Alan Moore's famous quote goes, "My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you're lucky."
But fiction has shelves. And shelves have edges. Genre boundaries are powerful things with exact definition: science fiction, fantasy, horror. Working for cult retailer Forbidden Planet, the map is like the one in the front of the fantasy novel - all too familiar.
Yet if I change department, I find comics - and titles that care not for any retailer's map. Take Watchmen, take Hellboy and Sandman, all of them revolutionary. They don't specifically cross their genres, but they've taken down their shelf-shouters and damn well written their own.
My personal fave, though, and a real genre-bender: try The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Moore/O'Neill 2002). That's one that really does live up to Moore's quote.
If we continue our store tour to the DVD department, Joss Whedon's Firefly is a rare and perfect example of genre-bending, and gorgeous job he made of it. Yet why did it take a man of Joss's might to make it happen - and why was the series cancelled all too soon? Could it be the edges of those shelves cut it off in its prime?
It's ironic that 'Speculative Fiction' is so reluctant to speculate. Yet as comics shatter their shelving to bring us Zombies Vs. Cheerleaders Vs. Cockneys Vs. Robots, books are only recently testing the strength of their chains. There are trailblazers: those who leave their defining genre (King, the Dark Tower series), those who invent their own genre (Mieville, Perdido Street Station), those who jump from one genre to another (Morgan, Altered Carbon/The Steel Remains), even those who bring us work so absolutely off-the-wall wacky that it defies genre completely (Nye, Faust), but two genres within the same narrative? In some places, you'll still get stoned for blasphemy.
My new book Ecko Rising, like its lead character, isn't much for boundaries. More than anything, it's genre-bending tendencies are owed to the books I grew up with, books whose wide vision was seeing beyond shelf-labels long before I knew what they were. And some of these are in the slideshow below.