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Beemer

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SF subgenre [May. 21st, 2007|11:55 pm]
Beemer
So, on the subject of speculative fiction, we've got our two big divisions, sci-fi and fantasy, right?

Sci-fi is often called the "fiction of ideas", and is all about exploring what the world would be like if X were true, and it has a particular set of tropes (starships, aliens, new technologies, etc.) that go along with that.

Whereas fantasy is about telling mythic tales about archetypes -- the trickster, the hero, the journey through the underworld, etc. -- and it has another set of tropes (dragons, magic, swords, etc.) that resonate with that kind of story.

Now, we have some stories (Star Wars being perhaps the best example) where the author uses the tropes of sci-fi to tell a mythic tale in the fantasy mode. The story doesn't explore the implications of space travel, it uses the spaceship as a substitute for the hero's trusty steed. These kinds of stories get called "science fantasy".

My question for you, dear reader, is what would you call the inverse of science fantasy? That is, a story that explores the implications of various speculative statements made involving fantasy tropes? A story that doesn't use the dragon as a symbol of greed and power, but inquires what are the consequences of dragons being top predators in a primarily thaumivorous ecology?

Because I think that's a lot of what I'm interested in writing.
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Comments:
From: toosuto
2007-05-22 07:37 am (UTC)
I would call it awesome...
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From: orbitalmechanic
2007-05-22 10:36 am (UTC)
(a) I just read a shocking (to me) argument that SF goes with utopia and not with fantasy. I understand the specific critical work being done here but GET OVER IT.

(b) Do you read Strange Horizons? I think you would like it.
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From: orbitalmechanic
2007-05-22 10:36 am (UTC)
In case it was unclear, of course the "get over it" was not to you!!
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-22 11:02 pm (UTC)
(a) If anything, it seems to me that utopia ought to be a subcategory of SF.

(My story idea does have a big chunk of topianism in it. What is it if it's neither utopian nor dystopian, just different-topian?)

(b) I don't, but I think you're right -- looks very likeable. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: x10
2007-05-22 12:47 pm (UTC)

Me too.

Well... I have been struggling with this "genre label" a bit myself. "Fantastic Science" is stupid. "Mythic Science" was a contenter but it still defies the contemporary value of the work. Most of my stuff is revolving around religion and the nature of reality and really is probably more in the speculative line of sci-fi. This is a great question and I look forward to seeing other responses.
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[User Picture]From: x10
2007-05-22 12:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Me too.

"Speculative Fantasy?"
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-23 04:10 am (UTC)

Re: Me too.

That's a pretty good one.
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[User Picture]From: quirkstreet
2007-05-22 01:27 pm (UTC)
"Fantastic science"? "Phantognosis"? "Phantology"?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2007-05-22 02:17 pm (UTC)
Hm.

I think what's usually called "urban fantasy" or "modern fantasy" often is striving to be this. Perdido Street Station (which I just finished reading) has something of the feel of this, although ultimately is more a superficial tour-de-force than a real exploration... and I'd probably call that modern fantasy, despite not really being "modern" in the strict sense.

Her Majesty's Wizard strikes me as being in roughly this vein, asking "what if everything really worked that way?", though again not entirely successful, and I'd just call that "Fantasy."

And when I think about other hypothetical examples, they mostly fall into the self-conscious category of gently mocking fantasy tropes under the guise of taking them seriously and seeing how they fall apart -- the sort of thing Terry Pratchett writes -- which isn't really what you're talking about, I think... you mean seriously exploring those ideas, as if they were viable, right?

Yeah, I haven't read much of that, if any.

If there were enough of it to merit a genre name... hm.
Continuing the pattern of "science fantasy" and "science fiction", I'd probably call it "magic fiction."

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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-22 11:08 pm (UTC)
You mean seriously exploring those ideas, as if they were viable, right?

Yeah, exactly. Rather than just seeing how they fall apart, I'm interested in figuring out what it would take to keep them from falling apart.

I liked the first few Warlock books by Stasheff, before he started writing entire books on the basis of punny titles. I'll have to read HMW sometime.
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2007-05-22 02:23 pm (UTC)
Are you talking about developing internally self-consistent fantasy worlds? Something like Master of the Five Magics where Lyndon Hardy worked out a system of magic and tried to stay consistent within it?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-22 02:50 pm (UTC)
More than that; it's not just an internally consistent world, but the point of the story is to explore the implications of the differences in the world, rather than just to use it as a setting for a tale about [coming of age / good vs evil / picaresque journey] whatever. Hardy does a little bit of what I'm talking about, but I think was still mostly focused on a fairly standard fantasy arc in terms of what the book was about.
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2007-05-22 03:03 pm (UTC)
So more like what Sheri Tepper or Ursula Leguin would write if they wrote fantasy?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-22 11:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's a good description of it.

Of course, there's the problem of taking it too far in that direction and getting into Robert Forward territory, where the characters are cardboard and really just an excuse to explain this nifty idea.

It's been a while since I read the Hardy books; I may not be giving him enough credit. Maybe it's a matter of depth: if there were only two systems of magic to explore, instead of five, that book may well have been exatly what I'm talking about. (And it probably doesn't help that I read the sequel first; it might hang together in my memory better if I'd read the books in the right order...)
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2007-05-23 09:40 am (UTC)
Oh, don't give too much credit to the Hardy books. I just remember them as being one of the few fantasy books where magic isn't, well, "magic", but derived from principles and axioms.
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[User Picture]From: jforbess
2007-05-25 02:39 pm (UTC)
Hey! That's what I was going to suggest. Isn't some of Ursula LeGuin's stuff fantasy?

Robin McKinley's Sunshine is closer, maybe? (Currently one of my favorite books. Where is the damn sequel? Yes, I know, possibly never showing up.)
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-05-22 02:43 pm (UTC)
I think the reason most authors of genre fiction have embraced the term speculative fiction is because of this problem.

My second question is whether you can have a dragon without the accompanying baggage?

Finally, while a million 'have you read X?' examples come to mind, I'm wondering (embarrassed) if you've read Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave series in which Merlin is an engineer with no mystical powers. You might like them, but it's been a very long time since I read them.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-22 11:42 pm (UTC)
Actually, I have not read the Mary Stewart books. They always looked "more of the same" to me, but now I'll definitely have to look into them. Thanks!

I think you can get around the baggage, but you do have to be aware that it's there.
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From: nancylebov
2007-05-22 05:16 pm (UTC)
Hard fantasy, maybe. Or rational world-building fantasy.

In any case, _Lost in Translation_ by Margaret Ball is a good example. Magic moves through the ground and comes out in the plants. Cut down too many plants in an area, and you get monsters.

Ball tracks the implications for agriculture and buildings and such.

It's also got a plausibly feckless villain, who has trouble grasping that the scary folks he's dealing with *will* remember promises he made three months ago.

I like the idea of a thaumivorous ecology.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-05-23 04:08 am (UTC)
I am getting awesome book recommendations from this. Thanks!

I think I like "hard fantasy".
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From: detailbear
2007-05-22 05:57 pm (UTC)
I first thought of mystic fiction as a parallel to science fiction, but that is both the wrong word type (mysticism fiction would be parallel) and 'mystic' has a slightly different meaning than we're looking for.

Mystical fiction has a better definition, as long as you're not pedantic on matching the form of the phrase.

I rejected 'esoteric' and 'occult' as having too limited a meaning.

I sort of like fantastic fiction but I'm beginning to think magic fiction might be best in both scope of meaning and parallel form.
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[User Picture]From: flwyd
2007-05-22 06:05 pm (UTC)
Geeky.

Fantastic Science?

While many science fiction stories are about space ships and distant worlds, I don't think we should mistake the prototype for the real thing. One could consider a possible global warming scenario in Earth Science Fiction. The whole nub of that matter is that we don't have space ships and distant worlds to escape to.

Since fantasy is often rooted in a historical period and location (with medieval Europe a favorite), I suppose it might be Alternate History Science Fiction.

A book postulating that people behave differently than they do could be Social Science Fiction.

Perhaps Science Mythction...
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[User Picture]From: helava
2007-05-23 01:38 am (UTC)
Isn't it just science fiction that happens to look and feel like fantasy? I was always under the impression that sci-fi is essentially just fantasy that's tried to at least bear some resemblance to the way the real world works. Maybe that's too simplistic, but... yeah.
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2007-05-23 01:45 am (UTC)
FantaFiction?

No. Too Soda Brand-y.

Fan. Fiction?

Wait. No. That's something else entirely.

Um... *Goes back to hole*
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[User Picture]From: eto_theipi
2007-05-23 06:48 pm (UTC)

It's "science fiction"

I don't think "science fantasy" is a good term for that sort of thing, since there's no "science". I'd call it "space opera". We shouldn't conflate "science" with "the future".

I don't think the spaceship tropes are the core of "science fiction", I think the "science" is: taking a hypothesis and reasoning about the consequences. Sometimes the hypothesis has to do with human space travel, an FTL drive, intelligent non-human life, advanced computer systems, the collapse of civilization, or psychic powers. Sometimes it's about "magic" or big lizards.

I'd have a hard time declaring something like Iron Council was not "science fiction". The author explicitly explores a quirk of how the book's world works through a character who goes and researches it. The fact that what he's studying is "time magic" instead of "stasis fields" doesn't change the essence. Nor does the fact that the world is populated by fantastic creatures and has a lower tech level than ours.

By this logic, a substantial amount of "fantasy" deserves to be classed as "science fiction". Well thought out magic systems. Economies that depend on magic users.

The contrast is "fantasy" where wondrous events ("magic") are not a consequence of the mechanics of the world ("Oh, it's just that he's the Chosen One!"). Similarly, in "magical realism" fantastic things happen for thematic or plot reasons, rather than because of the world's rules.
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[User Picture]From: eto_theipi
2007-05-23 07:06 pm (UTC)

Re: It's "science fiction"

Of course, that doesn't help you if you want a fun label to attach to your writing. How about a play on "science fiction" by taking a different root meaning "to know"? "Gnosceric fiction"? "Kennic fiction"? Someone with a better sense for Greek/Teutonic languages could probably come up with better formations than those.

Or a term that plays with the fact that the hidden is made known? "Inarcane"? ("Inarcanic" has a nice ring to it) "Noccult"?
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[User Picture]From: backrubbear
2007-05-24 04:22 am (UTC)
Why not the old stand by: Space opera? Admittedly, that's sub-genre specific, but that seems to cover it.
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[User Picture]From: sunsmogseahorse
2007-06-18 06:15 am (UTC)
There's a book on the science of vampires out there...do you mean like that?
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