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Saanen
09-19-2005, 03:45 AM
With the talk lately about the differences/similarities between SF and fantasy, I've been thinking about how the two genres are separated. My own belief is that SF and fantasy are simply different points on a continuum that can be called speculative fiction, if you like, but I know plenty of people who are just as adamant that the two are absolutely separate and any stories that blend elements of both are simply "crossover" works and not important.

So to boil it down a little: fantasy means magic, SF means science; but SF can have magical science (FTL, time travel, etc.) while fantasy can have scientific magic (ESP, alchemy). In addition, fantasy is usually low-tech while SF is usually high-tech--but certainly not in every case. I'd be curious to hear how other people decide whether a particular work is actually SF or fantasy (regardless of where it's shelved in the bookstore--when I shelved fantasy in a used bookstore I had many, many arguments with our fiction director about Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, since to me they belong in SF but the fiction director believed they were fantasy).

Also, speaking of dragons that are maybe SF and maybe fantasy, I've got a specific question about my own WIP. The main character is a dragon, and while I've tried hard to make my dragons realistic (small size, don't breathe fire or work magic), they're still fantastical creatures if looked at biologically (six-limbed--four legs and two wings--and can fly despite weighing considerably more than a bird of the same size). The book is set in a world that's very advanced technologically, and in fact the climax is going to take place on a terraformed Mars, but at the same time I haven't bothered to explain any details of how the various technologies work. To me this is a science fiction book, but to people who read hard SF it might seem more like a fantasy. What would you call it?

DaveKuzminski
09-19-2005, 04:19 AM
It's quite possible that a teradactyl (sp?) would have looked like a dragon had one or more survived into the Middle Ages. They were big (and possibly heavy), yet they flew. I think it's really a matter of developing enough lift and speed.

Ivonia
09-19-2005, 06:06 AM
http://www.watt-evans.com/sfvsfantasy.html

I really like the explanation on that website (but I'm sure there are others).

The way I look at it, if it's possible (even theoretically), then it can be considered sci-fi.

If it's impossible in the real world/universe, then it's fantasy.

Although like the website I posted states, it's a really gray area sometimes, and sometimes it's kind of fun to dabble in it hehe.

For me, if it makes the story more fun to read, use it. Don't throw dragons or spaceships in the story for the sake of just having them in the story.

LloydBrown
09-19-2005, 06:29 AM
I've seen one definition that says that science fiction *could* be true, as we currently understand science, while fantasy could not.

Given that definition, I think we need more information on your critter's origins.

Euan H.
09-19-2005, 08:24 AM
It's quite possible that a teradactyl (sp?) would have looked like a dragon had one or more survived into the Middle Ages. They were big (and possibly heavy), yet they flew.
Well...yes and no. More no than yes, actually. The largest reptile flyer was Quetzalcoatlus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus) Northropi, but it didn't look much like a dragon. You can see a picture of a model (flying model) of it here. (http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/index.asp?id=51055)

LloydBrown
09-19-2005, 12:20 PM
Well...yes and no. More no than yes, actually. The largest reptile flyer was Quetzalcoatlus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus) Northropi, but it didn't look much like a dragon. You can see a picture of a model (flying model) of it here. (http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/index.asp?id=51055)

Have you seen the recent news that pterasaurs might be twice as large as previously thought? Wingspans of up to 18m. Here's one article http://www.dehavilland.co.uk/webhost.asp?wci=default&wcp=NationalNewsStoryPage&ItemID=15040376&ServiceID=8&filterid=10&searchid=8

Saanen
09-19-2005, 04:58 PM
I've seen one definition that says that science fiction *could* be true, as we currently understand science, while fantasy could not.

Given that definition, I think we need more information on your critter's origins.

As an amateur naturalist, I'm the first to admit that my dragons couldn't possibly have arisen naturally among Earth's fauna. I did take away a lot of the "mythical" trappings of fantasy dragons, but I couldn't see a way to lose the wings and still make the story work. Without wings the dragons would be completely plausible and certainly SF creatures (intelligent, warm-blooded reptiles).

One thing about the pterosaurs, they may seem huge and strange now, but they still followed the Earthly rules of having only four limbs and having a certain wingspan to weight ratio. I've violated both those rules with my dragons, which I guess tips the dragons into the fantasy side of the genre. I suppose I could have made my dragons originally come from another planet, but that seems like a cop-out somehow, and would radically change a lot of the story as well.

DaveKuzminski
09-19-2005, 07:52 PM
One thing about the pterosaurs, they may seem huge and strange now, but they still followed the Earthly rules of having only four limbs and having a certain wingspan to weight ratio.

Rules? Where are those written down? What do they apply to? I think you're on very thin ice here unless you qualify that remark significantly.

ChunkyC
09-19-2005, 09:04 PM
The bumblebee springs to mind as a critter that doesn't follow those rules....

veinglory
09-19-2005, 09:11 PM
The bumblebee springs to mind as a critter that doesn't follow those rules....

Actually the bumblebee problem was solved a few years back--I think I read about it in Nature.

Jamesaritchie
09-19-2005, 09:24 PM
If you want hevaier creatures to fly, science is up to the task. Just give your planet a thicker atmosphere, one not dense enough to crush humans, but dense enough to allow flight by bigger, heavier creatures.

Saanen
09-19-2005, 09:40 PM
Rules? Where are those written down? What do they apply to? I think you're on very thin ice here unless you qualify that remark significantly.

It's actually written down in a lot of places, mostly biology textbooks and the like. Here is a good explanation of why birds don't get much bigger than swan size, which I found at this site: http://www2.unil.ch/biomapper/opengl/BirdFlight.html


This is defined as the weight of the bird/wing area and measured in grams/centimeter square (g/cm2). Wing loadings have an important implication on large birds and explains why there is a limit to their size. As a bird increase in size, its volume, and so its mass will increase by the cube root, whilst the wing surface only increases as a square root, this is often termed scaling. As the bird gets larger its wing loading will increase until it reaches a value that cannot be sustained. The vultures, albatross and swans are very large birds, at the extreme end of the size scale and have solved the problem of size in different ways. Neither the vulture or the albatross is very proficient at powered flight and both birds rely heavily on their environment to produce the lift they require to both take off and to stay in the air. The vulture though, uses high lift wings to keep itself aloft, loitering on thermals as it scans the savanna for carrion, whilst the higher wing loadings of the albatross mean that it must cruise at much higher speeds to stay airborne. This extra speed is important to the albatross as it allows it to hunt over great tracts of ocean for its widely scattered prey items.

My dragons, if they existed in our world, couldn't possibly fly. While they're small compared to many fantasy dragons (my main character describes herself as about the size of a donkey but longer and not so tall), they weigh a few hundred pounds. I'm not good enough at math to be able to figure out the wingspan needed to lift two hundred pounds of dragon, but I think it would be so outrageously huge that the muscles needed to power the wings would break the bones they were attached to. And add to that the fantasy that my dragons can't just fly, they can (if pressed) carry a full-grown human as well (with difficulty) and you're solidly in the realm of fantasy.

But then again, I don't go into the mechanics of my dragons' flight. I simply present them as realistically as I can and let the story absorb the unrealistic parts. After this morning's bout of writing my characters are onboard a ship that just took off for Mars, and it's going to get them there in 43 hours. This is just as fantastical as my flying dragons and I don't dwell on its impossibility either. So we're back to the original question--despite the SF trappings, is this really a fantasy? Or does SF simply mean spaceships and technology, whether or not they're realistic?

Hare are a few more links that also examine the issues of size and flight:

About giant extinct eagles in New Zealand: http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0030009

About bumblebees and other insects' flight: http://eng-2k-web.engineering.cornell.edu/engrMagazine/magazine.cfm?issue=SUMMER2002&page_number=1&section=feature2

A really interesting site about the biology of B-movie monsters--they don't specifically address weight to wingspan ratio (except in giant insects), but they do talk about bone mass and size, etc., which is coming close:
http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/2/21701757/

DaveKuzminski
09-19-2005, 09:42 PM
Also, there's no rule regarding four limbs. Insects normally have six. Eight or more if you count the wings. Then there are centipedes and millipedes. On top of that, you can look at starfish to find creatures with odd numbers of limbs and we're even looking only at normal creatures.

Also, wasn't there an archaeological discovery of a fossil of an extinct bird species that flew using two pairs of wings?

TheIT
09-19-2005, 10:00 PM
Regarding number of limbs, I believe there's a difference between vertebrates and invertebrates. Vertebrate anatomy is based on four limbs. All animals with a backbone have similar skeletal structures with certain bones being longer/thicker/smaller as compared to human skeletons. For example, did you know an elephant is techinally standing on its toes? Birds' wings are "hands".

I've only looked into this from an artistic standpoint, not scientific, but I think the science is there. Take a look at Jack Hamm's book on Drawing Animals for some superb background and sketches on how animal skeletons are constructed. It might give you some ideas for defining the anatomy of imaginary creatures.

TheIT
09-19-2005, 10:55 PM
FYI, I sculpt dragons out of polymer clay. They're nowhere near realistic, but I needed to figure out some way to make them "read" as feasible. One of the animals I used as a template was the kangaroo (heavily muscled hind limbs, small forelimbs, heavy tail). The trick was figuring out where to attach the wings in relation to the upper arms.

As for the science fiction vs. fantasy debate, I personally don't care where the book is marketed as long as the story is interesting. I read both. One caveat - anything passing itself off as hard science fiction had better have its facts straight. Otherwise, I don't mind limited amounts of bolognium as long as the rest of the story has internal logic. I like exploring different aspects of "what if". Saanen, having your dragons able to fly might be your quota of bolognium for your story. I'd much rather read about flying dragons than non-flying even if it's not a scientifically proven fact.

BTW, I think Anne McCaffrey considers her Pern books to be science fiction, not fantasy.

MadScientistMatt
09-19-2005, 10:56 PM
While it's not likely that vertebrates would evolve another pair of limbs, there's no real reason they couldn't exist with that many if you had the right genetic material to work with. If you have a world where gene-splicing has become a very well developed art, scientists could cultivate a four-legged, two-winged dragon, even if it would need to be closer to skink-sized than Komodo dragon sized.

The wing loading is a bit of a tougher issue, but if you made it as large as the largest known pterosaur and gave it a corespondingly large wingspan, I doubt anyone would complain. Just remember that creatures don't scale proportionately. A bee couldn't fly if you made it the size of a falcon but kept the same basic shape. Likewise, large birds tend to have smaller bodies in proportion to their wingspan.

DaveKuzminski
09-19-2005, 11:01 PM
Unless they don't fly, such as is the case with most penguins.

Euan H.
09-20-2005, 07:28 AM
Interesting link, Lloyd. Thanks. I notice though that the estimate of 18m is based on footprints...which seems a little dodgy (to me). Also, Quetzalcoatlus was estimated to have a wingspan of around 18m (read the Wikipedia article--it's verra innneresting :) ).

TMA-1
09-20-2005, 08:58 PM
Science and technology are central to SF. It should be as realistic as possible, that is it should follow the laws of nature as we understand them, as much as possible. Of course there should be extrapolations and speculations, those are parts of SF as well. Then there's also soft science fiction and science fantasy and other such subgenres. In those, the science and technology are not central to the story, and things that are impossible or thought to be so, can happen.

ChunkyC
09-20-2005, 11:19 PM
Unless they don't fly, such as is the case with most penguins.
Since when? (http://www.astercity.net/%7Ejackal/pingu/pingu3.html)

*disclaimer: I can't be held responsible for lost productivity*

Pthom
09-20-2005, 11:31 PM
Unless they don't fly, such as is the case with most* penguins. . . . and just which variety of penguins (not counting any belonging to ChunkyC) do fly?
:Huh:

[*the emphasis is mine]

DaveKuzminski
09-21-2005, 06:25 AM
One thing I learned was that it was better to state some or most rather than all when uncertain about the actual entire group. Since I'm not an expert in penguins, I felt more comfortable in stating most. ;)

Pthom
09-21-2005, 12:38 PM
Okay. Makes sense.

But every time I hedge like that, someone always asks if I serve syrup with my waffles.
:Shrug:

Actually, I recall reading once (or maybe it was something someone said, or even the sound track of a documentary--my memory is crap, lately) that penguins do indeed fly--in the water.

Or maybe I'm all wet.

Or maybe this is way off topic, and we should just go conjure up a spell or sumpin'.

MadScientistMatt
09-21-2005, 04:53 PM
I've seen swim them in an aquarium. Penguins really do look like they are flying when they are underwater.

Captain_Campion
09-21-2005, 06:26 PM
I think it is Analog magazine that defines the type of Science Fiction it publishes as stories in which if you took out the 'science' the story would fall apart.

In other words, technological advances are integral to the telling of the story.

Jaycinth
09-21-2005, 08:40 PM
Ok. If this were 2,000 BCE and I described a place where people are doing what we are doing right now ( effectively sending messages through the air), they would say I was crazed.

If this were 1,200 AD I'd be burned as a witch.

If this were 1,900 AD I'd be a Pulp Fiction Writer. The science aspect would be thought of later and I'd be lumpped with Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle.

If this were 1950 AD I'd be a Science Fiction Writer and people would go OOH and AHHHH

If this were 2150 AD I'd be writing Historical Fiction and. . .

If this were 4,000 AD I'd be writing Fantasy.


So, it is (as always) in the POV you take.


How would you folks classify "The Invisible Man" and "20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea?" now?

TMA-1
09-21-2005, 10:48 PM
If you remove the idea that the invisibility was created with science, it could just as well be part of a thousands of year old mythology, or a fantasy written today but set in an alternative universe. It's not dependant on any science, because there really is none, just the mention of it. I did like the story, I've seen the movie a few times and I'm very impressed by the special effects.

louisgodwin
09-29-2005, 11:30 PM
I'm not a scientist by any means, but I do remember hearing in various places (magazines, documentaries, etc.) that it is not entirely impossible that dragon-like creatures may once have existed. The earth's gravity in prehistoric times may not have been as strong as it is today. Some scientists theorize that may be the reason dinosaurs were able to grow as large as they did, and no other animals can grow that large today. While I don't buy that they would have been able to shoot fire from their mouths, I remember hearing something to the effect that certain large dinosaurs' lungs were so powerful that when they exhaled, it would have appeared they were exhaling smoke or steam. Just something to think about.

Euan H.
09-30-2005, 04:08 AM
The earth's gravity in prehistoric times may not have been as strong as it is today. Some scientists theorize that may be the reason dinosaurs were able to grow as large as they did, and no other animals can grow that large today.
This sounds ... peculiar. No offence, but if someone tried to tell me this, I'd be wary of them.

While I don't buy that they would have been able to shoot fire from their mouths, I remember hearing something to the effect that certain large dinosaurs' lungs were so powerful that when they exhaled, it would have appeared they were exhaling smoke or steam. Just something to think about.
Well...okay. But what's that got to do with dragons? There weren't any humans around to watch the dinosaurs breathing. At least, I don't think there were... :)

TMA-1
10-01-2005, 10:15 AM
I'm not a scientist by any means, but I do remember hearing in various places (magazines, documentaries, etc.) that it is not entirely impossible that dragon-like creatures may once have existed. The earth's gravity in prehistoric times may not have been as strong as it is today.
It is true that the gravity of the Earth is changing, since dust and larger meteorites are falling down on the Earth every day and increases the mass of the Earth. The difference should not be that big though, not even when we consider tens and hundreds of millions of years.


Some scientists theorize that may be the reason dinosaurs were able to grow as large as they did, and no other animals can grow that large today. While I don't buy that they would have been able to shoot fire from their mouths, I remember hearing something to the effect that certain large dinosaurs' lungs were so powerful that when they exhaled, it would have appeared they were exhaling smoke or steam. Just something to think about.
Since the dinosaurs no longer exist in the form they did hundreds of millions of years ago, no human has ever seen them, and so they could not be part of any of our mythologies. Also, I would like to know who thinks the gravity of the Earth was so different back then, and why this was necessary for animals to grow as large as some dinosaurs did.