Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

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azap
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Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby azap » Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:32 am

Hi, I am a new author, who is not very well read. After giving a short story to my father-in-law of 70, he had commented that my sci fi story was not supposed to be fantasy. I looked at some of the other readings he recommended all from the 1940's-70's. I could not get through them (personal taste). It made me think that modern sci-fi has a bit more of a fantasy element to it. What I mean is less describing every bolt of a make believe engine and more, description of how cool the engine works, leaving a bit for the reader to imagine. What are other people's thoughts? Am I just not a sci fi guy, like I believe myself to be, or is there a trend change with the times? Coincidentally, I have noticed this same type of commentry with the "older" 60 and above people, less of it with people in their 40's and none with 10-30's.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Strycher » Mon Jul 02, 2012 5:13 am

The long and short if it is that "Science Fiction" used to cover all fiction genres that had even a hint of a science element. (Think A Princess of Mars, John Carter of Mars--those came out at the beginning of the 1900s, and clearly have fantasy-feeling elements.)

And then some folks (from back in the day, I wanna say around the '50s), decided that "Science Fiction" should mean a story where the Idea is the point. And the Idea is some sort of scientific principle, technology, or other realistic, speculative use of a concept that is at least relatively well understood when the story is written.

So instead of calling it all "Science Fiction" they wanted to call all the soft science premises and Character stories "Speculative Fiction" (which would also include fantasy and some horror), and reserve "Science Fiction" for only Scientific Idea stories.

There was some factioning (not sure who sided with what, but I know Mike Resnick has said he still calls it all Science Fiction regardless of if it's an Idea story or a Character story or Space Opera or whatever).

Now, there are a lot of subgenres in the Speculative Fiction heading--and those are mostly there so that book stores can organize their wares so that readers can find what they want. The end result is that "Science Fiction" refers to a lot of different subgenres like Cyber Punk and Space Opera, and your story probably falls under one of those Science Fiction subcategories. (And now, what the "Science Fiction" preservists called Science Fiction is actually referred to as Hard Sci-fi.)

Bottom line: Sounds like your father-in-law is one of those guys who wants only Hard Sci-fi to be called Science Fiction and everything else to fall under a different heading. wotf017 I would ignore him. Write the stories you want, and worry about classifying them when you have to find a market to sell them in.

There are still people who write in the Hard Sci-fi genre that your father-in-law prefers--it didn't vanish with the old guys--we have several on this board, actually.

Disclaimer: I wasn't alive to witness this progression, and I have no formal education on the matter. This is just my understanding of what happened based on what I've read. Anyone has better information should please correct me.

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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby morshana » Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:24 am

Great points, Krystal.

When I took Science Fiction in Theory and Practice in college, the professor said science fiction is about questioning the "I", about questioning identity, questioning what it means to be human, etc. Stories that don't do that, fall into other categories.

Of course, this is really about trying to label something to market to people and their expectations of the books they are picking up.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby azap » Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:57 am

Thanks that stuff makes sense.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby s_c_baker » Mon Jul 02, 2012 9:30 am

morshana wrote:Great points, Krystal.

When I took Science Fiction in Theory and Practice in college, the professor said science fiction is about questioning the "I", about questioning identity, questioning what it means to be human, etc. Stories that don't do that, fall into other categories.

Of course, this is really about trying to label something to market to people and their expectations of the books they are picking up.

Typical academia. Someone asks for a way to classify genre by elements and we throw stuff out about underlying theme. wotf001

A really fascinating (albeit academic) read about what makes SF SF is http://www.amazon.com/The-Seven-Beautie ... 0819568899

Amazon review wrote:Csicsery-Ronay's seven "beauties" of science fiction are: fictive neology (words), fictive novums (new thing), future history, imaginary science, the science-fictional sublime, the science-fictional grotesque, and the technologiade.


These things are present to greater or lesser degree in SF, but SF stories usually do have one or more of them present.

Amazing read, if you can deal with the academic tone. Csicsery-Ronay's examples are pertinent, interesting, and illuminating.

You'll note that, as I enjoy being contrary and confusing, I haven't specified what that "s" in SF stands for. wotf007
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby LDWriter2 » Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:50 pm

azap wrote:Hi, I am a new author, who is not very well read. After giving a short story to my father-in-law of 70, he had commented that my sci fi story was not supposed to be fantasy. I looked at some of the other readings he recommended all from the 1940's-70's. I could not get through them (personal taste). It made me think that modern sci-fi has a bit more of a fantasy element to it. What I mean is less describing every bolt of a make believe engine and more, description of how cool the engine works, leaving a bit for the reader to imagine. What are other people's thoughts? Am I just not a sci fi guy, like I believe myself to be, or is there a trend change with the times? Coincidentally, I have noticed this same type of commentry with the "older" 60 and above people, less of it with people in their 40's and none with 10-30's.



Some interesting comments and explanations already. But I believe there is still new SF that is science based. I am reading a space opera series that I believe could almost double as hard SF. And speaking of Hard SF that could be why they invented the name. To set it aside from the more fantasy type of SF.

But there are many types of SF these days. From Steampunk, cyberpunk to hard SF and everything in-between. So you should due able to find 40's to 70's type. But if you don't find the type you want--write it. wotf007
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Mike Resnick » Sat Jul 14, 2012 11:42 pm

It's all marketing nomenclature. You just write the best story you can and let the publisher worry about what to call it. I am considered and labeled a science fiction writer, amd have written a total of 4 novels that have been marketed as fantasy -- yet I doubt that I've had 5 serious science-fictional extrapolations in 70 novels and 250 stories, and my personal knowledge and interest in science barely extends to changing a tire. I write what I want, they call it what they want, and if the reader's happy, then we're all happy.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby soulmirror » Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:23 am

Mike Resnick wrote:It's all marketing nomenclature. You just write the best story you can and let the publisher worry about what to call it. I am considered and labeled a science fiction writer, amd have written a total of 4 novels that have been marketed as fantasy -- yet I doubt that I've had 5 serious science-fictional extrapolations in 70 novels and 250 stories, and my personal knowledge and interest in science barely extends to changing a tire. I write what I want, they call it what they want, and if the reader's happy, then we're all happy.


It's good to know (and to HEAR it reinforced by those who know, for we just setting out) that big creative success can also refuse to be pigeon-holed! Money and Marketing think smaller and more timidly than Imagination and Art!
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Alex Kane » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:59 am

Mike Resnick wrote:It's all marketing nomenclature. You just write the best story you can and let the publisher worry about what to call it. I am considered and labeled a science fiction writer, amd have written a total of 4 novels that have been marketed as fantasy -- yet I doubt that I've had 5 serious science-fictional extrapolations in 70 novels and 250 stories, and my personal knowledge and interest in science barely extends to changing a tire. I write what I want, they call it what they want, and if the reader's happy, then we're all happy.

This is such a relief to hear, as someone who writes science fiction from a philosophy, art, and English literature background, as opposed to one in biology or engineering. Especially coming from you, Mike. Thank you.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby dantzel » Sun Jul 15, 2012 5:37 pm

Yes, this BA English graduate also gave a big sigh of relief. I keep feeling like I shot myself in the foot by pursuing English and Dance instead of other languages or history. It still would have been helpful, but I guess that's why I married a microbiologist!
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby bobsandiego » Mon Jul 16, 2012 3:47 pm

it is a real fuzzy division. I do expect that the S in my SF be plausible, however I have been called a tough room.
Fantasy used the redhead stepchild of the sec fix rows, but for years now it has taken over the shelfs more and more. Personally that's sad for me. I only write SF horror very few attempts at fantasy.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby AMcCarter » Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:42 am

dantzel wrote:Yes, this BA English graduate also gave a big sigh of relief. I keep feeling like I shot myself in the foot by pursuing English and Dance instead of other languages or history. It still would have been helpful, but I guess that's why I married a microbiologist!


Given my desire to write hard sci-fi and my inability to do so owing to a gross lack of knowledge in the field, I wish I had focused more on science and mathematics in college. Ah well, I have my anthropology and languages.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby dantzel » Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:23 am

AMcCarter wrote:
dantzel wrote:Yes, this BA English graduate also gave a big sigh of relief. I keep feeling like I shot myself in the foot by pursuing English and Dance instead of other languages or history. It still would have been helpful, but I guess that's why I married a microbiologist!


Given my desire to write hard sci-fi and my inability to do so owing to a gross lack of knowledge in the field, I wish I had focused more on science and mathematics in college. Ah well, I have my anthropology and languages.


My husband helped me write a hard sci-fi flash recently - he worked out the science for me. I'm not sure I would have been able to deal with getting a science degree because I don't find it as interesting unless I can find some application (like for a story), so it's definitely good he's all about the science and math. I guess I'll just have to turn into an excellent brain-picker.

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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby bobsandiego » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:52 pm

Don't get too hung up on creditenials. You can write SF without a science degree, you can even do hard sf. Nancy Kress and Greg Bear both are humanities type degree people, but by working at the research they turn out fine hard SF.
I'm trying to write serious SF and I am an unlettered fool without any sort of degree.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:22 pm

AMcCarter wrote:
dantzel wrote:Yes, this BA English graduate also gave a big sigh of relief. I keep feeling like I shot myself in the foot by pursuing English and Dance instead of other languages or history. It still would have been helpful, but I guess that's why I married a microbiologist!


Given my desire to write hard sci-fi and my inability to do so owing to a gross lack of knowledge in the field, I wish I had focused more on science and mathematics in college. Ah well, I have my anthropology and languages.


Anthropology and languages can be a great basis for hard SF. Jack McDevitt has made roughly half his career based on archaeological SF.

And I'm only an educated layman, but I do OK with hard SF (in my completely un-humble opinion). You don't have to get the numbers right to be plausible.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby izanobu » Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:38 pm

Plus I've found even if you do work really hard to get the science and numbers right, there will still be readers who think you are wrong. I choose not to worry about and just do the mathy bits and science that I need for the story, knowing that someone out there will think I'm wrong. wotf008

There are also good online lectures from places like Yale on astronomy and stuff, if anyone wants to continue their education for free.

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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby AMcCarter » Tue Jul 17, 2012 6:45 pm

izanobu wrote:Plus I've found even if you do work really hard to get the science and numbers right, there will still be readers who think you are wrong. I choose not to worry about and just do the mathy bits and science that I need for the story, knowing that someone out there will think I'm wrong. wotf008

There are also good online lectures from places like Yale on astronomy and stuff, if anyone wants to continue their education for free.


MIT is also putting their courses online for free. I keep forgetting.
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby soulmirror » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:03 am

Given my desire to write hard sci-fi and my inability to do so owing to a gross lack of knowledge in the field, I wish I had focused more on science and mathematics in college. Ah well, I have my anthropology and languages.


Here's an old thread that might provide answers to some tricky 'hard sci-fi" questions we writers have!

CORRECT SCIENCE FOR SCI-FI WRITERS:

http://forum.writersofthefuture.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=616
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:17 am

In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, people memorized books so they would never be lost.

For the Writers and Illustrators of the Future forums, we have Scott. He remembers EVERYTHING around here!
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby soulmirror » Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:55 am

He remembers EVERYTHING around here!


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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby Nick_T » Wed Jul 18, 2012 2:12 pm

In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, people memorized books so they would never be lost.

For the Writers and Illustrators of the Future forums, we have Scott. He remembers EVERYTHING around here


Does this mean we have to burn Scott at 451F?
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Re: Has the line between sci fi and fantasy changed?

Postby soulmirror » Wed Jul 18, 2012 3:30 pm

Nick_T wrote:
Does this mean we have to burn Scott at 451F?


If it means I'm in bed with Julie Christie AND enjoying a good comic book ?... sure, I volunteer to strike a match at least to my rejected stories I got in a shoebox under my desk, yeah! wotf008

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Though, obviously, one must reflect upon one's priorities in life, vis-a-vis Julie vs reading a comic book!
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