It used to be that if you wanted to be accepted by big house publishers, you had to fit into a certain genre category: Mystery, science fiction, romance, main stream. If not, you were rejected. Book stores wanted to know where to put the book on their shelves.
With the advent of ebooks and self publishing, this is no longer the case and while cross-genre books have existed for ages, now cross genre books no longer have to fit onto a specific shelf. I predict an upsurge in cross genre novels.
So, I went to Powell’s Bookstore thinking that I was going to see Richard Morgan of Altered Carbon fame, and instead, stumbled into a mystery group that was reading speculative mysteries. Morgan was just mentioned on the calendar because he was their author that month.
Serendipity. And I went with it.
Ever since reading the Celestine Prophecy, I have become more open to the unexpected happening. There’s a novel with no particular genre, that was originally rejected, but became popular through self-publishing until it was bought by a traditional publisher.
They handed me a Jon Courtney Grimwood novel called Pashazade and I gave it the old squint. However, last week I was having trouble finding something that looked interesting, so I read it.
Wha la! I liked it.
It was a genre bender in that the protagonist, sometimes called ZeeZee and sometimes known as Ashraf al Mansur, is accused of the brutal murder of his aunt. However, events take place in an alternative universe where the Ottoman Empire never collapsed and the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I. The setting is essentially Alexandria, Egypt, which is called El Iskandryia and forms an exotic Mid-Eastern backdrop to the novel.
ZeeZee, as an American street tough, working for a Chinese mafia out of Seattle, is sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Or doesn’t think he committed because he isn’t quite sure. He isn’t quite sure of anything about himself as we learn that he may not be who he thinks he is. He is sprung from prison by unknowns, given an unlimited credit card and new, or possibly old identity, by his supposed aunt stating that he is the son of the Emir of Tunis and arrives in El Iskandryia at her home just in time for her murder. Naturally he is suspect number one by lead detective and fun character Felix Abrinsky.
ZeeZee, now Raf, has to do some fast dancing.
However, Raf is more than he seems, if he is what he seems at all, and he has augmentations that kick in to save his life when things get dangerous, never mind the fox he keeps hallucinating about that gives advice. Unfortunately, the high tech corporation that imbedded these goodies into his head is out of business, and things are deteriorating. The warranty is up. Reality is becoming confused.
So, to avoid prison in El Isk, and uncover his true identity, Raf has to solve the murder of his aunt, and a few others that crop up along the way. Also involved, is the young half sister who the aunt kept in her compound and who has never left the premises, and the young girl of a wealthy industrialist who he wants Raf to marry in order to acquire some social prestige along with his fortune. Raf, his supposed half-sister, and the renegade daughter Zara bond together to solve the mystery, with occasional shouting matches and hand waving.
You can see the confusion. The reading group did, and there were complaints.
I loved the tangle and the mystery. If you like Kristine Katherine Rusch’s speculative mysteries in her “Retrieval Artist’ series, then this might be a surprising, unexpected find for you to read.
If you want ends all tied neatly up, maybe not.
I’m intrigued enough to read the next in the series called, Effendi. The third in this trilogy is Falaheen . I am tasked to read it and report back, hopefully with some answers to dangling threads of the story.
Genre bending is also occurring in speculative romance style novels. The series that comes to mind there is the Liadon Universe series that I have already mention several times. The Hunger Games is a bit of science fiction combined with romance also. It doesn’t fit into a well defined category.
Someone made the statement that science fiction is about things and romance and mystery novels are about people. Sure, we like the interesting technology. How does the ship go? What does the A1 do? How can you live on an alien world? Science fiction has always appealed to the science minded reader. But I don’t think you can have a good novel that doesn’t have character development and interaction with other characters, even if they are alien. As one editor said to me, “You need a person in a place with a problem–one the reader can understand.” If your alien is too alien, then the reader can’t relate.
Now, the paranormal, supernatural has been wildly popular over the last few years. Urban fantasy al la Jim Butcher. The detective who is a supernatural crime fighter. Very popular and his series is fun to read. Fantasy mystery.
I think more and more we are going to see the mixing of genres that will create a richer reader experience and open up new exciting areas of reading. The book no longer has to sit on a specific shelf and the traditional publisher is no longer traditional.