Fair warning, the following contains a discussion of the “g” word: genre. I know, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
I used to not worry or care about genre—or rather, I thought I didn’t. All I knew was that the books I liked were on the big shelves at the back of the store. So long as you pointed me in that general direction, I’d be perfectly happy to browse and read and turn up an hour or so later at the register with a cart absolutely heaving with books.
Of course, by “the big shelves at the back of the store,” I really meant the science fiction and fantasy section. But SFF isn’t the only genre to have its own dedicated section in any decent bookstore. There’s another genre, one whose audience and reach actually far eclipses SFF. This genre isn’t consigned to the ghetto at the back of the store. This genre demands attention, front and center. We’re talking face-out displays you can see across the street.
We’re talking the big hitter: crime fiction.
A slight digression here—genres come with labels, and while a lot of people love to argue about definitions, there is actually a slight difference between US and non-US markets as to what is considered crime, mystery, suspense, and thriller, despite there being some very clear differences between them. But, honestly, I could be here all day trying to define it all, so when I say “crime fiction,” I’m really just lumping crime/mystery/thriller all together in the same way that all the weird and wonderful forms of science fiction and fantasy are lumped together under the tag of SFF. Let’s just go with it for now, and you can argue with me in the comments.
Anyway, crime fiction. Turns out I love crime fiction and didn’t even know it, considering nearly all of the books I’ve written—which I’ve happily referred to as SFF—have various trappings of the crime/mystery/thriller genres. My debut novel, Empire State, is a science fiction detective novel. Seven Wonders, my no-holds-barred epic superhero adventure has, in parallel to the action involving spandex-clad characters shooting laser beams at each other from their eyeballs, a police procedural subplot—the main non-superpowered POV is a police detective. Even The Machine Awakes, a far-future space opera about a corporate conspiracy involving a crazed death cult and sentient mining robots, stars an agent from the Fleet Bureau of Investigation (the FBI, geddit?) as the lead.
In my new series, the lines between science fiction and crime fiction are even more blurred. The Ray Electromatic Mysteries chronicle the adventures of a robot hitman in an alternative version of 1965 Hollywood—a world where the robot revolution came and went in the 1950s, and the only mechanical man left is one who pretends to be a private detective but, in reality, is a paid assassin. In the second book, Killing Is My Business, Ray is trailing a new set of targets only to discover they’re being knocked off before he can lift a bronzed titanium finger.
On the surface, this is very obviously SFF—forget the space race, in this universe, true AI was achieved during the Cold War. Ray may be dressed in a trench coat and fedora, but the face that appears on the cover of Killing Is My Business is definitely made of metal.
But, perhaps more than my other books, the Ray Electromatic Mysteries were conceived as exactly that—mysteries, just ones that just happen to feature a robot as the protagonist.
The series came about quite by accident when my then editor suggested that my somewhat frivolous answer to a publisher’s questionnaire—Which undiscovered book by any author, living or dead, would you like to read?—would make a good idea for a story.
My answer was a simple one: I wanted to read Raymond Chandler’s undiscovered science fiction novel.
I was, of course, not being remotely serious. Chandler famously hated science fiction, complaining to his agent in 1953 that “they pay brisk money for this crap?”. But ever since I read that letter, I liked to imagine that Chandler was really fishing for something, having secretly written an entire sci-fi novel. Maybe that novel was thrown into the fireplace in his office, rescued by his housekeeper, and remained lost until today.
That idea became Brisk Money, a novelette for Tor.com. Then, Brisk Money led to the first novel, Made to Kill, which led to Killing Is My Business, with a novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity, squeezed somewhere in the middle.
From the outset, I was writing the Ray Electromatic Mysteries as though Raymond Chandler was writing science fiction. And with Chandler being Chandler, I figured he’d probably set them in Hollywood, and he’d probably set them in the near-future of the mid-1960s.
Chandler was a genius, but a predictable one.
This approach led to an interesting balancing act, one I worked hard at—these were science fiction stories, but they were also mysteries. Which means they had to have recognizable elements of both genres blended together so fans of science fiction and fans of crime fiction could enjoy the stories equally.
And it worked. The first novel, Made to Kill, was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2016. Now, it was never going to win—it really is far too science fictiony—but it was at least an indication that I’d got the blend of genres right.
I guess I’m lucky, in a way: while some genres are rather rigidly defined—epic fantasy is epic fantasy, for instance—some are more fluid, acting more like “flavors.” Horror is a good example, but so is crime—nearly any kind of story can be a horror story, like nearly any kind of story can be a detective story.
Perhaps you can have your cake and eat it after all.
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Adam Christopher’s debut novel Empire State was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year. The author of Made To Kill, Standard Hollywood Depravity and Killing Is My Business, Adam’s other novels include Seven Wonders, The Age Atomic and The Burning Dark. Adam has also written the official tie-in novels for the hit CBS television show Elementary, and the award-winning Dishonored video game franchise, and with Chuck Wendig, wrote The Shield for Dark Circle/Archie Comics. Adam is also a contributor to the Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View 40th anniversary anthology.
Born in New Zealand, Adam has lived in Great Britain since 2006.