Fantasy, Science Fiction, and “Fantastical” Science

I’ve read lots of science fiction and lots of fantasy over the years. Most times the line between the two is pretty clear. Magic and dragons? Fantasy. Rocket ships and ray guns? Science fiction.

However, some writers blur the genres. The best writers can create hybrid genres of their own. Take Anne McCaffery’s dragonriders books. At first they read like non-magical fantasy. As the stories wind on, the reader finds a good bit more science fiction, but with the fantastical element of humans able to connect with dragons telepathically.

 The movie Interstellar starts out as good science fiction, but soon fantastical interpretations of scientific principles crop up which takes it into some extremely speculative areas which are not backed by scientific theory. (By the way, this is the main reason I did not enjoy what was otherwise a pretty good movie.)

 What about traveling faster than light? We have suspicions that theory may allow this in certain extreme cases, but it is only speculation. So warp drives are not allowed in science fiction? No, I think faster than light travel is a well accepted idea and is perfectly okay. Too much fanciful science or technology can be a problem in science fiction, but sometimes you need to move the story with judicious use of something like a faster than light drive.

 What is bothersome is when an author dwells on the fantasy technology trying to make it more "believable." In the science fiction of the first half of the twentieth century, sometimes authors would take pains to make their advanced technology seem realistic. Skip this. You’ve got an FTL drive? Great. Let's go somewhere, but skip the tour of the engine room.

 One additional note. The science fiction book and movie “The Martian" is giving scientific fiction a good name. Andy Weir’s main character approaches problems with the attitude of a scientist. He works hard to figure it out a solution. Of course Watney already knows the science, but he has to figure out ways to get it to work with what he has. This was one of the reasons the Apollo 13 mission (and movie) was such a great story. Here's what you've got. Here's what you have to do. Now, how do you do it?



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