A new trend has appeared relatively recently in the literature of the fantastic—the mashup. Rather than working within the confines of a single genre of fiction, authors are trying their hand at combining different forms of literature within the same story. The so-called "mashup" is the literary equivalent of putting peanut butter together with jelly. Given that the mashup practice has been happening for a couple of years now, it's proving to be just as popular.
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Mashing Up The Classics
These days, you can't walk through the science fiction and fantasy aisles of a bookstore without running across at least one mashup involving a classic work of mainstream fiction. That's because one particular science fiction/classic mashup is the one that started the recent trend. Love 'em or hate 'em, credit the popularity of genre mashups on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith's retelling of Jane Austen's classic 1813 novel that throws in zombies for good measure. In it, Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, trained by their father in martial arts and weaponry to protect against the all-too-real threat of the undead, deal with relationships...and zombies.
The zombie/classic mashup has since given rise to several other familiar-sounding titles, slightly altered to incorporate the brain-eating creatures, notably The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert; The Undead World of Oz by L. Frank Baum & Ryan C. Thomas; The War of the Worlds, Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies by H.G. Wells and Eric S. Brown; I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas by Charles Dickens & Adam Roberts, and The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor and Scott Altman. Each of these stories mirrors the original to a certain degree, but also adds a horror element that does affect the plot in usually significant and somehow gratifying ways.
The classic mashup makes use of more than just zombies. Vampire fiction lovers will be happy to know that their blood-sucking friends are quite popular, too. Notable vampire/classic mashups include Jane Slayre by Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin; Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina; Romeo & Juliet & Vampires by William Shakespeare and Claudia Gabel; Wuthering Bites by Sarah Gray; and The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor. If you like any of the original classics and feel like reading sf, how do these not sound appealing?
If zombies and vampires aren't your thing, perhaps you'll find comfort in the pages of Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben Winters, a steampunkish take on Anna Karenina, involving robots, cyborgs and androids. Or maybe Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters, in which Austen's classic novel is imbued with the tropes of classic sea monster stories. Speaking of Austen, there's also Mansfield Park and Mummies by Jane Austen & Vera Nazarian, in which Fanny Price is the target of the affections of not only Henry Crawford, but also an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Werewolves are the preferred mashup genre ingredient in both Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott & Porter Grand, and Grave Expectations by Charles Dickens and Sherri Browning Erwin. Finally, those looking for more classic mashups would do well to seek out the anthology Classics Mutilated edited by Jeff Conner, where each story is a "Monster Lit" take on a classic tale.
The literary mashup is not relegated to the confines of classic (and usually public domain) literature. A handful of recent novels create quite palatable stories that mix multiple science-fictional genres. For example, Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series (comprised of Boneshaker, Dreadnought and the newly released Ganymede) perfectly combines elements of steampunk and zombie fiction into page-turning adventure stories. Meanwhile, Andrew P. Mayer's Society of Steam novels (The Falling Machine and the upcoming Hearts of Smoke and Steam) involve the adventures of steampunk superheroes.
Speaking of superheroes, comic book fans will appreciate Marvel's mashup Marvel Zombies by Robert Kirkman (creator of the The Walking Dead) and Sean Phillips. Star Wars fans can also get a chance to go mashup with Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers and Red Harvest, two books that put zombies in a galaxy far, far away. Finally, a meta-mashup recommendation: Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall, which combines real-life Star Trek fan culture and zombies.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.