wiggly, with the spaces between them about as rigid as Nickelodeon green slime. That isn’t to say that diving in with no real understanding of what a subgenre is, and why it is, is always the way to go. I’m here to give you some insight into various subgenres of fantasy and horror (and occasionally science fiction, when they cross over because they definitely do!) so that as you go out into the big writing (and reading) world you have some insight into where these subgenres come from and know where you’re stepping into the “conversation” of SFF/H.
The subgenres I’ll be exploring here will be ones that Val Nolan and I covered in our guide Spec Fic for Newbies: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Subgenres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (Luna Press, 2023), as well as ones we are covering in the upcoming volume 2 (and possibly volume 3!) of the same. I’ll provide a bit of history about where it came from and where it is now along with a recommended reading (and viewing) guide. For more, including activities, check out the original source: Spec Fic for Newbies.
This month is a look at STEAMPUNK. I’ve chosen this one because it’s gone through a lot of changes and evolution from its early days, and because (unfortunately) too often today if someone clamps a copper gear onto a story it gets labelled steampunk.
There’s so much more that’s waiting to be unpacked and played with, though.
To read the full article, find it on the British Fantasy Society's website.
And check back the first Wednesday of each month for a new deep dive!