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preyer
03-11-2005, 11:23 AM
i mentioned that i'm not too hep on sci-fi and fantasy being lumped into the same category. while they may share some storytelling practices (though i question if other genres don't share the same ones), i think they may be significantly different to warrant their own separate shelfspace. am i alone in being rather annoyed when i'm not in a good mood and having to sift through both genres when i'm looking for a fantasy?

to me, a major difference is the characterization: fantasy is by far more character based, while in a lot of sci-fi the technology is given more attention than a character's motivation.

also, fantasy tends to be more ensemble oriented, as opposed to a lot of sci-fi which centres strictly around just a few characters.

yes/no? thoughts?

Pthom
03-11-2005, 01:10 PM
Well, I feel the same way, except I hate to wade through all the fantasy to find a good rip-roaring SF story. Most book stores I've been to lump the two genres together. A delightful exception is Powell's, with stack after stack of the two genres separated. I will say though, that I have found some pretty darned good stories in the fantasy genre, purchased mainly because of the great cover art. ;)

The worst place to look for genre fiction (of any kind) is the public library, where all fiction is organized according to author's name. Fortunately, they've seen fit to attach a label for the more prominent genres: a sort of Star Trek emblem for SF, and a unicorn for fantasy. And, they have a new aquisition shelf where it's easy to spot new releases.

As for ensemble cast vs. small cast, I disagree. I've read many SF stories with huge casts of characters. Some well done, others not so well done. Often, when there is a very big cast, authors such as Niven, put a personae dramatis somewhere in the book so you can keep track. I think the issue of whether there is a large cast or not depends on world building. Much SF deals with technology and you just don't need a lot of characters to support something like a 'trans-matter zap gun' or whatever. However, when the issue is how the future (and the advanced technology that goes along with it) affects people or societies or governments, then you see more large casts. My WIP is such a story. I added up the characters the other day and came up with more than 50, although there is a 'core' group of fewer than ten.

No wonder it's taking me forever to finish it. <sigh>

Ivonia
03-11-2005, 04:25 PM
Here's some sites you might be interested in:

http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

http://www.watt-evans.com/sfvsfantasy.html

Ultimately, it depends on what you have in your story, and how your world(s) works. My own story, it's a mix of both, I have spaceships, but I also have demons and monsters in my story too. If I were to use one of the definitions from that first link, I guess my story would fall under Science Fantasy for instance.

fallenangelwriter
03-11-2005, 07:47 PM
each genre has its own trappings, but i don't think spaceships and demons really define the settings. it's mroe a question of the verisimilitude required.

to me, Hard Science-Fiction stories are those which are known or suspected to be possible in reality.

other science-fiction is essentially similar to fantasy. science fiction does require more internal consistency and mroe plausibility. also, IMO Science-fiction should be based on some sort of PHYSCIAL laws. not everything needs to be really possible, but metaphysics and mental states should not factor into it. this doesn't preclude all magic, only sotries focusing on spiritual concepts.

Fantasy is under the least obligation to make sense, but good gantasy should be essentially the same and science fiction. fantasy should have all the consistency and plausibility of sci-fi. fantasy, however, can get by with somewhat fewer explanations, and more significantly, can draw on nonphysical concepts.

to me, magic and science are generally equivalenbt, and attempting to define a distinction is futile. magic is divided into three categories in my mind: bad magic (magic that amkes no sense), good magic (magic that is understandable and obeys laws) and true magic (magic that is unpredictable and beyond mortal kne, used sparingly)

good magic laves a story in science-fiction, but bad or true magic make it fantasy.

this system of classification is one I developed for myself, and i don't know of anyone else who uses it, but i find that it makes sense to me.

Shiny_Penguin
03-11-2005, 08:03 PM
The worst place to look for genre fiction (of any kind) is the public library, where all fiction is organized according to author's name. Fortunately, they've seen fit to attach a label for the more prominent genres: a sort of Star Trek emblem for SF, and a unicorn for fantasy. And, they have a new aquisition shelf where it's easy to spot new releases.

Our library has a seperate section for SF/Fantasy. Of course it's in a tiny closet. And far more SF than Fantasy. And it just sounds funny to tell my kids "I'll be in the closet if you need me!"

I remember bookstores around here also used to lump the horror in with SF and fantasy. Now it has it's own section. I tend to read both SF and fantasy, so it doesn't really bother me that they are all together, but I wonder why they are. Maybe it's because the decision is made by people who don't read these genres.

SFEley
03-11-2005, 11:03 PM
i mentioned that i'm not too hep on sci-fi and fantasy being lumped into the same category. while they may share some storytelling practices (though i question if other genres don't share the same ones), i think they may be significantly different to warrant their own separate shelfspace. am i alone in being rather annoyed when i'm not in a good mood and having to sift through both genres when i'm looking for a fantasy?
You're not alone, but it's not about your mood. It's about the industry. There's enough crossover in both readers and writers of the genres that marketing them separately would be more inconvenient (and might result in lower sales) than marketing them together. And really, how hard is it to ignore the stuff on the shelf you don't want to buy? Is this genuinely making your buying process more difficult?



to me, a major difference is the characterization: fantasy is by far more character based, while in a lot of sci-fi the technology is given more attention than a character's motivation.
This is a common cliche, but it fails to explain stories like Ender's Game (to pick a good character-based SF example) or Anthony's Xanth series (to pick a bad technology-based fantasy example). There's a diverse range of styles and stories in both genres. Implying "Ah, but fantasy's about people, so it's better!" is naive.

Very loosely, science fiction is speculative fiction based on the theoretically possible, which pretends to happen in some logical extension of our own universe. (Although there are exceptions, like Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.) Fantasy is speculative fiction based on the blatantly impossible, either in our own universe or another. (Although there are exceptions, like McIntyre's The Moon and the Sun.)

Mostly, though, I like Damon Knight's definition: "Science fiction is what we point to when we say it." It could, of course, be generalized to any genre. Nailing down a precise definition is hard, but most people know what you're talking about when you mention it.

preyer
03-12-2005, 12:03 PM
'This is a common cliche' ~ cliche for a reason, though, eh? lol. clearly i'm speaking in general terms. say you were reading short stories, would you be able to identify with the halfling more than the space captain in general, given the characters were standard run-of-the-mill for what they are?

is it that big a deal having to slog through both genres? well, sometimes it rather is, particularly when they don't line the books up with the cover facing out. when the spine is facing me, i've got to stop and look at the thing. i don't want to be there all day. biggest issue facing mankind? hm, probably not. :)

'There's enough crossover in both readers and writers of the genres that marketing them separately would be more inconvenient (and might result in lower sales) than marketing them together.' ~ i think you'd want to keep the two genres close together, but i'm not sure if you consider mixing them 'marketing' as opposed to somewhat laziness by bookstores which doesn't hurt sales, so there's no real problem. i'm not sure if by separating them it would hurt sales: i mean, it's not like i walk into a store looking for a fantasy book and leave with a horror. just that when i want a fantasy, it's all a cluttered mess.

i feel there's enough divergence in the general storytelling method of each to warrant their own separation, albeit fans of one are likely, i guess, to be fans of the other.

Galoot
03-12-2005, 01:38 PM
I don't like the two sections combined, but I've got to say it's worked in at least a few authors' favor when I've decided to buy Fantasy novels on a whim just because they caught my eye and held it long enough for me to get them to the till. That never would have happened if the sections were separate.

That was years ago, mind you. Now I'll occasionally seek out the Fantasy section if they're separate.

My library mixes the paperbacks but divides the hardcovers. They do use the little spine stickers, though.

fallenangelwriter
03-12-2005, 09:14 PM
I think the reason that they're combined is that many readers read both.


Anyway, i can't accept the definition of Sci-Fi and necessarily possible. plenty of science fiction is blatantly impossible, or there is no reason to belive that it is possible. the science-fiction nature of it is that even the impossible is presented as basically understandable and not mysterious.

SFEley
03-15-2005, 02:11 AM
Anyway, i can't accept the definition of Sci-Fi and necessarily possible. plenty of science fiction is blatantly impossible, or there is no reason to belive that it is possible. the science-fiction nature of it is that even the impossible is presented as basically understandable and not mysterious.

I did say there were exceptions. And yes, the dividing line does get fuzzy when the "science fictional" concepts are ones with no scientific grounding, like telepathy or faster-than-light travel.

Does it really matter, though? If I asked you to look at your own bookshelf at home and separate the SF/F books into a "science fiction" pile and a "fantasy" pile, how many books would you have trouble with? You know what the difference is. Who cares if it can be precisely articulated?

fallenangelwriter
03-15-2005, 03:29 AM
Well, it all dsepends on whether we want to be semantically (or epistemologically) rigorous.

i could easily sort all the books in my room into fantasy and sci-fi by the commonly accepted standards, but i have my own definitions and sortin by those could be mroe difficult.

SFEley
03-15-2005, 09:28 PM
Well, it all dsepends on whether we want to be semantically (or epistemologically) rigorous.
Why would we want that? (This is not a trivial question, BTW, applied to art.)


i could easily sort all the books in my room into fantasy and sci-fi by the commonly accepted standards, but i have my own definitions and sortin by those could be mroe difficult.
You mean that you have trouble classifying things by your own definitions? If that is the case, why do you maintain those particular definitions? What value do they have for you?

fallenangelwriter
03-15-2005, 11:26 PM
What good is a definition that does NOT make it difficult to classify things?


It is easy enough to create a system of definitions which makes classification EASY, but this rarely yields much insight. for example, "Sci-fi has spaceships and gadgets, fantasy has wizards and dragons, if it has both, Who knows/it's science fantasy/ who cares?/it's in between."

this doesn't yield much insight. the mroe difficult to aplly a definition is, the morwe insight is generated, because it is the act of examining finer details and less obvious points that yields true understanding.

in any event, I am interested in magic and science philosophically, and i call anything science-fiction if it is, in my opinion, based on science, which much of "fantasy" is.

SFEley
03-17-2005, 12:54 AM
It is easy enough to create a system of definitions which makes classification EASY, but this rarely yields much insight. for example, "Sci-fi has spaceships and gadgets, fantasy has wizards and dragons, if it has both, Who knows/it's science fantasy/ who cares?/it's in between."

"If it has horses and swords, it's fantasy. Unless it also has a rocket ship, in which it becomes science fiction. The only thing that will turn a story with a rocket ship in it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail."
-- Debra Doyle



this doesn't yield much insight. the mroe difficult to aplly a definition is, the morwe insight is generated, because it is the act of examining finer details and less obvious points that yields true understanding.

I agree that simple definitions don't yield much insight. I guess I just have my doubts about whether more complex categorization yields useful insight either. At least it doesn't to me. If it does to you, that's spiffy. If you have an Aristotelian view and I have a Platonic one, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the same books. >8->

mistri
03-17-2005, 04:10 AM
When I worked in a bookshop, the SF/F section was split into two at first. However, I didn't agree with this for a few reasons.

a) Fantasy was getting a lot more visitors, and fewer people were buying the poor SF books. The space for SF was diminishing as fewer books were being sold, and less were being bought in, etc. It may be selfish (I like both genres and wanted to support both), but I wanted the sections to be merged so that SF wouldn't end up getting totally wiped out.

b) Often fantasy and SF are distinct, but not always. Where would you shelve McCaffrey's Pern books, for example. They're SF (at least there's an SF explanation behind them) but they usually read like fantasy. Tad Williams is best known as a fantasy writer, but his Otherland books are more SF. If he was shelved across both sections his fantasy fans might not find the SF books. Lots of people argue about whether China Mieville writes SF or Fantasy.

In the end, the sections got merged together. There are downsides to this as well, of course, but I kind of preferred it the merged way.

SeanDSchaffer
03-17-2005, 04:43 AM
i mentioned that i'm not too hep on sci-fi and fantasy being lumped into the same category. while they may share some storytelling practices (though i question if other genres don't share the same ones), i think they may be significantly different to warrant their own separate shelfspace. am i alone in being rather annoyed when i'm not in a good mood and having to sift through both genres when i'm looking for a fantasy?

to me, a major difference is the characterization: fantasy is by far more character based, while in a lot of sci-fi the technology is given more attention than a character's motivation.

also, fantasy tends to be more ensemble oriented, as opposed to a lot of sci-fi which centres strictly around just a few characters.

yes/no? thoughts?


I'd have to agree with you, Preyer, on the issue of Sci-fi and Fantasy being lumped together into the same genre. When I look through, say, Amazon or other websites for Fantasy, it's amazing to me how I can't seem to find a single genre known as 'Fantasy,' and generally end up finding it only when I look under 'Sci-fi'

I'm not as peeved at it as you seem to be, but since I write mostly Fantasy -- dragons, knights and stuff like that generally are not considered 'Sci-fi' -- I do find it frustrating to see the two genres put into the same shelf space.

I'd also have to partially agree with the attitude of characterizations versus technology. But I at the same time would say that a major difference you might not have mentioned in your first post between the two genres is this: Sci-fi is by many people expected to explain the reason(s) such-and-such technologies work, whereas Fantasy, if it does possess such technologies, is not.

An example of this is Star Wars as compared to Star Trek. In Star Trek, the technology of the Warp Drive is theoretically explained throughout the storylines, in great detail. It is fairly well explained what the dilythium crystals do in concert with the Matter/Anti-Matter Reactors, and how they warp the space around the respective starship to allow that ship to travel faster than the speed of light.

How does Star Wars, on the other hand,explain its Hyperdrive system? You push a lever forward and the Millenium Falcon goes real fast. It's not explained hardly at all, let alone in tremendous detail, and therefore remains somewhat of a mystery. That's why, technically speaking, Star Wars is considered a Fantasy and Star Trek is considered Sci-fi -- even though many people would consider both to be Sci-fi because they both take place in the stars.

In fact the above example could be part of the reason the two genres are lumped together as the same. I don't know, honestly, but I imagine it is a real possibility.

fallenangelwriter
03-17-2005, 04:50 AM
Star wars is also a fantasy because of the abundance of wizards and magic swords.

whitehound
03-17-2005, 08:50 AM
I would say, fantasy is based primarily on what we consider to be mythology (often but not neccessarily European mythology), whereas science fiction is based on speculation about what we consider to be the "real" world. Fantasy is also often based on folkloric or theological themes such as quests to find magical objects or to lift curses, lost princes, redemption from evil and etc.. While these themes also occur in SF, and indeed in all fiction genres, they are usually covert - whereas in fantasy they are overt and explicit.

Very "hard" SF tends to be ideas-driven, where the science-element - the new technology or whatever - is the main focus of the story, whereas fantasy is usually plot and character driven: but a great deal of slightly less "hard" SF is equally character-driven. I think for example of CJ Cherryth's Chanur saga (my own favourite SF series) which is mainly about politics and war and commerce and detailed character-development and even romantic love, but all set among alien societies and against a high-tech. background which are both absolutely vital to the plot, and not just a technological gloss on a fantasy story.

There is inevitably some overlap. SFEley referred to "concepts...with no scientific grounding, like telepathy" but in fact telepathy, although still unproven, is a subject of hot scientific research, and is a rather more likely and less fantastic element for an SF story than, say, anti-gravity.
Mistri mentioned the Pern books, which are solid SF which read like fantasy, with their genetically engineered dragons etc.. Tad Williams is another interesting borderline case because he is a fantasy writer who reads like SF.

His The War of the Flowers revolves around a high-tech. fairyland, and if it wasn't for the fact that some of the characters are little fluttery things with wings (and horrble bad attitudes) it would be a straight-SF parallel world story. The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series is said to be based on Tolkein's Middle Earth, a thousand or more years later and on a different continent: but while Tolkein's elves are mythological and quasi-religious, Williams' version feel like some sort of alien life-form.

Idealization may be part of the key, and part of the distinction. Tolkein's fantasy elves are idealized and are there to represent certain qualities, to be beautiful and mysterious and, yes, fantastic. Williams' nearly-SF equivalent are treated as a well-rounded species with their own faults and virtues and individual natures, and are as much weird and disturbing as they are attractive.

I don't care much for fantasy of the dragons and quests type, but I am currently reading Barbra Hambley's Darwath trilogy, and she is another author who overlaps the boundaries. She writes about magic and wizards which says "fantasy," but does so in the context of a well-thought-out system of parallel worlds, in which magic is portrayed as just another sort of energy which operates more strongly in some universes than others. Her inimical Dark Ones read far more like alien energy-beings than fantasy demons.

I have a potential problem with the distiction between SF and fantasy myself, because I'm writing a novel which I would consider to be SF - albeit SF in which the sciences concerned would be mainly sociology and evolutionary biology, rather than technology and physics - but which may end up being classed as fantasy, simply because the setting is an alien world where the technology-level is quasi-mediaeval and clairvoyance is an established fact.

Pthom
03-17-2005, 10:30 AM
I would say, fantasy is based primarily on what we consider to be mythology (often but not neccessarily European mythology), whereas science fiction is based on speculation about what we consider to be the "real" world. Fantasy is also often based on folkloric or theological themes such as quests to find magical objects or to lift curses, lost princes, redemption from evil and etc.. While these themes also occur in SF, and indeed in all fiction genres, they are usually covert - whereas in fantasy they are overt and explicit.Well put.


I have a potential problem with the distiction between SF and fantasy myself, because I'm writing a novel which I would consider to be SF - albeit SF in which the sciences concerned would be mainly sociology and evolutionary biology, rather than technology and physics ...Science Fiction need not always deal with warp drives, phasers or time travel. Asimov's Foundation stories deals with a 'sociological' topic: prehistory. Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio deals with evolution. Both are, in my opinion, very 'hard' science fiction.

preyer
03-17-2005, 03:04 PM
i think i can agree with most of what WH said, and i'd like to add to that the apparent sociological attitude of a lot of sci-fi. you may find a lot of social commentary in LOTR if you want to see it, but not really so much of that in traditional fantasy. at least, as mentioned, it's one of those overt vs. covert themes. which is ironic considering fantasy being more character/plot driven, eh?

my views about the whole what SF and what F are is more black and white. for example, i've argued endlessly that 'star wars' is science fiction. granted, it's got fantasy elements in them (though i'd argue those are more mythological, especially the 'magick sword', a theme prevalent in european (and somewhat eastern) myths, and i wonder about the differences between myth and fantasy). but, fantasy elements aside, by which standard you could argue 'star wars' is a romance, and despite its definitely non-hard science approach, lightsabres are most likely plasma-based (scientists are still working on that one) and even the one strong fantasy element, the 'force,' lucas has explained away as being midi-chlorian-based (an absolutely horrible thing to have done, imo). so now that there's at least a thin scientific basis for even its strongest fantasy element, is it still fantasy? well, i never thought it was fantasy in the first place, lol. (i don't mean to contradict ya, but being a 'star wars' geek from childhood, this is a discussion i've had a hundred times.)

i tried reading the pern books way back when thinking they were fantasy. that's certainly how it was marketed if i recall the cover correctly. then there was all this science in it. i felt rather cheated. i didn't finish the book, but the point is it definitely sounds as if it's sci-fi predominantly... that and the setting makes it, well, sci-fi, doesn't it?

whitehound
03-17-2005, 06:03 PM
I would say Star Wars belongs to that sub-set of SF known as "space opera." :)

By "mythological" in this context I meant "derived from traditional mythology" in the sense of dragons, Grails, quests, elves etc..

Strictly speaking in folklore a myth is a story which is preserved and re-told because it teaches people something about the social and moral structure of their culture (as opposed to a legend which just teaches about history). Technically a myth doesn't have to be untrue - stories about the Blitz spirit, for example, are mainly true and historically accurate and are also an important part of recent British mythology.

Fantasy often deals very explicitly with these sort of teaching themes - the triumph of good over evil, the virtues of courage and honour and so on - whereas they tend to be only implicit in other forms of fiction (except I suppose fiction about theology).

Again there are grey areas, such as the explicit moral-of-the-story often stated at the end of a Trek episode - but even Trek wouldn't *begin* a story with a character saying "I am now going on a quest to put down the Forces of the Evil One and demonstrate the superiority of Honour and Virtue," whereas that would be perfectly acceptible in a fantasy novel.

[Star Wars more or less did, but space opera is altogether a grey area IMO.]

The archetypal early fantasy novels are Mort d'Arthur and The Faerie Queene.

maestrowork
03-17-2005, 06:53 PM
Actually, personally I consider Star Wars a fantasy more than sci-fi. Even the logline is fantasy: A galaxy far far away and a long time ago... It's not based on hard science. Sure it has technologies in it -- but no more than, say, swords and arrows and magic wands. The main thrust in Star Wars are the mythologies -- the force (good vs. evil), the Jedi knights, the creatures, the politics (royalties, senators, councils)... there are quests and magic (the force, for example). I mean, take the traveling for instance. Even if they're traveling at light speed, it's still impossible for them to travel across their galaxy in a matter of hours or days. And Yoda and Obi-Wan are typical fantasy characters. The lighsabres are purely fantasy.

So my view is that Star Wars is really a fantasy set in a technologically advanced galaxy system, instead of a technologicall backward middle Earth.

DaveKuzminski
03-17-2005, 07:31 PM
I try to keep in mind that the differences matter only to the readers. I just write whatever I like that I come up with.

clintl
03-17-2005, 07:56 PM
I try to keep in mind that the differences matter only to the readers. I just write whatever I like that I come up with.

I was going to say something similar. Good writing is good writing, regardless of genre. The different genres are best viewed as categories for marketing, and even in marketing a work, there will always be stories that don't fit neatly into a specific category.

victoriastrauss
03-17-2005, 08:51 PM
Fantasy often deals very explicitly with these sort of teaching themes - the triumph of good over evil, the virtues of courage and honour and so on - whereas they tend to be only implicit in other forms of fiction (except I suppose fiction about theology).This is becoming less and less true in modern, serious fantasy, a lot of which completely abandons those heroic absolutist categories, and has little resemblance to popular assumptions about what "defines" fantasy (magic, quests, wizards, swords, good vs. evil, etc.).

As the diversity of fantasy and SF continues to grow, and the genre boundaries become ever more fluid, I think that attempts to distinguish between "fantasy" and "science fiction" become ever less meaningful. I propose we call it all speculative fiction, and leave it at that.

- Victoria

Medievalist
03-17-2005, 11:39 PM
As the diversity of fantasy and SF continues to grow, and the genre boundaries become ever more fluid, I think that attempts to distinguish between "fantasy" and "science fiction" become ever less meaningful. I propose we call it all speculative fiction, and leave it at that.

I'm increasingly leaning towards this direction. I think this is in part because increasingly Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") seems to be proving true. As a medievalist, I very much agree with SF writer Debra Doyle's theory (http://www.sff.net/people/DoyleMacdonald/genre2.htp) that SF novels are really members of the Romance genre, and I think the same thing is more commonly argued about fantasy as a genre. The increase in novels that straddle the border between SF and Fantasy (Pern, Darkover, Spencer's Tinker--there are many others) encourages me to see the genres as really subsets of the larger genre. I don't personally like the "speculative fiction" name, "Romance" is taken, and would be confusing for other reasons, and somehow "Books I Like" doesn't seem quite universal enough.

fallenangelwriter
03-18-2005, 09:17 PM
Star Wars is space opera, yes. but is a fantasy space opera, not a sci-fi.


as for Pern, the dragons ability to breathe fire seems clearly supernatural, despite the explanation given. i doubt that i would work. it hink that it technically is fantasy according to the simple test of "magic or not", since it features teleportation, telepathy, etc.

it READS like sci-fi because it treats everything in a maater-fo-fact way, and doesn't use typical fnatasy themes of good-and-evil, quests, magic wrods, etc.

so, despite clearly containing magic, i would say that it is science-fiction becausae it is internally consistent and well-explained, but its scinece is NOT the science of the real world.

victoriastrauss
03-18-2005, 09:31 PM
I think that one reason writers like Ann McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, who are essentially writing fantasy despite the SF frame, are in the SF category is that there really wasn't a separate genre for fantasy until Terry Brooks's success with Sword of Shanana (ok, Shannara).

- Victoria

preyer
03-18-2005, 09:55 PM
science tried to explain the plausibility of dragons before. i don't know how mccaffrey handled it, but for example one theory i remember about dragons is their bones are hollow like a birds, allowing them to fly and also why they left no fossils (though that's ridiculous).

there's certainly a fantasy template laid over 'star wars.' to say it's fantasy because it's in the past is like saying fantasy can't exist in the future, no? since we pretty much agree fantasy can exist in the future, we have to admit that sci-fi can exist in the past, right? with midi-chlorians, again, there is no magick involved anymore. all that's left is the archetypes. if that's all there's left making it fantasy, doesn't that suggest that were those archetypes missing in any *other* 'fantasy,' then that's not a true fantasy? obviously, that's ridiculous. i think you have to consider the setting, too. too, you'd have to go back and re-label 'flash gordon' as fantasy as that's got almost the exact same elements (they even fight with swords sometimes). might as well call 'battlestar galactica' fantasy while we're at it.

it's the 'speculative' part that's the snag, because fantasy's not really speculative, is it? i like the term itself, i just question it being applied to fantasy.

having read a translation of 'le morte d'arthur,' i'll tell y'all it's almost unrecognizable in its original form. the version we think of, sure, it's archetypical, but ye olde version would probably offend a lot of modern people. half the book's about tristram and isolde (or whatever spelling you want to use for those characters-- there are plenty of variations), and most folk are pretty clueless about those two. the closest you get is recognizing the name 'tristan.' there are also variations on who actually finds the grail and things like that. of course, the modern story has taken shape over a thousand years of retellings by bards and poets, while only a few of the basic elements remain the same in our view as opposed to mallory's version. indeed, much of the symbolism he used, such as the basilisk and the bears, are hardly a part of our modern conscious like an orchid still is in the east. camelot as a symbol remains consistent, but, for example, lancelot and geneviere's betrayal was, in mallory's account, the worst kept secret in the land. of course, arthur was hardly as upright as he is now-- he got himself some. probably the worst bastardization is excalibur. boy, we really screwed with that one, lol.

jeez, i'm just in a contrary mood today, huh? sorry. lol.

victoriastrauss
03-18-2005, 09:58 PM
it's the 'speculative' part that's the snag, because fantasy's not really speculative, is it? i like the term itself, i just question it being applied to fantasy.Why?

- Victoria

Medievalist
03-18-2005, 10:15 PM
as for Pern, the dragons ability to breathe fire seems clearly supernatural, despite the explanation given. i doubt that i would work. it hink that it technically is fantasy according to the simple test of "magic or not", since it features teleportation, telepathy, etc.

It's science fiction because the dragons are the product of deliberate lab-based genetic manipulation by human scientists, as are the dolphins. The "thread" is a fungal spore.

The teleportation/telepathy issue is the potential borderline, but neither of those, in and of themselves, are enough to make a work fantasy. The same is true of Bradley's books. If they underlying explanation relies on current post enlightenment science, even theoretical science, that's enough to tip the scales, though again, I'm not sure it's an issue worth weighing from a literary stand point.

But from a bookseller's stand point, this is an important question.

Richard
03-18-2005, 10:18 PM
To be honest, I always thought of Pern as fantasy. I know the backstory, but when the camera swoops down to the planet and the story starts...

fallenangelwriter
03-19-2005, 03:48 AM
Pern contains magic. teleportation is not scientific.

however, under my definions, sci-fi can contain magic as long as it's scientific magic. this does not mean that it can be explained by earth-science, but that it makes sense internally.


and the "midi-chlorians" do not make Star Wars no longer fantasy. they are, simply put, symbiotes that grant a person magical powers.

Medievalist
03-19-2005, 04:09 AM
Pern contains magic. teleportation is not scientific.

I'm not sure what "scientific" means in this context.

Let's look at it differently. There's a novel, a rather good one, by Alfred Bester called The Stars My Destination. It's very clearly SF; there's no question.

It features teleportation as the common method of transportation between two "known" destinations.

I could easily list fifty or more works that are SF that present teleportation as something explainable by "science." (Yes, I do have a motif index ;)).

My point is that it's not that easy to pick a feature and say "medieval weapons; not SF," or "dragons, not SF," or "teleportation, not SF." The distinction is on the techniques used to explain or rationalize a technique or ability. In Hambly's Rising of the Dark series, she uses the "dressings" of fantasy (wizards, medieval technologies, magic) and the rationalizations of twentieth century physics. SF? Fantasy? I'm not sure; the answer depends on the thoroughness of the rationalizations.

Moreover, we're increasingly finding that sub atomi physics sounds more and more like "magic."

whitehound
03-19-2005, 04:21 AM
Yes quite. Telepathy and telekinesis are legitimate subjects for SF but Pern would read more like SF and less like fantasy if it included some attempt at providing a theoretical scientific explanation of roughly how they work (even a vague mention of folds in space-time etc.).

But of course, if McCaffrey *did* provide a scientific explanation it would be an anachronism, because the Pernese have forgotten their ancestors' science (to the extent of pronouncing HNO3 "Agenothree" etc. which I always thought was a nice touch), and so they *think* the dragons fly by magic even though we, the reader, are supposed to believe they bend space-time in some way.

As an SF story however it could do with more biological background. It seems unlikely the fire-lizards could have developed such an extreme talent sui generis, so one would expect many other related species to have weaker versions of the same talent, or to use it for different things.

preyer
03-19-2005, 12:13 PM
re: 'speculative.' one 'hard' science element of 'star wars' was its TIE fighters, or twin ion engines, which is an actual scientific, uhm, thing. it *does* work to some degree in real life. but, it's 'speculation' to whether or not it can be practically applied when perfected. it's based on possibility. unless you believe in magick, it can't be speculative because it doesn't, nor will it ever, exist.

the version of fire-breathing that always stuck with me was dragons had an extra organ that generated a lighter than air gas, helping their extra weight stay airborne, and by expelling the flammable gas through their mouths, it helped control their altitude. i forget the reasoning of why it's was flammable, though.

whitehound
03-19-2005, 04:12 PM
You're thinking of a 1970s or 80s book called Flight of Dragons. I can't remember the details now but I presume the lighter than air gas was hydrogen which just *is* flammable.

fallenangelwriter
03-19-2005, 06:19 PM
first of all, please note that i agree with you that Pern is science-fiction. if you read my post from back on page one where i define my view of the genres, having magic in it does NOT preclude eing sci-fi.

I have not read The Stars My destination, but i suspect that it contained some kind of teleporter machines. while it's not clear whther this is possible, it's firmer ground than the dragons, which somehow mentally control the telelpportation.

generally, one of the criteria that, for me, separates magic from science is anything in which purely mental events can affect reality.

whitehound
03-20-2005, 04:59 AM
generally, one of the criteria that, for me, separates magic from science is anything in which purely mental events can affect reality.

Iffy, IMO - that would mean no-one could ever write SF about Bishop Berkeley's hypothesis, and that's ridiculous.

I would say, if you're writing SF in which mental events strongly affect reality, it should be supported by some sort of half-decent scientific hypothesis as to how and why it works (a reference to Bishop Berkeley will do :) - seriously, there's a very creepy Zenna Henderson story about it).

If dramatic "magic" is just thrown in as a plot device, without any attempt to explain how it intercepts known reality, then it's fantasy.

If low-key everyday magic (occasional fuzzy telepathy, being able to heal headaches and sprains, predictive dreams, out of body travel etc.) is thrown in, with or without explanation, then as far as I'm concerned that's neither SF nor fanatasy but just describing the mundane world as I and countless others experience it... (but when you try to *explain* it, that's SF :) ).

fallenangelwriter
03-20-2005, 09:29 AM
I don't think explaining how it intercepts reality, as you put it, is important. once can make up elaborate excuses bawsed on real-world science, but even in real life the ultimate answer is always "because that's jsut the way it is."

as long as somethign can be satisfactorily explained trhough tis own terminology, i'm happy. i can belive a world in which there is soimply some kind of amgic "energy" as long as the uses of it are well-defined and consistent with each other. magic is not requried ot make that kind of sense.

also, magic and fantasy, unlike sci-fi, can make the metaphysical physical. only in fantasy do we see powers and characters that are literally manifestations of abstract forces.

whitehound
03-20-2005, 06:16 PM
Actually I think how it intercepts reality is the main decider. I am writing a story about a world with near-universal telepathy etc. and some people will think that that makes it fantasy, but as far as I'm concerned it's all perfectly possible and only an extension of what I experience in the real world and I think that that's the key, at least for me.

To me, if it reads as if the author thought that what they were writing about *really could happen* at some point in an extension (either future or alternative-reality) of the world we actually live in, then it's SF.

If you know it couldn't really be real in this universe, and that the author knows it couldn't really be real, then it's fantasy.

If it's got elves and dragons in it, but they are engineered constructs or aliens who settled earth during the Bronze Age, IMO that's SF with fantasy trimmings if the real-world origin is a major part of the story (as on Pern), and fantasy with SF trimmings if it isn't.

fallenangelwriter
03-21-2005, 07:57 AM
If you know it couldn't really be real in this universe, and that the author knows it couldn't really be real, then it's fantasy.

If it's got elves and dragons in it, but they are engineered constructs or aliens who settled earth during the Bronze Age, IMO that's SF with fantasy trimmings if the real-world origin is a major part of the story (as on Pern), and fantasy with SF trimmings if it isn't.

Whitehound- first, please bear in mind that i am trying to distinguish science form magic in these last few posts, not necessarily fantasy form sceince-fiction.

also, i realize i have gorwn confusing in my use of terminology, so i'd like to explain a few things.

first of all, please note that i don't care at all whtehr something is actually possible or not. things that can really be done can easily be magic, and conversely things that are known to be impossible can still be science.

i agree that elves and dragons can be Sceicne rather than Magic if there is a rationale, but the point (to me) is not the jargon or an attempt to make it work in real-world physics, but emrely making it consistent with teh rest of the setting.

science is, to me, any system which is base don objective truths, is repeatable, and has a strong internal logic. by this definiotn, many fantasy books refer to as magic thingzss which are really science.

magic is, to me, anything which is either not self-consistent, not justified or explained at all, in any terms, real or otherwise, or anyhting which is based upon abstractions and ideals.

teleportation is not always magic, but psychic telelportation is sually, though not always magic.

an by the standard definiton of "impossible things" telelportation is amgic.

preyer
03-21-2005, 09:58 AM
if 'impossible' is the yardstick, so is reducing a human down to six inches 'fantasy.' i've also wondered about the effects of detonating a nuclear warhead in space, as in trying to destroy the asteroid.

i give anti-gravity and artificial gravity a lot of lee-way. i don't need an explanation for those things. it *was* nice to see them float around the klingon ship in that ST movie for a change. i otherwise don't need a science lesson for sci-fi, just sometimes a plausible explanation to maintain my suspension of disbelief. we can certainly credit a lot of scientific basis in sci-fi to technologies we've yet to discover based on minerals and metals and such not on our own planet. so, we don't really have much of a problem saying that ST's 'Q' is a plausible alien creature or that psychodelic balls of light having a consciousness. we're sure quick in giving *that* at least a chuckling credence.

whitehound
03-21-2005, 04:43 PM
Science isn't neccessarily repeatable - that's a popular myth. Anything which *ought* to be repeatable *should* be repeatable if it's to be scientifically proven - e.g. it's not enough for one person to say they've made cold fusion happen in a lab., it has to be reproducible by other people in other lab's. Even here there can be problems because there may be some factor you hadn't really noticed which was present in the original experiment and missing in the new one, and which in fact is vital - but it's a good general principle. If it can be done in a lab. once, it should be possible to do it in a lab. 4,000 times.

But an awful lot of things in science simply *aren't* repeatable. If you find an interesting new fossil, for example, you don't say "I won't believe that this species existed unless I find three more just like it." In large-scale sciences like seismology and cosmology you just have to observe what happens - including lots of things you've never seen before and will never see again - and then formulate theories about how they work. Then you extrapolate from those theories to predict other things which you *might* see if the theory is correct, and wait and see if they turn up.

Science IMO is based on observation of what actually happens, and then tries to build theories about the observed universe which accurately predict what will happen in new situations you haven't encountered yet. [E.g., "If I'm right about the genetics of the gene for cream-coloured fur then when I cross this pale cream rat with this agouti rat I should get a tea-coloured rat."] If the prediction doesn't pan out then you modify the theory. As somebody or other said, "The conspicuous virtue of true scientists is that they know that they might be wrong" - as opposed to e.g. Creationists who desperately try to bend the observations to fit their theory.

Back on topic, it occurs to me that I am an SF fan (well, I already knew that!) but I would rather read a fantasy story told in an "SF way," such as the Darwath trilogy or the Outremer series, than an SF story told in a "fantasy way," such as the Pern series. It seems to eb the tenor of the story, rather than the nuts and bolts of the background, which appeal to me.

What do I mean by an SF or fantasy tenor then? I think by an SF tenor I mean something roughly like fallenangelwriter's definition of science - a story with a background which feels solid, consistent, objective. Something which feels rigorous rather than fluffy.

Also, I definitely like my stories to be original and not formulaic or lazy, and it seems to me that a much higher proportion of fantasy is formulaic or lazy than is true of SF but that may be an unfair assumption. Comments?

Having said this, it occurs to me that my major favourite SF and fantasy writers at present are Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones who are both primarily fantasy authors, and I read almost anything they write voraciously. But within each author I still prefer their SF output to their fantasy!

fallenangelwriter
03-21-2005, 08:44 PM
It is interesting that you say Pern is Sf written as fantasy, because i find it to be in a very Sci-Fi style.

it has an almost complete lack of fnatasy themes, the dragons and indeed everything else are taken in a very matter-of-fact way, and ti simply a very convicning portrayal of a society which happens not to be real.

whitehound
03-22-2005, 04:46 AM
Well - I used to read them and enjoy them in my 20s, and my late boyfriend Norman was a big fan, but I went off them for a number of reasons.

One is, I simply don't believe in a large, venerable human society with no religions. Whether you believe in religion yourself or not it's one of those things humans *do* and I don't find Pernese society at all convincing in consequence. This could be got round by establishing that Pern was founded by an intensely atheist group who have seeded their descendents with a superstitious fear of religion - but McCaffrey hasn't done so - or by establishing that they aren't really Homo sapiens at all - but the reference to Agenothree makes it clear they are English-speaking!

Another is, I don't think either the ecology or the agriculture work. What would you do if you were farming country in which your crops might be destroyed from the air at any moment? How long would the ecosystem hold out if all the vegetation was liable to be burned right back to the seeds on a regular basis? There are ways round both these problems but the author hasn't bothered to think them out.

I think they are SF, but *weak* SF. The reason I say they have a fantasy feel is mainly because of the way the ecosystem and evolutionary background aren't well-established, just glossed over. Well, *how* did the fire-lizards develop the ability to Go Between?

OK, if they had a shred of that ability to begin with then Threadfall would have selected them for it, but why only them? It's unlikely they developed such an extreme talent sui generis - there should be related species that have at least some of it and have also been selected for their ability to duck. Unless they had already died out before Thread ever arrived - that's possible, but it would be nice to be told.

It's like writing a story about a version of Earth where there were albatrosses *and no other birds* - just these wonderful creatures with fully-formed flight and highly-evolved feathers and no background for them to have evolved from, no related species, no fossil record, no nothing. IMO it reads as if McCaffrey invented the dragons for one story, without background, and when they became popular she just fudged in the fire-lizards as an origin-story that "would do."

[Of course this is a big deal to me because my background is in zoology and evolutionary genetics, and to me the biology is the scientific element which most interests me. I realize that to somebody who was technology-based "We just engineered these giant dragons up from a local species which seemed suitable" might be a sufficient explanation of the biology - just as to me "Our ship has an FTL drive" seems like sufficient technology!]

Another reason is that they were quite fresh and original at the outset, but as she wrote more and more of them I started to feel that she had long since run out of much inspiration and was simply milking the readers for money - same old formulaic flab in a new cover, you know?

Another reason is, they have a certain bodice-ripper, Mills & Boon-like quality which I associate more with fantasy than with SF, though that may be unfair. By which I mean, I suppose, that they centre around rather obvious emotional manipulation of the reader, and tend to do so by using cheap tricks - "look at the cute boy on crutches" - rather than detailed character development.

Another reason - which is quite definitely unfair - is that I've met McCaffrey and I didn't like her!

[And yes, I loved them too, when I was 22 - but that was a long time ago and they kind-of embarrass me now.]

Medievalist
03-22-2005, 05:03 AM
And yes, I loved them too, when I was 22 - but that was a long time ago and they kind-of embarrass me now.]

I loved the Pern books, up through White Dragon, when I was in high school. I had to pack most of my books when I left for college, and didn't have access to them for years.

When I reread them for the first time in oh, fifteen years last year, with the exception of Dragon Song and Dragon Singer, I hated them. The prose is stilted, and the sexual dynamics (essentially making rape socially acceptable) really annoyed me. I had similar reactions to Bradley's Darkover books; I've packed up everything by Bradley I own to be sold.

whitehound
03-22-2005, 05:25 AM
the sexual dynamics (essentially making rape socially acceptable) really annoyed me.

Do you mean the business about the male dragon-riders having to have sex when the green and brown dragons did?

IMO, that was an interesting and even daring idea which was just left hanging. It *ought* to have been integrated into an ethical social framework in some way - we should be shown that this is a society in which promiscuity is normal and acceptable; or we should see that the riders treated it as an orgiastic rite to be celebrated rather than endured; or we should see that the riders were really made so exceedingly randy by their dragons that rape didn't and couldn't come into it because they were so extravagantly willing; or we should see that riders who really don't want to get sexually involved go somewhere private and sit it out in a cold bath.

But we aren't shown any of those things, so it comes across as sweaty and at least potentially abusive.



I had similar reactions to Bradley's Darkover books; I've packed up everything by Bradley I own to be sold.


I know an absolutely marvellous, numinous, creepy filk-song called The Horsetamer's Daughter which is based on the Darkover stories - but the books themselves somehow never appealed to me.

On the plus side, the best of Andre Norton's books still seem to me nearly as good as they did when I was twelve!

Medievalist
03-22-2005, 07:10 AM
Do you mean the business about the male dragon-riders having to have sex when the green and brown dragons did?

IMO, that was an interesting and even daring idea which was just left hanging. It *ought* to have been integrated into an ethical social framework in some way - we should be shown that this is a society in which promiscuity is normal and acceptable; or we should see that the riders treated it as an orgiastic rite to be celebrated rather than endured; or we should see that the riders were really made so exceedingly randy by their dragons that rape didn't and couldn't come into it because they were so extravagantly willing; or we should see that riders who really don't want to get sexually involved go somewhere private and sit it out in a cold bath.

That's exactly why I object to them. It's sloppy writing, and sloppy thinking. It could've been interesting.

preyer
03-22-2005, 11:03 AM
'One is, I simply don't believe in a large, venerable human society with no religions. Whether you believe in religion yourself or not it's one of those things humans *do* and I don't find Pernese society at all convincing in consequence. This could be got round by establishing that Pern was founded by an intensely atheist group who have seeded their descendents with a superstitious fear of religion - but McCaffrey hasn't done so - or by establishing that they aren't really Homo sapiens at all - but the reference to Agenothree makes it clear they are English-speaking!' ~ who was that supposed that a person would create their own religion or god in my island analogy? i agree in that in a large population, *someone* is going to get the notion eventually if for no other reason than to spite those who claim it doesn't exist. certainly, authority would have to actively and forever work to keep religious ideas under their thumb. i feel it's an inaccurate cliche that science will eventually destroy religion. i think it's impossible to destroy religion. the communists tried, no? you can take away their churches and their bibles and their ability to congregate, but you'll still have people who believe. indeed, by taking those things away, you encourage certain people that much more. an interesting sub-plot, destroying or trying to destroy religion?

i don't mccaffrey for milking her series. most authors do, no? pesonally, i don't think it's right on any level, though that so many authors do/have done it suggests that we're/they're either a rather immoral lot, lucky one-trick ponies shooting their guns in the air for as long as someone is willing to plunk down a nickel, or i'm way off-base on what i consider right and wrong even if a lot of money is involved. i like to think that no matter how much fame and fortune they throw at me, when my story is done, when there's nothing more that can or should be said about it, i'll move on to another idea. i'm not sure what else mccaffrey has written, but when you say her name, 'pern' is all that springs to mind in the same way you say 'anne rice' gets you a relation to vampires.

i wonder, though, if the 'pern' books are so good, why haven't they seen the light of the big or small screen?

as somewhat of an aside, i was bored last night so i looked up virginia henley on amazon. basically, nothing but rave reviews. i was incredulous. so i decided to go outside amazon and get some 'professional' reviews. the one that caught my eye was something like 'the historical romance society.' from what i hear and what i've proven, her 'history' and/or 'facts' are shaky on a good day, so i thought, 'heh heh, this should be interesting.' do i ever get sick of being wrong? apparently not-- more rave reviews, one even going to far as praising her historical detail. so, either she's a much better writer than *i* and a few others give her credit for, or there are a lot of very indiscriminate people out there who'll believe anything as long as it's in print. can that example apply to the 'pern' series somewhat?

Galoot
03-22-2005, 11:17 AM
i wonder, though, if the 'pern' books are so good, why haven't they seen the light of the big or small screen?
Heh. Good one!

preyer
03-22-2005, 11:39 AM
in regards to the dinosaur, isn't there a difference between 'discovery,' 'theory,' and 'proven scientific fact.' (those aren't necessarily real terms.) by discovering a new dinosaur proves that at least there was one, then there is the theory behind its life bolstered by or influenced by scientific testing, and if enough are found, the 'fact' that it's not a one-off mutation or deformity is 'proven.' even astronomical 'fact' observed only once in ten million years can be theorized to such a degree to make it reasonably 'fact.' so, i agree, repeatability isn't necessarily the end-all-be-all, though the theoretic possibility has to exist, no?

i say that to counter the ironic fact that in order to be inducted into sainthood (at least according to the traditional rules), there have to be three verifiable miracles the candidate must have performed. i'm not sure what the standards are for proving thousand year old miracles, but at least there has to be some 'repeatability' there, too, and not just theoretical. strange, no?

whitehound
03-22-2005, 05:17 PM
I was going to say yes, if a thing is real then theoretically it ought to be repeatable if the same conditions were to be recreated - but I realize I don't know enough about chaos theory to be sure whether that's true or not. I suspect there is assumed to be a random element, at least at sub-atomic level, which means exact conditions never can be reproduced.

If you find a fossil which is clearly different from any pre-existing specimens then one is enough to establish a new species and yes, it implies the existence of others and theoretical repeatability, although some soft-bodied animals fossilize only in conditions so rare that this may be the only specimen ever to be discovered.

If a fossil is found that is only slightly different from a pre-existing one it should be treated with caution: but the tendency is to bung it into a new species anyway, and only find out years down the line that it was just an age or gender variant of a creature you already knew.

Who's Virginia Henley?

You asked what else Anne McCaffrey has written. Many, many years ago, in the 1960s, she wrote a powerful and seminal and extremely famous novel called The Ship Who Sang, about a society in which severely disabled but mentally alert babies were turned into cyborgs and used as built-in starship pilots - and about what happened when a female ship-brain fell in love with her male, healthy co-pilot even though she herself had no body except the ship and a leathery, wizened remnant which was bottled-up and connected to that ship by wires.

But she started writing the Pern books, and they sold, and she's hardly written anything much else since afaik.

Medievalist
03-22-2005, 06:59 PM
I'm responding to several posts at once.

McCaffrey has even won the Hugo and Nebula awards; her first award was for the novella "Weyr Search" which led to the Pern books. Her first books were in the Romance genre.

The Pern books have been optioned a couple of times by various studios, and are currently "in development."

Henley writes romances, that are really better known for lots of sex and purple prose. Preyer started a thread on Henley here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8646).

HConn
03-22-2005, 11:12 PM
The Pern books have been optioned a couple of times by various studios, and are currently "in development."

In fact, the cast and crew were on location for the first day of shooting a Pern tv series when the plug was pulled.

preyer
03-23-2005, 12:47 PM
interesting. oh, and thanks for linking my thread, med, saves me the trouble. :)

i would have through 'pern' was optioned out the yin/yang. options aren't even intents to make a movie or show, it's just buying the *option* of making it if the studio wants to. options are saying 'we're going to make it.' just that they might. from that standpoint, i'm sure mccaffrey has been raking it in for years and years.

so, is mccaffrey a victim of her own success?

(at one time, i really enjoyed terry brooks. then i turned 14. true story.)

whitehound
07-17-2005, 07:35 AM
bump