Big Break Studios posted a blog recently about genre busting, and that got me thinking about the interesting divide between science fiction and fantasy.
Fantasy and science fiction fans have an oddly antagonistic side. I think part of this is due to what makes fantasy and science fiction fun. Who was the best Doctor? Which craft would win in a race? Which craft would win in a fight? Which character would win in a fight?
It wasn’t until I really started finding my stride as an author that I noticed this strange habit of fans of one genre not appreciating the other. How big is it? How prevalent? I don’t know, big enough to notice? Anecdotally, for every fan I hear that screams at the other genre, I hear another that just enjoys a good story. The inspiration from this post is that the very fact that these two genres aren’t more closely linked surprises me.
So I thought I’d sit down and talk about the largest areas of contention. NOTE: All of this is anecdotal, I’m curious if anyone has a more analytical example.
Possible vs Impossible: The Science in Science Fiction.
Speculative science is the heart of any science fiction novel. A science fiction writer is bound by unwritten contract between himself and his readers (I’m a guy, so I’m using the male personal pronoun). Things have to have rules. There must be an explanation for how, scientifically, this story is plausible. I actually FIRST encountered this in high school science. The teacher was quite admit about disproving any and every science fiction movie out there. As he continued to dispute each movie, I couldn’t help but realize he must have ACTUALLY watched them. Weather he did that just to disprove it or enjoy it is really more of a personal issue, but the point is he watched them. Brandon Sanderson mentioned a discussion he’d had on a panel regarding magic systems and then released his “Laws” on magic. This brings me to the point of contention:
Science fiction fans want a plausible, scientific reason to justify the possibility of the story. Fantasy fans want a sense of wonder. Feel free to argue and debate this point, but I’ve already said this evidence is anecdotal and these opinions are mine. It’s also my opinion that the reason science fiction fans demand plausibility is the very fact that they want to believe this story could happen. One (fantasy) is about escape where the other (scifi) is about hope. (And let the debate on that assertion begin).
I don’t really care about this particular sticking point, as I believe both genres do what matters most: They show readers who they can be, if only…If only we strive to travel the stars, we could learn so much more. If only, to me, means nothing more than, “when we.”
Try this experiment: Go to a convention. Find a pair arguing about weather the Falcon could beat the Enterprise in a space battle. Go to them and explain it doesn’t matter because a team of dragon riders from Pern could take them both down at the same time. Before they get going. Make sure you specify that these “dragons” are in reality nothing more than genetically enhanced alien lizards that evolved through cloning and gene modifications. Call this your control group.
Then, go do the same thing with another pair of fans, but don’t explain the genetic modification tools. Try not to laugh as this pair of individuals debating the military characteristics of non-existent spacecraft looks you in the eyes and says, “it doesn’t matter because dragons aren’t real.” I’ve done this experiment, but I failed to avoid laughing. I’m sometimes a petty person.
Most of the derision I see across these genres comes from that particular fissure in the genre planet. A few authors are doing fantastic things, and that’s inspired me. What if fantasy authors worked a little harder to make their magic plausible? What if science fiction authors worried a little less about how possible things are? I have two projects in the works that I think pay tribute to both genres. They’re primarily fantasy in terms of marketing but when I can explain something scientifically, I do. The magic systems in each project (Perception of War, the series Sojourn in Despair comes from, is one of them) is fairly hard (if you subscribe to Sanderson’s First Law).
I think there’s a trick to that though. That trick is commitment to your core genre. You want to avoid Deus Ex Machina whenever possible. A story that ends on an overly convenient plot device, regardless of genre, isn’t going to go over well with the fans. But this divide I’m discussing, I think, comes more from this assertion:
Fantasy fans are more willing to suspend disbelief than science fiction fans.
So, if you’re writing fantasy, I wouldn’t recommend taking three chapters to dissect your magic system right up front. Fantasy readers usually stop at, “Guy can fly.” It’s wonderful to weave in a few explanations of powers as the story progresses, especially if that ability is going to be the key to saving the universe (see Sanderson’s First Law). Science fiction fans demand more details. They’ll want to understand how things are possible sooner, and are therefore more willing to accept large data chunks in the story early on, (accept and larger are dangerously unspecific terms).
What are your thoughts? Which side of the line do you fall under? Also, I meant what I said. A wing of dragon riders of Pern, and I’d argue a single dragon like Ruth or Mnementh could take out both starships. Seriously.
Thanks for reading,