Friday, February 8, 2013

Science Fictasy

As I make the transition between writing one of the Wandering Tale novellas and going back to work on Clanless, I've been thinking a lot about genre. 

A lot of people lump science fiction and fantasy together. I don't know the original reasons for that pairing. On its surface it seems like they should be very, very distinct. In practice, of course, most fiction billed as Sci Fi is actually just fantasy with a different feel. Space ships, laser guns, and aliens instead of castles, swords and monsters - but equally as realistic.

Science Fiction has always held a special place in my heart due to my more exacting expectations. I can make up a gun that shoots light. I can state what it's limitations are, its energy sources, how common or uncommon it is and why. I can tell you manufacturing principles, dangers of failing to maintain it. Effective countermeasures and protection. I could tell you all sorts of technical details - but that doesn't make it science fiction. If I'm pulling all of this straight out of thin air, that laser weapon is a product of fantasy.

My personal definition of "Science Fiction" has a greater burden of thought attached to it. It has to start with physics as we know it. Then it should predict, extrapolate, build on and develop a new world that logically follows from the old. To some people this may sound like I want all my science fiction to sound the same, which couldn't be further from the truth. After all, the author can still introduce many elements that exist only on the fringes of the physical world, or that lie in the thinnest slices of the bell curve. Improbability is not only forgivable, it is often one of the most interesting spaces to explore.

This makes true, hard science fiction (pure science fiction?) a rare creature indeed. Clanless will not be true science fiction. It will, like most popular science fiction, be a hybrid. Much of it will be rigorously thought out, but there will be fantastic elements that exist for the sake of the story or for the sake of making the universe more interesting. This is as it should be. In the age of quantum mechanics, I wonder how much of the science fiction writing crowd even has the brainpower to write pure science fiction. I know that every time I try to read a Wikipedia article on quantum physics, I go cross-eyed.


  1. The hard science fiction writing crowd normally has a solid foundation in their scientific knowledge base. Space opera, from the authors I've read and followed, somewhat less. A lot of SF authors do research and count on friends/professionals in the science fields (chemistry, astronomy, engineering, etc.) to help with the details.

    I think this is important as the SF reading audience is usually pretty sharp and not overly forgiving when something they feel should be obvious is ignored or gotten totally wrong.

    That's not to say fantasy readers don't have high expectations, just in a different way.

    I think SF and Fantasy got grouped together because years back that's how the titles got placed on bookstore shelves, and the library shelves as well. Eventually, with the bookstores--lack of space, and the blending of genres, they just got placed together. No proof of this, just an observation based on personal experience.

    1. I'm doing some thinking now about the driving forces of both genres, and toying with the idea that Science Fiction is often less character-driven than fantasy. A lot of my favorite science fiction books had strong characters, but some of them... well, I remember the plot and the gadgets better (and yes, still consider them excellent books). It seems like something that can more easily be forgiven in science fiction.