Tag Archives: Exploratory Fiction

Science Fiction versus Fantasy – Throwback Thursday

Next up, after pitting Star Trek versus Star Wars, I decided to do some more direct comparison between Science Fiction and Fantasy. It helped to have some comments by George R.R. Martin to start from. At this point, I started working on new terms to maybe replace the old genre titles – more of these to come!


I have given a definition of both Science Fiction and Fantasy before, and I love both, so I care. If you look back at our Liebster Award nomination, I said that one of the more important things to me is Science Fiction being taken seriously. And I think I would happily include Fantasy in that as well. There are a lot of other causes out there, and things to be done – I’ve talked about Geeks and Charity as well – but the discussion about Science Fiction, and its place in thought, in learning, in the classroom… That seems like something I can influence a bit, right?

So recently we listened to George R.R. Martin on the Nerdist Podcast. And first off, if you like George R.R. Martin, it was a lot of fun. It was right after he destroyed the guitar (which we talked about before) at Comic Con. He talks Game of Thrones, and conventions, and writing, and, to the point here and now, he talks Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If part of the reason I like the quotes from Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien is because they are the fathers of the genres. However, George R.R. Martin is something of a current crown prince, or some other metaphor, in Fantasy. So what does he add to my thought? And where do we draw the lines?

WHAT GEORGE R.R. MARTIN SAID

If you look carefully, you’ll see that Winter is Coming. Found on http://www.nerdist.com/2013/07/nerdist-podcast-george-r-r-martin/

So, George R.R. Martin was basically of the thought that there are people who take Science Fiction too seriously, that it’s not too different from Fantasy, that there are people seriously considering life and humanity in Fantasy (very true: read some George R.R. Martin…), and that we should maybe not fight between the two.

And really, is that a bad conclusion?

In many ways, it matches reality. I don’t know a lot of people who like ONLY Science Fiction and not Fantasy, or ONLY Fantasy and not Science Fiction. I can think of a few, but they stand out. For the most part, however, how many of us are there watching Doctor Who and Game of Thrones at the same time? How many of us love Lord of the Rings and Dune? Blade Runner and Princess Bride?

Science Fiction and Fantasy often blend, anyway. As I talked about in my post about the idea of the Ancient Alien Race, large Fantasy series tend towards having Science Fiction in their past. And suddenly, the two genres are one. So what do you call them?

It matches our reality at the store, too. Assuming bookstores are still a thing, and we’re not all reading on a Kindle… But bookstores inevitably combine Science Fiction and Fantasy. In part, it seems easy to tell if a book is one of these two, but would take a ton of work to figure out which to put it in. Plus, more importantly – they understand that there’s more money to be made by combining the two. Same audience.

However, here’s where my opinion does come in: Just because we shouldn’t draw so hard a line between these two Genres does not mean we shouldn’t still take their works of art seriously. Just like there is good and bad literature, there is good and bad Science Fiction. And we can debate and fight all day about which is which – but it’s important to think we could have that debate. Instead of it being a given that one, the other, or both of these genres is pointless.

So, let me go on to think of other ways we can consider Science Fiction and Fantasy.

SPECULATIVE FICTION?

One of the terms I hear thrown about for the sort of What-If Science Fiction that might describe the best of the genre is Speculative Fiction. A vague term that could also just be called “Fiction,” Speculative Fiction tries to mean something very specific: to mean fiction that asks a question, and generally, a question about our future, where we don’t know the answer to the question we ask.

This is the good thought experiment of Science Fiction: to ask a question about our future, and try to provide an answer. Sometimes, the ideas and answer are the main point. I see this in stories by authors like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick – a strong question is asked, a strong answer is given, and they link the two with a plot. Then there is more cinematic sorts of fiction, heavier on plot, where sometimes the questions asked and answered happen after the fact – like the sorts of science questions that cropped up around Star Trek and Star Wars after the fact.

That’s about how I remember him. Found on https://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4pr/20090401

And both are good. One is more high brow, I guess, and ends up looking very different if made into a movie. The other is more escapist – is perhaps a bit closer to Fantasy.

But, if we spread this thinking to Fantasy, then there are Heroic Journey sorts of stories, great epics in the traditions of mythology, and of archetypes. Then there are stories that are more Escapist, are Fantasy fun. I have read over twenty Drizzt Do’Urden books by R.A. Salvatore, and I love them; but have I learned much from them, have they made me think?

Well, a little, if I use that example. Salvatore does a great job of working in the thoughtful, philosophical quandaries of his main character in-between acts. Part of what makes this such a likable and popular character.

So really, I guess my point is, there is a lot to be said for a lot of stuff being done in Science Fiction and Fantasy. That even if the literary writing isn’t the best, the ideas in the book may be sound, or groundbreaking, even. If the writing is fun, there still might be something there to make you think, to bring you out of the story a moment and consider the implications.

There are other genres that exist adjacent to Science Fiction and Fantasy as well, which also enter into strongly speculative realms: Urban Fantasy, and Steampunk. The former is imagining our modern world, but with Fantastical elements. The latter is imagining our past, with a Science-Fictional future. Both of these can also have a lot of value, despite – or maybe especially because of – being new.

NEW TERMINOLOGY FOR OUR FICTION?

So maybe we need a new language to talk about these fictional genres. Something to remove the baggage, and get some attention?

I did a post, after looking at the definitions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, pitting Star Wars against Star Trek. Check it out here.

My conclusion was that, based on the definitions I was using, Star Trek is Science Fiction, and Star Wars is Fantasy. But if we’re thinking of a new language to talk about these veins of fiction, maybe these can help lead us.

For one type, call it Exploratory Fiction. Maybe exploring an idea, maybe exploring actual space. You see physical exploration in Star Trek, or Firefly; in games in Freelancer, or Skyrim. But this could also cover Speculative Fiction, and exploring an idea.

For another type, call it Escapist Fiction. This matches more like story-based games, where you are immersing in their story, unlike the free-range games like Skyrim. The heroic journey is the best sort of escape – the quest to become more than we were, and usually save some stuff in the process.Worlds, universes, kingdoms, friends.

So there are good examples and bad examples of these types, but that is like with all things. But this would bleed these genres together, and be more about the type of story they are telling, or the way they are telling it – rather than about whether the story has aliens or elves. And if we move away from aliens-and-elves assumptions about these genres, maybe other people could get into them – and, as my point earlier – they could be taken more seriously as artforms.

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Science Fiction Today – Yetis

YOkay, so maybe it looks like we’re stretching here. Just going for a word that starts with Y. And yes, that’s partially true. Still, I mean it. I want to talk about Yetis, and Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster. I want to talk about Dragons and Unicorns. And the future.

As the world grows smaller, as our ability to travel over it, and map and document it grows, as we dig into it and find the fossils and the past and the history of it… is there still room for these mythical creatures? These possibilities, these mysteries. Creatures of wonder. Is it okay for us to lose wonder in the name of exploration?

We Lose Wonder

On the one hand, we might lose wonder. As we explore the depths of the sea, all the lands, as we explore the far reaches of space with telescopes and probes. As we find the answers. And if we find the answers to the questions, to the mysteries, will we find new and more mysteries, new and more questions? Maybe not. We may instead start to think that we know everything, that we have all the answers. The End of Science.

Like in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, where scientists were little more than historians, reading the works of the great thinkers. Deciding validity between your sources. Nothing against history, I love history. But by not doing the science themselves, by just accepting all is known and nothing else needs to be done, we can miss things – and thus the plot to Foundation as a galactic human civilization collapses. Because no one was looking for signs of change – they already knew everything.

Endless Wonder

It’s the tagline from Warehouse 13, and maybe that makes sense, as that was a show devoted to the thought that there was more to this world than we see or know. But I think the better example is really Star Trek. A series all about exploration. About having new mysteries to find, new expanses to explore. The Final Frontier.

We need to think like that, though. That there are always new frontiers, that there are things we don’t know yet. That maybe there are still things out there, things worth finding. Maybe there are monsters, maybe there are friends. They tend to find both in most exploration science fiction. Mythical creatures are much the same way – at times helpful, at times awful. Some don’t seem to want to be found. Those are the things to keep us looking, the idea of them. The idea of the as-yet unfound, unproven or disproven Yeti. The thing to keep us searching.

Want more on Monsters? Check out the A to Z Theme “Lady Monsters” over on Part-Time Monster!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – Overpopulation

OOverpopulation continues to be a point of discussion in the world at large and is usually a part of whatever future is being told in a Science Fiction story. The number of people in the world and in the universe makes a difference on resources and on survivability. Throughout history we have been able to increase the capacity for human survival. At the same time what does this look like in the potential futures?

There are a few different options that I have seen in stories. One, is the expansion of humans beyond the usual limits, whether that is building up or expanding beyond the Earth. Another option is a little more sinister and that is control over the population, whether that is the release of a virus to culling the population or laws around procreation. Both of these are methods for dealing with overpopulation.

Expanding Beyond

This kind of follows along with how humanity has dealt with overpopulation so far and that is to expand. One way this expansion is seen in Science Fiction is the increase in building and living space. In many stories the skyscrapers are taller and the living spaces smaller. Just think of the giant skyscraper apartment Bruce Willis lives in in the Fifth Element. The human population just keeps growing and we keep raising the limit for what can be handled.

When you make boats that fly, you know you're building tall! Found on http://metropolisoftomorrow.tumblr.com/post/687346140/fifth-element-by-pineapples101

When you make boats that fly, you know you’re building tall!
Found on Tumblr

The other expansion that is seen in stories is expansion into the stars and other planets. Many Science Fiction stories are about the way that humans have expanded into the stars and have populated a multitude of planets. All of this is about finding more living spaces and finding more resources in order for the human race to survive.

Control

The other direction that can be taken to solve overpopulation is to control the population in some ways. One form of control is through rules and law about procreation. This can be done through limiting the number of children that people are allowed to have – like in Ender’s Game. This can be difficult to enforce unless you figure out someway to basically make people unable to have kids unless they are approved or make it that everyone adopts and no one has kids naturally. This would be a way to limit the population, but would require controlling the population.

The other option that is often presented in stories is one where the powerful recognize there is a resource issue in the world and decide that the population needs to be culled. Usually this entails introducing some sort of virus or plague that either will not kill everyone or that some people have be immunized against. This brings down the population numbers and helps save vital resources at a huge cost. This is another form of control over the population partly because it is a few deciding the good for the many and who has the right to make that decision? 

Of course, control can backfire, like in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the upper classes send away the lower classes from their planet – and then all die of a preventable disease because all the cleaning people are gone. But what stories are you thinking of?

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction versus Fantasy

I have given a definition of both Science Fiction and Fantasy before, and I love both, so I care. If you look back at our Liebster Award nomination, I said that one of the more important things to me is Science Fiction being taken seriously. And I think I would happily include Fantasy in that as well. There are a lot of other causes out there, and things to be done – I’ve talked about Geeks and Charity as well – but the discussion about Science Fiction, and its place in thought, in learning, in the classroom… That seems like something I can influence a bit, right?

So recently we listened to George R.R. Martin on the Nerdist Podcast. And first off, if you like George R.R. Martin, it was a lot of fun. It was right after he destroyed the guitar (which we talked about before) at Comic Con. He talks Game of Thrones, and conventions, and writing, and, to the point here and now, he talks Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If part of the reason I like the quotes from Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien is because they are the fathers of the genres. However, George R.R. Martin is something of a current crown prince, or some other metaphor, in Fantasy. So what does he add to my thought? And where do we draw the lines?

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