Saturday, March 8, 2014

Obscure Genres, Explained

As you browse the fiction categories of Amazon, you probably notice that a lot of the stuff has been sorted into neat categories: Horror, science fiction, romance, mainstream, whatever. Then there are those that people might not be familiar with, genres who are an actual thing, but might be a subset of one of the big categories or (gasp) a mix of two or more. You might have heard about these and wondered what the hell they're all about, because otherwise they're intermixed with the Big Categories and otherwise really damn hard to search for. Here is my humble attempt to explain them to you.

The "Lit"s

  • Chick Lit: Let's start with one of the lighter ones. Chick lit is a relatively modern genre focusing on modern womanhood, generally through a filter of humor. It typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is the central focus of the plot. In other words, a chick flick in book form. 
    • Examples: Bridget Jones' Diary, The Devil Wears Prada.
  • Misery Lit: And of course, way over at the other end of the idealism/cynicism scale is Misery Lit. This is supposedly biographical literature focusing on the protagonist overcoming trauma or abuse of many different kinds, to offer a literary catharsis for others who has suffered abuse. This genre has been rife with hoaxes (believed and confirmed alike), but regardless, if you can read one of these books without losing your faith in humanity, you have no soul. 
    • Examples: A Child Called It.
  • Boomer Lit: Boomer lit focuses on protagonists from the baby boomer generation. It typically explores all the elements of an aging population, but is also prepared to challenge the stereotypes that go along with it.
    • Examples: The Hot Flash Club.
The "Punk"s
  • Bio Punk: Bio Punk mixes organic technology and genetic engineering with the science of an earlier time. This was actually fairly popular in early science fiction as the smart guys were learning how the human body worked, and it's carried through to modern works as well
    • Examples: Frankenstein, The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • Cattle Punk: Cattle Punk is to the Western what Steampunk (below) is to the Victorian setting. Imagine a Western novel with robotic horses, rayguns, and a gunslinger with a mechanical eye, and you've got a fair idea of what Cattle Punk is all about.
    • Examples: Wild Wild West (movie)
  • Clock Punk: Clock Punk is old-school Steam Punk. Yes, I know Steam Punk is old-school already, but this is even older-school--like pre-Industrial Revolution. Replace steam power with clockwork, applied to the same general results. Imagine the sort of crazy shit that Leonardo da Vinci might be up to if he had the ability, and you've got Clock Punk
    • Examples: Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
  • Cyber Punk: This is the big one that launched a dozen sub-genres. Cyber Punk added the grittiness of the underclasses to what had previously been the shiny, chromey futurism of contemporary science fiction. In Cyber Punk you have underground hackers railing against The Man with the aid of cybernetic implants that let them do neat things like mentally interface with a computer.
    • Examples: Half of everything by William Gibson.
  • Diesel Punk: With the dawning of the Twentieth Century came the Industrial Revolution (yay!), mass manufacturing (yay!), and a little thing called World War One (boo!). Diesel punk does funky things with internal combustion engines and electricity, making for an interesting sort of Zeerust (that is, things that would be futuristic if they weren't set in the past).
    • Examples: Bio Shock, Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Steam Punk: This is the big one: Steam-powered gizmos in a Victorian setting. Imagine if steam, not electricity, were the medium to catapult humanity into a new age of technology, producing wonders like automata and other man-made servants of that type, alongside terrors like advanced war machines running roughshod over a world that isn't ready to counter them. Steam Punk covers not only literature, but film, music, comic books, and a fashion subculture, and strangely side-steps all the unpleasant issues of Victorian morality and gender roles
    • Examples: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Other Stuff

  • Weird Western: Where Cattle Punk is a science fiction take on the Western Genre, the Weird Western is more fantasy or horror. The frontier of that era was paved with ghost stories and legends, both from the settlers and the Native Americans, and the Weird Western works on the conceit that some of them are real.
    • Examples: Desperadoes, From Dusk Till Dawn, Sheep's Clothing
  • Bizarro Fiction: Hoo boy. Bizarro fiction is one of those genres where either you get it, or you don't. And the trouble with getting it is finding it half the time. Bizarro fiction typically takes place in a dreamlike parallel world where bizarre stuff is commonplace, and it works on its own logic that generally only makes sense if you just sit back and roll with it. Imagine if a novel dropped acid. The fun part is searching for these books, because some of the titles are downright profane.
    • Examples: Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland, The Baby Jesus Butt Plug, The Ass Goblins of Auchwitz (... Told ya.)

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list of the more obscure genres out there, but hopefully it will offer some help in figuring out what the hell is meant by these terms. I may make another post of this sort if my readers need help figuring out other subgenres.