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Subgenre of the Week: Fairytale Fiction

Sub-genre of the Week: Fairytale Fantasy

Last week, I discussed Near-future SF.  This week, I’m going to talk about a newly re-popularized genre of fantasy: fairytale re-tellings.

Definition:

Fairytale fiction is a sub-genre of speculative that revolves around re-tellings of fairytales in new settings, with new characters, or from the perspective of a previously non-perspective character, and also fairytale style stories.

History

Fairytale retellings have been around for as long as there have been fairytales, but in the past decade or so, they’ve come together as a commercial genre.

Common Tropes and Conventions

The same as those for fairytales: secret royal birth, HEA endings, marriage into a royal family, something dangerous in the nearby woods, etc.

Genre Crossover

Fairytale fiction is unique among fantasy genres for generally having very little crossover.  The specifics of the stories usually preclude it.  It’s certainly possible to create high or epic fantasy out of fairytales, but people usually file off the serial numbers if they do so.

Media

Robin Hood has always been popular in film, and Snow White has just recently received multiple adaptions.  No doubt there will be more in the future.

Future Forecast

Fairytale fiction will no doubt continue to be popular for the near-future.  Although the most popular stories now have four or five major retellings, there are plenty of lesser known stories still awaiting a re-imagining.

Recommendations

1.  Enchanted series by Gail Carson Levine

2.  Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

3.  Beastly by Alex Flinn

4.  Princess series by Jim C. Hines

5.  Rapunzel’s Revenge series by Shannon Hale

6.  Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

7.  Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

8.  Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey

9.  Beauty by Robin McKinley

10.  The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Goodreads list of Fairytale Fantasy

Next week: Cyberpunk

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Near-future SF

Sub-genre of the Week: Near-future SF

Last week, I talked about Portal Fantasy.  This week, I’m going to tackle another tough to categorize genre.

Definition:

Near-future SF is a sub-genre of SF dealing with science fiction stories and concepts just the other side of contemporary.  I’ll limit it to the next fifty years for the purposes of this post.

History

There can be no true history of the genre, since what qualifies changes as time passes.  But the concept originated as a sub-genre in the 90s and grew to its present size and description in the late 2000s.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Besides the fifty-year time frame, there are few major tropes and conventions.  There’s a tendency towards exploration of the solar system, biological advances, punk themes, climate change, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, occasionally fusion reactors and green energy.

Genre Crossover

Near-future SF crosses over with dystopian fiction, Mundane SF, and social science fiction.  It may also share traits with some hard sf.

Media

Near-future SF rarely gets attention in video media, due to its often lack of flashy technology.  It does come up now and again in anime and manga.  Otherwise, it’s mostly a print genre.

Future Forecast

By definition we’re going to have more of this.  The popularity of near-future SF and its related genres has gone up quite a bit since the post-cyberpunk movement and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Recommendations

1.  Dagmar series by Walter John Williams

2.  Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

3.  Halting State by Charles Stross

4.  The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

5.  Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

6.  Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

7.  Air: or Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman

8.  India 2047 series by Ian McDonald

9.  Anime: Planetes

10.  Anime: Dennou Coil

Goodreads list of Near-future SF

Check in next time for a discussion of Fairytale Fiction.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Portal Fantasy

Sub-genre of the Week:

Last week I talked about Dystopian Fiction.  This week, I’m going to look at another venerable subgenre: Portal Fantasy.

Definition:

Portal Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy where the protagonist goes through a portal from the real world into the fantastic.

History

Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Widerland in 1865 as a favor to the daughter of a friend, after she loved his story of Alice and her adventures during a float trip up the Isis, a nickname for part of the River Thames.  Lord Dunsany published The King of Elfland’s Daughter in 1924, though it’s brilliance was only recognized after the re-publication by Ballantine Books in 1969.  And in 1950, C.S. Lewis began publishing The Chronicles of Narnia, based on an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood he had when he was 16.  And the genre took off from there.

Common Tropes and Conventions

All you need is a portal and a fantasy world on the other side of it.  Generally, the protagonist is also treated as a savior or Chosen One in the other world.

Genre Crossover

Portal Fantasy often crosses over with High Fantasy, as most of the worlds on the other side of the portal conform fairly solidly to High Fantasy tropes and conventions.  Some anime and manga uses Epic Fantasy worlds as their targets.

Media

Alice and Narnia have both gotten several big movies, though there are no original film stories in the genre that I know of.  Anime and manga are chock full of portal fantasy, including the ever-popular Inuyasha.  And obviously print is full of it, or I couldn’t have written this post.

Future Forecast

There’s plenty of new Portal Fantasy being published these days.  It’s always been popular, and it likely always will be.  This interesting article on Making Light contradicts me a bit here, but I think it’s a bit pessimistic.  Perhaps a new style of portal fantasy will change the game.  I think I’ll get on that.

Recommendations

1.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland series by Lewis Carroll

2.  The Fionavar Tapestry series by Guy Gavriel Kay

3.  The Chronicle of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

4.  The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

5.  The Magicians series by Lev Grossman

6.  Amber series by Roger Zelazny

7.  The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson

8.  The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

9.  Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

10. Anime: Arata Kangatari

Goodreads list of Portal Fantasy

Check in next time for a discussion of Near-future SF.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Dystopian

Sub-genre of the Week: Dystopian

Last week, I talked about Epic Fantasy.  This week I’ll be discussing one of everyone’s favorite genres: Dystopian (Science) Fiction.  It also happens to be one of the most commonly misunderstood.  Hopefully I can clear things up a bit.

Definition:

Dystopian fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that involves a societal structure argued to be a utopia by its administrators, which in fact suffers from some fatal flaw, such as authoritarianism or over-surveillance.

History

Dystopian fiction has a very distinguished history.  Samuel Butler first published Erewhon: or, Over the Range in 1872, detailing a country in which the sick are criminals while criminals are considered sick.  It could be argued to be a satirical utopia, as it comments on many aspects of Victorian society, and here we come across the first ambiguity of dystopian fiction.  However, whichever way it is categorized, it was certainly an influence on later works.

For example, it greatly influenced Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, where society is divided into five major castes, raised in creches and assigned their roles in life.  The novel is often considered a response to Huxley’s visit to Imperial Chemical Industries’ Brunner and Mond plant, and is an extension into the future of many of the principles of the Industrial Revolution, and represented many people’s fear of losing their individual identity.  A further influence on Huxley was Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 novel We, written in response to the authors life in Imperial Russian in the early 20th century, which reflected on the mass collectivization of labor.

The next major dystopian novel was George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984, which represented the increased uncertainty with government surveillance, the rise of communism, and gave rise to the popular icon “Big Brother”.  Other famous dystopian novels include Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

More recently, we have Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a sickeningly accurate prediction of a more modern version of the Big Brother surveillance state.

And finally, we arrive at Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games series of novels, which spawned a vast tide of YA “dystopian” novels.  The Hunger Games recalls Koushun Takami’s 1999 nove, Battle Royale, the story of a class of Japanese teenagers iset on an island for a game of survival where only one can remain.  It remains to be seen whether this new wave of dystopian fiction can match up to the old giants of the genre.  So far, I’d say it hasn’t.

Common Tropes and Conventions

A “perfect: society with one major flaw, generally the rampant suppression of a group or social freedom we take for granted today.  Otherwise, not much else has to be in common.

Genre Crossover

Dystopian strongly crosses over with apocalyptic fiction, especially in the new wave coming out in the wake of The Hunger Games.  It can also cross over with near-future SF, such as in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-up Girl.

Media

Many dystopians, from Soylent Green to The Hunger Games have graced the big screen.  They’re also common in Japanese manga and anime, such as Deadman Wonderland, where a privatized prison has become the new Disney World.

Future Forecast

The new wave of YA dystopia is still going strong, and looks to keep on going for quite awhile.  Whether adult dystopias will make the same comeback is uncertain.  But the genre looks to be in no danger of slowing down.

Recommendations

1.  1984 by George Orwell

2.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

3.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

5.  The Giver Quartet series by Lois Lowry

6.  Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

7.  The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

8.  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

9.  Movie: Soylent Green

10. Anime/Manga: Deadman Wonderland

Goodreads list of Dystopian fiction.

Check in next time for a discussion of Portal Fantasy.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Epic Fantasy

Sub-genre of the Week: Epic Fantasy

Last week, I discussed Social Science Fiction.  This week, I’m going to tackle Epic Fantasy, and perhaps disambiguate it a bit from high fantasy, which when looked at closely, can be usefully considered as separate genres.

Definition:

Epic Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy involving a large scope, a big cast, and often morally gray characters.  It is mainly but not always a form of secondary-world fiction.

History

Epic fantasy has a long history, closely intertwined with high fantasy.  It has become increasingly popular since the 90s, beginning with the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Large casts, wide scope, multiple perspective characters, and high stakes.  And, of course, they almost always come in series.

Genre Crossover

Epic fantasy often crosses over with high fantasy.  In fact, many of the big hits are both.  However, it is distinguished by it’s lack of black-and-white conflict and commonly wider scope, as well as a less mythic and more gritty tone.  It occasionally crosses over with portal fantasy, dark fantasy, and historical fantasy.  It shares many tropes with Sword & Sorcery, but is distinguished by the more-than-personal stakes and large cast.

Media

Epic fantasy is immensely popular in visual media, including manga, anime, and movies.  Game of Thrones is the latest in a line of popular epic fantasy appearances on the small and big screen.

Future Forecast

As with any well-established genre, epic fantasy isn’t going anywhere soon.  It will no doubt continue to be popular and receive at least a couple debuts every year.

Recommendations

1.  A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

2.  The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson

3.  The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson

4.  The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett

5.  The Night Angel series by Brent Weeks

6.  Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher

7.  The Inheritance Trilogy series by N.K. Jemisin

8. Winds of the Fourlands series by David B. Coe

9. The Long Price Quartet series by Daniel Abraham

10. Watergivers series by Glenda Larke

Goodreads list of Epic Fantasy

Next week: Dystopian!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Social Science Fiction

Sub-genre of the Week: Social Science Fiction

Last week I talked about Sword & Sorcery.  This week we have something of an odd duck.  Social Science Fiction is not a regularly accepted genre, but perhaps it should be.  It lacks common conventions and tropes, and yet the focus on society, sociology, and anthropology makes the books within it distinct from others they may share some genre classifications with.

Definition:

Social Science Fiction is a genre of SF revolving around the exploration of alternate societies, anthropology, and sociology.  It’s a rather broad umbrella.

History

There’s no real history to this genre, since it’s not an established sub-genre, but rather a collection of disparate works that often appeal to the same group of people.

Much of it was published around the New Wave in the 60s and 70s.  For example, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote most of her Hainish series during that period.

Common Tropes and Conventions

There are none, really, except that focus on the social sciences and possible future societies.

Genre Crossover

Pretty much any genre.  Space Opera for The Hainish Cycle, Military SF for Starship Troopers.  Near-future SF and Dystopia.  (I argue that Dystopia is worth considering separately.)

Media

There have been adaptions of many shorts stories and some novels, such as Flowers for Algernon and Starship Troopers, but otherwise firmly in the realm of print.

Future Forecast

Hard to say considering it’s not a cohesive body of work.  It’s certainly likely that more will be published in the future, as near-future SF is still pretty popular.

Recommendations

1.  The Hainish Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin

2.  Earthseed series by Octavia E. Butler

3.  Canopus in Argos series by Doris Lessing

4.  Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

5.  Blindness by Jose Saramago

6.  Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

7.  Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

8. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

9. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

10.  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Goodreads list of Social Science Fiction.

(A lot of stuff on the Goodreads list is actually Dystopian, which I distinguish from Social SF.)

Check in next time for a discussion of Epic Fantasy.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Sword and Sorcery

Sub-genre of the Week:

Last week I discussed Mundane SF.  This week I’m going to talk about Sword & Sorcery, a genre whose definition is notoriously hard to articulate.  I did consider calling the genre S&S/heroic fantasy, since the distinction between the two is so fine.  But perhaps that’s an issue to tackle in a later post.  Much later.

Definition:

Sword & Sorcery is a sub-genre of fantasy with adventurer heroes and less emphasis on magic systems than epic and high fantasy.  It most often features morally grey characters on quests for wealth and glory.

History

The name “Sword & Sorcery” originated in 1961, when a letter written to the fanzine Arma by Michael Moorcock demanded a name for the stories of Robert E. Howard.  Fritz Leiber replied in Ancalagon, suggesting S&S, and he described the genre further in Arma the same year.  The genre itself had origins in the 30s and grew until the 70′s where it arguably peaked.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Common tropes of S&S include grey morality, a me-first attitude among the protagonists, and while tales may be epic in scope, the protagonist s more concerned with the here-and-now and personal stakes than the fate of kingdoms.

Genre Crossover

Sword and Sorcery has a great deal of crossover with several fantasy and science fiction genres.  Sword and Planet, heroic fantasy, and epic fantasy share many of the same character traits with S&S hero(ine)s, and many of the plots are similar.

Media

Sword & Sorcery became popular in visual media ever since the release of Conan the Barbarian in 1982, which spawned many derivative films, such as Kull the Conqueror and others.  It was also extremely popular in the short fiction pulp magazines, with many anthologies and short-story collections as well.

Future Forecast

Popular authors like Joe Abercrombie have brought back novel-length S&S, and it looks to remain popular in the future, although it’s doubtful it will ever reach the popularity it had at its peak in the early half of the 20th century.

Recommendations

1.  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber

2.  The Elric Saga series by Michael Moorcock

3.  Conan the Cimmerian series by Robert E. Howard

4.  Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore

5.  Kane series by Karl Edward Wagner

6.  Hyperborea by Clark Ashton Smith

7.  Imaro by Charles R. Saunders

8.  Red Sonja by David C. Smith

9.  The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie

10.  Morlock Ambrosius series by James Enge

Goodreads list of Sword and Sorcery

Many of the books on the goodreads list are really epic or high fantasy, so do keep that in mind.

Check in next time for a discussion of Social Science Fiction.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Mundane SF

Sub-genre of the Week: Mundane SF

Last week I discussed High Fantasy.  This week, I’ll be doing a bit of a 180 and investigating a new sub-genre of SF.  Not only is it lacking in the fantastic as found in High Fantasy and its SF counterpart: Space Opera, but it’s an artificially created genre, formed by a cabal of writers in response to the recent popularity of Spacer Opera in the mainstream.  And while it strives to be as realistic as possible and eschews some of the flashier trappings of speculative fiction, I still enjoy it, both for its strict adherence to its own rules, and for the creative space it opens up in genre literature.

Definition:

Mundane SF is a sub-genre of science fiction characterized by a belief in the implausibility of FTL travel and alien contact.  It avoids alternate realities, and treats the future as solar-system-centric and focused on humanity and its future on earth.  It strives for a lack of escapism absent from almost any other speculative genre.  It could be considered a sub-genre of Hard SF.

History

Mundane SF was founded in 2002 by a group of writers including Geoff Ryman.  In 2007, it had grown enough for INterzone magazine to devote an issue to it, and it continues to grow as new writers adopt the ethos, and old writers come into the middle of their careers.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Mundane SF is characterized by a solar-system-focused future.  It lacks such common and unlikely tropes as FTL and universal translation.  It lacks tropes of extra-terrestrial life and alien encounters.

Genre Crossover

Mundane SF, by virtue of its limits, rarely crosses genre boundaries.  It could be argued to cross-over with Hard SF, assuming you view it as a separate genre.  It does also have some cross-over with near-future SF.

Media

As new as it is, there have been few examples of Mundane SF in non-print media.  It could be argued that the anime Planetes falls under the Mundane SF umbrella, but it could just as easily be bog-standard near-future SF.

Future Forecast

No doubt Mundane SF will continue to grow, albeit slowly, as SF writers become aware of it, and some few of its readers become writers.  I don’t see any omens of fantastic growth of a glutted market any time soon.

Recommendations
I’m afraid I can’t give you an recs for this one, as there aren’t really any 100% clearly Mundane SF novels.  The goodreads page is mostly books re-classified as Mundane SF that were written before the publishing the of Manifesto that sparked the movement.  Do check out Interzone #216 for some short story examples, though.

Goodreads list of Mundane SF

Next time: Sword and Sorcery

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: High Fantasy

Sub-genre of the Week: High Fantasy

Last week, I talked about Magical Realism.  This week’s sub-genre is the venerable and ever-popular high fantasy.  This is what most people imagine when they hear the word “fantasy”, and many, many writers and readers cut their teeth in the speculative fiction genre on this variant.  It’s old, but still enjoyable, and many of the older works in this genre are still wonderful reads today.

Definition:

High Fantasy is a medieval fantasy genre most often but not always set in pseudo-Europe.  It generally involves a larger-than-life hero on an epic quest, and a strong magical component.  It is distinguished from epic fantasy by the common focus of good vs. evil and the always heroic protagonist.  It is always set in a secondary fantasy world as opposed to taking place in the real world during historical times.

History

Most people would argue that high fantasy began with Tolkien in the early to mid fifties, although other early works such as Eric Rücker Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros is also often considered one of the first high fantasies.  It developed through various Tolkien-inspired series into the broad, diverse genre it is now in the 70s.

Common Tropes and Conventions

High Fantasy most often involves quest plots, Tolkien-esque non-human races such as elves and dwarves and orcs, hero protagonists.  There is also quite often heightened language and an overall heightened tone, reminiscent of mythology, from where it draws a great deal of its material.  The faux-medieval setting is also a very common convention.

Genre Crossover

High Fantasy most frequently crosses over with epic and heroic fantasy.  In fact, it could be argued that they aren’t really distinct genres at all.  So while I’ll make distinctions and argue that certain books are actually not in the genre it may first appear, plenty of people will disagree with me.  However, epic fantasy often has anti-heroes and a grittier tone.

Media

Besides novels, there are many high fantasy movies, anime, manga, and television shows.  The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the best well known movie franchise.

Future Forecast

High Fantasy always has and probably always will sell well.

Recommendations

1.  The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

2.  The Earthsea Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin

3.  The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan

4.  The Belgariad series by David Eddings

5.  Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

6.  The Chronicles of the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz

7.  The Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss

8.  The Farseer Trilogy series by Robin Hobb

9.  The Hythrun Chronicles series by Jennifer Fallon

10.  The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander

Goodreads list of High Fantasy

Check in next time for a discussion of Mundane SF.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Magical Realism

Sub-genre of the Week: Magical Realism

Last week I talked about the New Weird.  This week, I’ll be addressing another fringe genre, Magical Realism.  I enjoy this genre because of its focus on character and the oddities in our everyday lives.

Definition:

Magical Realism is a sub-genre of either general or speculative fiction, depending on how you choose to see it.  It incorporates light fantastical elements which are both unexplainable and unexplained in the context of the story.  One of its major features is authorial reticence, the practice of with-holding information about those unexplainable events.

History

The term “Magical Realism” first appeared in reference to literature in 1955, it was applied to a strain of German art by critic Franz Roh in 1925.  However, literary magical realism originated in Latin America and reached its peak in late 40s and early 50s.  However, books have continued to come out, especially in non-Latin American countries at a steady rate.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Magical Realism tends to lack tropes and conventions, as such.  However, light fantastic elements, strong internal conflicts, and a presentation of the fantastic as no more surprising than the everyday are common among most stories in the genre.  A sense of the unexplainable and the possibility of meta-fictional elements are also commonly present.

Genre Crossover

Magical Realism has some cross-over with many genres.  Slipstream, New Weird, and the literary end of Urban Fantasy all share many features, such as the subtle presentation of the fantastic elements, an emphasis on layers of the story beyond just the plot, and an attention to description.

Media

Most Magical Realism is in novel or short story form, excepting movie adaptions.

Future Forecast

Magical Realism has been doing well, and authors from countries all over the world have been throwing their hat in the ring, and in many languages, as well.  As more books are written in more countries and languages, both the visibility and perceptions of the genre will no doubt bring even greater popularity.

Recommendations

1.  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

2.  The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

3.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

4.  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

5.  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

6.  Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

7.  Chocolat by Joanne Harris

8.  Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

9.  The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

10.  Skellig by David Almond

Goodreads list of Magical Realism

Next week: High Fantasy

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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