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Science Fantasy?

kiwidockiwidoc Member Posts: 1,294
I have never believed that there is a clear cut division between science fiction and fantasy. (In fact I don’t think there is a clean line between the differing fantasy genres such as “High Fantasy”, “Urban Fantasy” etc but that’s a whole different threads worth.)

I’ve been re-reading what is considered to be a classic sci-fi series – Dune. Once again I was struck by how much fantasy there was in this sci-fi universe. I know Arthur C Clarkes law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” However to me there are themes that definitely fade far past the borders of possible science and advanced tech, and into the realms of pure imagination.

An example of what I mean is the various themes of prophecy. Distinct from the prophecy theme is the way the way characters can see the future, or different futures plural. Also clones can have “cellular memory” belonging to the original donor, and access to memories never experienced by the original cell donor but belonging to other clones. No matter how advanced your technology, at least some of this is still going to be impossible.
I have also recently re-read a classic fantasy series – the Morgaine novels by CJ Cherryh. This is marketed and touted as one of the classic High Fantasy series, and yet the magical powers wielded by Morgaine are based on advanced technology and hard science.

And then of course there are the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, and her son Todd. These started as pure fantasy, with some of the common sci-fi “magic” such as telepathy and teleportation (psionics to you younger chaps and chapesses) but it gradually became clear that there is a great deal of science fiction happening as well – the entire world is a colony from star faring ships that faces disaster and thus reverts to simpler technology. The dragons are in fact the result of DNA manipulation of the flying lizards. Long lost high tech machines are found in this pseudo-medieval world.

So what do you think? Is there really a nice, neat division between the genres? If there is an overlap, how big is it? Can you think of any works that have both fantasy and science fiction elements?

Moomintrolltypo_tillyBelgarathMTHNonnahswriterkaguanaJuliusBorisovlolienSouthpaw

Comments

  • typo_tillytypo_tilly Member Posts: 5,702
    I've often felt that fantasy and science fiction, as we use them, are more settings than genres. Star Wars and its focus on magic could easily be called fantasy, couldn't it?

    If someone asks what I write, I say "adventure" or "adventure comedy"... in a fantasy setting. :)

    The problem of "fantasy" as its own genre is that there can be many types of stories there? I guess most fantasy stories are adventure, but they could also be detective stories or romance instead.

    rufus_hobartmeaglothJuliusBorisovlolien
  • MoomintrollMoomintroll Member Posts: 1,481
    edited October 2014
    I think a general rule is that science fiction "could" happen and fantasy normally uses magic, which rules out the possibility that it could/could have happened.

    I'm not saying we'll have diamond towers into space after finding an ancient alien relic on the moon. But maybe Arthur C. Clarke is saying that it could happen if some unthought of technologies were invented. Improbable as that may be.

    There is also to consider that we have constructions of what fantasy and sci-fi are supposed to be, perhaps these are considerably personal in nature.

    That said, I think they are just terms to help us describe works of fiction to other humans. They do not limit, control or determine exactly what should be allowed to be associated with them (the words).

    Post edited by Moomintroll on
    typo_tillyJuliusBorisovlolien
  • dunbardunbar Member Posts: 1,472
    Off the top of my head, the 'Warlock Unlocked' series by Christopher Stasheff mixes the two quite nicely. And of course there's always the 'Adept' series ('Split Infinity' et al) by Piers Antony which literally has two parallel worlds (one sci-fi, one fantasy) where the same characters exist in both worlds and can interact between both worlds (yes I know, so many paradoxes it makes your head hurt, but suspension of disbelief eases the pain).

    typo_tilly
  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    To me, science fiction must contain science. There must be some attempt to explain the things that are happening, either by using real science, or made-up science - and the made-up science has to be at least believable.

    I've often thought that things like Star Wars, and Warhammer 40k, are more like fantasy in space than science fiction. Star Wars has magic (there's no technology that we can conceive of that can do some of the things that The Force can), and 40k has demons in it, which can't possibly be down to technology! Like you said, some things can be reasoned out as "sufficiently advanced technology", but there are things that no technology in the world will ever be able to do. For example, having a micro-organism inside you can not make you capable of telepathy, telekineses, and able to hurl bolts of lightning at people, even if they do give it a fancy name like "midichlorians".

    Authors like Orson Scott Card, Arthur C Clarke, etc, are what I consider to be true science fiction, because they don't have anything happening that they don't at least try to explain with either science, or made-up science.

    I'd also call Firefly science fiction, because that doesn't have magic, and the science that it attempts to convey is all quite believable.

    Star Trek is a tougher one. Although most of it is based on science, or made-up science (a classmate who was a hardcore Trekkie assured me that scriptwriters would write *insert technobabble here* in the script at the appropriate places, then pass it to the research department), there is still enough magic involved that can't possibly be down to technology, namely the incredibly irritating Q character.

    That's the key thing, I think. The science has to be logical and believable, not just "he can click his fingers and do anything!". As soon as you include things that can't possibly be down to any conceivable notion of technology that we may have, then it stops being sci-fi, and becomes fantasy in space.

    Incidentally, I think a better question would be: when is it steampunk, and when is it simply sci-fi written before the 1950s? ;-)

    typo_tillyJuliusBorisovlolien
  • CrevsDaakCrevsDaak Member Posts: 7,144
    I come to this thread thinking it was about science inside works of fiction :( but well… I have something to say as well.

    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff. For me, science fiction as a genre has to be dystopian view of the future and criticize the present from that example.

    The gap between those Sci-fi and Fantasy is very light, both tend to have clear (or not so much) definition of a hero, and very probably a huge influence by romanticism (by this definition), so I'd say it's a lot what they have in common and very little what they don't share. There are many works of literature where Sci-fi and Fantasy bend together, for example, in the (not-so-good-but-I-love-them) comic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the Atlantans had developed a machine that produced a highly radioactive isotope that generated direct DNA alterations and made humans turn into demon-like beasts, this merges both magic with sci-fi, but it's part of none since that isn't the point of that story.

    The best example of `science fantasy' I've seen in my life is the book "The Dreaming Crystals", by Theodore Sturgeon. It's referred to as if it was a work of Sci-fi, but hear me, it's not just science fiction, it has many elements that are not present in any other works of sci-fi, and it has a subjective dystopian view of the world--means that the world is fine for most but not for some (like nowadays in real life)--instead of an objective one and many sheep behind a single lie.

    typo_tillykaguanaJuliusBorisovlolien
  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512

    Some would say that space travel and teleportation are plausible advances in technology, but here we are in 2014 still marveling at their mention.

    I think the difference is that, in sci-fi, they try to turn whatever seemingly impossible thing they are doing into plausible technology with made-up techno babble. In fantasy, they simply say "a wizard did it!", and don't even bother with the techno-babble. Sci-fi will have ordinary people employing gismos and devices, while fantasy will have somebody with special powers waving their arms and speaking pseudo-Latin, or something similar.

    To put it another way, "re-rout the plasma conduits and fire a tachyon pulse through the deflector dish!" is more likely to be sci-fi, while fantasy will simply say "cast a *insert desired effect* spell!".
    That's probably why you see a lot of magazines and television networks putting them under the same label "Science Fiction/Fantasy." (Even though those of us who are TRUE fans would shudder at the thought of lumping Doctor Who in with Game of Thrones.)
    Actually, I think that's more likely to be because fans of one are likely to be fans of the other. I mean, do you know many Lord of the Rings fans who don't also like Star Wars/Trek?
    I think Star Trek's Q fall under Clarke's Law. They are supposed to represent intelligences that are so far beyond our own that everything they do appears to us to be magic.
    I would believe that if it was presented a bit more plausibly than a guy clicking his fingers, but in sci-fi, I want to know how clicking your fingers causes the desired effect to be achieved, otherwise they can just decide whatever they want, and it doesn't have to make sense.

    kaguanaNonnahswriterlolienBelgarathMTH
  • kaguanakaguana Member Posts: 1,328
    edited October 2014
    I think there is a thin line between science fiction and fantasy.

    One can say that space traveling is a fantasy by it self, like in star trek all this traveling and getting to knew world, and jump into high space traveling it seem like magic at some point, and the Q they are maybe not gods but they manipulate time and space itself the way they want, yes they are more advance then the human race and probably learn their tricks and how the world, space and times works but it not all science there is a fantasy to it as well.

    Another example is Dune with their weird blue eyes, and water, and his little sister that had powers that can't be explain from science point, she had them already from the womb, and then when she was born she wasn't ordinary girl with all her powers and knowledge.

    Lets talk BG it have both science fiction and fantasy, science for example the spear that can travel from world to world and on the other hand you got magic and spells in that world.

    Also this I agree:
    CrevsDaak said:

    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff. For me, science fiction as a genre has to be dystopian view of the future and criticize the present from that example.

    JuliusBorisovlolienAristillius
  • NonnahswriterNonnahswriter Member Posts: 2,520
    Squire said:

    Actually, I think that's more likely to be because fans of one are likely to be fans of the other. I mean, do you know many Lord of the Rings fans who don't also like Star Wars/Trek?

    I'll definitely agree with that. I just brought up the Game of Thrones vs. Doctor Who example because I remember in some tv entertainment voting thing, they put a lot of sci-fi and fantasy shows together into one category. So in that category, you had to choose between Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Once Upon A Time, and several others to win the "best sci-fi/fantasy show of the year." Each show is so different, it was near impossible to choose. D: "If only they'd split sci-fi and fantasy into two categories," I thought. "Then it could have been a little more reasonable!" But alas, I had to give my vote to the Games.
    CrevsDaak said:

    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff.

    I'd say it's more accurate that the Middle Ages, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are reoccuring tropes that the fantasy genre enjoys using, not necessarily the definition of the genre itself. I just started a fantasy novel whose world and fantastical elements were inspired by Egyptian lore. No elves, no dwarves, and certainly not set in the Middle Ages, but it's still a fantasy none the less.

    Course, the term "fantasy" is very broad in terms of genre literature, and has several branches. Some branches prefer to use certain tropes--urban fantasy likes to use a modern setting, high fantasy likes to use the elves and dwarves you mentioned, and dark fantasy loves to use gritty elements of horror in their storytelling, and they're all fantasy.

    kaguanalolienBelgarathMTHAristillius
  • NimranNimran Member Posts: 4,848
    Fantasy. Whatever I can think of is probably it.

    Moomintrolllolien
  • kiwidockiwidoc Member Posts: 1,294
    I like the term "Speculative Fiction" that's the term The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (a truly wonderful resource) uses to cover fantasy, sci-fi, horror and all combinations of the above.
    CrevsDaak said:


    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff. For me, science fiction as a genre has to be dystopian view of the future and criticize the present from that example.

    I'm sorry but I am going to have to disagree with these definitions. I am a speed reader - I read LOTR in 5 days, and I've probably read WAYYYY to many speculative fiction books. I've already mentioned Dune and the Pern books which are considered to be classics of Sci-Fi and Fantasy respectively - and pointed out the fantasy in Dune, and the sci-fi on Pern.

    I've read numerous fantasy books aren't set in pseudo-medieval worlds. For example the urban fantasy of Charles de Lint's Newford series is set in a very modern city. Each book has a different slant. Some are based on Native american myhtology, some on celtic fantasy, others on an almost steam-punk, some are more horror based and others psionics/telepathy and other mind powers. And then you've got Mercedes Lackey's books (like her Elves on the Road series) which have thoroughly modern elves wandering around in our current world. These are just two authors out of dozens I could name.

    I have also read numerous science fiction books that are most definitely not set in a dystopia. Hell, I absolutely love to live in Ian Bank's Culture Universe. I'd also love to dive a few space wrecks in Katherine Rusches universe as well.


    I am surprised nobody else has challenged the amount of "mind power" stuff aka psionics that is present in so much science fiction. Almost all of it cannot be explained by the technology levels present in the setting, and the authors don't even try to make a scientific basis for these powers. However, because they've been part of sci-fi for so long that they have been a cliche for decades no-one seems to blink an eye at them.

    @Squire I've actually met loads of LOTR fans who hate star trek and star wars. Usually this is becauseTolkien's world is so densely layered and thoroughly built, while the wars and trek universes are ... well pretty much sloppily put together. The people I'm thinking of don't have a problem with sci-fi as such, just with Space opera sci-fi.

    I think the reason Sci-fi, Horror and Fantasy are lumped together in the book shops, BluRay catelogues etc is that they are all set in alternative realities, realities that aren't our current reality in this time and this place (i.e. our world)

    Nonnahswriterlolien
  • CrevsDaakCrevsDaak Member Posts: 7,144
    kiwidoc said:

    I like the term "Speculative Fiction" that's the term The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (a truly wonderful resource) uses to cover fantasy, sci-fi, horror and all combinations of the above.

    CrevsDaak said:


    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff. For me, science fiction as a genre has to be dystopian view of the future and criticize the present from that example.

    I'm sorry but I am going to have to disagree with these definitions. I am a speed reader - I read LOTR in 5 days, and I've probably read WAYYYY to many speculative fiction books. I've already mentioned Dune and the Pern books which are considered to be classics of Sci-Fi and Fantasy respectively - and pointed out the fantasy in Dune, and the sci-fi on Pern.

    I've read numerous fantasy books aren't set in pseudo-medieval worlds. For example the urban fantasy of Charles de Lint's Newford series is set in a very modern city. Each book has a different slant. Some are based on Native american myhtology, some on celtic fantasy, others on an almost steam-punk, some are more horror based and others psionics/telepathy and other mind powers. And then you've got Mercedes Lackey's books (like her Elves on the Road series) which have thoroughly modern elves wandering around in our current world. These are just two authors out of dozens I could name.
    Yeah, I didn't mean to write it that way. I tried to give an example of the definition of fantasy as something that is fantastic (e.g. as unbelievable) and another example of Fantasy as the literary genre but without giving direct examples (mind the word mostly on the middle of the sentence), but I totally failed on both:
    CrevsDaak said:

    CrevsDaak said:

    There are two types of Fantasy… There's fantasy, as if something is impossible to happen in real life or just fiction, and Fantasy, which is genre of fictional literature mostly associated with Middle Ages, magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes and that stuff.

    I'd say it's more accurate that the Middle Ages, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are reoccuring tropes that the fantasy genre enjoys using, not necessarily the definition of the genre itself. I just started a fantasy novel whose world and fantastical elements were inspired by Egyptian lore. No elves, no dwarves, and certainly not set in the Middle Ages, but it's still a fantasy none the less.

    Course, the term "fantasy" is very broad in terms of genre literature, and has several branches. Some branches prefer to use certain tropes--urban fantasy likes to use a modern setting, high fantasy likes to use the elves and dwarves you mentioned, and dark fantasy loves to use gritty elements of horror in their storytelling, and they're all fantasy.
    Yes, gotta agree there. The Fantasy genre is very extensive, but very often it's considered to be smaller.
    Wikipedia said:

    In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today.

    Source.
    If you ask any writer of the genre they are surely going to give an answer similar to yours and what I would say, but I just wanted to throw in a quick example :p

    Fantasy includes several other things like legends and even religious texts (through the latter is always negated by religious organizations, and many people try to leave them out to avoid endless debates and stuff, but then, they consider religious texts of other religions to be fantastic. It's something I won't like to debate but it's like that most of the time), too, and as kaguana says, it pretty much encircles all that isn't other genre.
    kiwidoc said:

    I have also read numerous science fiction books that are most definitely not set in a dystopia. Hell, I absolutely love to live in Ian Bank's Culture Universe. I'd also love to dive a few space wrecks in Katherine Rusches universe as well.

    Well, until now I wouldn't have imagined that those books even existed. Books aren't easy to come by in my country, since our stupid government blocked importation and they print a very little amount of books here.

    (BTW LotR in 5 days means you read pretty fast, and I say this even after reading The Wise Man's Fears in two days (and in spanish, which makes the text to be a ~17% longer than in english)… Worth mentioning I only slept 10 hours total in this 2 days.)

  • kiwidockiwidoc Member Posts: 1,294
    @Moomintroll I agree entirely. Myths and legends from various culture are often used as the basis and/or inspiration for Fantasy, but can't be considered fantasy themselves. The same can be said of most religious writing. These are stories and world-views that were believed, and were thought to be the truth, or a valid way of organising and explaining their world. What we call Fantasy fiction is deliberately created to be an alternative world that the reader/viewer knows is not reality.
    Now feel free to BLEH as much as you like :D

    I think the bottom line is that we need to beware of shoving things into convenient pigeon holes. It starts off as an ad hoc convenient way to organise things, and then it ends up with people believing the pigeon holes actually represent valid, concrete and real divisions.

    MoomintrollkaguanaJuliusBorisov
  • SquireSquire Member Posts: 512
    kiwidoc said:

    I think the bottom line is that we need to beware of shoving things into convenient pigeon holes. It starts off as an ad hoc convenient way to organise things, and then it ends up with people believing the pigeon holes actually represent valid, concrete and real divisions.

    Indeed, and that's where people often disagree with such divisions. There are many who consider Harry Potter to be fantasy, but I don't - at least not in the traditional sense. There's a difference between Tolkienesque style pseudo-medieval fantasy, and a modern day setting with fantasy elements. After all, if we simply decide that magic and mythical beasts makes it fantasy, this technically makes Twilight fantasy, and I'm sure nobody wants that lumped into our beloved genre! ;)

  • kiwidockiwidoc Member Posts: 1,294
    edited October 2014
    @Squire I was horrified to find Twilight books listed under Fantasy on the Good Reads site. I'm not a strictly high fantasy girl - I'll read (or watch) just about any genre of speculative fiction, including vampires. In fact the film that has impressed me the most so far this year is Only Lovers Left Alive. But not twilight .... purleeeeease not Twilight!

  • kaguanakaguana Member Posts: 1,328
    Twilight isn't a fantasy it some kind of romance don't remember the kind tho

    lolien
  • ErgErg Member Posts: 1,756
    kiwidoc said:

    Hell, I absolutely love to live in Ian Bank's Culture Universe.

    Funny that you're mentioning Ian M. Banks in this discussion as in his works the boundary between science fiction and fantasy is often very blurred. For example "Against a Dark Background" is often considered a sci-fi novel (for example Wikipedia says so) but it is actually, as Banks himself said in a interview, a fantasy novel in a almost magic-free technocratic setting. Conversely the novel "Inversion" seems fantasy or even historical (in fact I often seen it among other historical novels in book shops), but it is actually a sci-fi novel belonging to "The Culture" series.

  • NonnahswriterNonnahswriter Member Posts: 2,520
    edited October 2014
    kaguana said:

    Twilight isn't a fantasy it some kind of romance don't remember the kind tho

    It's a paranormal romance, which is a branch of fantasy fiction, so unfortunately...

    I've also seen it under the Horror section in some stores though. :/

    Edit: Or could it also be considered a branch of romance fiction? Hm. Must explore further...

    kaguana
  • BelgarathMTHBelgarathMTH Member Posts: 5,450
    edited October 2014
    In the distant past I read a series by sci-fi/fantasy author Piers Anthony that addresses this topic almost directly, within the context of a story.

    It's called "Apprentice Adept". In it, the main character discovers a way to escape from a dystopian sci-fi world, called Proton, into a world governed by magic instead of physics, and populated by Unicorns and other fantastical creatures, called Phaze. Each world has its own unique dangers and problems. The main character, over the series, learns how to travel back and forth between the two worlds, and discovers how to wield gradually increasing power in each world in order to attempt to escape slavery on Proton, gain political power in each of the two worlds, and survive.

    The issue of scientific reality vs. magical "fantasy" is regularly contemplated in many passages throughout the series. It's a pretty interesting read.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apprentice_Adept

    As a twist for the player, the Might and Magic series also
    begins each game in the series as swords and sorcery fantasy, but ends each game in the series by revealing to the player that their "magical" world actually has its origins as a technological colony founded by a spacefaring race, that the threat to the planet of Enroth is coming from alien enemies of the original colonists, and that the original colonial civilization was a technological society that has forgotten its origins and has descended into magical, low-tech "barbarism". Each game ends with the player fighting through some kind of sci-fi scenario, such as raiding a space ship, traveling to another planet, or destroying a world-threatening hi-tech power reactor.


    There was a controversy surrounding the game Heroes of Might and Magic III that actually forced the New World Computing developers to change the ending of their original game. The newer fans of the more recent Heroes series were not aware of the traditions of the game world they were playing in, and had become fans of the newer game as a pure high fantasy genre game. They protested in large numbers when the nature of the traditional twist became known.

    The protest was so widespread and so large, that the devs became convinced that their sales were under serious threat, and they actually rewrote the ending of the main campaign in the game, and an entire faction in the game (it was a strategy war game) was changed.

    http://mightandmagic.wikia.com/wiki/Forge_(town)
    (The (town) in the link is preventing it from working properly on this forum. Please copy/paste the full web address including _(town) at the end to view the citation.)

    http://web.archive.org/web/20000226005658/www.avault.com/articles/getarticle.asp?name=homm&page=1
    http://www.heroesofmightandmagic.com/heroes3ab/forgetown.shtml

    Post edited by BelgarathMTH on
    NonnahswriterJuliusBorisovElectricMonk
  • SouthpawSouthpaw Member Posts: 2,026
    edited October 2014
    @BelgarathMTH‌ mentioned Might and Magic Saga and I am adding one very old game - Albion from BlueByte from around 1990s.
    The game started as a sci-fi on a spaceship, then you crashed onto a planet and delved deep into fantasy with standard swords&sorcery (you could have a gun, but it had a limited amount of bullets that went out quickly so you had to grab a sword)...only to discover, late in the game, that the local population are native aliens mixed with old druids from Earth that came in through a portal somewhere during medieval times and the whole game culminated with a fight against your ship's AI/robot that wanted to destroy the planet.

    I like fantasy, I like sci-fi and sometimes the combination of both mixes just perfectly. Anyway, I believe they aren't completely different and they overlap A LOT.

    Look at Dune, where Frank Herbert had to invent personal shields to prevent the army just shooting the heroes and provided good excitement in meelee battles.

    BelgarathMTHJuliusBorisov
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