Friday, August 21, 2009

Genre Wars: Fantasy Versus SciFi

Or, I'm Sick and Tired of All These Motherf'ing Dragons on This Motherf'ing Spaceship!

(picture by Daniela Elisabeth Kaminski)

Since the Dawn of Geeks there has been a vast debate: Where is the line between Fantasy and Science Fiction?

The arguments have been heated and numerous, but recently the old stand by argument "Star Wars is totally Fantasy because Jedi are WIZARDS" came up again on the Internets, making me think... what really does separate these two genres?

I've heard Science Fiction defined as anything including advanced technology or science that can be logically postulated upon or explained using the known laws of Nature. Fantasy is defined as involving sparkly magic or magical creatures that can't be explained by current laws of Nature.

This poses a problem, though. What happens if you take into account Arther C. Clark's Three Laws?:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

At what point does technology become so advanced in your novels that it seems like magic? And at what point is magic explainable as simply being preternatural--something we can't yet understand but will as we evolve?

Also, what about DRAGONS IN SPACE?

There is a lot of blending and cross polinating that goes on between Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Where do you think the lines are?

When does science give way to magic, or magic to science?

Does it change whether or not you want to read a book, depending on magic vs. science?

And once in for all, is Star Wars just really badly done Sci Fi, or is it Fantasy because it has Super Magic Force Wizards?

More on this debate over at John Scalzi's blog: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/08/20/re-the-science-fiction-failure-mode/.

Have a great weekend!

10 comments:

Yunaleska said...

This is really funny because, without having seen the internet debate, I thought about that this week. Just because my new sci-fi wip was going to have elements of fantasy...and i realised it would be heavily crossing genres. Yet some sci-fi books do have fantasy elements in them. Definitely a grey area!

Scott said...

I think the lines between Science Fiction and Fantasy blurred so long ago, that nobody truly knows the difference any longer . . . not even the geeks (used in the best way possible) who began the debates over and over again. I also think the genres are subjective.

For me, Star Wars is Science Fiction, even with the Jedis. Enough Said. Debate Solved. : )

Anne McCaffrey's Pern series - began as Fantasy but bkebded ub elements of Science Fiction (quit reading here if you plan on reading this wonderful series because I'm about to give away some plot points) when the Dawn Sisters were revealed to be (this is your last warning) space ships and advanced technology was unearthed as well. From that point on, even though the series dealt with dragons, there was also an element of SciFi.

Now, when I was in college and taking a SciFi Lit Course (yes, I did), the genre was broken down into soft core and hard core SciFi. The hard core had extreme technological details while the soft core had some technological elements.

In the end, the subjectivity of the SciFi/Fantasy debate will go on as long as geeks continue the debate, never realizing that genres can be the absolute bane of a writer's existence.

S

Rebecca Knight said...

Yuna--that is too funny! Maybe it's SF/F Friday :).

Scott--John Scalzi said debating this kind of stuff is like sports for geeks, and I think it's true. We like to debate it just for funsies. The weirdest part, is I took a SciFi lit course and learned those terms, too! It's like you and I live strange parallel lives.

Plus, I agree that Star Wars is some kind of Soft Core SciFi, if those terms still apply.

What does everyone else think about the SF/F divide? :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Hmmm...I'm not a huge Sci Fi or Fantasy person. Well, I guess that's not really true. I've read all things Stephen King (duh) and Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.

For me it's all about execution. A good book about compelling characters is going to reel me in regardless of whether it's science or sparkles.

And for the record, I think this debate should totally be renamed science or sparkles.

Badass Geek said...

I think they can go hand in hand sometimes, but to me, fantasy is more about mythical creatures and magic spells.

Like Stephen King's "The Talisman"... pure fantasy. And a good read.

JennyMac said...

While I am not down with the SciFi...I AM down with you saying M'F'ing dragons. ...LOVE IT.

And I have something for you on my blog.

Abby said...

Well, you know I like to blend them, so I'm not really the right person to ask. I think all aliens should have superpowers of some sort. :D And to me, anything with aliens and spaceships is scifi. But I'm just another geek, so what do I know. ;)

TereLiz said...

Interesting post. I've always felt that in fiction, the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is that sci-fi novels have morals, and fantasy novels have themes. Sci-fi offers warnings, fantasy offers universal emotions and relationships.

The simple answer is:

aliens= sci-fi
elves= fantasy

Star Wars= space opera

ElanaJ said...

Interesting. I've always thought of science fiction as having root in science--even if it's genetic. Which is where the line starts to blur, I think.

Good thoughts. :-)

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