The Booker Prize of Bantam Books
April 25, 2013 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Given that I've found some great novels that I could've overlooked due to being regarded as 'genre fiction', I've often been curious: are there amazing hidden gems hiding in the least literary of places? Are there stellar novels that are ignored as they're published as Harlequin, Mills and Boon, teen book-packagers or under 'inspirational fiction' imprints?

I've been curious about this since I worked in a library and had to shelve dozens of Mills and Boon books per day. I'm aware that they, at least - possibly all 'genre series' books are written to strict guidelines and conventions, but given that there are books I loved that I intially overlooked due to never before browsing the 'crime' or 'chick-lit' sections - and that many books that ascended to classic status started as popular fiction - it made me wonder whether the end of genre fiction regarded in low esteem is a deserved status.

I read so many 'series' novels as a teen - and loved them - whilst on some level realising they were sort of terrible. I'm curious as to whether the grown-up equivalents are indeed all entirely formulaic, or whether some authors or titles are better regarded than others yet literary snobbism/marketing/library ghettoism means they never get read by the 'general reader'. (If Fifty Shades had been published on the Black Lace imprint, for example, rather than as a general popular fiction book, it may not have been quite the cultural phenomenon it became - if still hardly great literature. I've also found novels I wouldn't normally have encountered in the 'gay fiction' or 'black fiction' sections of the library - some were terrible, some good) Are the adult versions the same, or are there secretly great books hiding there under the ghostwriting, 'created by' or cliched covers?
posted by mippy to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
John M. Ford's How Much for Just the Planet? is a Star Trek tie-in novel that seems widely regarded as top-notch SF humor. (I haven't personally read it - it's rather hard to find, as I understand it.) Quite a few other tie-in novels have been written by well-regarded, successful authors and can certainly transcend their source material.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I absolutely love the criminally under-appreciated but ultra fabulous style of the science-fiction writer Jack Vance. Here is a short introduction from io9. I think one of the commenters there also mentions Cordwainer Smith-- another fantistic prose stylist masquerading as a sci-fi writer.
posted by seasparrow at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Christopher Pike's teen thrillers are amazing. Best titles include "The Eternal Enemy", "See You Later", and "Fall Into Darkness".
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just sticking with 'branded' fiction, MeFi's own Hogshead (James Wallis) is reputed to have pushed the limits of what a Sonic the Hedgehog novel could / should be with time travel plots, Lovecraftian in-jokes, etc. My understanding is it's not Moby Dick, but there's an effort there to be more than what you expect from branded fiction.

John Ford's other Star Trek novel, The Final Reflection, also struck me as unusually good when I was in high school, but I can't say I remember it well. Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song is also noteworthy.

And in the Warhammer universe, the Orfeo trilogy by Brian Craig (really Brian Stableford, an established novelist) is fairly dense and literary compared to others in the same line, even those by well-known writers, but that seems to have limited its appeal among actual fans of Warhammer--maybe an interesting case.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:38 PM on April 25, 2013

If you want to talk good Star Trek, Janet Kagan's "Uhura's Song" is also a favorite. Oh look - Monsieur Caution beat me to it.
posted by mitschlag at 2:42 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few books hiding in the chick-lit aisle which I think do count as really good books from a literary point of view -

Melissa Bank, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
Abigail Bosanko, Lazy Ways to Make a Living
Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read at a financially-unsupportable rate so I have read an absolute metric tonne of (free and cheap) self-published books. Books I thought were fantastic reads:

The Wool series (way outside my normal genre)

The Last Bookstore in America

And while I swear to God I am the last person I would have expected to like a vampire novel, I arrived as a reader after the mystery angle and read straight through the Elemental series. I'm mortified but it's fantastic.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:19 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

While they're not genre novels, the NYRB Classics series of reprints has introduced me to a whole group of treasures.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:22 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

In SF, two of my favorite writers are Sheri S. Tepper (wonderful worldbuilding and good at deftly cluing the reading in without BIG WODGES OF EXPOSITION) and Lois McMaster Bujold (wonderful characters, interesting plots, and utter mastery of third-person limited narration — once you're familiar with the characters, when a new chapter starts it's usually possible to tell within the first sentence whose POV it's from, just based on the narrative voice).

In romances, Mary Jane Putney is quite a good writer. Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle (she uses different names for her historicals, contemporaries, and futuristic fantasies) is also very enjoyable.
posted by Lexica at 6:55 PM on April 25, 2013

Response by poster: Hi - just to clarify if anyone is still reading - chick lit or non-series sci fi wasn't what I was interested in as it gets some mainstream attention and reviews, rather than being completely ignored by the majority of the public. I was thinking more about the very unliterary - the Harlequin romances, the religious novels etc.
posted by mippy at 3:44 AM on April 26, 2013

OK, it took me all day but I'm ready to admit to and own my enjoyment of certain kinds of trashy literature.

I read a lot of historical romance, mostly Regency/Victorian, which in a lot of ways is as formulaic as it can possibly be (if the guy's not at least a viscount by the end of the book, something strange is going on). But there is a HUGE range of quality in the books. Cecilia Grant is a newer author who I think are doing interesting things in the genre. I mean, if you were to judge the books in this series by their covers, you could very easily get the wrong idea, because they're well-written, witty, thoughtful books (though absolutely within that highly formulaic romance genre - don't get me wrong).

Other authors whose books I really like and find well written* are Julia Quinn (frothy and silly) and Courtney Milan (often angsty, but with a sense of humor about it).

*"Romances I like" and "romances I think are well-written" overlap substantially, but there are definitely some authors I enjoy who have some eye-bruisingly irritating writing tics and idiosyncrasies, or who are just so lightweight that they're hard to recommend to people who aren't already fans of the genre.
posted by mskyle at 5:54 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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