Saturday, August 10, 2013


At a fundamental level, all human understanding boils down to differentiation. Classical Logic can be reduced to the axiom that something cannot be itself and something else at the same time. An apple is not an orange. An apple is neither an orange nor a grape nor a penny nor a cinder block, etc. This apple is not that apple. This is a dolphin because of these characteristics therefore it is not a human being. Thank you sincerely, Aristotle, for all that is Western Civilization.

For this to work well, everyone has to agree on what properties define a category. You can use your senses to immediately understand where one object exists separately from another.* (This orange is not that orange nor that rock nor those leaves nor the breeze nor that orange blossom, etc., ad nauseum.) Yet, there exists such a stunningly large potentia of possible properties which objects hold that there is bound to be some slip in categorization.

So, that then brings me to my particular point, what is the defining line between fantasy and science fiction? Genre is an especially nebulous classification. I'm curious as to how everyone else breaks this down.

My Thoughts:

Magic is at the crux of the issue. Science fiction should fundamentally be centered around scientific discoveries or potentials extrapolated forward. There is no magic in Sci-fi. I define magic as something beyond or outside the natural world. Fantasy has magic**. It seems pretty clear cut, but it isn't.

Take Mr. Lovecraft; are those crazed cultists and grimoire-reading wizards practicing magic or taking advantage of certain extra-dimensional properties of the universe (no different than taking advantage of leverage)? Does that make them technicians and engineers or priests and magi? Is this sci-fi or fantasy? Sci-fantasy***?

The answer varies depending on where you prefer to draw the line(s). I'd have to say Sci-fantasy, simply because Mr. Lovecraft's speculations often had little to no scientific basis and his speculations were quite (purposefully) wild. Though an argument could be made that his stories are perfectly sci-fi in light of quantum mechanics and how little we know of the universe at large.

I once had a setting that at surface was pretty standard fantasy. There were swords and kings and fallen empires, and it certainly wasn't set on earth. Still yet, there was no actual magic. The closest thing to magic was the ability of certain mentally ill individuals to instill extreme emotions in others. This occurred within a range of around 20-30 ft. and required the instiller to be in a trance-like state. I was inspired to create this power based of some interesting studies I'd read concerning the nature of mob-mentality. In my opinion, this setting despite all the fantasy tropes is firmly science fiction.

What're your thoughts on the matter?

* Yes, I am aware of quantum physics invalidating our petty human senses. However, I would argue that through that morass of probability waves, uncertainty principles, and unfed cats, there still exists fundamental differentiation. Even though said differentiation is in constant flux, I expect that all this chaos averages out to this human-level reality we all experience.

** Magic to my mind necessitates dualism.

*** Exploration of scientific technology existing alongside mystical forces: Star Wars, Rifts, Shadowrun, Etc. Technology is often at odds with magic.