I’ve watched the rise of paranormal romance (nice going, Twilight) and urban fantasy with an concerned eye since I was a wee lass. Not because they’re not my cup of tea, but because they’re part of an increasing set of sub-genres in speculative fiction (our nice, academic word for fantasy and sci-fi) that have started to punch holes in the traditional distinctions between fantasy, science fiction, and other genres. While I don’t advocate forcing everyone to put their novels into only one distinct genre, I think a lot of the organizational mess that I see in speculative fiction nowadays can be solved with the addition of one major genre to speculative fiction–supernatural fiction.
(Supernatural and paranormal are two terms that, in this context, can be used interchangeably, since they both refer to things outside the normal realm of experience. I’m going to go with supernatural, just because it sounds cooler.)
It is impossible to give definitions of fantasy and science fiction that cover everything considered fantasy and science fiction, so I’ll skip that. However, I think a very basic distinction is that fantasy often takes place in imagined worlds and science fiction often takes place in our world, no matter how changed it is. (Hence the reason Wookieepedia considers A New Hope science fantasy; set in a different galaxy with fantasy elements like the Force, but full of spaceships and droids. Also, light sabers are impossible and thus fantasy.) Exceptions are natural and unavoidable, but for the most part, I think those are constants. Supernatural fiction fits in naturally between fantasy and science fiction. I define it like this–supernatural fiction takes place in our world, but with fantastical elements.
Thus, Twilight, Dead Until Dark, and all of the rest of paranormal romance fit under supernatural fiction, as well as horror involving supernatural creatures. Urban fantasy (I’ve mentioned before how I just don’t like the name for it, since it’s hardly fantasy) also fits under supernatural fiction.
But what about Harry Potter and other fantasy novels set partly in our world? The distinction, I think, lies in how developed the fantastical elements are. If the other world is a fully functioning fantasy world, like in The Summer Tree and Harry Potter, that’s obviously fantasy. If the focus is less on the worldbuilding in such a setting, then it’s supernatural fiction. Of course, like any genre distinction, the edges can get blurry. Still, this is how I see speculative fiction nowadays and I think supernatural fiction as a third genre of speculative fiction is quite useful.
Now, how to convince booksellers across America of this?
I’m in DC for family matters at the moment, and I’ve brought Ivanhoe and The Gargoyle with me as reading material. I’ve been wading through Ivanhoe since Tuesday; good story, but my Lord, does Sir Walter Scott just establish the living daylights out of every character and scene. I’ve started collecting editions of The Lord of the Rings–not an actual decision on my part, by the way. I was just pondering some paperbacks at the thrift store before I realized I had already started it. I’m one step ahead of myself. Creepy.
What do you make of all this urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the grand scheme of speculative fiction?