Yesterday, our own Matt Sturges posted his most recent salvo in his ongoing tete-a-tete with James Enge over at the Borders blog, title "Zombie Ninjas on the Moon." Some might have seen that title and assumed that they were in for a bit of fun, but I knew better. See, Matt and I have been having this particular disagreement for a while. A friendly disagreement, please bear in mind, but a long-running one.
See, Matt's tired of what he's calling "mashup fiction," which he defines as "stories whose genesis is the intentional combination of unrelated tropes, historical figures, or characters from previously published works." I know just what he's talking about. That's not just my bread-and-butter as a writer, it's the primary staple I consume as a reader. That's the stuff I live for.
Naturally, as one might expect, I disagree a bit with Matt's assertion that such stuff is getting stale, and past its sell-by-date. And not just because "mashup-fiction" includes the vast majority of all of my favorite books, comics, music, and movies. "Mashup-fiction" isn't simply a viable approach to entertainment.
Entertainment needs "mashups" in order to survive.
That may sound like a stretch, but work with me for a moment. Perhaps it would help to think of it not as "mashup-fiction," a term of relatively recent coinage suggestive of splicing together the songs of one musician with those of another. Think of it, instead, as "crossbreeding."
(A note on terminology: Back when Matt and I were in college we called this kind of stuff "intertextuality," a term we picked up in a postmodernism seminar, but I think we had the definition wrong, as we meant something entirely different than semioticians and postmodern scholars mean when they use the word. I've also tried "metafictional," but that carries connotations beyond my intended meaning. More recently, Willingham has referred to such things as "Wold Newtonry," a reference to the playful intermingling of genre fiction and history that Philip José Farmer pioneered in Tarzan Alive and elsewhere [you think it's mere chance that Matt has included an image of my own personal Bible, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, in his essay lambasting mashups?], but Wold-Newton has a very specific meaning for Farmer fans, and the use of the term for more general metafictional play tends to raise their ire. I'm using "crossbreeding" at the moment, but I'm not entirely happy with it as a solution.)
I tend to look at genre as functioning like gene pools. Remaining within the confines of one genre for too long leads to the serious risk of inbreeding, and producing anemic works with all sorts of congenital problems, barely fit to survive. (Does this make a tenth-generation xerox of Tolkien on par with hemophiliac European royals? You might say it does, and I wouldn’t argue with you if you did.)
Crossing genre boundaries expands that gene pool, producing fit fiction with all sorts of interesting new traits. In time, the hybrids most fit to survive might even emerge as full-blown genres in their own right.
The “mash-up” that Sturges decries, the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and such like, are just the most obvious types of crossbreeding, and like the offspring of a horse and a donkey are mules fit for one generation, but not healthy enough to sustain offspring of their own. Which isn’t to say that mules don’t have their uses, from time to time, but you wouldn’t want them to be the only members of your breeding pool.The preceding represents only my initial thoughts. I'll stop here, and continue in another post in a few days. Maybe my next salvo will cover the ways in which crossbreeding genres will save us all, and to illustrate I'll explain the little known fact that Arthur Conan Doyle was directly responsible for the creation of the Power Rangers...