I’ve been thinking about how to classify my new (hopefully) 2018 book. (63K words/first draft – halfway – at this point in time.) The story lacks so many of the usual tropes of its nominal genre that it doesn’t seem to fit any of the genre's 66 different sub-genres, and so I haven’t a clue as to what it is. This is not unique to this book. It pretty much describes all my books.
Why my books don’t fit comfortably into the mainstream of current science fiction is not a great mystery to me. They are what they are because I imagine and write stories like the ones I enjoy reading. And the stories I enjoy reading are, by and large, not current science fiction. It seems that my taste in books has failed to keep up with the changing fashions in literature, and science fiction.
I like light, clever, and witty adventure stories, with characters that I can enjoy spending hours in their company. I dislike stories with unpleasant or remote characters, which is why I generally prefer first person narratives. I also don’t like the current fashion of slicing and dicing stories – stories with multiple points of view and/or ones that flash back and forth in time. I like stories, not puzzles.
The stories I write bear the hallmarks of the popular fiction of the Victorian/Edwardian era. Some of my favorite writers include Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes). Sax Rohmer, (Fu Manchu), H Rider Haggard, (Alan Quartermain), C J Cutcliffe Hyne (Captain Kettle), John Buchan (Richard Hannay), Compton Mackenzire (Highland novels), Guy Gilpatric (Glencannon) Kenneth Grahme (The Golden Age), and Edgar Rice Burroughs, (John Carter).
I also value clever, witty stories by writers who use the English language to entertain independently of the story they are telling. In addition to some of the writers listed above, this category includes writers like Raymond Chandler, (Philip Marlowe), P G Wodehouse, (Bertie Wooster), Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey and Maturin), George MacDonald Fraser (Flashman), Jonathan L Howard (Cabal), and Jasper Fforde, who’s book Shades of Grey is my current favorite science fiction book. I can, and have, read many of their stories several times over, simply to enjoy their use of the language. It is a talent I aspire to, but alas, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Given my old fashioned taste in books, and the fact that science fiction books do not make up a great proportion of my favorite books, it is not surprising that my science fiction books fall outside of the mainstream of science fiction. I have a “steampunk” novel that – spoiler alert – has no zombies in it. Instead of having 19th century versions of 21st century technology in the Victorian era, I have Edwardian technology in the late 21st, along with a remnant of early 21st century technology. Unlike most space operas, my space opera is not military science fiction because I consider space operas to be space ship and space travel stories rather war stories. My space opera’s sequel is a planetary romance which hasn’t been a thing for 70 years. And then we have my odd duck sci-fi romance, which is pretty much unlike anything. All my books fall between the cracks of genres, and the new one will too.
While I was thinking of how I might describe my newest story, I came to realize that all my books have one common denominator. Some years ago the term “cozy mysteries” was coined to describe modern stories that attempted to recapture the charm of the early, Agatha Christie style of mysteries. Seeing that my stories lack the graphic violence and sex common in modern fiction, and that the prototypes of these stories date from the same era or earlier, I believe that they can be described as “cozy science fiction.” While they may not feature white-haired busybodies, they do feature ordinary, pleasant people in extraordinary – but not too extraordinary – circumstances. While the circumstances they face may be deadly to the characters, the stakes are low compared to those of many stories where the fate of a nation, a world, or the galaxy hangs by a thread. Indeed, sometimes the stake is just happiness… I think that this combination of pleasant characters and modest stakes, along with modest violence, little in the way of rough language, and just enough sex to keep them from being YA novels (I hope) makes them good candidates for “cozy science fiction.” So, is cozy science fiction is a thing? Well, there are some “cozy catastrophe science fiction” -- a handful of small scale survival stories set in a post catastrophic England, but other than that, well, it seems to be pretty much an unclaimed island. That being the case, I think I’ll plant my flag on cozy science fiction and make it my own.