Saturday, June 16, 2007

Weirdest Genre Label Ever

As far as I'm concerned, nothing I write is suitable for anyone under the age of forty. Imagine my surprise, then, when my first two novels wound up categorized as YA because they have young protagonists. The Necessary Beggar also wound up on some romance lists, but that actually makes sense, since two love stories (one tragic, one comic) are at the heart of the story.

But now Shelter has evidently been reviewed as romance. Huh? I haven't been able to read this review yet -- there's a two-month delay before reviews are available online, to give subscribers to the dead-tree version the advantage -- but I can't wait to see how the reviewer justifies that marketing label. Yes, the story includes many relationships, both romantic and otherwise, but nearly all of them are doomed in one way or another: the only successful ones happen mainly offstage.

Anyway, any story that isn't about sociopathic hermits will include relationships of some sort, right? Are all stories romance, then?

To my mind, calling Shelter romance because some of its characters court and marry is like calling The Silence of the Lambs chick-lit because there's sewing in it. I think that novel's brilliant, especially in its attention to class and gender, and I've taught it to beginning literature students as a particularly accessible introduction to those theoretical lenses. I consider it a strongly feminist text -- but I wouldn't describe it as chick-lit, would you?

Shelter as romance reminds me of the reader who described my story "Gestella," as horrific a piece as I've ever written, as "a sweet and sad love story."

Yikes. What story did you read?


  1. And speaking of The Incredible Journey, why hasn't anyone combined that idea with The Fantastic Voyage?

  2. I had exactly the same reaction the first time Romantic Times reviewed something of mine. "Boy they made a mistake there. They'll think this is the worst romance novel of all time."

    But in fact Romantic Times takes "romantic" in a very broad sense. These are the people who gave Farthing their SF award for 2006. They actually have a terrific review section and give thoughtful reviews to an awful lot of SF. (Check out at the Farthing review if you don't believe me.) Yes, their web page is very pink, and has lace at the edges, but they're not reviewing things because they think they're romance. They're reviewing all sorts of genres, and they're one of the best places reviewing SF online.

    Also, I admit I initially thought the award was a bit of a joke, but I've been told by people who ought to know that the buyers for bookshops pay a lot of attention to Romantic Times.

  3. On a related note, yesterday I was indulging in some purchases on iTunes buying a couple albums from my favorite 70s folk-rock band Steeleye Span, which for some reason iTunes has classified as "Country"? There are many words I can use to describe Steeleye Span and "country" is not one of them.

  4. I notice their featured review right now is a Dean Koontz novel. I think there's always been some crossover between SF and romance, largely due to the fact that both were genres marginalized by the lit mainstream-- but lately there's been an entire subgenre developing on the borderline, and that's perhaps further muddied the boundary.

    Which is a good thing, say I.

    As for the market impact of RT, conventional wisdom in publishing these days (and I'm told there are hard numbers to back it up) is that women read more than men do, and therefore books marketed to women sell better. RT is probably one of the places booksellers look to see _what_ women are reading.

  5. Whew! I'm glad to hear Gestella is as horrific as it gets... ;-)


    by Susan Palwick was reviewed in the Science Fiction category NOT ROMANCE in Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine.

    See Below:

    by Susan Palwick
    Publisher: Tor
    Published: June 2007
    Type: Futuristic

    This complex story is set in a futuristic society where caring for others can actually get one in trouble. It offers a scary peek into what could become reality as science makes great leaps forward. Science fiction readers will enjoy this thick novel from start to finish.

    Summary: It's the end of the 21st century, and much of the world's population has been decimated by a virus called CV. Many countries with lowered populations must use machines with artificial intelligence to do needed work, and some of the same smart machines have been declared people.

    After a childhood bout with a terrible disease leaves her unable to conceive without medical help, Meredith adopts an infant survivor of the disease who turns out to have mental problems. As her son Nicholas turns into a toddler, he has terrible dreams of monsters, monsters he can pacify only by killing. In her quest to protect her son, Meredith ends up hurting many people around her.

    When a high-tech house offers shelter to a homeless man during a horrible storm, it sets into motion a series of events that will culminate in a group of people reconvening to offer absolution to the one woman who wronged them all. (Tor, Jun., 574 pp., $15.95)

    —Alexandra Kay

    Any questions please email me at

    Carol Stacy

  7. Romantic Times does give pretty thoughtful reviews (at least sometimes) to a wide variety of books. My first novel won one of their awards, and it's a contemporary fantasy with, maybe, if you squint right, a romantic subplot, but it's definitely not a romance, either.


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