Science Fiction vs. Space Fantasy

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jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Science Fiction vs. Space Fantasy

Apropos of something the Posthumans were discussing r/e a new game that's coming out (don't ask me which one; we only comment on other company's games when it's an unqualified "hurrah!")...

Where do you draw the line? At what point do you look at a game and say, "Y'know, maybe they should call this space fantasy instead of sci fi?" Or is this something no one actually cares about? :)

J A C K   G R A H A M :: Hooray for Earth!
  http://eclipsephase.com :: twitter @jackgraham @faketsr :: Google+Jack Graham

base3numeral base3numeral's picture
Both Speculative Fiction

For me, the line, when drawn, mostly takes what I believe is possible into account. Stories that take the world as I understand it, and make any changes within those rules (with a few exceptions) would be sci fi. Probably.
If magic, gods, or spirits are included, fantasy, regardless of setting.
Now, for folks who believe in magic, gods, or spirits, I'm not sure where the line would be drawn.
I don't often try to distinguish between the two though, much like sci fi and fantasy books, they're both good.

Strength in depth...

The Fleet

SquireNed SquireNed's picture
So, I'm a bit hardcore where

So, I'm a bit hardcore where I say that anything's science fiction until it explicitly includes supernatural elements. If you allow physics breaking that isn't magic, or doesn't allow things that are themed like magic, it's still science fiction.

I consider Mass Effect, Star Wars, and the like to all be science fantasy, and I think it's a genre that needs more development (which may be why I have a fairly major, albeit rarely updated, science fantasy project).

Creator of Street Rats, a CC-BY cyberpunk roleplaying game.

GreyBrother GreyBrother's picture
Easy. Whats the focus? If we

Easy. Whats the focus? If we talk about a setting that is set in a futuristic environment has straight up magic and/or supernatural creatures running around, we deal with Science Fantasy.

Anything else is Science Fiction with varying grounds of fiction.

I take Star Wars as an example. It's the classic SciFantasy setting, but lets split the setting up according to the stories. Episode 4? Pure SciFantasy. We all know it follows the Heroes Journey and you could replace everything with a fantasy touch easy.
However, if you take the Republic Commando (the video game) we have pretty straight SciFi. Sure, there are Jedi running around, but they aren't the focus and a bit of "mystic stuff" can always play a role (just like some Fantasy stories use High SciFi elements).

We can do that with Star Trek too. Episodes featuring the Q-Continuum in any way are tilting very hard to SciFantasy, while most other are pretty regular SciFi. And Q is the extreme example, there are plenty of creatures featured in Star Trek with "unexplained, cosmic powers".

So yeah the border is REALLY blurry either way and depends on the story thats being told. Personally, i think you can do great things with both and i would love to see a more straight up SciFantasy franchise (Paladins in Space basically) than Star Wars.

I put on my slopes and wizard tracks.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
@GreyBrother, R/e non-Star

@GreyBrother, R/e non-Star Wars space fantasy settings... Yeah, I miss Spelljammer. And after chatting with Jason from Paizo about it a bit during Gen Con, I'm really interested to see what they'll be doing with Starfinder.

That said, there are some oddballs out there that defy easy classification. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy (which is a direct inspiration for some tech in Eclipse Phase) is really good H+ sci-fi... and then ghosts show up. (Mind you, this did not make me put it down).

The overall point about "what's the focus?" is well taken. I'm with you on the Q stuff taking Trek off into fantasy land. And most Trek is straight sci-fi, even if not hard SF, and even if some of the ToS episodes operate in Twilight Zone territory. (I actually wish we saw more Idea SF like this nowadays... Rod Serling in space is awesome).

J A C K   G R A H A M :: Hooray for Earth!
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Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
Hard vs Soft vs Fantasy

Personally, I consider sci-fi/sci-fantasy to be a spectrum, like the hard/soft spectrum. And while the novellist's consensus seems to be (or have previously been) that hard sci-fi is about future science and soft sci-fi just happens to be in the future, I have my own roughly-parallel definitions.

Hard Sci-Fi: what would be theoretically-possible in our current understanding of science, ie. the human tech in Babylon 5

Soft Sci-Fi: what would be theoretically-possible with a future understanding of science that is largely consistent with our own, ie. Warp Drive

Sci-Fantasy: what would be theoretically possible with a future understanding of science that violates our own, ie. The Force

Possible hard/soft border: Firefly (mostly hard but with unexplained elements like artificial gravity)

Possible soft/fantasy border: The Q Continuum, Midichlorians

ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
Space Ghoooooosstttssss-.....

jackgraham wrote:
That said, there are some oddballs out there that defy easy classification. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy (which is a direct inspiration for some tech in Eclipse Phase) is really good H+ sci-fi... and then ghosts show up. (Mind you, this did not make me put it down).

The Ascended Space Slugs made of Light from the intro wasn't a hint things might get odd? :D

---
Imo, Space Fantasy is a subgenre of Sci-fi - You can say something is Sci-fi if it's Space Fantasy, but you can't say something's Space Fantasy if it isn't Sci-fi.
It may seem arbitrary (and a tad contrary to what I write below), but I find the underlying thematics and tone between fantastical Sci-fi and Fantasy with Space/Technological elements are different enough that they are functionally different genres.

As to where the Line would be, I'd say it's all about how coherent the Technology in the setting is, rather than how Hard/Soft/SpaceMagic it is.

In SciFi, the tech is generally "set" - Equipment works a certain way, creature abilities are specific and constant, and so on.
In StarTrek, the Enterprise is fueled by antimatter and can fold place, teleportation is possible , create objects from thin air with but words, and some creatures have psychic powers
Sure, you get things like Q and the Giant Green Space Hand, but they're incorporated as very specific exceptions - their presence is explicitly noted and becomes a driving part of the plot.

In SciFan, the tech does whatever the plot requires. It's window dressing that enables specific kinds of storytelling.
It simply doesn't matter how the ships in Star Wars fly, or how the guns work. The force can do anything and people have cool swords that make that noise when you turn them on.
The tech, no matter how magical or mysterious, is a backdrop to the plot rather than a contributing element.

When you try to make the tech in Space Fantasy matter, what you get is ***ing midichlorians.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?

Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
The way I think of it as a

The way I think of it as a writer is very simple:

Fantasy ultimately is about the people, the setting is an excuse to prod them in particular ways. Sci-fi on the other hand is ultimately about the setting and how the characters interact with and navigate it.

In my mind Dr. Who and Star Wars are both fantasy stories because of this (though voicing that opinion is a really good way to lose friends if they happen to be fans).

ORCACommander ORCACommander's picture
And do not forget the ever

And do not forget the ever present qoute of "Perhaps something is so advanced it is akin to magic"

DivineWrath DivineWrath's picture
I'm reluctant to give a too

I'm reluctant to give a too hard of a definition to either. If I recall correctly, horror used to belong to science fiction until it became a genre in of itself. I'm reluctant to make a claim that doesn't stand the test of time.

That said, I think its spectrum, where stories can have different elements of both with those only having elements of one being quite rare. How strongly a story resonates with one field determines whether or not it is science fiction or science fantasy.

I think what really matters is what you are supposed to be in awe about. Are you supposed to be in awe of the technology and its impact on society? Are you supposed to be in awe of magical powers and supernatural beings?

In that regard, Eclipse Phase is science fiction. Almost everything is flipped upside down because of technology. Most people can't live on Earth any more so they use technology to live elsewhere. They literally survive on technology. There is artificial habs in space, planet terraforming, nanofabrication, artificial morphs, resleeving, etc. It is hard to ignore the technology. On the other hand, there is PSI powers and the ETI, but most people don't believe that stuff let alone have any evidence for it.

Star Wars on the other hand is science fantasy. It doesn't matter how the Death Star works, how the ships work, how the beam weapons work, how the physics of the death star heat vents work, or even how the light sabers work. What often seem to matter is the force and those who use it. At times, even the Emperor seemed more interested about a new Jedi than the rebel threat.

In this regard, I would be temped to classify a story or setting that uses magic as science fiction if time was taken to explain how things worked. They could use magic to do things like power airships or make flaming swords for all I care, so long as the wizards and artificers stopped to take the time to explain things in a way that made sense. The magic could be portrayed as some form of laws of physics. Another example, I'm aware of a magical girl story where one of the protagonists refuses to accept the magic they use as magic. Every time she learns something new about the magic, she tries to square it with her understanding of science and engineering.

Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
This is all why a lot of

This is all why a lot of authors prefer the nonspecific 'speculative fiction'.

It's actually easy to discern Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror by how their readers respond to the piece:
Fantasy is an emotive response - the characters' trials are the entire point of the story.
Sci-Fi is an intellectual response - the setting is designed to make the audience think.
Horror is a visceral response - fear for life and all that.

GreyBrother GreyBrother's picture
jackgraham wrote:@GreyBrother

jackgraham wrote:
@GreyBrother, R/e non-Star Wars space fantasy settings... Yeah, I miss Spelljammer. And after chatting with Jason from Paizo about it a bit during Gen Con, I'm really interested to see what they'll be doing with Starfinder.
...

Thanks for the tip on Starfinder, this looks like i want to check it out when its there, then lament that i don't have enough time to play it!

While we're on lamenting, me and my gaming group had a long talk yesterday about Sci Fi as a genre and why seemingly video games for Sci Fi get a disproportionate high amount of hype even if Fantasy is the clear winner in the room and our conclusion was: There just is not enough around so even mediocre stuff can expect a certain amount of hype. One of the biggest Sci Fi franchises out there (Star Trek) has issues staying relevant after all and the general population is unaware of whats new in Science or actively despises it.

So taking Fantasy Tropes and transporting them to Science Fiction is a pretty logical step. But i do agree, we need more Idea SF and it needs to be in a popular medium, so movies, TV shows etc.

I put on my slopes and wizard tracks.

Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:In

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
In SciFi, the tech is generally "set" - Equipment works a certain way, creature abilities are specific and constant, and so on.

(...)

In SciFan, the tech does whatever the plot requires. It's window dressing that enables specific kinds of storytelling.

See, to me that's the difference between 'well-planned writing' and 'poorly-planned writing'. I don't see where genre enters into it.

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
When you try to make the tech in Space Fantasy matter, what you get is ***ing midichlorians.

I never understood the midichlorian hate. Aren't midichlorians just "window dressing that enables specific kinds of storytelling" (namely how objectively and quantifiably bad-ass Anakin is)?

Laskeutua wrote:
Fantasy ultimately is about the people, the setting is an excuse to prod them in particular ways. Sci-fi on the other hand is ultimately about the setting and how the characters interact with and navigate it.

That's probably the closest thing to a proper narrative-based definition, but it also runs the risk of conflating 'sci-fantasy' with plain old 'bad writing' -- can't sci-fantasy also have a consistent and worthwhile setting, instead of it just being an excuse? Han hints as much in The Force Awakens ("That's not how the force works!" <-- I love his delivery on that line).

Laskeutua wrote:
Fantasy is an emotive response - the characters' trials are the entire point of the story. Sci-Fi is an intellectual response - the setting is designed to make the audience think.
Horror is a visceral response - fear for life and all that.

But again, there are powerful counter-examples here. Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock is one that jumps to mind.

Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
Dilf_Pickle wrote:Laskeutua

Dilf_Pickle wrote:

Laskeutua wrote:
Fantasy ultimately is about the people, the setting is an excuse to prod them in particular ways. Sci-fi on the other hand is ultimately about the setting and how the characters interact with and navigate it.

That's probably the closest thing to a proper narrative-based definition, but it also runs the risk of conflating 'sci-fantasy' with plain old 'bad writing' -- can't sci-fantasy also have a consistent and worthwhile setting, instead of it just being an excuse? Han hints as much in The Force Awakens ("That's not how the force works!" <-- I love his delivery on that line).

Bad writing is bad writing, conflating such with an entire genre is... well, pretty blinkered.
But I said that it was an excuse, not just an excuse. Fantasy should have a consistent and worthwhile setting, hell setting inconsistencies ruin stories faster than most other methods because audiences are quick to notice them. But if the writer ever has to choose between focusing on the setting or focusing on the character, in the case of Fantasy, character wins almost every time. This is why a lot of Fantasy is basically just a rehashing of The Hero's Journey archetype. I'm going to cite a YA example here, partly because nostalgia made me dig them out of my bookshelf recently: the Rowan of Rin books by Emily Rodda - it's a good case study for laying the cards on the table of what makes Fantasy... Fantasy. The setting is quite minimalist, hell the first book barely leaves the protagonist's tiny rural village. The important detail here is that the setting often takes a back seat to the protagonist's struggle: the locale informs the nature of the struggle entailed, but the story is about their personal triumph against it. In short, the setting serves to make the character a believable person.

Quote:

Laskeutua wrote:
Fantasy is an emotive response - the characters' trials are the entire point of the story. Sci-Fi is an intellectual response - the setting is designed to make the audience think.
Horror is a visceral response - fear for life and all that.

But again, there are powerful counter-examples here. Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock is one that jumps to mind.

Good that you mentioned it, made the following rant shorter. Sci-fi has to have characters that matter and the audience can care about. The moment a reader stops giving a shit is the moment they put the book down and never pick it up again. But think about what started the problems with Khan specifically. A product of the Eugenics wars, the end result of which was humanity's anti-transhuman attitudes that linger right up to the latest chronological parts of the series (DS9s story arcs with Dr. Bashir is all about this). The setting is the star of the show, the setting is the interesting detail because of the depth given by details like those wars. In short, the characters exist to make the setting feel alive.

But you might be thinking: "wait, aren't they almost the same thing!?"
To which I say, "Yeah. That's why Science-Fantasy exists."

Really the difference between the two genres is hair splitting anyway, most times genre is slapped on to make it easier to market because buyers care about that detail.

One of the best examples of sci-fantasy that comes right out of the top of my head actually is the Final Fantasy games - Not the best example I'm sure, but it serves the following point: In the games magic and technology are treated interchangeably without a second though. They both simply are, and often times with little explanation. Both are just a thing people are capable of. But lets take an example out of number 7 because god damn it, give me the stick, it's my turn at the dead horse. Beginning of the game: standard cyberpunk fare. End of the game: standard heroic fantasy fare. Think about it, you start off eco-terrorists reacting against a technology that's literally eating the soul of the world - you end chasing down an individual who wishes to commune with that world-spirit to end human life and the actions leading up to that chase are personal, chief among them is the death of a friend.

Well, I'm officially overthinking this. Time to lie down.

Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
Laskeutua wrote:Dilf_Pickle

Laskeutua wrote:
Dilf_Pickle wrote:
That's probably the closest thing to a proper narrative-based definition, but it also runs the risk of conflating 'sci-fantasy' with plain old 'bad writing' -- can't sci-fantasy also have a consistent and worthwhile setting, instead of it just being an excuse? Han hints as much in The Force Awakens ("That's not how the force works!" <-- I love his delivery on that line).

Bad writing is bad writing, conflating such with an entire genre is... well, pretty blinkered.

Well yeah, that's my whole point. Narrative definitions of soft/hard/fantasy sci-fi fall apart more easily than potentially-unromantic scientific definitions; every story should have engaging characters in an immersive world, regardless of genre.

(I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the 'YA' example you bring up.)

Laskeutua wrote:
But if the writer ever has to choose between focusing on the setting or focusing on the character, in the case of Fantasy, character wins almost every time. This is why a lot of Fantasy is basically just a rehashing of The Hero's Journey archetype.

This might have been truer in the past, but IMHO sci-fi has matured enough since the Golden Age that robust character-based themes can be found outside of sci-fantasy. For instance, the two Iain M. Banks' Culture novels that I've read follow the Hero's journey quite closely. Of course, The Culture blurs the line a bit, but weighs predominantly into the non-fantasy corner.

I haven't read as much sci-fantasy, in which case the following attempt at a parallel might be irrelevant, but: the world-building in the high fantasy LotR is the stuff of legend. Tolkien was a hard-core linguistics geek, after all.

Laskeutua wrote:
Well, I'm officially overthinking this. Time to lie down.

Same here, so I sought some help from Wikipedia. I found this enlightening, if not necessarily conclusive:

Distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling claimed that the former was "the improbable made possible", while the latter was "the impossible made probable". As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantasy or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them.

ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
Spockachlorians.

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
See, to me that's the difference between 'well-planned writing' and 'poorly-planned writing'. I don't see where genre enters into it.
...
can't sci-fantasy also have a consistent and worthwhile setting, instead of it just being an excuse? Han hints as much in The Force Awakens ("That's not how the force works!" <-- I love his delivery on that line).

Internal consistency and interesting characters are genre-independedent. They're what makes a book good.

The difference is that in Star Wars, you didn't cry in outrage when Kylo Ren froze a blaster bolt in midair or the first time the Emperor shot lightning out of his hands because they weren't pre-existing force powers, and those elements didn't matter to the plot. It doesn't matter how the spaceships can fly, or how lightsabers work – what matters is the tale of betrayal, loss and heroism.

Now imagine if Spock could suddenly use his mind powers to deflect phasers, and no one paid it any mind.
In star trek, things are much more solid. Exceptions become central plot elements or emerge because of the plotline.

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
I never understood the midichlorian hate. Aren't midichlorians just "window dressing that enables specific kinds of storytelling" (namely how objectively and quantifiably bad-ass Anakin is)?

Midichlorians are offensive on two main levels:
1) They're an explanation that was unasked for and contrary to previously established lore. The Force was always couched in mystical trappings – an old religion, “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. “.
That was enough, we didn't need to know more. Midichlorians changes it from a spiritual concept to a biological one.
2) It was completely unnecessary: essentially, it violated Chekhov's Gun. The fact that the force is generated by tiny blood creatures contribute to the plot or setting in any way – determining Anakin's potential could have easily been done without midichlorians, say by having him beat the Jedi at a game of chance whilst they were all having dinner together, or asking questions no-one answered. Hell, just have the jedi sense it with their force powers.
Imagine if in Lord of the Rings that Gandalf took Blibo aside for five minutes and explained that magic works because their world is an advanced computer simulation and Wizards have admin access, and then have the rest of the film play out the same way without any change in actions or dialogue.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?

Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
Love your post titles, btw

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
The difference is that in Star Wars, you didn't cry in outrage when Kylo Ren froze a blaster bolt in midair or the first time the Emperor shot lightning out of his hands because they weren't pre-existing force powers, and those elements didn't matter to the plot. It doesn't matter how the spaceships can fly, or how lightsabers work – what matters is the tale of betrayal, loss and heroism.

Now imagine if Spock could suddenly use his mind powers to deflect phasers, and no one paid it any mind. In star trek, things are much more solid. Exceptions become central plot elements or emerge because of the plotline.

I'll see your Force powers, and raise you the Deflector Array.

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
Midichlorians are offensive on two main levels:
1) They're an explanation that was unasked for and contrary to previously established lore. The Force was always couched in mystical trappings – an old religion, “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. “.
That was enough, we didn't need to know more. Midichlorians changes it from a spiritual concept to a biological one.

I guess it's a matter of perspective: as I see it, the mystery's still in the midichlorians, and it potentially lends a sort of Gaia-esque sensibility to the whole affair.

To be clear, I don't think midichlorians were a good idea. I just think they didn't meet the outrage threshhold. Considering the wealth of travesties in the prequels, I feel like midichlorian outrage is the Comedy Third OptionTM.

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
2) It was completely unnecessary: essentially, it violated Chekhov's Gun. The fact that the force is generated by tiny blood creatures contribute to the plot or setting in any way – determining Anakin's potential could have easily been done without midichlorians, say by having him beat the Jedi at a game of chance whilst they were all having dinner together, or asking questions no-one answered. Hell, just have the jedi sense it with their force powers.

I can grant this point, but I'm just not a strong believer in Chekov's gun.

I guess it's just me. Shrug emoji.

Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
SPOCKACHLORIANS!

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
Laskeutua wrote:
Dilf_Pickle wrote:
That's probably the closest thing to a proper narrative-based definition, but it also runs the risk of conflating 'sci-fantasy' with plain old 'bad writing' -- can't sci-fantasy also have a consistent and worthwhile setting, instead of it just being an excuse? Han hints as much in The Force Awakens ("That's not how the force works!" <-- I love his delivery on that line).

Bad writing is bad writing, conflating such with an entire genre is... well, pretty blinkered.

Well yeah, that's my whole point. Narrative definitions of soft/hard/fantasy sci-fi fall apart more easily than potentially-unromantic scientific definitions; every story should have engaging characters in an immersive world, regardless of genre.

(I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the 'YA' example you bring up.)

Yep. But the readers still care about the distinction, which means writers also have to care in order to cater. The distinction has certain tropes and expectations that are axiomatic as well - Fantasy demands personal struggle, Sci-fi demands a fully realised setting - which is why these discussions, at least from a writer's perspective matter even if it is only hair-splitting at this point.

Also the YA example is damn good and imho, her best work.

Quote:
Laskeutua wrote:
But if the writer ever has to choose between focusing on the setting or focusing on the character, in the case of Fantasy, character wins almost every time. This is why a lot of Fantasy is basically just a rehashing of The Hero's Journey archetype.

This might have been truer in the past, but IMHO sci-fi has matured enough since the Golden Age that robust character-based themes can be found outside of sci-fantasy. For instance, the two Iain M. Banks' Culture novels that I've read follow the Hero's journey quite closely. Of course, The Culture blurs the line a bit, but weighs predominantly into the non-fantasy corner.

I haven't read as much sci-fantasy, in which case the following attempt at a parallel might be irrelevant, but: the world-building in the high fantasy LotR is the stuff of legend. Tolkien was a hard-core linguistics geek, after all.

You're right, to an extent. There are still hard expectations of the genre no matter how you treat it though. The hero's journey is still mired in sci-fi trapping in those stories and that's the point I was trying to make, setting still wins even with a narrow margin.
As for the LotR statement you bring up - The worldbuilding is the stuff of legends, but how much of it actually made it into the books? I've read the Silmarillian - and it's only a tiny sliver that managed to get in there. Characters just matter more.

Quote:
Laskeutua wrote:
Well, I'm officially overthinking this. Time to lie down.

Same here, so I sought some help from Wikipedia. I found this enlightening, if not necessarily conclusive:

Distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling claimed that the former was "the improbable made possible", while the latter was "the impossible made probable". As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantasy or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them.

I like that quote

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
The difference is that in Star Wars, you didn't cry in outrage when Kylo Ren froze a blaster bolt in midair or the first time the Emperor shot lightning out of his hands because they weren't pre-existing force powers, and those elements didn't matter to the plot. It doesn't matter how the spaceships can fly, or how lightsabers work – what matters is the tale of betrayal, loss and heroism.

Now imagine if Spock could suddenly use his mind powers to deflect phasers, and no one paid it any mind. In star trek, things are much more solid. Exceptions become central plot elements or emerge because of the plotline.

I'll see your Force powers, and raise you the Deflector Array.

Important distinction that you yourself raised in the above quote: improbable made probable. Deflector array is an advanced piece of technology, audience expectations are that technology in the setting is awesome and can do fantastic things. Unless Spock has explicitly explained that he has alien nanoware wired into his body - Spockaclorians - giving him powers, the audience will balk. We have to be at least to a small extent 'familiarised' with the technology and the concept before we accept is as a sci-fi audience.
In fantasy, you say a thing is a thing, and the audience will just buy it. Simple. Well, as long as that thing remains consistent and rules don't arbitrarily change on the reader, because the the reader will feel hoodwinked and won't want to read anymore.

"All elves know magic!"
"But why?"
"Because elves"
"Okay."
This is the extent a fantasy story has to justify setting elements. Sci-fi has to ground them in something believable.

Quote:
ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
Midichlorians are offensive on two main levels:
1) They're an explanation that was unasked for and contrary to previously established lore. The Force was always couched in mystical trappings – an old religion, “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. “.
That was enough, we didn't need to know more. Midichlorians changes it from a spiritual concept to a biological one.

I guess it's a matter of perspective: as I see it, the mystery's still in the midichlorians, and it potentially lends a sort of Gaia-esque sensibility to the whole affair.

To be clear, I don't think midichlorians were a good idea. I just think they didn't meet the outrage threshhold. Considering the wealth of travesties in the prequels, I feel like midichlorian outrage is the Comedy Third OptionTM.

I too feel the midichlorian outrage was a bit over the top but understand this: they arbitrarily changed the rules of the 'magic' in the setting. Even hard fantasy which makes no illusions about being grounded in anything remotely resembling reality cannot get away with this. If I write that all elves know magic, then three books later, actually only some elves know magic and leave it at that, the reader will be rightly shitted off. If the revelation comes that only some elves know magic, that's a plot point that must be addressed because the reader will demand an explanation for the change in rules. Lacking that explanation is a good way to alienate the audience. In short, it weakens the credibility of the fantasy you're trying to sell them on.

Quote:
ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
2) It was completely unnecessary: essentially, it violated Chekhov's Gun. The fact that the force is generated by tiny blood creatures contribute to the plot or setting in any way – determining Anakin's potential could have easily been done without midichlorians, say by having him beat the Jedi at a game of chance whilst they were all having dinner together, or asking questions no-one answered. Hell, just have the jedi sense it with their force powers.

I can grant this point, but I'm just not a strong believer in Chekov's gun.

I guess it's just me. Shrug emoji.

You've obviously never tried to write a novel - it's not a narrative device included by choice half the time, its a logical consequence of conservation of detail; there comes a point where your word count clips down so much that the proverbial gun is the only detail left that you can afford to keep in that scene.

The Star Wars example bugs me not because I care about the midichlorians thing (I think the star wars movies are 'okay' and don't put them on some kind of sacrosanct pedestal), but because it's bad writing. It arbitrarily changes setting rules (see above), provides explanation where none is needed (which is a conservation of detail thing), introduces plot elements that remain completely unexplored (X-files fans lament that very same thing), and makes the audience wonder why you can't just give midichlorian transplants to manufacture Jedi (you've given a physical, tangible explanation for your magic, which is supposed to have this whole 'chosen one' vibe to it. You've violated and watered down the tone of the fantasy).

Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
Star Warlocks?

jackgraham wrote:
Or is this something no one actually cares about? :)

I guess you have your answer now ;)

Laskeutua wrote:
Also the YA example is damn good and imho, her best work.

I'll have to add it to the list. Thanks for the suggestion.

Laskeutua wrote:
You're right, to an extent. There are still hard expectations of the genre no matter how you treat it though. The hero's journey is still mired in sci-fi trapping in those stories and that's the point I was trying to make, setting still wins even with a narrow margin.

In Use of Weapons, the setting absolutely takes a back-seat to Zakalwe's struggles.

Laskeutua wrote:
As for the LotR statement you bring up - The worldbuilding is the stuff of legends, but how much of it actually made it into the books? I've read the Silmarillian - and it's only a tiny sliver that managed to get in there. Characters just matter more.

I think we may be talking at cross purposes here. I don't disagree with anything anyone in this thread has said as pertains to what makes sci-fantasy a worthwhile and valuable genre of literature. But I'm talking about strict definitions. The narrative one is just too subjective from a taxonomic point of view.

Laskeutua wrote:
Important distinction that you yourself raised in the above quote: improbable made probable. Deflector array is an advanced piece of technology, audience expectations are that technology in the setting is awesome and can do fantastic things.

But it's still given arbitrary and unannounced powers on a regular basis for the sake of a given storyline. Which is fine, if one accepts the scientific definitions of hard/soft/fantasy sci-fi.

Laskeutua wrote:
You've obviously never tried to write a novel - it's not a narrative device included by choice half the time, its a logical consequence of conservation of detail; there comes a point where your word count clips down so much that the proverbial gun is the only detail left that you can afford to keep in that scene.

I just see it misused so often that I wonder if there wouldn't be less bad writing in the world if people were to just forget about it.

Laskeutua wrote:
The Star Wars example bugs me not because I care about the midichlorians thing (I think the star wars movies are 'okay' and don't put them on some kind of sacrosanct pedestal), but because it's bad writing. It arbitrarily changes setting rules (see above), provides explanation where none is needed (which is a conservation of detail thing), introduces plot elements that remain completely unexplored (X-files fans lament that very same thing), and makes the audience wonder why you can't just give midichlorian transplants to manufacture Jedi (you've given a physical, tangible explanation for your magic, which is supposed to have this whole 'chosen one' vibe to it. You've violated and watered down the tone of the fantasy).

I'm more of a Trekkie myself, but I sympathise with my... Star Warriors?

ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
Yes, the deflector is FANTASTIC, isn't it...

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
I'll see your Force powers, and raise you the Deflector Array.

But it's still given arbitrary and unannounced powers on a regular basis for the sake of a given storyline. Which is fine, if one accepts the scientific definitions of hard/soft/fantasy sci-fi.

They're not that arbritrary – the Deflector Array is the bit of the ship that Emits things. It being configurable is the whole point.
More relevantly, consider how it's used – it's never just turned on and the problem goes away. Either it doesn't work, which fuels the plot, or it's use is the product of an episodes worth of investigation into an unusual event or entity – they spend the plot analysing the Wierd tech, with the deflector dish being the mechanism by which a positive interaction is caused (“Sir, we may be able to [Use/Modify] the Deflector Array to generate a [Plot Element] to [Interact] with [Plot Element] in order to [Prevent the Enterprise being reduced to a fine paste].”)

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
I can grant this point, but I'm just not a strong believer in Chekov's gun.

I just see it misused so often that I wonder if there wouldn't be less bad writing in the world if people were to just forget about it.

That is why you fail.
Seriously, that would be absolutely horrendous. Ever read a story where the author had a burning need to describe the furniture in a room that has no plot significance, or gone into deep, abiding detail about the character's eating habits?
When you're literally screaming “Get On With It!” at a book, it tends to be a sign of bad writing.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?

Dilf_Pickle Dilf_Pickle's picture
Why did the chicken get to the other side of the road?

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
They're not that arbritrary – the Deflector Array is the bit of the ship that Emits things. It being configurable is the whole point.
More relevantly, consider how it's used – it's never just turned on and the problem goes away. Either it doesn't work, which fuels the plot, or it's use is the product of an episodes worth of investigation into an unusual event or entity – they spend the plot analysing the Wierd tech, with the deflector dish being the mechanism by which a positive interaction is caused (“Sir, we may be able to [Use/Modify] the Deflector Array to generate a [Plot Element] to [Interact] with [Plot Element] in order to [Prevent the Enterprise being reduced to a fine paste].”)

Most of the above also applies to the unnanounced and 'not so arbitrary' powers of The Force. I mean, seriously, it's called "The Force". Are we supposed to be surprised that it can exert or manipulate forces?

This is all interesting to discuss -- hence my discussing it -- but not really the basis for a definition.

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
Dilf_Pickle wrote:
I can grant this point, but I'm just not a strong believer in Chekov's gun.

I just see it misused so often that I wonder if there wouldn't be less bad writing in the world if people were to just forget about it.

That is why you fail.
Seriously, that would be absolutely horrendous. Ever read a story where the author had a burning need to describe the furniture in a room that has no plot significance, or gone into deep, abiding detail about the character's eating habits?
When you're literally screaming “Get On With It!” at a book, it tends to be a sign of bad writing.

There can be a middle ground between 'painfully boring explanation of everything on a coffee table' and "Hello Mister Only-Left-Handed-Character-In-The-Book. Have you seen a left-handed killer around here somewhere? Dun dun DUNNNN", you know.

In fact, the minimum threshhold for violating Chekov's gun is to describe two things. I'd hardly call that "horrendous".

ORCACommander ORCACommander's picture
I will mention 2 words my

I will mention 2 words my friends, Trains and Enzyme Bonded Concrete

ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
Because it was in his way. No mere road shall bar his holy path!

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
Most of the above also applies to the unnanounced and 'not so arbitrary' powers of The Force. I mean, seriously, it's called "The Force". Are we supposed to be surprised that it can exert or manipulate forces?
Sure... and also grant Precognition, ESP, telepathy, perfect body control, fuel vision quests, and when you die your body might vanish and you turn into a blue ghost.
The only thing that wouldn't fit as a force power is creating matter.
And going back to the key element, the way they work isn't relevant to the plot.

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
This is all interesting to discuss -- hence my discussing it -- but not really the basis for a definition.

This is a very interesting discussion :D
I don't see the problem - it's a definition based around what the story's focused around. Where's the difference between this and saying something's a comedy because it focuses on humor?

Dilf_Pickle wrote:
In fact, the minimum threshhold for violating Chekov's gun is to describe two things. I'd hardly call that "horrendous".

I see your point. It's really one of those rules that needs to be in place so that you understand when and how it should be broken, like "Show, Don't Tell".

ORCACommander wrote:
I will mention 2 words my friends, Trains and Enzyme Bonded Concrete

Uhh... okay?
... Some context would be useful.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?

ORCACommander ORCACommander's picture
Quote:That is why you fail.

Quote:
That is why you fail.
Seriously, that would be absolutely horrendous. Ever read a story where the author had a burning need to describe the furniture in a room that has no plot significance, or gone into deep, abiding detail about the character's eating habits?
When you're literally screaming “Get On With It!” at a book, it tends to be a sign of bad writing.

That was the contest :P Specifically i am referring to the commonwealth saga

ThatWhichNeverWas ThatWhichNeverWas's picture
Hamilton does that a lot.

Ahh. Yeah, I can see that.
I mean, I get why he did it, particularly regarding the trains due to their involvement in the [Plot Element], but it did smack of him getting way too enthusiastic about his worldbuilding.

I'll admit I'm more accepting about extraneous detail when I get the impression it comes from the author getting excited about the work.

In the past we've had to compensate for weaknesses, finding quick solutions that only benefit a few.
But what if we never need to feel weak or morally conflicted again?

Laskeutua Laskeutua's picture
ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:Ahh.

ThatWhichNeverWas wrote:
Ahh. Yeah, I can see that.
I mean, I get why he did it, particularly regarding the trains due to their involvement in the [Plot Element], but it did smack of him getting way too enthusiastic about his worldbuilding.

I'll admit I'm more accepting about extraneous detail when I get the impression it comes from the author getting excited about the work.

Some can go too far even there though.
The late Tom Clancy for example.
I mean, his books are just military hardware porn really.
I'm not knocking his writing, but I am pointing out that it had that 'thin veneer of causality' thing going that porn plots generally start with. Here's some intrigue and espionage to get the pages turning then BAM, several pages of lustfully explaining every minute detail of [insert gun here], presumably written while soft music played in his candle-lit study.

Least his research was rock-solid.

jKaiser jKaiser's picture
The really fun question is

The really fun question is "Where does Cyberpunk fit in between the two?"

To me, sci-fi proper is a very small genre where the main character is science or a specific aspect of science. Michael Crichton would be the archetypical example of this approach, since every one of his stories was basically "Here is a scientific thing, now let's see what happens when you let it out of its cage." I'd say a downside to this is that most authors aren't scientists or experts in that field, and errors are inevitable. And not least because science keeps evolving. See also the Deinonychus vs Velociraptor distinction that was in debate and switched in the time it took for Jurassic Park to be published.

Thing is, you could theoretically do that in any setting. Sure, it's usually near-future and beyond, but I'd say that good alt-History is sci-fi when it follows, say, a scientifically-advanced society not collapsing into a bloated, ineffectual, corrupt thing waiting for a Caesar and displaced tribes to finish it off. It's about the effects of science, and as plenty of science fiction classics have proven, humanity as we know it isn't even necessarily needed. Hell, well-researched and meticulous steampunk could be viewed as science fiction from a strict standpoint. As has been said above, it's whether the science serves the plot or IS the plot.

I've never liked "Science fantasy" as a term, since it's so often used as a perjorative to indicate something is "lesser" than Sci-Fi. Not saying anyone here's doing that, mind. This has been a good discussion all round. But I'd say the difference is this: Science Fiction is meant to evoke emotions of awe toward progress and possibility, and provoke thought. I say this meaning it does so in the same way Horror evokes catharsis through fear and dread, or Drama through...well, voyeurism. Or whatever that emotion is. Fantasy, science or otherwise, is more about just general escapism, where escapism here is opposite thought provocation. And it's obviously not a binary state; I'd call MacBeth a more thoughtful story than a fantasy, despite witchcraft, prophesy, and ghosts being prominent.

I feel like this is a good place to mention this, but I work as a fantasy illustrator, and there's a credo in that field. "Believability is more important than realism." It's been touched on above, making sure the universe makes sense and is internally consistent. It's why we can buy into the beautiful ridiculousness of Warhammer 40k no matter how many laws of physics it gleefully breaks over its knee, while the film Day After Tomorrow is a good way to strain a friendship with a meteorologist. Which is where I think the Science Fiction/Fantasy split causes the most problems, because when someone messes up an attempt to make a drama out of science, it's...painful. But when the focus is more on the plot, it can even be part of the fun.

LuisCarlos17f LuisCarlos17f's picture
Posthumans Studios creating a

Posthumans Studios creating a space-fantasy rpg? I love the idea!!

I like EP, it is cool, but sometimes I miss more hope in the background, too paranoid.

Also I would like "Legend of the Five Rings" and "7th Sea" but in a atompunk world (middle of XX century) because is easier to change timeline by time-travelers/chrononauts and superheroes (effect "Superman17", like comic where Superman arrest Hitler).

But mixing fantasy and sci-fi has got a challenge, and it's the "knights vs pirates", the armours and shields againts firearms. It is gameplay vs realism.

The Master Confucius said: “The noble man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony.” (Anaclet 13:23).

Chernoborg Chernoborg's picture
A bit less seriously...

Saw this recently and felt it was appropriate to the conversation :)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd5yB9Vmd6I

Current Status: Highly Distracted building Gatecrashing systems in Universe Sandbox!

Fenrir Fenrir's picture
In my personal opinion,

In my personal opinion, Science Fantasy is just Fantasy with sufficiently advanced magic. And Fantasy is about people doing people things. The plot and setting serve to gove the people context, but the people and their people things are the meat of the story. Science fiction is also about people, but also how technology changes those people and how people change the technology. Science fantasy asks "what would you do if X?" Science fiction asks "What would happen if we did X?"

In this way Star Wars is science fantasy because its about the people and their people things. The science and the politics and the space monk magic serve to give the prople and their people things context. Star trek is science fiction because its about how the technology changes the people and the people change the technology. There are still important peoplr things going on, hut the primary story is usually centered around how technology is shaping events.

This is probably part of why DS9 and Voyager get flack: Voyager is more about the people and their people things, with the "lost in space" plot just serving as context. DS9 is even more so. On the Star Wars side, Episode 1 gets a lot of flak for the inverse: its less about people doing people things and more about special effects and setting up episode 2, which is better because the people are doing people things again.

LuisCarlos17f LuisCarlos17f's picture
I wonder alien races from

I wonder alien races from that new space fantasy rpg to can be used in my own Eclipse Phase mash-up.

Will we see anything like space-marinces againts cyberdemons?

And what if eache biomorph has his own soul? A ergo could suffer visions of the souls by previous dead biomorphs.

The Master Confucius said: “The noble man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony.” (Anaclet 13:23).

SquireNed SquireNed's picture
The way I handle this in my

The way I handle this in my science fantasy setting is that magical resurrection essentially restores a character from their most recent living state (including a terminated digital simulation), while physical restoration via backup restores a character from that point.

Of course, my setting is perhaps very far into the future, and since magic came about as a result of sufficiently advanced technology it follows rules that perhaps would not make sense for a universe with magic as a fundamental goal: humanity in my setting went through a transhuman period long before they figured out how to break the universe with FTL or magic.

Creator of Street Rats, a CC-BY cyberpunk roleplaying game.