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Author Topic: Fantasy VS SF
Lissa
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Are there any hard core rules for delineation between SF and Fantasy? The novel I am writing seems to be veering back and forth (IMO).

Lis


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JenniferHicks
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I think it was OSC who wrote that science fiction has rivets and fantasy has trees. Or, as I think of it, sci-fi has advanced technology and fantasy has magic. I've read stories that blur the line between the two, though.

The main thing is to maintain consistency in the rules of the world you have created. If the novel is veering between sci-fi and fantasy, that doesn't sound very consistent.


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redux
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Science Fiction & Fantasy genres are nicely summarized here: http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

A basic definition is that sci-fi is based on known scientific facts or scientific trends/predictions. Fantasy, on the other hand, is premised on magic.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Maybe it's "science fantasy" instead of one or the other?

OSC has said that he doesn't write science fiction. What he writes is fantasy with science as the magic. And I submit that there are an awful lot of so-called "science fiction" writers who do exactly the same thing.

If you have science do things that scientists don't consider to be scientific, then you are having science do "magic," and you are actually writing fantasy.

As JenniferHicks says, as long as your rules are clear and you follow them consistently in your story, you can do whatever you want.


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Lissa
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Is there such a thing as "hard core" SF and "soft" SF then? I also studied 'rivets vs trees.' The more I write, the more I wonder if I am following the former, yet I also have mystical and unexplained phenomena throughout. In the end, a great part of this turns out to be resultant from the intervention(s) of a benevolent mentor from a more advanced species. I have often viewed SF as clinical and cold with an obvious explanation for everything. I'd like to leave it to my readers to decide for themselves how some of my characters' experiences are "explained." Am I making any sense here?

Lis


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MartinV
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I wanted to open a new thread to ask you something but since this one opened up I can ask it here.

In fantasy stories, magic is often used. I intend to use magic in my forthcoming story but I am taking a bit more scientific approach to it. For that reason, I would like to use a different word for magic. A synonym but it can be something completely off and then I make a new meaning for the word. Any recommendations?

[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited November 28, 2010).]


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rstegman
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I have read many stories where science has found ways to amplify mental powers till they become magical. The force is one version of it.
If you can scientifically explain how they have such magical powers, then it is science fiction. If you can explain scientifically about gods providing the power people have, then you have science fiction.

I had a story where the native population had magical powers, because of compounds in the soil that their bodies accumulated just right. There was leaking energies from an old defensive system that reacted with the compounds. The people's minds turned that into magical activities.

With fantasy, we tend not to explain where the magic works, but instead simply see the effects of the use.

If you apply a scientific explanation, it is science, if you leave that out, it is fantasy.


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philocinemas
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Here are two sets of quotes from How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card:

"If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it's science fiction. If it's set in a universe that doesn't follow our rules, it's fantasy."

"They have metal and plastic; they use heavy machinery, and so they're science fiction. If you have people do some magic, impossible thing by stroking a talisman or praying to a tree, it's fantasy; if they do the same thing by pressing a button or climbing inside a machine, it's science fiction."

quote:
With fantasy, we tend not to explain where the magic works, but instead simply see the effects of the use.

If you apply a scientific explanation, it is science, if you leave that out, it is fantasy.


I actually like rstegman's differentiation, however, I think it has a real flaw. The first set of Star Wars movies are obvious to most as being science fiction - I could not in all good conscience place them in "fantasy". The problem is with the Force. There is NO scientific explanation for this in the first three. In fact, it is explained as "mystical". Lucas tried to "fix" this with the second three, which I believe took away from the story, albeit an inventive explanation. But to me, leaving the explanation out was no less science fiction.

With a stretch, I can state the same about Star Trek. Heresy you say? Both the TOS and TNG used beings beyond our understanding, Trelane and Q, respectively. However, we understood their existences as being beyond our understanding.

“Any technology beyond our own would seem like magic to us.” - Arthur C. Clarke

Science fiction does leave open a door to psychic abilities arising from experimentation or evolution. Fantasy generally attributes this to mysticism or the supernatural.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited November 28, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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It's said that science fiction is whatever a science fiction editor points to and says, "Science fiction!"

I'm sure that with any definition you care to come up with for science fiction and / or fantasy, I can come up with stories that defy it.

For instance, if the definition of fantasy is "a universe that doesn't follow our rules," then, say, the center section of Asimov's The Gods Themselves would be fantasy, because it takes place in a universe that doesn't follow our rules.

Also there are several uses of heavy machinery in The Lord of The Rings, but calling it science fiction and not fantasy would be a stretch...

*****

Bear in mind, too, that we all go through life doing many different things, and seldom do so much as contemplate how things work on a scientific basis. Even more rarely would two or more people engage in discussions on this basis.


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redux
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When it really comes down to it genres are really about marketing and tapping into the built-in audience. All these categories are simply meant to help guide the reader at the store know which shelf to browse. By writing in a particular genre the goal is to attract the attention of a community already familiar with that genre. This is not to say that readers don't branch out and explore different genres. OSC talked about this in his book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. He called it the "ghettoizing of speculative fiction."

Just like Jennifer and Kathleen mentioned earlier in this thread, simply be consistent. Establish in your story the rules of science or magic and stick to them.

Here's an example - in Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination there is a teleportation phenomenon called "jaunting." In the story, Bester gives a "scientific" explanation to how this phenomenon was discovered but really never goes into quantum physics or anything like that. It could just as easily been wizards teleporting in and out of rooms. The reason it works in the story is because Bester set out the rules of his sci-fi world early on in the story - the first scene starts on a merchant space ship. So the reader from the very start knows "I am reading sci-fi." And by the time he gets to the jaunting part of the story, the reader is expecting some sort of scientific explanation which Bester delivers.

Also, "scientific phenomena" usually has social implications and the sci-fi genre tends to be the exploration of what these implications may be. Going back to the jaunting example, in Bester's book because jaunting exists, jaunte-proof rooms also exist in order to avoid the unexpected visitor. This also affected the treatment of women who for their protection are locked into these rooms.

This is not to say that magic does not have similar social implications in a fantasy story, but the exploration of social implications of the existence of dragons or magical flaming swords is not at its core.

Sci-fi is arguably the exploration of the social implications of scientific discoveries on the human condition. In traditional sci-fi there seems to be an uneasy truce between science and humans.

MartinV - magic with a scientific approach - hrm.. Alchemy? I jest A synonym for magic, that really is hard one. Do you plan on setting your story in a medieval-ish sort of world? Or a high-tech world with magic? I would probably outline what it is you want magic to do in your story - say for instance, magic in your story is all about controlling the will of others - and then look for words that mean "control" or "will" or "mind" and see if there is something that you like. For instance, "akrasia" in Greek means lacking control over oneself. Good luck!


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mfreivald
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I think it's a mistake to philosophically categorize science fiction as materialistic and devoid of mystical things. "Everything follows rules of science" is inadequate and false--there are many examples of science fiction that defy such an imposition. I also think it's a mistake to think of fantasy as "magical" in a way that precludes natural limitations upon that "magic." The best fantasy, after all (Tolkien, for example), sees magic not as a random occurrence of the impossible, but as a natural part of the universe. See Sam Gamgee's discussion in FOTR with the elves about "magic."

That isn't to say that natural magic must be explained by physical laws. Star Wars *cheapened* the force by attempting to turn it into a materialistic thing. A philosophical understanding of 'nature' is not the same thing as materialism.


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MartinV
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quote:
MartinV - magic with a scientific approach - hrm.. Alchemy? I jest A synonym for magic, that really is hard one. Do you plan on setting your story in a medieval-ish sort of world? Or a high-tech world with magic? I would probably outline what it is you want magic to do in your story - say for instance, magic in your story is all about controlling the will of others - and then look for words that mean "control" or "will" or "mind" and see if there is something that you like. For instance, "akrasia" in Greek means lacking control over oneself. Good luck!

I was thinking of merging the idea of what Lucas said was the origin of the Force (midiclorian or something?) and the proposed medium through which light travels in space (ether). So I would have tiny particles in people, animals and plants that interact with ether that is everywhere around. This interaction causes magical effects. I don't know if such an idea was used anywhere, I developed it myself. And the word 'magic' simply seems so overused and even underestimated. I look at A Song of Ice and Fire where there's definitely magic at work but it still results in a very serious story. I'm not writing a friendly fairy-tale. In my world, use of magic will not be something that children learn but a precise and possibly very dangerous craft, science even. Somehow Hairy Potter made magic very childish looking. I want to avoid this.

Oh yes, my setting will be something more of ancient Rome than medieval. Some mechanists, perhaps, but nothing steam-punk based.

[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited November 28, 2010).]


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eyegore242
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The wife and myself were talking about this and she said the way she defines scifi and fantasy is she thinks about the the characters in the story and imagines how they go to the bathroom.

if they use leafs its fantasy if they use the three shells its sci fi

One way to look at it is if the people who are using the 'magic' if they understand the science behind how it works then its sci fi if they think its a gift from the gods or some such then its fantasy.
Way back when people mixed chemicals and they had reactions and it was magic now its chemistry.

@martinv

You have your learned or book mages that use spells and incantations to cast

This could be in the form of mumbo jumbo words that make the spell work and the users don't know why just that it does that fantasy

or it could be math and something they do understand thus making it a science

[This message has been edited by eyegore242 (edited November 28, 2010).]


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walexander
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So out of curiosity what is it labeled when both tech and magic are present? Anime/Manga stories are a classic example of both at the same time. I still remember that old animation that was called 'Wizards' and had the war between the world of technology and the world of fantasy. With the classic end when the wizard Avatar kills his powerful wizard brother Black wolfe with a gun. CLLAASSIC. So do things like this just fall into the fantasy category? Because there are a lot more crossovers these days. Look at the movie Avatar for example.

Just curious,

W.


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Lissa
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Great stuff! Keep it coming. I am learning ALOT, with a few chuckles along the way! (Heh, heh...)

Lis


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eyegore242
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WAlex you bring up a good point, sir.

for me it would be like i said before if the magic users understand the how and why the magic works then its a science. In some of the manga / anime you speak of they do know and for me at least it is a scifi if they just know it works or its not very well explained then its a fantasy.

but the lines very from person to person. my wife will argue with me till we are both blue in the face that horror is different from scifi or fantasy but many horrors have vampires/werewolves/killer clowns this making them a fantasy while others have many technological nightmares stalking about and thus its a scifi.

i would have to say thinking about it that there are no hard lines dividing any of the genres just guidelines, and the guidelines can very from person to person.


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LDWriter2
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Hmmm, meant someone interesting tonight. a nephew of a neighbor who is writing a SF-Fantasy . I wondered if it could be someone from here but something tells me it's not Lissa.

But he would fit in with this conversation.


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philocinemas
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quote:
if they use leafs its fantasy if they use the three shells its sci fi

Be well, eyegore242!


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Lissa
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REDUX - Thanks for your link earlier in this thread. I really liked it and all the "definitions" it gave. I especially liked the following (from aforementioned site):

SCIENCE FANTASY:
A hybrid and subset of speculative fiction describing worlds in which either both magic and science work, science is so sophisticated it simulates magic, or characters possess psychic powers so strong they resemble magic. Eric S. Nylund's A Game Of Universe is a science fantasy of the first type (an assassin who can cast spells travels through space in search of the Holy Grail), as is Sheri S. Tepper's The Family Tree (which includes time travel, genetic engineering, and wizards). Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider series is a science fantasy of the second and third types (genetic engineering on an alien reptile species has created "dragons" that breathe fire and who communicate telepathically with their riders). Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series (concerning the history of a planet whose industry is not based on machines and physical labor, but on the potent psychic powers of the inhabitants) are science fantasies of the third type.


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rstegman
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There is the catagory of SCIENCE FANTASY, which star wars actually was. This is where magic is used in a scientific situation.

One can make scientific wizards calling to a computer in computer code to teleport things or fire weapons on a target.
It would look and sound like magic, but would be purely science fiction. The wisards could be using a talansman that is a communicator, or they may have had a chip installed so all they have to do the commands.
One can have fun with that, have them saying something that is obviously computer code and have the hero talkinng about the chant.

In science fiction there is a way to make any magic science fiction. It just takes a little skill and imagination.

Keep in mind that
hard sceince fiction the science is king the characters are added to carry the story along.
Soft science fiction, the story is the character (idiot in trouble) but the science cannot be taken out without ruining the story.
Science fantasy is where science is a backdrop.

In all of them you have to have a good story.


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
...but the science cannot be taken out without ruining the story

I'm thinking, by that definition, the movie Apollo 13 is science fiction, even though it's a (fairly) accurate description of something that actually happened.


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WouldBe
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Fillet a hobbit with a sword: high fantasy
Fillet a hobbit with a spell: fantasy
Fillet a hobbit in a space suit with a sword: pulp SF (don't)
Fillet a hobbit-like space alien with a blaster: SF
Fillet an MRE with a survival knife on Mars: hard SF
Conjure an MRE with a replicator: SF
Conjure an MRE with magic: fantasy
Fillet a space voyager with a mutant, blood-sucking space creature: horror/SF
Reheat your Big Mac with a touch of a finger and then drive to your job at the salt mine: magical realism

Practical matters:
If B&N puts it on the SF shelf, it's SF

This is paraphrased from the submissions guidelines from one of the major mags, but I don't remember which one: if the science is removed from the story and the story falls apart, it's SF.


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MartinV
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I just need a good synonym for 'magic'. I could easily invent a word (I do it every day) but I would like to use an already existing word people might recognize yet don't see as often as 'magic'.
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redux
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MartinV:

From the top of my head, words for magic: sortilege , theurgy, heka, augury

Another option is to follow the scientific convention and name the observed phenomenon after the observer (i.e. van der Waals force after the Dutch scientist). Alfred Bester took this approach in "Stars My Destination" in which he named jaunting after Charles Fort Jaunte, a fictional scientist in his story. It worked well because the word jaunt already exists in the English vocabulary.

So, you could invent a philosopher named Augustus Heka who first described and observed these strange particles and discovered they could be manipulated for magical effect. In turn, these particles were named after him, Heka particles, and their wielding Hekamancy. At least, that would be the general idea.

[This message has been edited by redux (edited November 29, 2010).]


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MartinV
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Now those are some intersting ones. Thank you, redux.
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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Conjure an MRE with a replicator: SF
Conjure an MRE with magic: fantasy

Well, if you want to settle for that...


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
I just need a good synonym for 'magic'. I could easily invent a word (I do it every day) but I would like to use an already existing word people might recognize yet don't see as often as 'magic'.

MartinV, they used to refer to science as "philosophy" and I imagine you could use it now to refer to magic.


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LDWriter2
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MartinV I have the same problem at times. I don't like to use spell or magic. Some books I've read use different terms. Sometimes I use the word trick instead of spell.

One series calls it Current instead of magic. I used Current to translock myself to the dinner party. There I used Current to give myself an aura of 'don't touch' to protect myself from the gropers.

The MC in this series is female with that last line. Which I made up.



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rstegman
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As for terminology for magic, one can use just about anything. AS long as you show the reader what it is they will accept it.

One idea s that you use the name of the got that gives the power, You worship the god Aknatin, you used Aknatin to create fire in the fire place. You used Aknatin to levetate the wagon off his chest. He had strong Aknatin while she had almost no Aknatin itself.

I just realized I like this maning concept.This could be used in science fiction also. The person who discovered or mastered the techique, or the person who invented the system, would be the name of the magic.

Each person recieved a set of chips at birth. The chips bonded with the brain structure to tie them into the systems of civilzation. Some the chips developed an interaction that allowed people to direct the transportation and energy systems directly. they could cause items ad materials to teleport to anywhere, and could cause weapons to fire just with a thought.
Jeramy Johnson was the first to be known to do this, and he was a master at it, so the ability became known as Johnson. A person high in Johnson was looked on as a magician.

This sets up the source of the science fiction magic, the control over the systems of society.

Sara held Billy as her play toy. She was had master Johnson while he had none. He was wealthy from inheritance but was out of sorts with his family at the moment. That gave Sara the opportunity to live off his wealth by holding him hostage. She used her Johnson powers to block any chance of his escaping or obtaining help. The last time he actually escaped, she just teleported him back to her.

I guess it really does not matter what word you use as long as there is an explanation for it.


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eyegore242
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first and foremost, rstegman im not sure johnson would be a good word for magic unless your going for laughs

Personally, if its magic... call it magic... unless you have something really strange and unique about it, ie the chips in the head, or you have to sever someones body parts to pull it off and they have to give them willingly, then you can kinda pull off giving it its own new name. just make sure the name doesn't cause the readers to laugh or go giggity when you put "she used her (whatever you call your magic)" in the story.


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