Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Star Trek vs. Star Wars – Throwback Thursday

After defining Science Fiction and the then Fantasy, it seemed appropriate to do something with those definitions. So why not dive into one of the biggest fights in all of fandom: Star Trek vs. Star Wars? They’re both billed as Science Fiction, but do they hold up as such when you’re working with these definitions? Let me know what you think!


This is an age-old geeky/nerdy question, as to which is better, or which is what, and I think now I am at a place where I can weigh in. Because both have a huge fandom around them, both have TV shows and movies and different eras and books and video games and… on what grounds do you compare these two worlds?

I have at least one way I would like to compare them. I recently did a post on the definition of Science Fiction – and one on the definition of Fantasy. I am going to be relying heavily on these definitions, as I think that weighing these will show a difference you can discuss between these two series.

Read up on the definitions if you haven’t already, and then let’s compare Star Trek and Star Wars!

STAR TREK – SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY?

Star Trek at its base is a story of exploration. This may be the very basis of science, as well, if we break it down, so in that way calling it Science Fiction makes sense. It also includes the hallmarks of science fiction stories, especially the large, space opera kinds: space travel, aliens. But does that all make it science fiction?

Looking at Frank Herbert’s definition of Science Fiction, Star Trek uses the aliens and situations to put the humans (and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise) to the test. There are varieties even within the alien races, with great examples being Spock and Worf. They stand out from the rest of their races, and we learn something through this interaction and comparison.

As Star Trek is an exploration story, it is not really a specific journey – even things like the five-year mission, or Voyager returning home, has strong episodic tendencies. This lends itself towards many problems, handled in a wide variety of ways. But the crew must always use their wits and technologies to handle these problems. Even if some of these technologies – like replicators and warp drives – are little more than wishful thinking.

Because of this episodic nature, Star Trek is not quite as escapist as it could be. It is still an escape – Tolkien may very well have liked it – but not so much so that it seems like a fantasy. The world is not so different from ours – it is, after all, our future – and is really more of a scientific utopian dream. It makes us think, and wonder, but maybe not escape from our world completely.

Star Trek is solidly Science Fiction.

STAR WARS – SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY?

Alright, you say, so far, nothing particularly surprising. Star Trek, a Science Fiction show, is Science Fiction. To which I say, let’s do that again, and see if the results are the same – with Star Wars.

Star Wars, at its base, is the hero’s journey of first Luke Skywalker, and then Anakin Skywalker (or really of Obi Wan Kenobi) before him. Even a story like Knights of the Old Republic, which I am playing right now, focuses on the journey, and rise to power with the Force, of your main character.

And here, then is the crux of the story: The Force. A mystical force of the universe which helps solve the characters’ problems. The good and evil of it are the basis of the conflicts in the story. It guides them, solves their problems, gives them powers to fight, to persuade… it is the mystical basis of what is done in the stories.

Following Frank Herbert’s definition of Science Fiction, characters in Science Fiction use their own wits and technology to solve their problems. But in Star Wars, there are pivotal moments where technology is turned away in place of the Force – like, say, in destroying the Death Star.

We also use aliens to tell us about our own humanity in Science Fiction – but in Star Wars, the aliens are far more part of the environment. They also, by race, tend to be similar to one another – a common trait in Fantasy, not necessarily Science Fiction. So are the Wookies, Hutts, and other aliens of Star Wars just the Dwarves and Elves of Star Wars?

I would say yes. Star Wars is escapist fun – if only there were the Force, we too could fight with swords and beat people with laser pistols (moving faster than light? Only possible if you can be in the right place before they fire, right?), move objects with your will, persuade others to your way of thinking… Yep, it all sounds really cool, and may be why Star Wars video games tend to be really excellent, and why Lucas Arts going away is such a devastating blow to the video game community.

Star Wars is a Fantasy story, where aliens and space are the fantastical landscape, where our heroes battle evil and go on personal journeys to become the saviors of the day.

STAR TREK VERSUS STAR WARS

So, if Star Trek is a Science Fiction world and series, and Star Wars is a Fantasy world and series, how do we compare them? Well, let’s think about a different comparison.

How about in books – can we compare Dune and Lord of the Rings? Sure, in terms of their roles as founding stories in their genres. One is a group, battling for good versus evil; another is a person fighting the various challenges of his day on his own (kind of continually true throughout the series). Comparing these to Star Trek and Star Wars, we switch which is a group and which individual, but these are not the fundamental differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Dune and Lord of the Rings are both books – unlike the media differences between Star Wars with its base in movies, and Star Trek with its base in TV. So they’re more similar in this way. But in terms of what is and what happens in the stories, they are very solidly different. And I don’t feel like I have to say which I like better – they are different enough that I don’t have to choose, because I can’t compare them to each other well enough to say.

In the same way, how do we compare Star Trek and Star Wars? They’ve spawned worlds as large as each other, perhaps, so calling them two of the biggest fandoms and comparing them that way works. But in terms of the content? In terms of their stories? One is Science Fiction, and one is Fantasy.

So you can ask a different question, like, do you prefer Science Fiction or Fantasy? You can ask medium questions, like do you prefer movies or TV shows – Video Games or Books? But just asking the question, do you like Star Trek or Star Wars, is asking someone to compare apples and oranges.

And I’ve played enough Apples to Apples to know – it’s much more fun to compare apples to apples.

The Definition of Fantasy – Throwback Thursday

Last week, I shared the first in a series about defining Science Fiction, and next up in that series I tackled the definition of Fantasy, for a bit of compare and contrast. There’s more explicit comparing and contrasting to come later, so first, let’s explore Fantasy. What do you think of the definition given?


If I really want to talk about differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy, then I really need to have solid definitions of the two. I recently gave my working definition of Science Fiction, from one of Science Fiction’s greatest practitioners – Frank Herbert. So now, we need a definition for Fantasy.

So why not get that definition from J.R.R. Tolkien?

I don’t know the source, except that I found it circulating on Facebook. There is a signature in the lower left, so I will let that speak for the creator of this image. I found this on Doctor Who and the T.A.R.D.I.S. on Facebook, but this is mostly just a Facebook page that shares images from the fandoms, mostly Doctor Who. Actually, one I recommend, just know that there’s a lot of images that they share. Be ready.

Anyway, after the jump, check out the definition of Fantasy!
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a LitFlix

I’ve been less than impressed with Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Hobbit. That’s why I have written so little about them. I didn’t even see the first movie on the big screen because I had a bad feeling about it.istari

Turns out, I was right. Jackson lost me  early in An Unexpected Journey with his buffonish characterization of Radagast the Brown. He unsuspended my disblief with that unfortunate bit of scripting and never truly regained it. I mean, come on. I’m generous with creative license where film adaptations of books are concerned, but there is no possible world in which one of these guys can be a buffoon.

That said, an invitation to write a LitFlix on the third film for CompGeeks was just too good to pass up. I got myself to the theater on Tuesday and gave it a watch. Then I re-read the last four chapters of The Hobbit on Wednesday night while I awaited the arrival of a certain jolly old elf.

The Battle of the Five Armies is an awesome fantasy action movie. It was more than worth the ticket price – and the two and half hours I spent watching – on the strength of the fight choreography alone. The production is beautiful. It will suck you right into Jackson’s version of Middle Earth. I applaud the artistry, but the adaptation could be better. Do allow me to explain. (That’s the fun part, right?)

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Realistic vs. Romantic Literature

Hello my readers, time again for me to touch on a series of posts I’ve written over the course of the blog so far. It all started out from a definition of science fiction I read in a book, which led into a blog post exploring that. Then, for comparison, I explored a definition of fantasy based on a quote that’s floated around social media. So between the two, I had pitted Frank Herbert against J.R.R. Tolkien. Then, for another look at it, I compared Star Trek and Star Wars. I still really like my genre exploration there.

And then I listened to George R.R. Martin on the Nerdist Podcast, and it got me thinking that all this work of putting things in genres, and holding one over another or pitting them against one another, was wrong; and I was working on coming up with new terms or new ways of thinking about the differences, of trying to really articulate what I was trying to say.

That’s when I got a comment back on that first post, questioning what I meant about science fiction, making me really think about what I was saying. The commenter – who had the opportunity to interview the author, Paolo Bacigalupi – recommended and discussed The Windup Girl. So I felt I needed to read that first and consider it. And to consider what it is I have been trying to articulate, to think of the terms and groupings and ways that we talk about these sorts of stories, and so that is where I am coming from with this post. Let me know in the comments what you think!

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Geeks Without Borders

Robotic Hands Pointing at Virtual Globe

Recently, we walked down a street and were drawn into a store with tons of video games and geeky accouterments — Yoda mugs, Big Bang Theory t-shirts, Borderlands miniatures. Nothing particularly surprising or new about this, except its location – Vienna, Austria. Besides some German words here and there, it looked exactly like the geeky video game stores my husband loves to go to in the United States, equipped with a group of three geeky looking young guys standing around talking about the tv show Breaking Bad.

This shouldn’t be that surprising considering that most of the geeky board games I like to play come from German game companies, but I continue to be amazed at how much geeks have in common regardless of what country they are in. Maybe if everyone was a geek, we really could have world peace! Continue reading