IF is a Medium, not a Genre ( ! )

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internisus

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Jun 4, 2007, 1:53:29 PM6/4/07
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This may seem horribly pedantic, and perhaps it is. At first my
motivation for posting this was simply to correct a widespread error
in vocabulary that has been driving me mad with each r.a.i-f thread,
but with reflection it seems more important than that.

Listen up. Interactive Fiction is NOT a genre. It is a medium.

"Genre" refers to style and content trends. Spaghetti Western is a
genre.

"Medium" refers to presentation and format. Film is a medium.

Interactive Fiction is a unique medium. If forced to, I might class
it as a subset of what are commonly termed videogames; that is,
roughly, interactive media in general. It might also be called a
subset of literature. It's probably accurate to describe it as a
meeting place of the two. In this, however, it is theoretically,
functionally, and experientially different from both larger groups.

However semantic the issue may seem, referring to Interactive Fiction
as a genre belittles a still-emerging art form that may yet prove to
be quite important. Let's keep that in mind, if only as a matter of
self-respect!

Jim Aikin

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Jun 4, 2007, 3:35:50 PM6/4/07
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I always use the terminology in the way you recommend (except when I
forget). It's an important distinction. Within IF, there are several genres,
SF and fantasy being the most often seen. I've run into a few mysteries as
well.

--JA


"internisus" <inter...@gmail.com> wrote in message
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Nikos Chantziaras

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Jun 4, 2007, 3:47:28 PM6/4/07
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internisus wrote:
> Listen up. Interactive Fiction is NOT a genre. It is a medium.

It is both. :)

But usually, when I want to refer to "IF" as genre, I use the term "text
adventure".


> Interactive Fiction is a unique medium. If forced to, I might class
> it as a subset of what are commonly termed videogames; that is,
> roughly, interactive media in general. It might also be called a
> subset of literature. It's probably accurate to describe it as a
> meeting place of the two. In this, however, it is theoretically,
> functionally, and experientially different from both larger groups.
>
> However semantic the issue may seem, referring to Interactive Fiction
> as a genre belittles a still-emerging art form that may yet prove to
> be quite important. Let's keep that in mind, if only as a matter of
> self-respect!

Let's not forget that it started as a genre. In the commercial era of
text adventures, it was just a type of video game. We had different
common genres back then; "jump 'n' run", "side scrollers", "RPGs",
"graphic adventures" and... "text adventures" ;)

Andrew Plotkin

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Jun 4, 2007, 4:30:07 PM6/4/07
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Here, internisus <inter...@gmail.com> wrote:
> This may seem horribly pedantic, and perhaps it is. At first my
> motivation for posting this was simply to correct a widespread error
> in vocabulary that has been driving me mad with each r.a.i-f thread,
> but with reflection it seems more important than that.
>
> Listen up. Interactive Fiction is NOT a genre. It is a medium.

I disagree!

> "Genre" refers to style and content trends. Spaghetti Western is a
> genre.
>
> "Medium" refers to presentation and format. Film is a medium.

In the computer gaming world, "genre" refers to presentation and
format. The platformer is a videogame genre. (So are: turn-based
strategy, dating sims, etc...) That's the way the term is used.

Style and content is still a part of videogame study -- but it's
called something else. ("Setting", probably.) A far-future
robots-and-aliens platformer, an elfland cute-fuzzy-fairies
platformer, and a contemporary parkour-in-the-city-sewers platformer
are all in the same videogame genre.

You can dismiss that usage, if you like. But I think it's far more
valuable to look at *why* the term came to be used that way.

I have not spent any time studying genre theory, but what I've read
was this: "genre" isn't *fundamentally* about style or setting. It's
about the conventions that underlie the work; what's important, what's
peripheral, how to interpret elements in the work. The audience and the
writer must be working from the same conventions, or the thing crashes
into a tree.

In novels, genre is closely tied with setting. If you write "the door
dilated", to use the classic example, you expect the audience to pick
that up as a cue to how the portrayed world differs from ours. In a
different genre, the audience would treat that line differently
(perhaps even as a typo).

But I don't think there's any deep *theoretical* reason that genres
divide out along setting lines. It's because, say, the SF audience has
evolved in a direction -- along with SF authors, obviously -- over
many decades of reading and writing a common body of work.

And in computer games? My theory is that *UI conventions* (and the
command structures that underlie them) are by far the most important
conventions to game designers and players. The bodies of work that
exist -- whose creators and users evolve together over time -- are not
"far-future" or "wizards and elves", but "first-person shooter" or
"CRPG". Someone who plays a fantasy CRPG is likely to also play a SF
CRPG. Those two games will play similarly; they will be understood by
the same players. So they are in the same genre.

In that view, text adventures are absolutely a genre. Most people who
play fantasy text games will also play SF text games, and vice versa.
But fantasy text games and fantasy novels are *not* a shared
community.

[My usual footnote on this lecture is "survival horror" -- one of the
few videogame genres that looks like a prose-story genre. I could make
an argument that the UI conventions there are highly evolved to suit a
particular *emotional* experience; being a relatively weak, slow human
surrounded by hidden monsters. But mostly I think that subcommunity
happened to evolve that way; the contemporary-horror setting happened
to get set.]

[Although, _Disaster Report_.]

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
It's a nice distinction to tell American soldiers (and Iraqis) to die in
Iraq for the sake of democracy (ignoring the question of whether it's
*working*) and then whine that "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 4, 2007, 5:18:35 PM6/4/07
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"internisus" <inter...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1180979609....@o11g2000prd.googlegroups.com...

> Listen up. Interactive Fiction is NOT a genre. It is a medium.
>


> However semantic the issue may seem, referring to Interactive Fiction
> as a genre belittles a still-emerging art form that may yet prove to
> be quite important. Let's keep that in mind, if only as a matter of
> self-respect!


Well, you made me think. So here's the result of my thinking: Ultimately I
would probably agree with you that it does perhaps make a bit more intuitive
sense to refer to text-based interactive fiction as one medium upon which
certain genres of stories (westerns, romance, mysteries, horror, etc) can be
played out. I wouldn't agree necessarily that calling text-based interactive
fiction a genre somehow "belittles" this "art form" but that's mainly
because I haven't seen this contention of yours spelled out such that I
could make an informed opinion.

So I basically agree with you. Read on if you want to see where I can sort
of see the other side of the coin.

In some cases, I can see how you can look at it both ways. When you look up
"genre" you'll probably see something like this:

"a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form,
content, technique, or the like"

or

"a kind of literary or artistic work"

So, to me, there's nothing wrong with calling text-based interactive fiction
a particular genre (in the category of either computer games or of literary
works) because that's exactly what it is. The medium is, again, according to
the dictionary, "an intervening agency, means, or instrument by which
something is conveyed or accomplished." So, by that strict logic, the
interpreters are the medium by which text-based interactive fiction is
conveyed to me.

To take an example, consider superhero stories. By one argument, the notion
of "comics" is a medium. A "comic book" would be one type of format of that
medium. But a superhero story can also play out on film or in a
novelization, both of which are formats for the medium. But here's how I
look at it: "A Crimson Spring" was a superhero story written in the format
of text-based interactive fiction. So there the text-based interactive
fiction (or, rather, the interpreter) is the medium. But considered relative
to the *types or class of games* that involve superheroes (say, "City of
Heroes" vs. "A Crimson Spring"), text-based interactive fiction was the
genre.

Likewise, a horror story is a genre. One way that can be presented is in the
conventional print novel, which is a medium, and in the format of a
text-based interactive fiction game, which in this sense is a medium, or in
a comic, which is another medium. But if I compare, say "The Lurking Horror"
(text-based interactive fiction) and "Resident Evil" (third-person shooter),
I'm considering two different genres (in the context of gaming) but one
genre (in the context of story) played out on two different -- but
related -- mediums. In both cases, the intervening agency (the medium) was
really my computer, but being generous, I can say that one was a text-based
interpreter and the other was a graphic-based engine.

- Jeff


David Doty

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Jun 4, 2007, 5:47:05 PM6/4/07
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Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in news:f41sof$e9j$1
@reader2.panix.com:

> I have not spent any time studying genre theory, but what I've read
> was this: "genre" isn't *fundamentally* about style or setting. It's
> about the conventions that underlie the work; what's important, what's
> peripheral, how to interpret elements in the work.

True. I've come across more than one literary critic who defined "prose
fiction," "poetry," and "the essay" as the three fundamental literary
genres. And for a certain context, that works very well.

I've often thought about the oddities of genre in videogames versus the
more traditional sense of genre. I think the best solution would be to
have terms for the two senses of the word: "format genre" and "content
genre", or something like that, but coined by someone cleverer than I.

Dave Doty

Neli

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Jun 5, 2007, 9:39:47 AM6/5/07
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Hi internisus

I agree with you -- the distinction between genre and medium is clear
-- but what do you make of

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0028-6087(198924)20%3A2%3C341%3AIFANLG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-C

?

Interactive Fiction: A New Literary Genre?
Richard Ziegfeld
New Literary History, Vol. 20, No. 2, Technology, Models, and Literary
Study (Winter, 1989), pp. 341-372

steve....@gmail.com

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Jun 5, 2007, 11:39:56 AM6/5/07
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I agree with Andrew on most points, and would like to fill in a little
for his acknowledged lack of theoretical knowledge about what a genre
is. Literally, it's a conceptual form which is artistically
generative. (Hence the word genre, from generate.)

In practice this means a number of things. Perhaps most importantly,
genres tend to close when they are perfected, for they cease to be
generative of art: art cannot be merely derivative or repetitive, so
making art is the same thing as exploring untapped capabilities of
one's chosen genre. Closed genres can still generate "entertainment,"
of course. -- Just nothing worth saving in the capsule we'll send into
space when the sun explodes or whatever.

The whole idea of a development of a genre is pretty interesting. The
concept is predicated on the idea that there are literary forms out
there that are either unknown, unrecognized, or largely unexplored.
It's a lovely notion, full of hope. This brings up the question of
what a "form" is, of course, which is basically an idealized
structural model or abstraction, more-or-less opposed to content, to
the specificity of a specific piece.

Thinking of IF as a *medium* rather stretches the imagination, not
that there's anything wrong with that. "Medium" of course is the
material in which the art is imprinted, recorded, sculpted, painted,
etc. Naturally there are genres within genres, and one doesn't mistake
the parent genre for the "medium" of its sub-genres. That's just not
how the words are used. (Literally, "medium" means between, as in how
the art work is carried between artist and audience.)

Properly speaking, I would think "electronic" is the right name for
the medium of IF. IF, understood as a type of text and a way of
reading it, that's certainly a genre -- a huge genre with a lot of sub-
genres and a whole ton of unexplored possibilities, but definitely a
genre.

Perhaps one could construe IF differently and see it as a medium --
the bare mechanism of the programming system or so -- but I'm pretty
sure that's not terribly useful for understanding it.

internisus

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Jun 6, 2007, 10:55:45 AM6/6/07
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This is very interesting. On the clear fact that there is very much
more to this matter than I had thought, I stand corrected. However, I
submit that IF is radically and fundamentally different from other
forms of literature in that the reader is a performative actor as well
as the intended audience of the work. In that respect alone, I am not
sure that the term genre goes far enough. The issue is whether you
consider a work to be a static text or a participatory format. It
seems to me that the performative aspect of interactive fiction, which
obviously requires a completely different approach to even the most
basic aspects of a work's intent, separates it completely from its
would-be brethren. In addition, the literal medium of artistic
transmission is different by virtue of being both electronic and
cooperative. It is farther from static literature than film, even.

In order to take the question away from IF's electronic aspect, let me
ask: Would we consider improvisational theater to be a genre of
literature, or a different medium? Doesn't its performative nature
make it something else entirely?

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 6, 2007, 11:15:37 AM6/6/07
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"internisus" <inter...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1181141745.1...@w5g2000hsg.googlegroups.com...

> sure that the term genre goes far enough. The issue is whether you
> consider a work to be a static text or a participatory format.

It's not an "either-or" in my opinion. Any form of art or literature can be
participatory and, in fact, all are. You are participatory even when you are
reading a book; you are participatory when you are viewing a film. What's at
question is the nature of the participation that's required. When you create
something (be it film, a novel, a painting, a game) you are asking your
audience to participate in your vision, at the very least to understand it
or to suspend judgment long enough to look at the world in a certain way.

To that, clearly text-based interactive fiction (as a game) does have a
different model of participation than that of, say, reading a novel. You
could say one is "static text" and one is "dynamic text" but I wouldn't draw
the distinction along the line of static vs. participatory.

> In order to take the question away from IF's electronic aspect, let me
> ask: Would we consider improvisational theater to be a genre of
> literature, or a different medium? Doesn't its performative nature
> make it something else entirely?

Since literature is a type of writing, I wouldn't consider improvisational
theater to be a genre of literature. However, literature and improvisational
theater are, to me, two different forms of medium upon which certain genres
can be played out.

- Jeff


internisus

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Jun 6, 2007, 11:26:57 AM6/6/07
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You're right; I shouldn't have put it that way. Obviously, "static
text" is participatory, just as viewing a painting is. I also
shouldn't take the position that something needs to be either a genre
or a medium. That seems close-minded of me. What I mean, rather, is
to emphasize that the distinction of IF as a unique medium is more
revolutionary and thus important than that as a genre. Or am I still
taking the same attitude?

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 6, 2007, 11:49:24 AM6/6/07
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"internisus" <inter...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1181143617.1...@p47g2000hsd.googlegroups.com...

> or a medium. That seems close-minded of me. What I mean, rather, is
> to emphasize that the distinction of IF as a unique medium is more
> revolutionary and thus important than that as a genre. Or am I still
> taking the same attitude?

This may be just saying the same thing a different way. Before you were
saying it makes more sense to speak of text-based interactive fiction as a
medium instead of a genre and, in fact, does a disservice to the notion of
text-based interactive fiction to speak of it as a genre. Here you now seem
to be saying that considering of text-based interactive fiction as a medium
(i.e., as one form of telling stories) is a more "revolutionary" concept
than considering text-based interactive fiction as simply a genre of game
style.

With the exception of "revolutionary", I agree which is why originally I
indicated that it probably does make more intuitive sense to consider such
games (and the mechanics by which they are played) as a medium rather than
as a genre, simply because various genres are played out on the medium of
text-based interactive fiction.

When I say "intuitive," I just mean that I can consider a horror story (a
genre) played out on different media: a film, a novel, a comic, a play, a
game of text-based interactive fiction, a game of graphical-based
interactive fiction, etc.

- Jeff


Andrew Owen

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Jun 6, 2007, 1:54:28 PM6/6/07
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Looks like Google ate my post, but in summary:

1) the computer is the medium.
2) stories told with IF may belong to certain genres
3) the word genre is, perhaps inappropriately, used to describe
categories of computer games

And having thought about it a bit more I guess IF is the format.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 6, 2007, 2:07:08 PM6/6/07
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"Andrew Owen" <chev...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1181152468....@j4g2000prf.googlegroups.com...

Yeah, that's where I think it doesn't make too much sense to worry overly
much. With the example I gave earlier, "comics" are a medium. A "comic book"
is one format for that medium. (A "comic strip" would be another one.) A
"superhero story" is a genre. So I can read a superhero story in a comic
book format or in a comic strip format. A printed novel is one format of the
medium of literature. I can also read a superheor story in a printed novel
format.

So a game engine (say, virtual machine interpreter) can be a medium.
Text-based interactive fiction can be one format for the medium. (A
role-playing ame would be another one.) A "superhero game" is a genre. So I
can play a superhero game in a text-based interactive fiction format or in a
role-playing game format.

The computer is one medium. The interpreter that plays the game is another
medium. (That's what I meant in my earlier post when I said "In both cases,

the intervening agency (the medium) was really my computer, but being

generous, I can say that one was a text-based interpreter.")

I don't think it's "inappropriate" necessarily to refer to a type of game as
a genre of game, but I don't always think it's the most intuitive for
people. (The debate about what's a medium and what's a genre often depends
on the level of categories you're considering. Of course, that said, it's
often moderately interesting, although rarely enlightening, to watch the
debates regarding how bloggers say that blogs are a genre of the debates
around cartoons, where the battle lines are drawn around whether "animation"
is the medium while "cartoon" is the genre.)

- Jeff


steve....@gmail.com

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Jun 6, 2007, 3:27:59 PM6/6/07
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internisus, I think you can avoid all controversy over terms if you
called IF a "form of art," much as we call drama or sculpture a form
of art. We don't call drama a genre -- and it's certainly not a
medium. Seems the term "form" matches pretty well.

Andrew Plotkin

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Jun 6, 2007, 4:31:44 PM6/6/07
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Here, Jeff Nyman <jeff...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> I don't think it's "inappropriate" necessarily to refer to a type of game as
> a genre of game, but I don't always think it's the most intuitive for
> people. (The debate about what's a medium and what's a genre often depends
> on the level of categories you're considering. Of course, that said, it's
> often moderately interesting, although rarely enlightening, to watch the
> debates regarding how bloggers say that blogs are a genre of the debates
> around cartoons, where the battle lines are drawn around whether "animation"
> is the medium while "cartoon" is the genre.)

Perhaps it's safer, if you're talking across audiences, to speak of
"form" and "setting" -- which are not ambiguous -- and avoid "genre"
completely.

Okay, "form" is probably ambiguous. But less so.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't shipped you to Syria for interrogation, it's
for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because of the Eighth Amendment.

Andrew Plotkin

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Jun 6, 2007, 4:51:57 PM6/6/07
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Here, Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Perhaps it's safer, if you're talking across audiences, to speak of
> "form" and "setting" -- which are not ambiguous -- and avoid "genre"
> completely.

Or maybe I'm sidestepping around a deeper problem, which is that
"genre" is a less objective term.

I don't mean that genre is arbitrary. (More than any other artistic
judgement...) But setting and form are properties of the work. You
read it, and okay, it's fifty thousand words divided up into chapters;
and the words say it's 2052 and everybody rents their genitalia from
biotech megacorps. (Patents, you know.)

Whereas genre -- at least the way I was describing it -- is not
determinable that way. You have to go looking at who wrote it, what
they were reading, what other works they were responding to, who they
batted around the ideas with, what their readers read last week...

Now, the counterargument to *that* is that all of our *concepts* about
setting and form *also* come from the community. "The year 2052" is a
setting, but the idea that this is in a body of work called "science
fiction" -- and liable to share many assumptions with it -- is a genre
call.

And this is equally true on the other side of the terminology:
_Disaster Report_ (which I alluded to earlier) is a videogame in which
you travel through a frightening and dangerous landscape, hoarding
limited resources, avoiding a whole lot of near-certain death by
(mostly) running and hiding. Those qualities are objective. The idea
that we call this "survival horror" is a genre call.

(And one which derives from interaction, not from setting at all. The
*setting*, in "book genre" terms, would be "thriller": the frightening
landscape is an earthquake-ruined city, and the dangers are mostly
dehydration, falling rubble, and fires, not zombies or demons.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

Just because you vote for the Republicans, doesn't mean they let you be one.

Jeff Nyman

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Jun 6, 2007, 5:35:36 PM6/6/07
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"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:f476pd$fgl$1...@reader2.panix.com...

> Here, Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Or maybe I'm sidestepping around a deeper problem, which is that
> "genre" is a less objective term.

I definitely agree. You can see this in the concept of "genre" in music.
"Hardcore" and "alternative" are two popular examples of vague genres at
best. (At least to me. Maybe I just don't get it.) Or the use of sub-genres
like "techno" and "punk" that are then combined in interesting ways to come
up with so-called "fusion genres." (Aside: I worked at a company called
FullAudio / MusicNow for awhile and the most confusing aspect of my job was
figuring out how to write the categorization algorithms for the music we
kept shoveling out to everyone.)

> Now, the counterargument to *that* is that all of our *concepts* about
> setting and form *also* come from the community. "The year 2052" is a
> setting, but the idea that this is in a body of work called "science
> fiction" -- and liable to share many assumptions with it -- is a genre
> call.

Here I also agree. One example, if I get what you're talking about, would be
the notion of "space opera." We now have the "New Space Opera." Should I
take that as a new genre? Or a sub-genre of the "[old / original?] space
opera"? Another example might be the genre referred to as "cyberpunk." The
point is that people refer to those as genres and that's fine, by itself,
but when you try to apply those to specific works, that can sometimes become
a judgment call.

For example, for me, I want my space opera to have some alien object that's
existed for centuries if not millenia and, in some odd fashion, holds the
key to the survival of the universe (or at least vast portions of it). So
the work of Peter Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds fits this for me. I've seen
people refer to such concepts that I just described as being what "defines"
the genre of space opera. But, clearly, that's a subjective opinion, since
others have clearly differed on that as evidenced by other novels or writers
who are lumped into the category.

Or going with my other "genre," William Gibson's "Neuromancer" is called
cyperpunk by just about everybody. So is Richard Morgan's "Altered Carbon"
and so is Chris Moriarty's "Spin State." To me, I'm not sure I would have
related those three under the same genre. I can see how you could; I could
also see the argument that they're different. Another example would be Neal
Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" and Howard Hendrix's "The Labyrinth Key" which,
to me, would fall into different genres but which, to others, fall into the
same genre.

I do think that genre is a more-or-less solid concept, but one that swirls
around the form and content (and sometimes technique) of a given work of
art. The degree to which the concept is "solid" (more rather than less)
seems to be based on how much collective agreement there is on how
distinctive form/content/technique has to be to allow one to clearly
distinguish Genre A from Genre B.

- Jeff


Autymn D. C.

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Jun 7, 2007, 5:11:02 AM6/7/07
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On Jun 5, 8:39 am, steve.bres...@gmail.com wrote:
> how the words are used. (Literally, "medium" means between, as in how
> the art work is carried between artist and audience.)

Wrong, medium means midst. between would be bitern.

James Jolley

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Jun 7, 2007, 5:40:45 AM6/7/07
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Lol has she got nothing better to do? Troll alert me thinks.

In article <1181207462....@q19g2000prn.googlegroups.com>,
lysd...@sbcglobal.net says...


----== Posted via Newsgroups.com - Usenet Access to over 100,000 Newsgroups ==----
Get Anonymous, Uncensored, Access to West and East Coast Server Farms at!
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Adam Thornton

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Jun 7, 2007, 10:34:21 AM6/7/07
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In article <f476pd$fgl$1...@reader2.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>it's 2052 and everybody rents their genitalia from
>biotech megacorps. (Patents, you know.)

So, you're wanting to become one of the authors in the Stiffy Makane
stable, eh?

Adam

Adam Thornton

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Jun 7, 2007, 10:35:48 AM6/7/07
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In article <1181207462....@q19g2000prn.googlegroups.com>,

And people accuse *ME* of arrant prescriptivism!

Adam

Autymn D. C.

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Jun 8, 2007, 5:58:26 AM6/8/07
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On Jun 7, 2:40 am, James Jolley <james.joll...@btinternet.com> wrote:
> Lol has she got nothing better to do? Troll alert me thinks.

"has got" = illiteratur
has she got -> has she
Troll -> Trowr
me thinks -> methinks
me != I
object != reflex

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