Thursday, May 17, 2012

Magic Thursday - the difference between science fiction and fantasy

By Nicole Murphy


What is the difference between science fiction and fantasy?

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Fantasy is magic, science fiction is science. Sure, they both speculate about alternate worlds and realities, hence some people grouping them under the phrase ‘speculative fiction’, but they’re still very different. Never gonna confuse Lord of the Rings with Star Wars, right?

There’s a famous quote from science fiction god Arthur C Clarke - Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Consider the point of view of someone who died a hundred years ago, coming to our world now. Just think of all the stuff that we take for granted that they’d have no concept of. Wouldn’t things like microwaves, mobile phones, eftpos, seem like magic to them?

So yes, at the extremities of the field, I think that science fiction and fantasy are easily distinguished from each other. But there’s a place that they meet in the middle, a place that is often called science fantasy.

Star Wars can be considered an example of that. There’s spaceships and lasers and aliens, so it’s CLEARLY science fiction. Except them you consider the Force, the mystical power that binds the universe together, and that’s absolutely a fantasy concept.

Sometimes, when you’re writing, it can be hard to figure out what you’re writing. I found that to be the case with my latest publication, ‘The Right Connection’. Ever since I wrote it in 2002, I’ve had it in my head that it was science fiction. It wasn’t until I was getting it beta-read in April and someone said to me, “Um, you do realise that apart from a couple of sliding doors and a floating platform, this is fantasy?”

My confusion came because the basis of the relationship that my world revolves around is telepathy. In my experience, the places I’ve most seen/read telepathy has been in science fiction. Star Trek. Doctor Who. Star Wars. So I’ve always associated it with science fiction.

But there’s also an element of the fantastical in the idea of telepathy, and it’s not a proven scientific fact, so therefore doesn’t it really fit more in the realm of magic and is therefore a trope of fantasy?

In the end, I’ve chosen to ditch the sliding doors and other science fictional things and make this a world in which most technology has been lost and the main weapon they have is telepathy and I’m calling it fantasy. Although in my mind, I’m wondering…

Science fantasy, perhaps?

***

Because I’m feeling generous and I love all my Darksiders and the readers, I’m going to give EVERY person who comments a free copy of ‘The Right Connection’. So spread the word.

***

Time after time, the missions to retrieve the stolen children have failed. This time, rules will be broken in a last-ditch attempt.

Taylor Wilson is a respected soldier in the Land Corps with a terrible past that has scarred her. When she’s offered the opportunity to work on the mission to save the children taken by the socolapede, Taylor’s ready to jump at the chance until she finds it means she has to connect with a man.

At first, Roden is everything she feared—brash, overbearing, uncompromising. But as she comes to learn of his honour and strength, Taylor not only loses the fight against connection, she loses her heart too.

Can she form a connection with Roden strong enough to save the children? And if they succeed, do the two of them have a future together?



27 comments:

  1. Great post! I've never been able to decide if Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books are Science Fiction or Fantasy for these exact reasons (though I do know that they are awesome!!!)

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    1. Yes, it's a shame there isn't a shelf in the bookstore for 'awesome' and books that deserve it can shelved there, regardless of 'genre' :)

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  2. I think it's similar at the centre of the spectrum with Young Adult and Adult fantasy. Young adult tends to be defined as having a young adult protagonist. So consider 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusack (sic) Young Adult or adult fiction?

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    1. I wonder how many YA editors/authors are aware of how many adults read and love YA? Ain't just for the kids :)

      That definition of YA is an interesting one, because I'm reading Mary Victoria's trilogy at the moment and while the protagonists are all teenagers, I wouldn't call it YA. And then you see Margo Lanagan being marketed YA, whereas there's no WAY I'd call Tender Morsels a YA book.

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    2. Thanks, Nicole - I hope you enjoy it!

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  3. I think there is a reason that the shelves in the bookshops say Science Fiction & Fantasy without a distinction between the two. It's a continuum and the decision where to put a book is one I think is made mainly by marketers. If it has a space ship, it must be science fiction. If the world feels primitive, it must be fantasy. It's a little short-sighted, really. Star Wars is a good example of a science fiction that, according to many people, isn't.

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    1. Ah yes, the whole 'it must be categorised, it should be categorised, where should it be shelved' thing. I think that's been one of the problems that's plagued my books - no one know whether to put them in fantasy or paranormal romance.

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  4. Nicole, have you read Jo Anderton's Debris? This is a great example of a book which sits clearly in the middle. When my husband and I read it, we both thought it was science fiction. But it was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and when I saw Jo at the Awards night I asked her - she thinks it's fantasy, but her editors think it's science fiction!

    Let's get rid of the division and call it all speculative fiction - then maybe we'll read more widely and enjoy ourselves more as a result!

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    1. I am ashamed to admit that I haven't read Jo's book - bad friend :)

      Agree that these categories are probably restricting people's reading and having them miss out on some great books.

      And speaking of great books - Congrats on the Aurealis for Best Fantasy! I have Ember and Ash on the shelf as my next to read and I'm excited. I remember when you read some of it at the Freecon a couple of years ago and loved it.

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  5. I must admit I'm one who usually thinks it's an easy line to distingush but have to now think seriously about that middle line.

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    1. It's a bit of a reminder about life in general really - nothing is ever just black or white. :)

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  6. Great post Nicole. I was thinking about this the other day while watching that show on SBS, "Prophets of Science Fiction". I would never have classified Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley as science fiction writers but if you look at when they wrote, in a way they were. I guess that is why the term "speculative fiction" has become popular as it can cover a wider spectrum.

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    1. Yes, I guess 'horror' is another thing to consider in all this and maybe what we've got isn't a one-line continuum but something like a triangle, and stories can fit all over the space between :)

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  7. I agree with you Nicole, the line is increasingly blurred, especially as people from 21st Century persecptives try to come up with definitive definitions. I mean just consider some of the greatest SF writers 'of their time' like PK Dick and Bradbury, and how much of their stuff that is still referred to as SF but under modern diefinitions falls into the fantasy or science fantasy categories. Never a good topid for a convention panel that's for sure!
    PS. You going to be at Continuum?
    Alison

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    1. Oh yes, can you imagine some of the fans being told that their science fiction is fantasy and vice versa? :)

      No Continuum for me I'm afraid. Will try not to mope too much at the thought of all the fun you'll be having.

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  8. I'm with Pamela. I call a lot of my writing speculative fiction because I don't want to waste good writing time thinking about where it sits on the spectrum. I just want to write a good story that entertains, massages the grey matter a little maybe, but mostly just enables readers to connect with my characters, each other... and me.

    That said, I like the term science fantasy – and it's made me want to read "The Right Connection" to find out more!!

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    1. It starts to really do your head in, though, when you have one description in your mind and then marketing start throwing another in... :)

      Our poor stories will end up dreadfully confused.

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  9. My writing is certainly fantasy but it starts to cross into science fiction with the introduction of space travel and the use of high-tech weapons. While I still use the term 'fantasy' to describe my works, I understand it could be called spec-fic because of the merging of fantasy and sci-fi.

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    1. Whereas there are people out there who will go 'space travel? Must be science fiction' and that's the end of the conversation.

      Just goes to show how limiting labels can be.

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  10. Fascinating post, Nicole.

    I love the term, 'science fantasy', though I am equally comfy with 'spec fic'. The blend and balance of the two genres often makes a great read, too.

    If I had a bookshop, I'd make an 'awesome!' shelf, for sure. :)

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    1. Isn't an 'awesome' shelf the best idea. Wish I had a bookstore again just so I could do it :)

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  11. Great post, I was thinking about this recently when looking for agents for my book, when they say no sci-fi or no fantasy. And yes I agree with some of the other comments about YA, you find younger teenagers through to adults reading it. THanks for the post and good luck with your book.

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    1. Thanks Marie. Yes, it's unfortunate that at the moment, we authors have to label to find the right path to the shelves.

      Who knows, with the revolution currently happening in publishing, maybe one upshot will be that genres don't matter as much anymore?

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  12. I like both sci-fi and fantasy, and I like them mixed a little too. But what I really like is when a strong mythology is wound into the mix as well (think Dune). Pure sci-fi (to my way of thinking) but the mythological elements add a real "fantasy" feel to it.

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    1. Agree - I love the sense of history and longevity that strong mythology brings to a story. That was one of the cool things about Dune, the awareness that this was all just one moment in the long history of this place.

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  13. I have the weirdest relationship with scifi. I love the old stuff, Verne, Wells, and I love scifi TV, but I can't get into the modern books so much. Some have denser technology explanations which I don't get. Of the ones I do like, Robert J Saywer, Ian Irvine and John Birmingham.

    I'm trying to branch out, as I've been a single-genre reader for so long (with fantasy. For some reason complicated magic explanations are fine with me).

    The best thing about sci fi (and recently, about fantasy too) is that it inspires people to actually recreate the technology (Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak, the medical Tricorder from Star Trek) and that's just pure awesome!

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    1. I wonder if it's easier to read descriptions of magic because you don't expect to know how it actually works, whereas with science fiction you feel like you should be able to follow the description and work it out and feel dumb if you can't...

      A theory anyway :)

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