Breaking Free from the Fictional Pigeonhole

Saying no to the fictional pigeonhole isn’t easy in the age of algorithms. To be fair it hasn’t been easy for some time. So maybe it’s time to push back a little. That’s why I’m looking to discover other people’s favourite pigeon-hole-busting fantasy and sci fi authors. But first…

So what’s a pigeonhole for authors?

There are the space odysseys, and the Harry Potter lookalikes, the shifter romances and endless Lord of the Rings remakes. And if there’s a genre you really like, the algorithm will be able to feed that addiction. On the other hand, if you’re constantly wanting something just a little bit different, or wacky, that algorithm completely collapses.

Even pitching books these days is all x crossed with y – when x and y are basically the same thing.

Ursula Le Guin had a thing or two to say about being shoved into a fictional pigeonhole:

“Where I can get prickly, Wray, is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer,” she said. “I’m not. I’m a novelist and a poet. Don’t shove me into your pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.”

Ursula Le Guin

But quoting her is like quoting a wildcard. Most of the authors who make it really big stick to their knitting. And to be fair, they get really good at it—except when they don’t, and there is no respite from reading the same plot again and again.

So, as authors, we’re told to stay in our lane. And as readers, Amazon or Goodreads is still trying to get you to read sparkling vampire books, even though you never really liked sparkling vampires. Or Lord of the Rings knockoffs that are fun once in a while, but lost their kick a few decades ago.

So my top picks for not fitting pigeonholes are:

Ursula K. Le Guin
Pratchett- see video below for how he was considered in his time

Neil Gaiman is another must have with a huge variety of works, which kind of counts, but only because that variety doesn’t always neatly fit into the prescribed formulae. (Although I don’t think he could ever be accused of not selling out 😉 And good on him for his success. )

I’d also like to say I’ve managed to avoid a pigeonhole, but here’s the rub. I started this blog post maybe 6 months ago. And it’s become increasingly clear: No pigeonhole. No dice.

Pigeon in a hole in a wall - representing the tight squeeze of the fictional pigeonhole

And so now, I’m just watching the pigeons fly and dreaming of something fantastical while wondering if I should coo for the almighty algorithm.

Anyway, enough of that. Who are your favourite pigeon hole busting fantasy or sci fi authors? Let’s celebrate them. Extra points if they’re little known and writing out of a garret somewhere—or if they’re sneaky and use a pseudonym or even just an extra initial like Iain M. Banks 🙂


P.S. More on Ursula Le Guin’s Dangerous Imagination, here

& Terry Pratchett and the The Postmodern Fantasy Parody here

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