Is This the Real Life? Or Is This Just Fantasy?

Today, I want to talk a bit about genre, not exactly about what the borders of genre are, because I have no clue. However, I’ve noticed a trend that I want to talk about, which may be inspired by one of the books I’m currently reading. *cough* The Queen of the Tearling *cough*

There are a whole host of books, often dystopian but with a few supposedly fantasy surprises, that are purportedly futuristic. Now, futuristic fiction can be really fun for sure and really make you think, BUT it can also result in serious suspension of disbelief issues, at least for me. There has to be really amazing world building to establish how on earth (literally) the now became that future. Unless this explanation happens and is convincing, I’ll be unable to think of the book without going

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I’ll pick on The Queen of the Tearling a bit, since I’m reading it now. For the most part, I’m enjoying it, I think. At least until some reference comes along to remind me that it’s in some weird magical future version of our world. There’s been some discussion of the founding of the Tear, but let’s just say that thus far it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. That might be sorted out before the end of the book, but as of yet it’s just throwing me out of the book every time it comes up because this governmental system seems implausible for the future. I thought The Queen of the Tearling was a fantasy and I’d be fine with it if it were, but trying to believe that our society became this mess of stuff isn’t working. I mean, it must be some alternate universe, right? Or did future humanity discover witchy powers? Or maybe aliens? I just? What?

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Erika Johansen’s debut novel isn’t alone in making me side-eye an author’s genre choice. Here are some others that I thought would have been much more convincing as fantasy novels:

  • Kiera Cass’ The Selection: Actually, I think The Selection would have been great as either a fantasy or a fluffy contemporary with an invented country (think Princess Diaries meets The Bachelor). The dystopian aspects were really shoehorned in and the idea that so many different countries ultimately reverted back to monarchies was rather laughable.
  • Veronica Roth’s Divergent: Let’s be honest: whether you loved this series or not, all of that stuff about genetics didn’t make a lick of sense from a scientific perspective. However, set it in a fantasy world in which human beings have particular traits by nature. That would be strange but much more believable than humanity going from the way we are now to somehow not being able to possess truthfulness, kindness, selflessness or bravery if in possession of intelligence. The beautiful thing about fantasy is that you can create a brand new world with its own logic. Divergent would still be difficult to world build as a fantasy, but I think it has better chances of working out that way.
  • Elsie Chapman’s Dualed: Another dystopian novel that requires a serious intellectual leap. The science and reasoning behind the creation of everyone having a twin and then having to kill that twin was tenuous at best. If it were a fantasy world in which everyone was born a twin and a rite of passage was trying to kill your twin, I would have been totally fine with it, so long as the interior logic supported that. A not so distance future? I think not.
  • C.J. Redwine’s Defiance: I can kind of sort of accept that the future might end up looking like little enclaves of the past, but how how how are there dragon creatures? Like The Queen of the Tearling, if there is magic or a fantastical creature in your futuristic world that isn’t in ours, it needs to be explained.

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An example of one that I think has so far done the futuristic thing well? The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. Again, I can’t really see how humanity has gotten to this point, but I don’t so much mind in this case. The difference is that it seems to be SO far in the future and after some sort of environmental cataclysm. No one in the world really knows what came before and doesn’t remember the government of America. Anything’s possible because the board was sort of wiped clean.

Every book in which I’ve witnessed this happening is in some measure dystopian. Clearly, that fad led to this phenomenon of categorization. Indeed, if you look at Goodreads, dystopian fiction is actually listed as a subset of science fiction, but it really doesn’t need to be. Let’s embrace fantasy societies with dystopian governments, shall we? There are plenty of awesome dystopian ideas out there that don’t make sense in the world we know, but authors can invent a whole new world.

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I’m not trying to be highly critical of the authors here or to say that you shouldn’t love these books (I enjoyed several myself), but just that I thought they felt shoe-horned into a particular genre when I thought they might have been better served by being another. I suspect that in some cases it was a publisher or marketing decision more than the author’s, though I really have no way of knowing.

Have you guys read any books you thought would have been better in another genre?

15 responses to “Is This the Real Life? Or Is This Just Fantasy?”

  1. This is brilliantttttttt. Ugh, seriously. Mostly, I am surprised you rated Dualed 3.5 *cough* BUT point is, if that was a fantasy instead, I would probably have had way less problems with it. As it is, I feel like it’s one of the worst dystopian books out there because the world building was so detached from our reality… Fantasy would have worked. Well, at least a little better. Still didn’t like the gratuitous amount of violence and the stupid MC. *shrug*

    We SHOULD embrace fantasy dystopias. Like Stormdancer. *nods* Also *psst* I’m listening to Allegiant right now and YEAH it’s so bogus oh my god asdjfkl; Genetics DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT.

    Anywho. Look at me. Commenting with more than one sentence of caps attack. *pats self on back* well done, Debby.
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  2. Morgan says:

    First of all, I really enjoyed your post! I hadn’t realized that that’s what has been bothering me but you hit the nail on the head. I can only suspend my disbelief so much. That’s one of the elements that *really* irritated me about Defiance. No one seems to remember anything, yet claims their current world came to be 50 years ago. There is an old guy with them, you’re telling me he remembers NOTHING of the old life?

    The Selection scratched the surface, didn’t bother me as much but now that you mention a made up country a la Genovia that seems like such a better idea!

    And Divergent. Man. The genetics were SO disappointing. It wasn’t the dystopian elements that bothered me as much as the explanation for what was happening.

    I have Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception on my immediate TBR pile, very interested to read them!

  3. Queen of Tearling sounded super good but the more I heard about it the more skeptical I became. It’s so much easier to believe a fantasy with some brand-new unknown world without all our pre-conceived notions. But you’re right, if they want to set it in our society but make it completely out of this world, not literally, it’s hard to wrap my head around. I fear I’d have the same issues with Tearling but I anxiously await your review. πŸ™‚
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  4. This is a problem I regularly face with dystopians – there seems to be a lot of overlap between dystopian and fantasy, and a lot of the time it just doesn’t make much sense. Frustrating. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned (except Divergent) but I totally see your point and agree 100%. I need explanations and I need them NOW. I’ve read that the history of Queen of the Tearling is explained in later books, but I’m not sure that I trust that. It kind of sounds like the author isn’t quite sure what to do and is putting off figuring it out. We’ll see.
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  5. Yes yes yes! I just read The Queen of the Tearling last week and, while I did enjoy it overall, I kind of brushed aside any mentions of the “past” society (including some weird references to Tolkien and Rowling, I believe). I don’t think that the history of the world was explained nearly well enough, but I basically just read it pretending it was its own fantasy world and that worked perfectly fine for me.
    And I lost all respect for the Divergent series with that pseudo-science genetic crap in Allegiant. Just ugh.
    Not a complaint exactly, but I felt as though The Bone Season was a weird juxtaposition of genres that I never quite understood. Like, am I supposed to think of it as a fantasy? Or a futuristic dystopian? Or what?
    I get that genre is a fluid concept, but sometimes it would be nice *not* to confuse readers with what this is marketed as.
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  6. Soma Rostam says:

    GREAT post!
    Well, I loved the Divergent series and I really think it did well with the whole dystopian genre.
    But about the Defiance series and this book that you are currently reading, I definitely agree that when there is magic, the book needs to be more into the fantasy genre.
    One example I have is Frozen by Melissa De La Cruz and Michael Johnson, it’s just a futuristic world where there are little dwarfs and elves (the likes of the Lord of the Rings), how did ELVES come out from a futuristic world? Just doesn’t make sense to me.
    GREAT controversial post! LOVED it
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  7. Yes, this. πŸ˜‰ ie: I love Divergent and really enjoyed the Selection series but YES.
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  8. Anya says:

    Re Divergent: Omg thank you! I DNF’d Allegiant as soon as they started trying to explain things scientifically because it just defies all logic and I wanted to shake things >.>

    I didn’t finish The Queen of the Tearling but I got the impression that The Crossing was like space travel to a new planet and then a lot was lost while trying to survive on the new planet kind of like Pern? I couldn’t get into the character dynamics though so I don’t actually know much beyond page 100 or so ;-).

    In general I’m willing to accept futuristic fantasy because we’ve had extreme losses of technology and knowledge before in the Dark Ages so it seems entirely possible that it could happen again if a planet-wide disaster hit. I’m excited to see where Kiss of Deception goes with this for sure!
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  9. Ooh, I like this, because you automatically go further than I did. I get all twisted and bothered about the illogic of it all but don’t think to reframe everything as a fantasy, and that is COOL. Like when I think about how much better The Selection would have been as a fantasy (from a world-building standpoint anyways), I can literally feel my brain unclench. It’s fantastic!
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  10. Yes! Can that just be my comment – because that’s how I feel. Divergent in particular had me crazy mad, because to me, no one in their right mind would think those kinds of factions a “plausible” idea. It soured me on the entire series.
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  11. […] “Is This The Real Life? Or Is This Just Fantasy?” @ A Reader of Fictions – I tend to shy away from dystopians in general, but this post definitely sums up one of the reasons I dislike them in the first place: they so often don’t feel realistic enough for me to believe in them – they should either be fantasies or the worldbuilding needs to be a lot better […]

  12. […] Christina has some thoughts on genre confusion. […]

  13. […] somebody else sees that some Worlds/ justifications in Dystopian books just don’t make sense. I think that about the Divergent series, but that article has more examples. Anyone agree – […]

  14. Julie S. says:

    Ooh what a great idea. I think books really do cross multiple genre and it makes more sense when is one of those. Great post! Dystopian fantasy should really be a thing.
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  15. Annie says:

    I had never really though of books outside their genre. But as soon as you said it – it’s a fantastic idea.

    The Selection I never really felt was dystopian. Those elements were just so weak. But as contemporary fantasy, it would have been much stronger. Or even a different fantasy world.

    Divergent, also, would have been better as fantasy where the weak scientific elements could have been dropped or handled differently.

    I suspect, in general authors put their stories in our world because it’s easier to change the known world rather than create a new one. And the popularity if dystopias provably contributed to that. But I’d much rather read more contemporary fantasies or magical realism or even alternate histories.

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