Friday, January 25, 2008

Why Fantasy AND Science fiction

According to Wikipedia Fantasy is:
a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. The genre is usually associated with the overall look, feel and themes of the European Early Middle Ages
While Science Fiction is:
a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology.
Chalk and Cheese right? So how come the same people read both? We are not talking about co-incidental liking here. The correlation is so strong that many bookstores have a single section called "Fantasy and Science Fiction". A quick Google search will confirm that fan-sites likewise combine the two apparently different themes.

I don't really know why the links are so strong but I guess it has to do with the fact that they both describe imaginary worlds. As good an explanation as any can be got from 42explore.com :
All science-fiction and fantasy writers face a common challenge. They try to present worlds that are radically and intriguingly different from today's world.
And yet ... If it is all about imagination and "what if..." why are successful fantasy novels so formulaic?

Of course it goes without saying that the same people who enjoy F&SF are also a pretty likely candidates to enjoy mmorpgs but that is an easier link to figure out. Mmorpgs allow players to directly participate in fantasy or science fiction worlds.

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6 comments:

Tipa said...

I love fantasy as a genre but I cannot stand most of the crap published under that genre. Fantasy authors seem to be writing on autopilot -- the last one I really liked was L.E.Modesitt, and even he ended up hewing to formula. I considered Jordan's books unreadable. I know I'm a minority of current fantasy readers, but when I look at masterpieces from people like Gene Wolfe, Roger Zelazny, Peter S. Beagle... and then the stuff I read more recently (well, Wolfe is still writing wonderfully), then it's no surprise to me that I read mostly SF today.

mbp said...

I agree with you about "writing on autopilot" Tipa. So much fantasy is just the same story told over and over again. Mind you sometimes I think that is part of the attraction. Its a kind of a comfort zone where you always know where you stand. Orcs are always bad elves are always good and so on. Mind you it is like a breath of fresh air to read someone who shakes the formula up a bit like George RR or even China Miveille.

I have a soft spot for Jordan (rip) myself - the first few WOT books really hooked me in. The arrogance of the white sisters and their utter inability to readjust when the rules of the game changed made for compelling reading. That said the later books are very heavy going.

Tipa said...

There was this whole "urban fantasy" thing going on ten-twenty or so years ago led by Charles deLint, Mercedes Lackey, Holly Lisle etc. Although the writing was pretty uneven and somewhat formulaic, it produced some bright lights like Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb, whose "Wizard of Pigeons" really electrified that fantasy sub-genre for me (and whose longer fantasy works, like those of George R.R. Martin, mixed standard fantasy with some stunning innovations). Oh yeah, R.A. Macavoy as well.

But that appears to have burned out along with its sister movement in SF, cyberpunk, and we're left with dreary "high fantasy" again.

I feel a little sick when I see people praise David Eddings and those TSR(tm) generic(tm) fantasy(tm) books. The envelop, swallow and snuff out the good stuff in the same way Star Trek books replace real science fiction.

I love China Miveille. I have no idea if what I am reading is SF or F. It transcends genres.

mbp said...

Mieville is good all right. I tore through three "perdido street" books. However you just know when you read a Mieville book that it won't have a happy ending and sometimes I like my escapism to be sugar coated.

Did you ever get around to reading Ice and Fire on your gadget? It really is so good. As an indication of how clever it is consider that magic plays almost no part in the stories and that your perception of who the hero is changes from one chapter to the next.

Tipa said...

I read the first two books. I have the third (in dead tree form), but my eyes are too poor to read it. I will probably buy it again for the Reader.

I put my own story on the Reader. It felt really good seeing it there. I might write more stuff, but tune it specifically for the Reader...

Anyway. I really like Martin's writing, but it feels padded -- not as bad as Jordan's books felt, but I've read Martin's earlier stuff. He can write like a razor if he wanted to.

I recently finished Stephen Donaldson's "Fatal Revenant". It was a good book, but it would have been even better if I had remembered anything from the previous book, but I couldn't read the previous book because it was just too imposing. Same with Martin. I know that the story is good, but it will be filled with padding and the whole thing is told in a very standard way so that the process of reading itself isn't enjoyable, unlike, say, Tolkein, where the richness of the language can pull you through the weakness of the plot. Or, again, Zelazny, or Wolfe.

In a way, it's back to MMOs again. Do you want a game that's fun in its own right, or one where you just want to skip to the end to see how it turns out?

EQ1 was the first type, for its time. And so was WoW -- but now the world in both books and games seems every more to hurry you through to the end without giving you anything memorable along the way.

mbp said...

Hmm....a book / game that is fun along the way or one that makes you hurry through to the end to find out what happens. I feel obliged to respond Tipa but I hope you won't mind if I respond in a post rather than a comment. My poor blog is a bit short on content lately and I don't want to pass up an opportunity to pad it out.