What Genre Is Foreign Identity, Really?


Earlier this week we released the cover art for Foreign Identity. I’ve received a lot of great comments on the cover design and the story description. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about the book’s genre. Most of them boil down to this: Is Foreign Identity really a science fiction novel? The quick answer is: “Yes and Sort of.” The long one is a bit more complicated.

Outside Inspiration

Instead of explaining why the book crosses genres, I want to share where some of my inspirations for the story came from. After that, maybe it’ll all make sense.

As a writer, I get almost as much inspiration from movies and television shows as I do from books. Maybe even more. In the case of Foreign Identity, the initial spark didn’t come from any of these. It came from a desire to solve a puzzle (thereby forcing myself to create one) and from ten little words on a blog called the Creative Copy Challenge. I’ll get more into that story on a later post, because it’s actually pretty cool how one writing prompt ended up igniting an entire novel within me.

The Mysteries of Lost

Even though the idea for Foreign Identity didn’t come from directly from any outside story, at the time I was writing it, I was a big fan of the television show Lost. The ideas behind that show were an influence to the story, if indirectly. I was fascinated by all the mysteries and how they could get away with opening up more and more questions without answering a single one for so long. While some viewers complained about that aspect of the show, for me it was exactly why I was hooked. I wanted to create a story that would draw the reader in with its sense of mystery, not just one, but many different puzzles. (That’s why I was excited when Hilary at Novel D’Tales compared the synopsis to Lost, without knowing any of the background behind it.)

Technically speaking, Lost is a science fiction drama. Most people may not think of it that way, but that’s where it falls. Foreign Identity isn’t science fiction in the traditional sense of the category—space ships and laser guns—but it falls under the genre in the same way that Lost does.

Other Sci Fi-But-Not-Quite Reads

The Host by Stephenie Meyer is a novel that takes place after the world has been almost entirely overrun by an alien species who implants themselves into humans, killing the host in the process. The hook of the story is that the protagonist, one of the aliens, has been implanted into a faulty host—the woman inside refuses to be pushed out, so the two personalities have to war it out within one body.  When The Host came out, I remembered it being touted as “A science fiction novel for people who don’t like science fiction.” I feel like maybe the same could be said for Foreign Identity.

I’m just now getting on the true science fiction bus as far as reading goes. So far I’m loving the genre and want to read more—books like Ender’s Game make it easy to say that. But as a reader, my comfort zone has always been set a bit more into reality. I typically love books that have a few paranormal elements rather than an overwhelming amount. The Lost World, Sphere, and Prey are several of my favorites by Michael Crichton (I had a huge Crichton reading phase). I also read a lot of Dean Koontz (although his books aren’t always a win for me), who likes to throw fantastical elements into his real-world novels. Another example of a not-quite science fiction story that I loved was The Time Traveler’s Wife, a great blend of a love story with a supernatural twist. (After all, can you really go wrong with time travel? Oh, wait, if you’ve seen the movie Kate and Leopold, DON’T answer that.)

It’s my opinion that science fiction needs a sub-genre to classify these types of stories, the way that fantasy has urban fantasy. Maybe it should be called “Real World Science Fiction.” Maybe if you and I start tagging books on Amazon and Goodreads with that category, it’ll catch on and eventually they’ll have to create a new sub-genre. I like the idea of that.

You Be the Judge

So that’s where I’m coming from, at least on this novel. Don’t be fooled, Foreign Identity does have some science fiction elements, and as a reader, you kind of need to know that going in. But I wouldn’t discount it just because you aren’t a big sci fi fan. If you like any of the stories I’ve mentioned, you might really enjoy it.

Once you’ve read it, I’m anxious to hear what you think—whether you think of it more as a sci fi or as a mystery/suspense novel. Also, if you are a sci fi fan, I’d love to get your suggestions for other great sci fi reads—what are your favorite books in the genre?

Also be sure to check out this post by Anna Howard about creating the cover for Foreign Identity.

You might also be interested in:

Foreign Identity Cover Reveal

Create Limits

Foreign Identity Comes to Life

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  1. #1 by Betty Henderson on April 14, 2012 - 9:50 am

    Two of my favorite movies are 2001, A space odessey and 2010 The year we make contact..
    I especially like the second one as it has a happy, hopeful ending. I don’t know if these were books. I have looked but never found a book. Anyway they do not have a lot of shooting and war, but are more subtle.

  2. #3 by Keith Robinson on April 16, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    “What is sci-fi?” is a great question, even though you didn’t specifically ask this. Many see sci-fi as spaceships and other planets and time travel and futuristic stuff, which is all true of course, literally meaning “fictional science.” But a lot of hard-core sci-fi fans argue that true sci-fi is “what might happen one day,” or “science within the realms of possibility,” mainly thought-provoking hard science. Anything that doesn’t fit this description is therefore pure fantasy.

    So I agree there should be another category somewhere between fantasy and sci-fi. Even the word “fantasy” covers too much, hence “high fantasy” and “urban fantasy” and so on. I don’t necessarily agree with purists; sci-fi should be for stuff set in space or with futuristic technology. But it should be MOSTLY sci-fi. Even though Lost contains time travel and other science-y stuff, overall it’s kind of light on sci-fi and heavy on mystical stuff. The entire plot, after all, is based on — wait, spoiler alert, better not say!

    Your example of The Time Traveler’s Wife is a good one. Time travel and romance — where’s the best fit on the shelves of a book store? (The answer: both.) Would a romance fan be miffed to find out it contains “daft sci-fi nonsense”? (The title should be a dead giveaway, but you know what I mean.) Or would a sci-fi nut, seeing the title, be mightily annoyed with the amount of romance and mushy stuff? (Again, the title suggests a time traveler’s spouse…) And it’s interesting that you see the time travel in this book as a “supernatural twist.” I know there are no machines involved, so it’s hard to class this as sci-fi, but I would veer more toward fantasy than supernatural. Yet another classification issue. The sci-fi element isn’t even sci-fi!

    As for your own book… well, I haven’t read it, but I will say that (IMHO) the cover suggests “horror” or “creepy,” and yes, “suspense” — but not sci-fi. Whether that’s an issue or not depends on the story and the reader. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest because I like fantasy, sci-fi, horror, suspense, and so on, and a mash of the lot suits me just fine.

    Finally — suggestions for sci-fi? That’s nearly impossible without knowing what you like, for the exact reasons described above. I always loved Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but if you like alien encounters, look out for Fire in the Sky, which is really, really good and based on a true alien abduction story. There are a blue-million movies I could mention, but it’s futile without knowing your tastes. Even Betty’s classic suggestions (2001 and 2010) won’t appeal to everyone. I would heartily recommend Moon (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1182345/) — fab movie that makes you think.

    • #4 by Becca Campbell on April 16, 2012 - 7:38 pm

      Thanks for your detailed definition of sci fi. :)

      While I feel the book cover for Foreign Identity really goes with the story, I agree that it’s not overly sci fi (but as I mentioned, the plot walks that line a bit). But while you want to draw interest with the cover of a book, you don’t want to give away spoilers…and this is part of the reason for the cover design and why it doesn’t boast sci fi elements so heavily. If you want to know what about the story is sci fi, you’ll just have to wait and see. :) Of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts after you read it, on whether you think the cover fits the story.

      As far as sci fi recommendations go, I was really wanting books more than movies. I’ve been reading more stuff in that genre lately, like Ender’s Game and the Maze Runner, but I want more. Especially recently written stuff.

      Thanks for stopping by, Keith!

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