Science Fiction Or Fantasy?

(Note to readers: I am republishing some oldies but goodies from my old blog. When I shifted to Squarespace version six, somehow my best, most popular posts never made the shift over. So I had to dig them up and re-post them. This is an old post, from about a year and a half ago.)

I have a lot of stories that I want to tell. One of them has been brewing in the back of my mind for some years now. I've always thought of it as a science fiction story but the more I think on it, I have to change how I think about the genre it will be categorized in. It really is going to be a work of fantasy with science fiction elements.

 

Why? Let me explain. Science fiction deals strictly with the natural world, or that is what my current understanding of the genre tells me. Fantasy, on the other hand, deals with myth and the supernatural, be they ghosts, demons, gods, or God - and here is my point: this next trilogy I plan to write most certainly deals with God. He, like the God I worship, is not bound by natural laws and He exists outside of time and space. Although the story will deal primarily with politics, war, social themes, intrigues and rising technology it also deals with prophets, religion and God. There will be no magic, vampires, elves, fairies, zombies, werewolves or the like in this story. Still, that three letter word changes the genre.

 

Another thing I have noticed is that many fans of fantasy have increasingly become militant about wanting their fantasy to be realistic/historical or set in a more natural world. It is as if they are trying to strip fantasy of the supernatural. According to the popular belief today as I understand it, magical systems are supposed to be explained as if one is dealing in scientific endeavor. Many of these people don't like and don't want to see talking trolls or animals in certain works or any fairy tale elements of any kind. Personally, I'm offended by this. Fantasy, myth and fairy tale will always be entertwined. There is no way to separate the three and to try to do so in some misguided attempt to bring the rational to what is necessarily the irrational, the dream, the myth is silly. If these kinds of things integral to fantasy bother a person, then perhaps they should stick to science fiction. Fantasy by its very definition is supernatural storytelling. It deals directly and engages the creatures and beings that inhabit the supernatural world.

I don't have an issue with rigid, science-like standards for magical systems, if that's what the author has chosen to write about in the story. But ultimately for me scientific laws in fantasy don't make much sense since magic does not follow natural law. That's why it is magic. If it does follow scientific laws, it is no longer magic but mere technology and if things in a fantasy world are explained away through science, it is not fantasy.

Therefore, a book that deals with a supernatural being, no matter how many other science fiction elements are in the story is a work of fantasy. I think I'm finally fine with that. After all, even though I love both, I have always preferred fantasy.

My Thoughts On Fantasy and Magical Systems

Magical systems are part and parcel of the fantasy genre, or rather I should say, magic itself. The idea of a magical system that works on certain laws, however, seems to be a newer phenomenon. Such as how magic works in any given "world", who is able to use it, and clear explanations about what governs the magic and the consequences to using it, if there are any. Is it high magic or low magic? Is it based on some mysterious force or supernatural phenomenon or is it based on scientific principles (or pseudo-science would be more like it.)

There are things I like about this and things that I dislike. This is my issue with this phenomenon, while I like the idea of figuring out and explaining your magic system and showing that there are direct consequences that come from using it, I do not feel this is necessary at all in a fantasy story. Want to explain every detail in your system and how it works? Fine, do that. If it is done well it enhances the story but it isn't needed. In my opinion it brings fantasy closer to science fiction and as far as I'm concerned, the two, while sharing a few important characteristics, are markedly different. When I want "science", I read science fiction. I see no good reason to write fantasy and hide behind a science fiction cloak.

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Magic is not science and I would go so far to say that it really has nothing whatever to do with science. The wonder and adventure in science fiction is partly due to the scientific or quasi-scientific ideas and technology in its stories. The wonder and adventure in fantasy is partly due to the mysterious and unexplained, basically its magic. Ever heard the saying: "Leave a bit of the mystery?" I think this quality is important in fantasy.

Unfortunately it seems to me that fantasy as a genre is suffering from an inferiority complex these days. So many see fantasy as the bottom-scraping dregs of all genres; childish, foolish and stupid. Are we fantasy readers so embarrassed by the tropes and concepts in fantasy that we would like fantasy stories to "pass" as science fiction instead? I've read one too many forum threads of fantasy readers complaining about magic systems not being explained or not making rational sense and while it might be a nice layer upon the story to have a well explained, logical magical system not all fantasy stories require or this nor should they have this. For a story of high fantasy, it takes away any mythical feel or quality to the story, in my opinion. This doesn't mean that I think that there should not be consequences to the use of magic in a story. Take for instance Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In it, magic is more of an omnipresent, mysterious thing. There is no actual magical system that is explained or laid out plainly. Magic is infused everywhere in Middle-Earth. It is also used by many beings in that world, great and small, such as the elves who have their own relationship with magical craft, the skill of the dwarves who have fashioned their own magical objects and especially the Maiar and the Valar. Tolkien's magic is wonderment and subtlety. In fact, it works more like divine power than like magic and when coming from beings like the maiar and the valar who have remained in union with Illuvatar, it probably is divine power. Certain objects are infused with magic. Some with evil magic and others, while not intrinsically evil can be misleading and deceptive when used and therein lies their danger. Objects such as Galadriel's mirror, the Palantirs,  the rings of power and most of all, and full of evil, the One Ring. There are terrible consequences to using some of these things but Tolkien did not have to write out any magical system to get this idea across to readers.

Perhaps I'm just being a cantankerous old curmudgeon. After all Brandon Sanderson has great magical systems in his books - or so I hear (I'm getting ready to read the Alloy of Law) and like I've said before, if done well it can be a good thing. But not all fantasy stories need it. Please, for the love of the Valar, let some of the mystery of magic remain.

Rise of the Red King Released!

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Rise of the Red King is finally for sale at Amazon and Smashwords. Look for it on other retailers next week!

Click on the links below to purchase:

Amazon

 

Smashwords

Rapheth is a prince in exile. His closest friends have fled with him out to lands unknown to them. And in these places unknown dangers await them. Especially one very well known danger birthed in Egi that has spread far and wide. 

They meet a family of alchemists in Pallinona who are delighted to help them discover the secrets of the thaumaturgical device Parso has brought. But foes strike again and they find themselves fleeing to the vast dark forests of the Great Ridge where they met an unexpected ally and come across a man with knowledge that will change the course of history. After the standoff with Abgaron, Rapheth finds himself growing dangerously far away from the spiritual help he needs to endure the challenges ahead. He struggles with taking on the burden of kingship and with doubt in prophecy, as his future looks bleaker and his soul becomes mysteriously darker the farther away they travel from Hybron. He is forced to deal with an external struggle that will forever change his friendships. 

The young prince must battle foes within and without and retake what is rightfully his. Rapheth must travel not only a physical journey but a spiritual one before he is ready for the mantle of kingship. A part of this vast undertaking are his supporters at home; the prophet Ilim and the desert prophetess Anet and others throughout the land who must continually prepare the way in Hybron for the return of the the Red King, all the while dodging escalated attacks from his enemies, the primary one being the Black King.