Genre fatigue and how to cure it

I have never been a strictly speculative fiction reader, but for many years, spec fic comprised probably about 80% of my book diet. For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that fantasy, urban fantasy, many flavors of sci-fi, and variations on the new weird belong in the same broad category. I don’t want to get into the quagmire of ‘what is genre?’ discussion at the moment, and I want to have room for my pretty varied reading tastes even within said genre. I started with fantasy (the book that started it all was Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, if you’re curious), slowly making my way into sci-fi territory, and finally settling somewhere in the weird and slipstream area. At this moment, I can only describe my reading preferences as ‘books where strange stuff happens’.

I wrote about my genre reading here for many months (which is basically decades in Internet years). I run a sci-fi and fantasy book group. I read a lot of genre blogs. I voted for Hugos (though not this year). I still gravitate first to sci-fi and fantasy section in any bookstore I visit. But for many months now, the genre has not been my best friend. I have what I call ‘genre fatigue’. It’s not just a fantasy fatigue or hard sci-fi fatigue. It’s this generalized unwillingness to read widely in what I previously considered my area of expertise. I burned myself out on swords, dragons, spaceships, AI, nanotechnology, cyberpunk, dystopias (though I think everyone must be burnt out on those), you name it. Maybe I feel like I’ve read every possible permutation of character/setting/plot one could have in speculative fiction. Maybe I just need a heavy dose of reality in all my reading.

What genre fatigue might look like

What genre fatigue might look like

Part of this deviation from genre is due to having a vast sea of non-genre books in my vicinity. Most of the galleys in my room are not genre. Most of the books I buy and sell at work are not genre. Even my library hauls are now heavy on things like plays and poetry. For a while in the past few months, I read mostly non-fiction. Or only poetry and comics. Sci-fi and fantasy were paradoxically still okay in comics form (even though, as Warren Ellis says, there is even less realism in those*).

These days, the fatigue seems to be abating. Perhaps I’ve had my fill of what one could call mainstream fiction. I picked up a fantasy book last week to deal with some depression crap. But I still read very widely outside of the genre, and I doubt speculative fiction will comprise as much of my reading as it used to. There is no real cure for genre fatigue. I don’t think there needs to be one, it’s not a life-threatening condition. Now, general book fatigue, that’s an emergency situation, but I’m not there yet.

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*Here’s the full quote from Ellis’s Orbital Operations newsletter from 8/16:

Suspension of disbelief is inherent in the comics form because we pick up a comic already understanding that we’re seeing a heavily filtered and codified representation of the world.  Real and irreal use the same visual codes.  Unreal figures in comics are made of the same stuff as the real ones.  Talking about the systems of the world is just telling stories that try to explain how the world works.  Picking up a comic, you already know that at least one person is essentially lying to you.

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7 comments

  1. I rotate in and out of reading specfic, or, as you aptly call it, “books where strange stuff happens.” When you see me dipping into a three inch deep history book, you know I’m tired of elves and whatnot.

  2. Never thought of myself as strictly a Sci-fi reader, but after downsizing my library in several moves, I notice that the majority of books I have kept are SF. These days, I don’t have so much “genre fatigue” as reading fatigue. After many years of devouring books, I find one has to really draw me in before I’ll give it my time.

    1. I do get reading fatigue occasionally, but it’s rare. There is always something I want to read, it just happens to be non-speculative at this point.

  3. I’m having a slight case of this lately and find myself turning to my oldoldold habits of political non-fic, on which I OD’d during my college days. Scifi was my rebellion to that, and now I’m being drawn back to nonfic, though I’m not quite ready to give up the aliens yet.

  4. Seems to me switching shit up is pretty much always a good idea, even when the genre fatigue hasn’t set in yet. There is so much good shit out there to read. Why settle for just one genre? *book people fist bump*

    I had post-apocalyptic sub-genre fatigue for a little bit this year, but that was pretty easily cured by just not reading it for a while and then picking out some stuff known to be really fucking good instead of the usual repetitive blather that a lot of the recent stuff is, that had given me the fatigue in the first place. I love the weird stuff too, and I have noticed that my fatigue usually comes when I am not reeling in enough weird stuff to keep my brain happy.

    Anyway, Imma stop rambling now.

  5. I totally understand your fatigue! A couple years ago whatever SFF book I’d pick up it seemed to be meh and same-y and please, no more forever ongoing books in a series! Give me some really good stand-alones! So I cut back my genre reading to extreme levels, one, maybe two books a year for a couple years. And now, finally, in the fall of last year there was Ann Leckie and my interest has been revived and it feels good to be reading SFF regularly again. But I am being careful to keep up a wide mix reading and so far, so good! I hope your fatigue continues to abate!

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