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Fiction - Science or Fantasy?

I write. You’ve probably guessed that by now. Comic fantasy, to be precise. Well, it is if it makes you laugh :-).

Recently I was talking with another writer about that. No, not the comic part. The fantasy. We were talking about Fantasy, and we were talking about Science Fiction. But mostly we were talking about the differences between them.

Very quick and totally non-scientific surveys among those we knew had led to a surprising conclusion. A lot of people who seemed to like Science Fiction said they didn’t much like Fantasy. And a lot of people who liked Fantasy?

Yup. You got it :-).

So why would that be surprising? After all, Science Fiction is all technology, ray guns, strange planets, aliens and whether Zogblargian Flar is better with or without garlic. Or taste buds. And Fantasy? That’s magic, lightning wands, eldritch dimensions, demons and the down sides of pomegranate seeds eaten in hell. Totally different, right?

Weeeeeeeell… maybe :-).

It seems to be a requirement that once someone reaches a sufficient level of importance they make some Laws. And surprisingly often, the number three creeps in somewhere. So Sir Isaac Newton had his Three Laws of Motion. Dr Isaac Asimov had his Three Laws of Robotics. Johannes Kepler did it for planets. And Arthur C Clarke (according to the Asimov-Clarke Treaty of Park Avenue ‘the world’s second best science writer’) had his three too. Here they are:

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.

Let’s look at that third one. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Which also would seem to mean “Any magic is indistinguishable form a sufficiently advanced technology.”

So is there really a difference?

Here’s something to maybe think about:

First Mage Cardelian checked the pentagram. The ruby on the dexter point was smudged. That was bad. It might give the demon a path through the ward. Or the demon and his familiar. Or the demon, his familiar and the hordes of hell. Cardelian smiled to himself, stepped in and polished the ruby against his robe before setting it in place again. He opened the Book of Theramis, and began the chant. He paused. 'I summon thee Great Demon of Kathos' Was the accent on 'Kath', or 'os'? He flipped to the back of the Book. Ah. Right. In a moment, the rubies at each point of the pentagram began to glow. The air inside the wards shimmered, and the walls of the palace at Kuldar appeared round him.

And this:

Chief Engineer Baker examined the transporter chamber. The Kubasi crystal looked cracked. That wasn't good. Trying to warp a Kappa wave through a cracked crystal was a quick way to need a new transporter chamber. And a new ship. And maybe a new solar system if the solar flare cycle was in the wrong phase. He replaced it with one of the spares. Baker switched on his omni-scope and ran through the warm up routines. Not that he didn't know them by heart, but you couldn't be too careful with Kappa waves. He wasn’t happy with the readings from the sensor array. He nudged the vector-translitorator a little. That, he thought, should do. Stepping on the portal disc, he stepped off into the Dendrani desert.

There you are. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Is there a difference, really? And if you like one, do you like the other? I’d love to know. So the floor’s open. Feel like telling me?


Kal K.'s picture

I agree with you, the two passages are essentially identical. However, I believe that it is in the wrapping and trappings of the genre that most fans find their highest satisfaction - i.e. one likes to dream of swords, wands, magical castles and dark lords and another loves to dream of hyperspace engines, massive capital ships, science stations, blasters and evil Alien entities. It may feel similar, but in the minds of the fans, the two couldn't be further apart...

Graeme's picture

... Lord Kal!

And my thanks for the comment.

But which, then, are you? Are your dreams of swords and dark lords, or evil Alien entities? :-).

Kal's picture

I think I am 60% fantasy and 40% sci-fi - fan of both, but warlocks, ancient strongholds and dark lords give me a bigger buzz :)

DM's picture

There are times when there are slight differences, but you need both in both types of writing. Sometimes I wonder if some people get caught up with things like Sci Fi is space and Fantasy is make-believe.

Graeme's picture

And I think you're right. Just as there are people who say they 'don't read Romance', say, but get quite engrossed in the interplay between Aragorn and Arwen, or the will-they-won't-they-aren't-they-are-they between Harry and Hermione and Ron in the Potter series.

Genre recognition is a bit like labeling. It can be important, but it can also be limiting :-).

Fiona 's picture

Oh, Sir Graeme, you're such a fantastic scientific wizard with alien tendencies. I doff my pointed hat and bow to you with a flourish of my wand.

Graeme's picture

... Lady Fiona :-). And how fares the matter of the Mists?

Such words from a seanachie of your calibre are honour indeed!

Oh - and notice how I carefully avoided the whole 'flourishing wand' line. I wouldn't be anting to make anyone blush, now! :-P.

Jen's picture

I enjoy both very much, although I would say I lean more towards fantasy. I agree, however, that labels can be very limiting indeed. Since I got into the amazing world of book blogging, I have been pleasantly surprised to read many different types of books and have liked most, if not all of the ones I have read and reviewed. It really depends on if it is a good story, then it doesn't matter what genre or label it has. In regards to the comment about "not reading romance", I also do not like to say I like "romance novels", but I am talking about more of the overly sentimental romance section you see in the bookstore with the muscular man on the horse and the lady with long hair in a dress. I don't like stereotypes in books. But I can definitely get caught up in a romance. I prefer to have other things going on as well, though. I want the characters to be unique and whatever their fight is, I need to feel as if I am a part of it. It has to be important and it has to mean something to me.
Check out my site below if you'd like to see the different books I have been reviewing!

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