Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sci/Fi vs. Fantasy: YES, there IS a Difference!

(Author's Note: This was supposed to go out LAST week, but due to two newsletter deadlines, an emergency lesson plan scramble, technology fails at work I had to duct tape together, and a husband attacked by yellow jackets [yes, I'm serious about that last one] I had my hands a little full. Life interferes. So on with the show.)

I've had people say to me, "Hey, you write that science fiction fantasy stuff, right?" And you know what that means: they think "science fiction" and "fantasy" are the same thing.

I gently answer, "I write BOTH science fiction AND fantasy, yes." And then I smile and continue the conversation. If they continue. Usually they change the subject because either genre is either uninteresting or they don't understand why anyone would read it.

Yeah. Most of you know exactly the feeling.

This misunderstanding of differences bothers me. (The part about not accepting the genre as legit bothers me, too, but that's for another blog.) In chemistry, if you put sodium chloride in water, big deal. If you put potassium in water, it explodes. BIG DEAL! In a restaurant, if you order steak and get chicken, you're likely going to ask for a new plate or your money back. When you want a perm and the hairdresser gives you a buzz cut, well, you've got some growing to do (and perhaps a wig to buy!).

If other differences are so easy to see, why is it that science fiction and fantasy are so difficult?

1. They're both fiction. Most people when lumping unknowns into categories only get past one or two categories. It's too complicated after that.
2. Science fantasy, magical realism, science faction, transrealism, tech noir, weird west, new wave science fiction and crossover genres make the clear definition between the two gray at times. When you have a world with scientific elements that are based on magic or magic that is based on scientific principles, the line blurs.
3. People who don't read either genre don't pay attention. Period. ("Those freaks who read that crazy fantasy science fiction stuff...they're just weird in the head and that genre stuff serves no point!) Yeah. Hmmm... And where did you get that cell phone, that 3D printer, that iPad, your Google Glasses, etc. etc.?

However, if you look at SciFi (Skiffy?! Look that one up! HEHE!) and fantasy in their PUREST forms, you'll find this:

*1. SciFi - "...the label sf is explicitly or implicitly extrapolated from scientific or historical premises. In other words, whether or not an sf story is plausible it can at least be argued." (p. 844)
*2. Fantasy - "A fantasy text is a self-coherent narrative. When set in this world, it tells a story which is impossible in the world as we perceive it...when set in an otherworld, that otherworld will be impossible, though stories set there may be possible in its terms." (p. 338)

*Clute, John and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. St. Martin's Griffin. New York.1997.

Really, it's this simple: Science fiction is the possible based on current scientific knowledge and extrapolation of what we could do in the future. Fantasy is the impossible based on creative imagination, but those impossibilities have to abide by the rules of that world. Where the crossover genres meet, the "abide by the rules of the world" tenant kicks in.

Except...this redefines A LOT of what we thought of as science fiction. Star Wars? Hmmm. Really SciFi? Or science fantasy? Star Trek? (Space opera, definitely, specially TOS!) Stargate? Firefly? Ender's Game? War of the Worlds?

Tell me, does this revise how you see science fiction and fantasy? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Writer vs. Author: What's in a Name?

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

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