Tag Archives: Speculative Fiction

Realistic vs. Romantic Literature – Throwback Thursday

In many ways, I feel like this was where the whole series I had been writing on the Definition of Science Fiction (and Fantasy) got good. Sorry I missed getting this out last week, but here we go! Also, to note: this one got pretty long…


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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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.

How to Build A Fictional Education System

Few things say as much to me about a culture as its education system. What a society values, it teaches to its young, and that means its values are at the core of any system designed to teach and enculturate children.

Education is a big issue right now. People are drowning in student debt, but many of them are unable to get jobs in the fields that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire qualifications in.  We’re wrestling with questions about what education is for, what constitutes a good one, and how much it should cost.  Eventually, questions like that will (or should) filter into our speculative fiction.

There are lots of middle grade and YA books where schools function as a setting element.  Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid come to mind. In those stories, if education is relevant at all, it’s a catalyst for adventure or an obstacle that the characters have to deal with while trying to get what they want.  So the education systems are familiar: residential English school, American-style public school. They’re a backdrop, or a motif, not a problem in themselves.

Adult lit doesn’t spend much time on education at all, unless we’re dealing with some kind of magical initiation and training. In those cases, again, the method and problems associated with the educational system are usually not discussed beyond the protagonist whining or complaining about the hardass mentor. I’m betting we’ll see a shift in the next 10 to 15 years because more and more people are returning to school later in life, and we have increasing numbers of college grads who can’t get the jobs they want.

Check out The Foxes of Synn by Rose B. Fischer

I’m also betting on this because, in the past five years, I’ve had two long-term, large-scale spec fic projects up-end themselves and decide that they were suddenly going to start making a HUGE DEAL about how the education systems in their societies are broken, holding people back, and need to change.  Well, I’m not a political writer, and I’m not a psychic, but I do pay attention to social movements, and I listen to what is important to people.  I didn’t plan to write about education, but I figure if both of my story worlds have decided that education needs to be written about, I’m gonna go with it.

So, when I realized this was happening in my work, I took a step back and started asking myself some hard questions. What is the purpose of education? David’s tackled that here in a Feminist Friday Post and here in an analysis of education in Naruto. What does the ideal education system look like? Who should have access to education, and who should pay for it? Is education really the social equalizer? The more questions I asked, the more I didn’t have good answers – and I still don’t, but that’s okay with me because I never want to preach to my audience.  I want to pose questions and let my readers make up their own minds.

I decided to get more purposeful about the education systems in my universes, though, and to that end, I came up with a list of “ideal education system criteria.”

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A to Z April Challenge 2015 Theme Reveal – Science Fiction Today

We’ve been kind of quiet about this fact, because we were making sure we could commit to it. We built our list, and we’re doing it! The April A to Z Challenge! If you want to know more about the challenge, you can find out on their website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

survivor-atoz [2014]

Our Survivor Badge from last year!

We did this challenge last year, focusing on our Character Studies. We blogged about a character a day, from throughout geekdom. There were a few franchises where we could almost have done all the characters from – like Final Fantasy – but we decided on the broader topics as that was more fun and allowed more people to be involved. And involved you were! There are lots of bloggers involved in the A to Z Challenge, and a lot announcing their themes today – find that list here!

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Geek 501 – Science Fiction Today

Today, I’d like to turn one of our recurring features – Geek 501, where we introduce or explore a topic – on one of our other recurring features – Science Fiction Today. In our Science Fiction Today posts, we take a current issue from the world today, and think about what it could look like in the future, at what the science fiction solution to the problem might be.

We like Science Fiction Today because there are so many hard problems today – maybe in all days and times – but that they then get lost in politics, become almost impossible to discuss rationally, and then what can be done about them? This is maybe especially the world of American politics, where everything seems to always be reduced down to a dichotomy, every issue gets claimed by one of the two parties.

I found a theoretical term recently to consider these sorts of issues, and then today there were a couple of SourceFed stories that really pointed to need for people to be thinking and dreaming of what to do in the future – to be building Science Fiction Today. So let me explore, briefly, why I think these posts matter.

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