Science fiction and fantasy, in my experience, are rarely all one thing. Sometimes – often! – SFF blends elements of other genres of fiction into it. For instance, I think just about every Philip K. Dick novel I’ve read is either transgressive fiction or a detective/crime novel.
Sometimes those elements seem so weird that not only does the mainstream reject them, but the SFF world does as well. But every once in a while, a few successful novels in one of these “blended genres” creates a whole new market of science fiction and fantasy.
Take, for instance, urban fantasy. Until relatively recently, fantasy was all Tolkein and fairytales. But with the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Sookie Stackhouse novels, Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series, and The Dresden Files, suddenly urban fantasy went from a curiosity to a main event in the genre.
They even spawned a secondary sub-genre: Paranormal Romance. It’s become so mainstream that Hollywood and the small screen have even begun to pick it up. All three of those book series became TV series, and recently, there was even an attempt at blending high fantasy and urban fantasy in the form of Bright.
Space Westerns might be viewed as another one of these SFF mashups that made it big. The 1970s were full of space western B-movies, and Firefly was certainly a popular revival of the concept, although it was slow enough to catch on that it was cancelled before it had a chance to break into the popular consciousness.
Steampunk could also be viewed in this light, since it began as a blend of Victorian science fiction and cyberpunk.
Naomi Novik has achieved success and recognition with her Temeraire novels, a blend of high fantasy and alternate history. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series blends elements of Western, post-apocalypse, Lovecraftian horror, cyberpunk, and high and portal fantasy. William Gibson pioneered cyberpunk, which was originally a blend of science fiction and film noir. And arguably, the Harry Potter books almost single-handedly revived the YA market with its combination of YA fantasy and juvenile boarding school novels.
Here’s a quick run-down of some lesser-known SFF genre mashups, in case you’d like to check them out. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be the next Urban Fantasy success story!
Cattlepunk: a mashup of Western and Steampunk (another mashup genre that became its own thing). Examples: Wild Wild West, Hexslinger series.
Grimdark Fantasy: a mashup of horror and fantasy. (We already had forms of Grimdark Sci-fi that became their own genres; like cyberpunk, dystopian, post-apocalyptic horror, and space horror.) Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire, Black Company series, Dark Tower series (about 75% of what Stephen King writes, actually,) Joe Abercrombie
Historical Fantasy: fantasy specifically set in a historical era, with many of the same traits as historical fiction. If the fantastical elements are subtle or could be explained by the perspectives of the characters, they can sometimes be found in the Historical Fiction section rather than the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Examples: Jane Auel, Guy Gavriel Kay, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Temeraire novels.
Magical Realism: a story that takes place in the contemporary world, where the fantastical elements are treated like part of the background; described as having an essentially “realistic” view of the world even though the fantastical elements are present. Usually they are found in the General Fiction section rather than the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Examples: American Gods & related Neal Gaiman novels, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Alice Hoffman, Kafka.
Post-Apocalyptic Western: a post-apocalyptic story that relies heavily on Western tropes and often graphic violence. Examples: Mad Max, Deathlands series, Barstow.
Science Fantasy: a story in which elements of science fiction and fantasy are seamlessly blended. Many classic planetary romances, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom books, or Andre Norton’s Witch World series, might be considered to be part of this category. Examples: Star Wars, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels (science fiction that reads like fantasy,) Treasure Planet.
SFF Parody: parody in a science fiction or fantasy setting. The classics are, of course, Discworld, Red Dwarf, The Princess Bride, and The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
SFF Romance: sci-fi or fantasy meets romance. Examples: several books and stories in the Vorkosigan Saga, the entire Paranormal Romance genre.
SFF Thriller: a thriller with science fiction or fantasy elements, often classified on the General Fiction bookshelf as “men’s fiction.” Examples: Clive Cussler, Dan Brown.
Technofantasy: a blend of high-tech elements and clearly fantastical ones, like mages who use computers, or fairies with nanotech. Examples: Artemis Fowl series, Webmage series, Otherland series, Dark Tower again.
Weird Western: a Western with supernatural elements (zombies, witches, vampires, elves, etc.) Examples: Deadlands series, Werewolf: The Wild West, the Hexslinger series again, Jonas Hex, and – Dark Tower again.
What genre mashups can you think of that I might not have considered? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!
Just sayin’: The Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga are both SFF mashups. The Wyrd West is a dystopian post-apocalyptic cattlepunk Weird Western. The Toy Soldier Saga is a military science fantasy planetary romance space opera. You can check them out at the links above, or on my About page.