6 Books that Break Genre Barriers

genreWriting a book that blends the conventions of more than one genre is admirable. Writing a book that incorporates as many genres as possible? That’s insane. Which is to say, it’s something that should be approached with great care. But when it’s done well, amazing things happen. Books that defies all genre conventions can create something entirely new—even if it makes them equally hard to describe. But we’ll do our best: here are six books that break down the walls between genres like literary wrecking balls.

Ninth City Burning, by J. Patrick Black
As a connoisseur of books that play genre roulette, buzz that J. Patrick Black’s debut novel dabbles in every genre it could piqued my interest. And oh god, does it deliver: in the first six chapters alone, it covers a Roman-themed city’s attempt to fend off a mysterious invasion, a post-apocalyptic western in the ruins of New York, and an industrial dystopian narrative with clear influence from Soviet Russia. The plot is no less weird, involving massive skyscraper-sized defense systems, battles that warp reality itself, and references to early 20th century occultism. While the narrative takes its time bringing these disparate plot threads and viewpoints together, as the chapters progress, the characters begin to slowly intersect, drawing us into the heroes’ conflict with the shadowy alien force known as Romeo.

Escapology, by Ren Warom
At first glance, Escapology looks to be more or less a standard-issue entry in the burgeoning new-wave cyberpunk movement. Its neon-washed mega-city setting, massive Stephenson-influenced city ships, and adrenaline-packed hacking sequences do absolutely nothing to dissuade this impression. But within a few chapters, Warom introduces the idea of towering, alien AIs with multiple tentacles sealed behind a portal that holds them back from eventually wreaking doom over humanity. From there, a power struggle slowly emerges, bringing in psychics, portals to the collective subconscious, human hiveminds, and a character that fights using physical versions of their Jungian archetypes. By the time a massive battle between flying ghost sharks, killer drones, and a massive abomination out of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk starts wrecking the city, it’s all blended seamlessly together into one mainline dose of weird cosmic horror cyberpunk chaos, every bit of it awesome.

The Court of the Air, by Stephen Hunt
The Court of the Air presents itself as a rollicking gaslamp fantasy about two resourceful orphans in a city not unlike London. That’s technically correct, but far from the whole truth. It’s a very dark and somewhat less rollicking gaslamp fantasy, with a ton of high-fantasy elements, plus interference from faeries. And a secret organization operating from low earth-orbital hot air balloons. And nanomachines. And a Lovecraftian elder god (I’m starting to think “Lovecraftian elder god” should be a “free space” on the scorecard). And superheroes. And giant fighting robots. And villains who practice ritual mutilation and dismemberment. If this all sounds like a mess, rest assured, it’s definitely not. Somehow Stephen Hunt manages to keep all the balls in the air, creating a book where everything is as absurd and wonderful as it sounds, and it all fits into a place that makes sense—even as Cthulhu and a massive gold mecha piloted by the consciousness of a self-aware robot Dalai Lama slug it out while a massive battle rages around them.

Light, by M. John Harrison
What do you get for the person who’s read everything? Perhaps a book that is everything, all at the same time. By the end of Light‘s relatively slim page count, the book has traversed through cosmic horror, spacefaring pulp adventure, quantum sci-fi, black comedy, and existential fantasy about the true nature of a god who prefers comfy sweaters (no, he doesn’t want a starship, nor does he play dice with the universe). Running three storylines at once is kind of cheating when it comes to blending genres, but since they frequently intersect in unexpected ways, it is telling one story, just from three different points of view. It’s the kind of book where something interesting is going on in literally every scene—it’s dense enough to tell an epic story, and quick-moving enough to keep you hooked.

Private Midnight, by Kris Saknussemm
Acclaimed surrealist author, artist, and playwright Kris Saknussemm excels at using bizarre flourishes to plunge conventional plotlines into darker, far stranger territory. Private Midnight reads like a head-on collision between detective fiction, gothic novels, and Angela Carter. The plot begins like any film noir, with a femme fatale murder suspect and the hardboiled dirty cop investigating her. It takes a sharp left when the femme fatale starts psychoanalyzing the detective, challenging his notions of gender, sexual politics, sexuality, morality, and power. What follows is a dark, deconstructive, hallucinatory journey through the detective’s psyche as his repeated sessions deepen his obsession with his “therapist” and change his world in unsettling ways.

The Etched City, by K.J. Bishop
While by their very nature, most New Weird books ram several genres together at high speeds, Bishop’s debut jumps from genre to genre as it goes, upping the weirdness along the way. As it follows the adventures of an outlaw medic and amoral gunslinger, the novel changes from a weird Western to a Victorian-inspired fantasy, picking up elements of gangster fiction and Gilded Age decadence along the way. More surreal touches, including multiple dimensions, living sculptures, and odd poetic dialogues, shift it further away from even odd fantasy and toward something truly original. Managing all of this successfully is a feat in and of itself, but Bishop goes one better than that, creating bizarre visuals and a rich setting that will stay with you long after you’ve left its strange setting.

What genre mashups do you love most?

Follow B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy