Sci-fi or fantasy, or sci fan?

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Bierschneeman, Apr 13, 2017.

  1. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    This is a great question that brings to mind the evolution episode of Harvey Birdman attorney at law, where Harvey is asked to place his image on the evolution chart and everyone is yelling he should be closer to the bird, or the human.

    It's also a good debate brewing.

    What other things walk the line of sci-fi and fantasy, where do they fall?
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2017
  2. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    One hand, Does the presence of a ray gun make it scifi? This applies to wizards, and I've already stated it's not true in the case of aliens the movie(an action schlock Vietnam war movie with stars in the background, not scifi)

    Does paranormal activities? Certainly not occult, ghosts, exorcism, and witchcraft are all staples in certain fantasy realms as much as scifi. And i can think of dozens of things unrelated to the sci-fi fantasy debate with these elements.

    This is further confused by its nature as this is the same universe as warhammer fantasy but in the year 40k, a sci-fi dystopian future version. So this might nullify the elves and ork argument, but does it?

    Final argument. Do the existence of aliens make it sciIt? My gut instinct is "yes" you watch the adventure movie crystal skull and it suddenly becomes a bad sci-fi movie when the aliens show up. 1010 (or some other number) cloverfield lane questions whether it's a sci-fi or a thriller throughout the movie. John Carter, sci-fi, Kane of old mars, sci-fi. Warhammer40k scifi.

    Conclusion, they share a lot of similar elements which can't be put to one line of thought or the other.

    Aliens are certainly definitely only in sci-fi. But does that mean magic is definitely only fantasy...W40k has both.

    Where do psionics fit, certainly scifi...but why not fantasy?
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2017
  3. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    There's definitely examples of psionics in fantasy. Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar uses a lot of 'mind-magic' as opposed to 'magic-magic'. There's also this really old one about a guy who went on adventures with his pet stag and psychic powers that's cited as one of the influences of D&D.

    I personally use the definition that if looks like what most people expect a sci-fi to look like, its sci-fi. Ships and rayguns and shizzle.

    Which I guess doesn't exclude it from being fantasy as well. Sci-Fantasy or Space Fantasy as a subgenre belonging to both makes sense.
  4. Noor Al-Shanti

    Noor Al-Shanti Philosophizes with Kellhus

    I was about to say that if it has elements of both, but tries to give a scientific explanation for the goblins and orcs and stuff then it would be sci-fi, but then I thought of Pern. 99% of those books are straight fantasy. But then you read the ones showing how the planet was first colonized and it's completely sci-fi... and it attempts to explain the dragons scientifically too... I still wouldn't consider dragonsong and all the others sci-fi, though. I guess in that case, for me, some of the books in the series are fantasy and other are sci-fi!

    Definitely a lot of grey areas and, like Peat said, sub-genres that can fit within both or cross the line back and forth between the two genres.
  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    The way I view it: When a theme is rooted in science, it is then SF.
    Science Fiction projects science to its limit: what if...? It also serves to convey human experiences in these scenarios: such as in Soft or Hard SF.
    Space Opera is the closest to Fantasy because it doesn't infer concepts nor ideas from science. I think it is comparable to the Romance literary genre, a narrative in which imaginary characters are placed in a far time and/or place. These characters will be involved in epic, heroic and mysterious adventures.
    A very good example of this would be Star Wars.
  6. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    Star Wars has magic (assuming we ignore the horrifically unnecessary and stupid explanation about midichlorians in Episode 1), good vs evil (including a dark lord), sword fights, and a "farm boy who is actually the son of someone important gets lots of magic power and saves the galaxy" plot. It screws up basic science at every turn.

    So why is it science fiction? Probably because it was marketed as science fiction. It's actually pretty good fantasy, imo.
  7. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    I don't see it as magic, it was based on Asian chi. Or ki. Which is said to be a study on the flow of energies in the universe.

    Now it could be said it's a false study, but even then phrenology is as well but using phrenology in fiction is still science fiction.
  8. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Agree with @Darwin. It's difficult to see where in Star Wars the science fiction comes in. Because of the advanced technology? That alone shouldn't qualify I think.
  9. jo zebedee

    jo zebedee Journeyed there and back again

    Star Wars is captured under the Space Opera definition: wide ranging stories that occur in a space setting. Since SO is a sub genre of science fiction (despite having loads of space fantasy in there and what not) Star Wars is firmly in the sf category (plus space ships, aliens, blasters, artificial planets, you know all those sort of science fiction elements).

    Only hard science fiction has to be based on the real laws of physics. The rest of the genre has loads of books and stories like Star Wars - sci fi settings with mixed stories, including some that follow fantasy tropes. Because the fiction in the genre heading is just as important as the science, to many of its readers (albeit at the escapist end of things). Inish Carraig has no real science in it - but it's firmly a sf book by every other definition.

    To say that means it can't be sf is like saying a mystery novel with a fantasy element (Peter Grant?) can't be fantasy because it follows all the conventions of a mystery rather than fantasy....
  10. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    I don't know Jo. The explanation doesn't feel satisfactory to me. I'm loathe to give you pushback, because if anyone on this forum is an expert on this it's probably you (being a sci-fi author yourself), but I've read tons of sci-fi and fantasy books and I've seen countless of movies from both genres, and still Star Wars feels more like a fantasy to me, rather than a sci-fi.
  11. jo zebedee

    jo zebedee Journeyed there and back again

    When pushed I tend to refer to it as the quintessential Space Fantasy (which is where I tend to put it, personally, in sf forums where this gets raised) which causes chaos in SO groups. And I can see that - the problem is finding any reason for it NOT being classsd as Space Opera.

    SO is primarily about space settings, not the level of science.

    A few definitions of SO (pulled at random)

    a novel, film, or television programme set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature.

    Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. ...

    Define space opera: a futuristic melodramatic fantasy involving space travelers and extraterrestrial beings.

    Most definitions follow something similar - so how is it not Space Opera?

    Now - is SO science fiction? That's a whole other can of worms :D *steps gracefully away*
  12. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I am not the strongest in science fiction or space operas either, but would not the Force and the Jedi/Sith be an argument against SW being a space opera? If we ignore the nonsense of the midi-chlorians, the Force is much more akin to (vaguely explainable) magic than anything else. Apart from its narrative pattern being very much a fantasy story, I would consider the Force to be an argument against viewing SW as science fiction or space opera (at least not without modifiers and concessions and exceptions). It is just a single objection, I know, but given that the Force is what sets SW apart from other settings, it is an important one.
  13. jo zebedee

    jo zebedee Journeyed there and back again

    But many Space operas have magical elements (and all Space Fantasy does). The difficulty with using magic as the clause for its exclusion from Space Opera is that the genre is not defined by theme so much as setting. If it's set in space and has a wide, epic scope it's Space Opera.

    Personally I struggle to see Star Wars as anything but science fiction and I get confused as to why the use of magic excludes it as such. It's still set in space. It still uses established sf tech - like freighters, blasters, healing vats, droids, mulitiple worlds, including terraforming. Apart from the force and the quest elements of the story (which lots of sf has as do many mainstream stories - the quest is not exclusive to fantasy) everything else is sf. (Admittedly with dodgy science - but any dodgier than teleportation, TfL engines, etc etc, which are found throughout the genre?)

    The look of it is sf, the tech in it is sf, the characters (bar the Jedi) are sf norms: dashing space pilots, alien forms, etc etc. But, also - in my various sf and fantasy groups online it is in the sf groups where it is most discussed, where the film trailers are most shared etc etc. (Esp in the SO groups, I have to say, where I doubt a day goes by without some Star Wars stuff).

    If we're saying a sf story can't have magic and can't have a quest, we'd be excluding an awful lot of sf....

    And this sort of discussion is why it's actually Space Fantasy, even though it gets me smited to say so in most sf discussion zones... :D
  14. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    "Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" ~Clarke

    I mentioned the force is based on chi or ki. (In fact Jedi themselves are based on samurais) to us this may be a lot of hocus pocus like seance, ghost finding shows, or psychic readings. To people who practice I Ching, or feng shui, or any other activity that runs on the leylines and power of chi, this is a scientific pursuit. A study of the flow of energies.

    This (the force in star wars) could be said to be a technology so advanced it seems a religion to the plebians of the SW universe, or like magic to us in this universe.

    Anyway I will say that the force is certainly not magic (IMO)
  15. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    What of dune?
    The Spicer guild and the benejezeret witches could be compared to magic. But I conclude that it is technology in the lines of the Clarke quote.

    The spice guild is a practice of pure mathematics and drug addiction. The witches is solved by the use of eugenics and centuries of mind training. Then there is the sound weapon technology.
  16. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    Tanniel/Silvion - Yinz seem pretty seem for SW being only fantasy - why can't it be both?

    Gotta say - no matter what logical grounds may be presented for SW not being fantasy - the fact that its pretty much universally accepted as one of the defining Sci-Fi pieces of art (ime at least) is pretty difficult to argue with.
  17. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    It certainly can, it just depends on how you define either genre. What's happening in this thread is that some of us define fantasy and sci-fi one way, others another, and so we disagree. The reason for my definition is that I find it a lot more fertile for further discussions (and of course, I also feel that it fits).

    E.g. if we say that "space opera" covers everything in space, that seems so vast a description it is also useless. It says nothing about what type of stories are being told. We might as well have a genre called "Earth books" for stories set solely on Earth. That would be just as useful at the bookstore or in a literary discussion.

    Same with saying that the genres fantasy and science fiction depends on whether it's called magic or science. As can be seen by the disagreement in here, it doesn't tell me anything about what kind of story to expect. It's just too simple to be useful in any discussion.

    To me, science fiction is primarily about the setting. Using either the near or far future coupled with technological advances to discuss humanity and society. What will change, what is perennial. When we write about aliens, androids, or clones, we are really writing about what humans are like; defining ourselves by discussing what is similar to us, yet different.

    Fantasy is primarily about the story. It is a narrative about heroics, obstacles, victory (sometimes at a high cost) and the restoration of what is good. It uses mythical elements and archetypes deep in our culture to bring this narrative to life; by using old patterns, it 'restores' this story to our consciousness, same way that the hero in its tale 'restores' the world at the end of their quest. The story becomes what it tells us, it is what it narrates.

    To extrapolate, this means that sci-fi thrives on its ability to be new and original while fantasy thrives on its ability to be familiar and recognisable. That is also why it is hard for science fiction stories to be mainstream, because they must break new ground, and why it is reversely easier for fantasy, because it re-treads old grounds. A major reason why Star Wars is mainstream is, in my analysis, because it combines wizards and knights (two fantasy archetypes) as its protagonists along with other archetypes such as the chosen one, the ancient sword, the evil empire etc. The sci-fi trappings help make it original and increases its appeal, but it is not the foundation of it.

    Is this a correct deduction? Maybe not, but at least we can discuss this whether it is, because I build on complex conventions for the genres in question.
  18. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    @Tanniel, there are a couple of points I'm going to disagree with you. ;)
    This would be similar to saying Romantic books is all about love, or Noir novels are about a dead body. Well, yes but that's not all. There is plenty more to Space Opera.

    I don't think the setting, as a factor, is what sets SF apart, as they are SF books, which wouldn't resort to a futuristic time nor to a highly advanced technology.
    SF is about the story as much as Fantasy. Discussing human relations are pivotal to literature regardless of the genre. It is the reason why we read books, in order to appreciate human interaction in a particular scenario and/or society.
    SF is about the science pushing its boundaries to its limits in order to create settings, in which stories will develop because and thanks to science, therefore placing the reader in an extreme setting. It is not magic but an extrapolation of science.
    Space Opera is a very fertile ground where both Fantasy and SF elements mingle quite easily. SO doesn't infer from science and therefore things happens just because... or because of "magic" one could say.
    I do understand that for many readers, Space Opera books can often be labelled as Science-Fantasy. However, and regardless of its setting, when a book responds to the science and sociology of its time is SF in my view.

    We have discussed this topic and Boreas, from BSFB, has mentioned a very clever quote by Rod Serling, of the Twilight Zone: Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.

    By the way, @Bierschneeman, in my opinion Dune is SF without any doubt, as it responds to sociological issues in Herbert's times. There are not magical characters as these abilities are the direct result of breeding programs and genetic science manipulation. ;)
  19. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I am sure there is, I was just wondering what it is. I haven't seen any useful definition in this thread to work with. I was also mostly reacting to this statement earlier, "If it's set in space and has a wide, epic scope it's Space Opera.", which I felt was the same as saying, "this definition is so broad, it cannot be used for anything". I would be glad to see another definition of space opera that involves genre conventions, patterns, or anything upon which a discussion can be built.

    A counter example to this. If I understand you correctly, you postulate that the difference between sci-fi and space opera is that the first is predicated upon science, while the latter is simply a space universe where the story takes place. Perhaps similar to how in fantasy, the setting with its fantastical races and elements is just the world where the story takes place, but the story is not predicated upon them; quite often, it will follow a human character as its protagonist. In other words, maybe stories we label space opera has more in common with fantasy than with sci-fi.

    Just to give an example of how we can discuss genres and come to interesting conclusions - if we actually come up with some kind of definitions to work with. And genre discussion seems to be the purpose of this thread. If not, I'll stop pestering people.

    I think this was exactly my point. "Using either the near or far future coupled with technological advances to discuss humanity and society." Sci-fi creates a setting somehow different from ours, which allows us to explore some facet of humanity otherwise closed to us.

    And certainly it does not have to be futuristic time nor highly advanced technology; that's why I said "either near or far". There just has to be some kind of scientific innovation making us question human nature or similar. One of my favourite sci-fi movies, Strange Days, takes place in Los Angeles in 1995 and has just one invention that sets it apart from our world, which is a device that lets you record someone's sensory input and experience it. With this, in a world otherwise like ours, the movie can explore human obsession with re-creating memories, living in the past, voyeurism etc.
  20. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    It sounds like SF fans are eager to embrace anything space-related as SF. The genre is simply misnamed.

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