Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

Several years ago, when I went to self-publish my first medieval fantasy novel, I noticed that, when I went to choose the genre category, science fiction and fantasy were lumped together under one tag. It didn’t bother me then, ignorant as I was, but after this evening I’m beginning to wonder whose smart idea it was to think that the two were one and the same.

It’s inevitable. You get a bunch of logic-minded science fiction writers and a bunch of dreamy fantasy writers together and you’re sure to end up in a long debate over something. This evening was a prime example.

The writing group I have been a part of for the extent of my college career, the Rough Writers, began work on a joint fictional world at the beginning of last semester. We’re an interesting mix of people: a steampunk/apocalyptic writer, a couple of medieval fantasy-ish writers, an urban/vampire fantasy writer, a young adult/realist writer, and a new member whose specialty I am unsure about. Recently we have begun to write stories based in our collectively created world. My mentor, Dr. Robinson, and I both brought in stories for the club to look at this evening, and it didn’t take long for us to get into that endless “Science Fiction vs. Fantasy” argument.

For those of you who have been keeping up with my posts, you may have read my story segment entitled “A Coming Storm,” a story featuring a race of people that lives in the ocean. I have a fair amount of dialogue going on in the story, so when it came time to comment, the new member asked, “How are they talking under water?”

“It’s magic,” I answered.

“Well, yes,” he responded, “but you can’t talk underwater. You have to establish rules in a story.”

“Yes,” I nodded, “and the rule is that they can talk under water.”

I won’t try to recreate the whole conversation because I’d probably need several posts to get through it, and honestly we did little more than go in circles as it is. He kept trying to put logic into it. I kept trying to convey the fact that magic defies logic. That’s why it’s magic. I don’t think he ever managed to wrap his head around that concept.

To be honest, I never really thought much about the difference between science fiction and fantasy until very recently. I am, after all, equally fond of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Narnia, and Star Trek. My video games range from Fable II to Mass Effect, with lots of stuff in between. I never stopped to think about the differences. I am, after all, the sort of person that can accept most things in a story without asking why. (There are exceptions, granted). But when it comes to magic vs. science, I was always able to accept that magic was magic and science was science. You only ask as many questions as the instance requires and, when it comes to magic, you accept that it defies logic (unless the author constantly changes the rules, and then you have a problem).

Of course, there are varying degrees of science and magic in fiction. Think of skeletons, a common enemy/feature in fantasy. How is it that that skeleton in Skyrim, though lacking any semblance of muscles, eyeballs, or brains, can manage to pull back the string of a bow and hit my character from half a mile away while I, with present (though lacking) muscles, functioning eyesight, and a fairly decent brain spend 5 minutes just trying to string my beginner’s bow? Well, it’s magic. I have to accept the fact that this defies logic. (Doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of it though). Then you have The Avengers. The power and technology in there: Is it magic? Is it science? Is it both?

The world that my writing group has created allows for both science and magic to be used liberally, but regardless of that fact, there are those that just can’t seem to get past the logic aspect (or lack there-of, as the case may be). So how do you satisfy both? Is it even possible? I have discovered that just because I’ve written and self-published 5 books means very little. As a writer, as a human in general, I still have a lot to learn. I know it’s not possible to make everyone happy, but it sure would be nice to at least be able to help logic-minded people understand the fantasy point of view. But then, maybe I’m just too much of a dreamer. After all, if it were that simple, the science fiction vs. fantasy debate would have been solved a long time ago.

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3 thoughts on “Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

  1. Amen…I hate that the two have merged especially in bookstores. I am a since fiction kinda guy and respect those who enjoy the fantasy type fiction but come on I am sure those looking for a great Fantasy novel get as upset as I when trying to go through row after row of Science fiction. It’s time to revolt against the powers of the dreaded book sellers in their evil dark fortress…you guys get on your fire breathing dragons and I will supply the light sabers.

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