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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Fantasy Insinuating Itself into Science Fiction?

FFO went all the way to the end of the universe for a link to this story. This National Post has an interesting article that questions whether fantasy is over-taking science fiction. (Of course it is because of Harry Potter.) More interesting are the examples of fantasy intruding into science fiction (which I assume makes it science fantasy). In the new Star Trek movie, which I enjoyed quite a bit, the characters invoked time travel via red matter, an unexplained substance. I remember uttering a WTH when that substance was introduced so casually. The National Post writer refers to this as a magic substance, and therefore fantasy, but at the same time undermines his argument a bit implying it was an instance of bad writing in the screenplay. I think it was more the latter and could have been replaced with a Time Travel button in the command module. It was annoying but didn't ruin the film. The article is enjoyable. Go there to see the writer's (Philip Marchand's) interesting comments about Carl Sagan's dance with the devil in Contact.

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Blogger Mark Freivald said...

FWIW, Robert Silverberg categorized science fiction as a subset of fantasy. (I'm currently reading his book Robert Silverberg's Worlds of Wonder, Exploring the Craft of Science Fiction.) I lean slightly in that direction, but I'm not -ahem- religious about it.

Thanks for the article.

August 27, 2009 3:58 AM  
Blogger William Highsmith said...

I think hard science fiction (see today's post) would be difficult to classify as fantasy. I'd like to think that at least a small majority of science fiction was written with the idea that it *could* happen, in time.

August 27, 2009 3:02 PM  
Blogger Mark Freivald said...

Yes, which is one of the reasons I have no established religion about it. But fantasy isn't necessarily much different. The miraculous does occur in real life, and what "could happen" isn't necessarily a question of science. Pink faeries and wood elves, for example, are things we don't believe in, not because they are impossible, but because we've never seen any. Yet, they are firmly entrenched in the fantasy genre.

Here's Silberberg's quote:
Science fiction, though, is a branch of fantasy; it draws on the realities of our world at one remove, attempting to portray not what does exist but that which we know does not. At its purest extreme, fantasy portrays that which we know cannot exist, and tries to make the impossible plausible. The subset of fantasy that we call science fiction also aims for plausibility, but instead of dealing in impossibilities [...] it works with that which is or seems possible but not yet a reality [...] and tries to give such unrealities the feel of reality, at least for the nonce, coaxing a reader a "willing suspension of disbelief." That famous phrase of Coleridge beautifully describes what any writer, but most particularly the writer of fantasy or science fiction, must strive to achieve.

He is, however, openly and intentionally equivocal about defining science fiction.

The similarities seem to be in line with the exception of the focus for "suspended disbelief." So (barring other observations I'm too dense to think of) the question comes to me: "Is that enough to promote it from a subgenre to its own genre?"

I don't know. But for obvious practical and popular reasons, I'll be keeping them apart in common parlance.

August 27, 2009 6:30 PM  

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