||[May. 21st, 2007|11:55 pm]
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.
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?
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.
So more like what Sheri Tepper or Ursula Leguin would write if they wrote fantasy?
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...)
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.
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.)