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A Brave New Dawn for Book Classification

Simon Appleby and Mathew F. Riley, founders of book review site Bookgeeks.co.uk, christen our shiny new blog with their drastic new suggestions for organising your SF&F bookshelves. Will it catch on?

Publishers of what the trade likes to call SF&F, along with Horror, have long been used to their beloved books being grouped together in bookshops regardless of their contents, with many bookshops simply seeing them as ‘that section over there with many black spines for those with the black clothes, tattoos and cartoons on their t-shirts’.

Back when HP Lovecraft was writing, all of these genres would most likely have been grouped together as ‘Weird fiction’ so things have changed, a bit, but we geeks also know that three genres is not nearly enough, not really: there are numerous sub-genres in to which all books must be placed.

Here at Bookgeeks Towers (it’s not a shed, honest), we have been thinking about this a lot (well, ten minutes), and we would like to suggest a radical new alternative – Trope Labelling. The Zeitgeist these days is empowering consumers to make informed choices, so we think it’s time genre fiction forgot about old-fashioned labels and concentrated on laying bare the essential ingredients, or Tropes, that make up each book – that way, you can always be sure of getting your recommended daily intake of muscled heroes, sassy space-heroines, sexy children of the night or robot backchat.

It’s a work in progress, but here are our early thoughts for must-have Trope labels, handily laid out in A-Z order:

Apocalypse
An always-popular Trope this one and 2012’s not far away. Think of all the sub-Tropes we can fit beneath this – environmental, nature’s revenge, aliens, asteroids, disease… the list of how we can all die horribly is wonderfully endless! We geeks cannot wait for the apocalypse (although we think there might be a fight if it’s not the apocalypse we would have chosen for ourselves). Mathew wants a zombie apocalypse, which he thinks would give him a fighting chance at the very least; Simon would prefer something that involves escaping the planet in space arks and starting again in a distant galaxy.

Books that require a dictionary to hand when reading
Mostly applied to Stephen Donaldson books.

Books that require a wrist support when reading
Not a Trope exactly, and more a public health notice which, let’s face it, will be applied to many of the tomes in our brave new labelling world.

Central characters who we ought to like, but can’t quite bring ourselves to
Books with this symbol on would be suitable for anyone who ever wanted to give Frodo Baggins a good slap – “pull yourself together, Master Frodo, and get on with it so we can go back to finding out what happens to Gandalf”.

Dragons
Whether they’re devious and scheming or as dim as dung beetles, dragons are an important component of fantasy literature. If you see the Dragon Trope you can make sure you’re wearing your best flame-retardant pyjamas.

Discworld
A one-man Trope, all hail the man in the hat (and don’t forget it all started with Gollancz!).

Ghosts
Gradually the doors between this world and that other are being opened… look at mainstream titles these days and you’ll find a host of spooky plot devices, characters and locations wafting in.

Magicians
This strikes us as more of a Mega-Trope, ripe with sub-Troping potential (Witches, Malevolent Sorcerors, etc.).

Orcs
Big, green killing machines (unless you’re Stan Nicholls, in which case they’re misunderstood big green killing machines).

Spaceships
Sometimes you just need a dose of good spaceship action. When else do writers ever get a chance to talk about gravity wells and the plane of the elliptic (bless them)?

Tentacles
Monsters is a too wide-ranging as a Trope, as nearly all genre titles feature some form of monster – human, supernatural, machine or otherwise – so we would propose monsters be labelled by their attributes, of which those with tentacles are our favourite at the moment. We have (rather worryingly) developed several friendships based upon a mutual love of tentacles.

Vampires
All the rage these days. Thanks to Stephanie Meyer, everyone wants to drink someone’s blood, so polo-necks on and garlic at the ready when you see this Trope label.

Zombies
The shambling dead rise and walk the earth – but as well as having their own dedicated sub-genre, it’s surprising how often zombies are called something else and dropped in to other types of book. This Trope label would help zombie-lovers broaden their horizons, and breathe some fresh fantasy air. Indeed, we have seen a bookshop that placed Pride and Prejudice with Zombies alongside Jane Austen’s classic works. Inspired!

What’s that, you say? It wouldn’t work? Our beloved genres are far more complicated than the simple sum of their parts, you say? OK, you’re right, we know that really – and more importantly, so do the lovely people at Gollancz, which is why we are so glad that they are going to start blogging. It should be really good fun getting an insight into some of the work that goes in to making sure that their science fiction, fantasy and horror titles are so much more than just a series of ticks in boxes. Happy blogging, team!