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CCommercial Science Fiction? Is that a thing? Good Lord, I’m lost.


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#1 dbeedle

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Posted 11 December 2017 - 05:41 PM

I’ve been watching this board for a while, and it’s been extremely valuable. Thanks to all that participate.

I have reached the query stage for my first novel, I’m hoping to get some genre advice of my own.

My book jumps between two timelines:

The first timeline follows the life of the protagonist, Peter, as he conceives and builds a time machine over the span of four decades. His mission is to return to a day in 1974 … a day when terrible mistakes were made, and the life of the girl he loved took a tragic turn. His life since then is colored by the mistakes that were made on that day. The actions he takes and the relationships he makes (or abandons) he are hinged upon those events.

The second timeline takes place on the day in question in 1974, when Peter is fifteen years old. We see what happened the first time, and then we see what happens when he leaps back in time and attempts to fix what went wrong.

My dilemma is that time travel is not the main thrust of the novel. Primarily, it’s the love story between fifteen year-old Peter and the girl, split evenly from the perspective of fifteen year-old Peter and sixty year-old Peter. Secondarily, it’s about Peter’s relationships with his broken family and his best friend—and how they intermingle as we hop back and forth between the present and the past as Peter struggles to live his life, not only in 1974, but also today.

I used have a handle on this, but now I’m too close to it and I just don’t know.

From this brief snapshot, how would you classify this story’s genre?



#2 lnloft

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Posted 11 December 2017 - 06:01 PM

You might be literary fiction. I basically never wander out of the sci-fi/fantasy section at a bookstore, so my expertise isn't huge, but I do know that just because a novel has sci-fi/fantasy elements doesn't mean it has to be categorized as that. For instance, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, despite having the existence of magicians as a key plot point, is rarely categorized as a fantasy. For your story, it very much feels that the time travel aspect is just a device to explore something else; you could probably change the build a time machine aspect to something like "learn a unique meditative technique that allows people to perfectly relive past events and edit their memories to something new", or something similar, and it wouldn't overly change the character arcs that you are exploring. You can read more about what makes literary fiction what is it here and decide if that works for you:

 

https://www.novel-wr...ry-fiction.html

 

Alternatively, I suppose there's commercial fiction, which is kind of a catch-all of things. This has a bit more on the difference between the two:

 

http://www.writersdi...iterary-fiction

 

I'll let someone else chime in on what they think (maybe someone who does diversify their reading habits a bit), but either way, I think you're probably looking at something like "commercial/literary fiction with a science fiction backdrop" or similar.


Nothing to reciprocate on right now; I'm off in the query trenches.


#3 Monsmord

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Posted 11 December 2017 - 09:45 PM

To me, this is science fiction, but in the spirit of the best science fiction.  There's no good reason spec-fic can't be about the characters, and be as valid a medium as any other to explore the human experience.  Whether broad social commentary (Brave New World, In the Days of the Comet,1984, The Handmaid's Tale, et al), or more pointed studies of individuals and relationships (Flowers for Algernon, Orlando, The Time Traveler's Wife, Slaughterhouse Five, etc.) sometimes a spec-fic premise is the only way to ask or answer these questions.  Science fiction can absolutely be "literary"; they aren't mutually exclusive.  There's continued debate over whether "literary" is even a genre - Joyce Saricks, for one, suggests it may be better thought of as a set of conventions which could be applied to virtually all genres.  I find myself in this camp.

 

I can't speak to any pragmatic need to characterize work for agent queries or Amazon search results.  But were it my story, I'd be happy calling it science fiction.



#4 JoQwerty

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Posted 12 December 2017 - 04:07 AM

I would second Monsmord and use "science fiction" in a query, or "Time Travel" which has broken out from under the "science fiction" overhead to become its own genre. Also, if Peter and the girl he loved are united in the end, you can use the cross-genre designation "Time travel romance".



#5 dbeedle

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Posted 13 December 2017 - 06:08 AM

Thanks so much for your comments, Inloft, Monsmord, and JoQuerty. Five seconds ago I was leaning toward Commercial Fiction, and now five seconds later I'm firmly in the Science Fiction camp. Grrrr. Writing 100K words was way easier than my 220 word query letter! Again, thank you!






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