Fantasy vs. Sci-fi

Posted by : E.v.R. | On : October 10, 2005

When I was in my early teens I loved to read fantasy novels. I enjoyed Tolkien and some of the TSR series such as DragonLance and Forgotten Realms.

In my adult years, I have a harder time getting into fantasy. I prefer sci-fi now. One big reason is style. I’m tired of elves, orcs, goblins, halfings (hobbits), and yes, dragons. I’m tired of medieval style. On a deeper level, I don’t like the wildcard known as magic. Conceptually, for a writer or any other creator it’s a free meal ticket. Want to do something illogical? It’s magic!

Sci-fi writers, if on the harder edge of reality, need to work a little harder to justify and explain their concepts. I’m a little biased though. ;-)

Then you have properties like Star Wars which straddle the line between sci-fi and fantasy. When you think about it, Star Wars is a bit closer to fantasy than it is sci-fi. I’m inclined to think of sci-fi featuring deep explanation of alien cultures to be near-fantasy as well. It’s just so far beyond the familiar as to be literally fantastical.

In Food for Sci-Fi I lamented the lack of ‘Reality Sci-Fi,’ and I believe part of that lack is due to a lot of sci-fi being weighted towards fantasy.

If you were to picture the range on a scale it’d look something like this, although this is horribly simplistic and a hastily made graphic to boot.

The point is, which kind of fiction do you prefer along this scale? When I was thirteen, the far left would have won. These days it’s the hard right. I still can enjoy fantasy it’s just not what I seek out.

What’s your preference?

Comments (5)

  1. Sya said on 10-10-2005

    That’s interesting. When I was a kid, I read books from both extremes but now, I’m drifting towards the middle. I find traditional/high fantasy much too overused, but I also shy away from the so-called hard sci-fi.

    I guess what I prefer to read is more character-oriented stories regardless of the background–like how someone would react and cope if magic was part of society or some new technology was introduced.

  2. redchurch said on 10-10-2005

    “I guess what I prefer to read is more character-oriented stories regardless of the background–like how someone would react and cope if magic was part of society or some new technology was introduced.”

    That’s a great point, and the core of what makes either sci-fi or fantasy interesting for me.

    Maybe it’s just part of being an adult it’s harder for me to rationalize magic. Or that magic is so ipso facto. It doesn’t have to be explained… it doesn’t even have to be interesting. It just is. But maybe I’ve just had too much D&D and traditional fantasy crammed down my throat.

    I missed out on a lot of great sci-fi growing up, so all of it seems very fresh to me. There’s also a lot of newer science to inspire another generation of sci-fi. In contrast, when was the last time magic got reinvented? :)

    Yeah… I’m biased.

  3. Jack Monahan said on 10-10-2005

    Following Arthur C. Clarke’s famous axiom “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” extremely magic-y high fantasy and really fluffy high tech science fiction are largely one and the same, just with different window dressing.
    The logic of Star Trek tech is applied as capriciously as the magic you mention in your post.

    A more damning example I think is in MMO games: the practical application of magic and mana in most fantasy games like Everquest and whatnot are exactly the same as how Anarchy Online treated nanotechnology. Instead of making a game with a distinctly different play style, Anarchy Online dressed up the same old mana/magic system under the auspices of nanotechnology. Though, as Clarke points out, they’re allowed to do this, because the technology posited in the game is functionally indistinguishable from magic.

    So the spectrum should be mapped in such a way as to show that “high” fantasy and “high” science fiction are essentially busom buddies. I initially thought of mapping the spectrum as a circle, which would put these two on either side of the seperation between fantasy and science fiction… but that really doesn’t account for what the other junction of fantasy and s.f. on the other side of the circle would represent. I’ll puzzle this out a while longer. :)

  4. Anonymous said on 26-02-2006

    Yeah, absolutely – high technology & magic should be indistinguishable (unless they leave some sort of lasting impact on the Soul; however long that may be).


    A third option in the sliding scale should be Surreality, which would form a triangle. Magic is simply Fantasy’s excuse to employ Surreality, while still retaining their cool Fantasy credibility. Although on the surface, Fantasy disowns Surreality like a bastard offspring.

    Subversion ^_^

    does it ever get complicated….

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