Chuck “Hilarious Potty-Mouth” Wendig has a good piece up about the shifting value of genre labels in fiction. He’s not the first person I’ve seen with this idea; Charles Stross talked about this back in May.
I’m particularly taken with Wendig’s notion of More Granularity:
Think of fiction as having aspects or elements (and those of you who game in the RPG sense will see the value of this) — a piece of fiction might have a “time travel” aspect, a “tragedy” aspect, a “detective” aspect. One novel might be “serial killer / robot / erotic love triangle.” Another might be, “dinosaur / noir / bioethics.”
It seems clear to me that in other than the most basic of genre plots this is already what’s going on in genre fiction. Really great mystery stories are about a lot more than just figuring out whodunnit – they’re also romances, war stories, alternate histories, literary fiction, buddy stories… the list goes on.
The point of genre has historically been, both Wendig and Stross argue, to help readers find things they’ll like. Judging a story based on its genre is something I think most of us do, usually to our detriment as readers. There ought to be a better way — and there is: recommendations.
Some of the best books I’ve ever read were recommendations from friends. I was an SF anti-fan for years, until I was handed a copy of The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. It’s Space Opera, but so much more. It was the more that enchanted me — and it’s that more that’s the common aspect to all the books I’ve ever loved, regardless of the label on the shelf where they’ve been placed in the bookstore.
I still get recommendations, both directly from folks I know and also indirectly from my connections on Goodreads. But there is certainly a way to harness technology and networking to make a more robust recommendation system. Wendig has an idea, referring to the story aspects discussed earlier:
Think … of a Pandora-like app that searches your e-book library and uses these very axes and aspects to help you discover new authors and stories. I want that! And I think we need it, too.
Someone need to make this. Seriously.