Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guest post by Rachel Hunter: Fantasy vs. Science Fiction: The Distinction

Please join us here at The Speculative Salon in welcoming fantasy author Rachel Hunter. Be sure to mark your calendar for her upcoming book--Empyreal Fate! 

It is a pleasure to be here indeed! And while I’m here, I wish to delve a bit into the main differences between the genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But before I begin, I thought I’d introduce myself and my upcoming novel, Empyreal Fate. 

First of all, my name is Rachel Hunter, and I am currently attending the University of Oklahoma in order to pursue a degree in psychology and in the medical field. I am also an author and an avid reader, and my adoration for words sprouted when I was very young. As a child, I was fascinated with stories and their capability to seemingly transport me into new worlds. It was a source of inspiration and great comfort, and I aspire to bring the same powerful emotions I feltto others: to allow readers to drift into fantastical realms and truly be one with the surroundings. Thus, I am pleased to note that my first fantasy novel – Empyreal Fate – is to be released by Hydra Publications next month:

Filled to the brim with forbidden love, an ancient evil, and a nation in disrepair, Empyreal Fate is a tale of riveting bravery and mortal corruption.
The land of Llathala lingers on the brink of war between men and elves, a dark history surrounding each race. Stirred by tensions of the land, a shadow of the past reemerges, taking precedence in reality and consuming the very soul of mans’ mortal weakness. Darrion, the son of a poor laborer, is ensnared in a hostile world, forced to choose between loyalty to his king or the counsel of the elves. Yet Fate has other plans in store, tying his course to Amarya, an elven royalblood of mysterious quality and unsurpassable beauty. But this forbidden connection incites betrayal from members of their own kin, marking them as traitors to the crown. In a land torn asunder, only Fate’s decree can allow such love to coexist with an ancient enmity.

Behold: A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate – Part One.

Now on to our discussion: Fantasy vs. Science Fiction:

Over the weekend, I pulled out an old computer game, titled,Might and Magic IX. The graphics are outdated, but the gameplay is one to be admired (and comes as a source of great nostalgia for me). For those of you unfamiliar with said game, Might and Magic is an RPG (role-playing game) from the makers at 3DO (a company no longer in existence... unfortunately). As a result, there have been few patches to take care of in-game 'issues', and I find myself seeking alternative routes to appease my craving for ‘fantasy gaming.’ But that is not what I have come to blog about! My point in even bringing up Might and Magic - or, indeed, any role-playing game in general - is to comment on the connection between RPGs and the fantasy/science fiction worlds. I find it interesting how many of the same themes or archetypes may be found in each: such as a main quest/story line, a hero, and a common villain. Granted, the details differ between works, but overall, the concept is almost interchangeable. As an author and gamer, I am curious as to how many writers of the fantasy/science fiction genre also take on RPG storylines - or note the similarities. For there are so many categories and subgenres; yet they all seem to intermingle in some way!

           Forgive me if I tend to roam a bit on the subject, but I also stopped to consider the role of women in such writing. For the first speculative novel (Science Fiction, in this case), was credited to Mary Shelley, whose work is the popular tale, Frankenstein. What is the difference between fantasy and sci-fi, you may ask? Well, here's how I determine the separation: Fantasy tends to deal more with the magical/fantastical elements of a particular world, in which the impossible takes place. There also seems to be a medieval underpinning with kings, peasants, knights, etc... It tends to dwell on what has happened in the past. Science fiction, on the other hand, deals with futuristic settings and with "rational" explanations - instances that do not involve magic, but instead define a world with technological or scientific reasonings. (As a basic comparison, I look at The Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars: a world of wizards and kings against a galaxy of saber swords and spacecraft)

To expand, with Fantasy, there seems to be more of a leniency toward “suspension of disbelief,” for in creating a new world with new creatures, the author is able to determine the boundaries and create the rules or laws that govern his or her universe. When I think of Science Fiction, however, I see a less flexible realm for such suspension. Even when creating a new world, the laws of gravity and physics still seem to be a crucial factor, and it would be difficult for the reader to accept conflicting elements of a world “just because” in such a case.Although I’m not a firm believer that Science Fiction must contain qualities defined by factual scientific bases, I do see it as possessing more reasonable – or “possible” - explanations, whereas Fantasy usually incorporates supernatural – or “mystical” – qualities. 

In order to help paint a visual, I’ve put together a short list of some of the more popular titles in either category:

Fantasy: The Belgariad, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Runelordsseries, Sword of Shannaraseries, Wheel of Time series,etc…

Science Fiction: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Dragonriders of Pern, Dune, Enders Game, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc…

I hope this brief summary helped clarify some of the main distinctions regarding the major differences between Fantasy and Science Fiction. There are, of course, many works that overlap the two genres, but these are some common “ground rules” for quick determination. 

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John Steiner said...

There are science fiction stories that invoke medieval elements. Dune, for instance has titles of nobility and hierarchy of ascension to the emperorship. This I thought was an odd choice, since a civilization covering multiple solar systems, to say nothing of an entire galaxy, will require much more sophisticated governance than medieval feudal structure can provide. Which is why I never attempted it in any of my science fiction works. Yet devising systems of governments equivalently capable as those known in modern times but are distinct is hard.

Star wars was described by George Lucas as a "science fantasy" and was based on grail legions. However, he does include a parliamentarian system with a romanesque style emperor that had once been a supreme chancellor.

There are authors and movie makers who blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy, but there were lines to begin with. Now you're seeing fantasy stories that draw on science, such as where the people in the magical world also have access to electricity and steam engines along with various primitive forms of firearms. The Golden Compass and other stories are considered Steam Punk, which hybridizes fantasy and science fiction.

-John Steiner

Melanie said...

I'm reading a collection of essays by Margaret Atwood because she discusses just this. One idea that is not usually considered is the period in which the story is written. We can look at War of the Worlds vs. A Trip to the Moon, or 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Which of these is fantasy? If you consider the possibility of the event ever becoming true, does that help? Some stories are based on the technological theories of the time projected into the future. Others are based on speculation with no basis in physical technology.

Now, one needs also to consider the term "technology". For practitioners of Sacred Technology the ideas expressed as fantasy are as real and viable as those expressed as science.

Any technology looks like magic to the uninitited.

Life Defined said...

Thank you for your input, John and Melanie. Indeed, the bounds defining Fantasy vs Science Fiction are not always clear. Some works encompass both genres. But that's the beauty of it, no? Not everything can be packaged up in a neat little box. I think that's part of what draws me to Speculative Fiction so: the possibilities are endless!

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