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Soft Science Fiction or Science Fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Aldarion, Feb 21, 2021.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Soft Science Fiction or Science Fantasy

    Basically, I took a look at how we define science fiction and fantasy. Most often, definition is "future / spaceships = science fiction". But 40 000 Leagues Under the Sea is not futuristic anymore, yet it is still science fiction. So I decided to take a good hard look at the terms. You can read more on the link, but my conclusion is that the duality of science fiction and fantasy should give way to trinity - science fiction, science fantasy, and fantasy, where science fantasy includes both speculative science and supernatural (e.g. Star Trek, Star Wars).

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    You've forgotten the third main one, horror! When you think about it, by combining those three genres, you get (mostly) the other ones: dystopian, apocalyptic, space opera, medieval fantasy, etc. Now, these genres (and others) are just convenient tags for content publishers to categorize their goods, no matter if they're movies, books or videogames. Nowadays such categorization doesn't really matter that much. For instance, you can go to the Steam platform and see there that games have plenty of tags attached to them: Doom for instance has scifi and horror, among many others. My take here is: don't bother much (or at all) about if this novel or that saga is hard or soft whatever, that doesn't matter at all. What matters in the end is if those stories are built properly, take proper advantage of their settings, and, above all, if they are interesting.

    I don't know if you know this but science fiction, fantasy and horror all are considered to be under the same umbrella phrase known as speculative fiction. It's just natural for speculative writers to take elements or traits from any of them to give shape to their stories, as long as they make the worldbuilding consistent and useful to their stories.
     
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  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Yes, I know that. But I did not include horror because it is not actually a third category here - it can fit into one of these two categories, or else into generalist speculative fiction (if there is nothing extraordinary included). My focus was on differentiating science fiction and fantasy.
     
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  4. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    I understand, but what I tried to say was that the differentiation between those genres is a rather pointless exercise. Broadly speaking, most people don't care at such level of detail, sometimes not even writers.

    But getting a bit deeper into the question, there's a detail you forget to take in to account in your post: point of view. From our perspective, humans living in our "real" universe, a fantasy is something we know would be impossible to happen in our realm. And where I say we know, I should add currently, related to our current understanding of the universe and its properties. On the other hand, there's the POV of the characters living within any fantasy: for them their reality is not a fantasy, although they may also consider certain events as magic or witchcraft, although such terms are just superstitious names given to science, techniques or phenomena not properly understood. So, from this angle, the definition of what's scifi and what's fantasy can get really blurry but, again, doesn't matter much.

    When does it matter? I think it matters the most in the process of worldbuilding, in the sense that when a writer decides to settle its fiction either in a hard scifi or in a full fantasy settings, they're deciding about what rules define the world their fiction happens in: a hard scifi is the closest to our reality and our current scientifical understanding of the cosmos, while a full fantasy setup doesn't have such regards. Regardless, the writer must worry about sticking to whatever rules they decide to abide by, so the fiction feels grounded in that world and believable within such context. The reader only has to worry about enjoying the ride.

    And regardig horror, it is a third category on its own with its own body of work that cannot be just assimilated within the scifi or in the fantasy genres. Yes, many times it uses fantasy or supertitous elements to build its stories, but still it has strong particularities to stand on its own in contrast to the other two main speculative categories.

    PD: I remembered that we already had a discussion here in Mythic Scribes about merging scifi with fantasy, you might like to check it out.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2021
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  5. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

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    It's just Genre Fiction now. Genre is a vaguely defined category. What matters is what kind of audience are you trying to reach. Not so much the content of the media, but the expectations of the audience when shopping in that category. As time goes on categories evolve and splinter off into new categories.
     
  6. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Not true. Wizards perfectly understand magic. They also understand science. Magic is just a word referring to the hidden Fifth Fundamental Force, Thaumaturgic Force, Magic for short.
     
  7. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    Of course wizards and the like know their art, or at least think they know it, but for the common people in less enlightened circumstances things like medicine or alchemy were akin to witchcraft or worse (or maybe better, depending on the context and culture). So, from that point of view, we can argue that magic may be a more gentle or positive term for what in the end is just a superstitous attitude towards what is not properly understood. Now, how wizards, sorcerers or witches call their thaumaturgy or, if it truly works, science is just that, a name, although names tend to come loaded with some underlying anthropogical implications (like, again, superstition or just plain old ignorance).

    On the other hand, the distinction you make of magic vs science is not correct at all. From the point of view of wizards their magic is real: it has properties that can be observed and understood, from which they elaborate hypothesis to experiment with and, finally, create any kind of magical craft. But all of that process is completely scientifical. Which is one of the most common depictions of wizards or witches? Someone in some sort of alchemic lab doing mysterious stuff... Although it is mysterious just for those not in the known. Even when the magic is not really explained, like in the Lord of the rings, one can assume that it works due to some reason, either mythical or anything else. In the end, what we, humans of this time and age on planet Earth, call magic or fantasy are things that we know are impossible in our universe, as far as we know it. But if those things work in other universe, what for us is magic, in that other universe is science.

    By the way, haven't you realized how detailed and scientifical are some depictions of magical systems posted in this forum? Kind of funny when you think about it.
     
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  8. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Yes, magic is science, indeed. A part of it. Unless it is PuRe WhIMSY
     
  9. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    Mmm... yeah, nice colors. Also, like it or not, everything is physics in this universe, or in any other. Whimsicality exists only (or mostly) in the eye of the beholder!
     
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  10. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Honestly, this topic has been discussed so many times and some refuse to agree on the definitions.

    If it has magic it's fantasy.

    Magic does not include undiscovered science - it means powers or forces which defy the laws of physics (discovered or not).
     
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  11. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Sometimes. But A DASH OF WHIMSY is most certainly not of this universe BUT of ONE whErE sCiEnCe DoEs NoT eXiSt!
     
  12. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    I don't want to drag on this discussion... BUT:
    • The Dark OneThe Dark One : If magic works is because the "laws" of physics of the universe they happen in allow them to happen somehow, regardless of if the observer is aware of those laws or not. Not even the gods scape that, since they are manifested in some sort of medium under some sort of conditions. For instance, think about flying. Now we know how to do the trick, but in ancient or medieval times they could only dream of it and just as a sort of sorcery or impossible fantasy (that's why paradise is traditionally found in the heavens in some traditions). Yet the rules to make flight true were already present in nature, although we didn't knew about them until quite recently in our history.
    • S.T. OckennerS.T. Ockenner : science is just the name we give to a procedure to understand the universe we live in, and any civilization on any alternative universe you can imagine will end using something like it, although of course under any other name they may give it. Also, magic procedures cannot work without scientifical procedures to be understood, even toddlers apply instinctively a scientifical methodology to understand the world (that's why some call them "little scientists").
    Overall, I must insist that calling something magic, wizardry, witchcraft or scientifical is just a matter of an observer's perception of the event or, in a more succint but significant term, relativity.
     
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  13. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    I know, I was simply saying that it is possible that there is another universe where the laws of science are in constant flux, and for that reason are inapplicable.
     
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  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think you and I are mostly in agreement about categorizing works. However, I can't quite see eye to eye with you on the idea that WH40K has a more realistic premise than Star Trek!
     
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  15. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    Ah, that's an interesting thought that has been also speculated within theorethical science (in string theory if I remember correctly): if there's a multiverse, each universe will have their own set of parameters that make them more or less stable. If a universe has a "bad" configuration, puff! gone in a few million years so to speak. Still, that flux itself would also have its own set of properties that could be studied by a civilization that happened to be that extremely highly advanced to do so.

    Worry not, puny mortal, a spacemarine can fix your eyes with a little subtle chainsaw-sword surgery... For the emperor!

    On a more serious note, yes Star Trek started being more scifi (sometimes turning fantasy settings into scifi, like when they encountered gods) and with scripts written by scifi authors even, but over the years has turned increasingly more into a pew-pew, space opera show. On the other hand, WH40K is a messy blend of elements created under the rule of cool, not of realism. For instance, the way they fight is stuck in second world war tactics (as far as I know), not really taking advantage of their highly advanced tech combined with magic to avoid those ludicrous and wasteful campaigns on planets that, as I remember reading in the only book I've ever read of this franchise, become pointless since they end bombarding the planet from orbit (while also killing their own many troops remaining on the ground). In other words, WH40K could be considered its own genre.
     
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  16. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    I meant more realistic in terms of handling human nature and the society as a whole. Feudal-type society is one of few types of sociopolitical organization I can really see being utilized in interstellar political entities, even with somewhat reliable FTL drive, and of course it is just more realistic when it comes depicting human psychology and sociology.

    Coming from the second one first, let's look at the main point of Star Trek: technology. Yes, Imperium's lack of technological advancement may seem unrealistic; but when you look at the premise behind it and several mechanics of the setting as such, it truly makes sense. If your superadvanced warship is going to get possessed by demons few decades down the line just because some wires cross in a way which forms an eight-pointed star of Chaos... that is bound to slow down advancement quite a bit! Meanwhile, Star Trek has all these supertechnologies and ad-hoc solutions, but nothing comes out of them long-term. They are forgotten, as if they had never existed, and we never see any sociopolitical consequences of them either (with perhaps the sole exception of the cloaking device, which is a repeating plot point). Unlike Star Trek, Warhammer 40k actually has somewhat consistent set of rules and laws even for its technology - so while technological principles may, occasionally, be based on space bullshit, it overall feels lot more grounded and realistic, because it is simply much more consistent.

    Warhammer 40k is also more realistic in handling human nature. Star Trek has this idealistic view of the future where humanity will be all united, and only problems will be either external or come from just a few rogues. Worst we have seen is in Deep Space Nine, and that is mostly down to few "rogues" such as Section 31 which are trying to protect the Federation at the cost of its ideals, whereas most of Starfleet doesn't want to make that choice... and while this is a valid question to explore, it is positively tame to other questions that could and would realistically crop up. Warhammer 40k is again much more realistic there: you have people willing to sacrifice whole worlds or sectors to save the humanity... and you have people willing to sacrifice whole worlds or whole humanity to line their pockets. Star Trek does not have that; for all its great villains (Khan was an excellent one), it is still a fundamentally optimistic work.
     
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  17. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    You're forgetting something fundamental that differentiate WH40K from Star Trek:
    • WH40K is first and foremost a tabletop game with a set of rules and some lore to give it its style and luster. Under that light, WH40K may look solid and believable within its context, but in no way is more realistic than Star Trek (seriously, cathedral-spaceships with naval-like cannons?).
    • Star Trek was originally a work of scifi fiction that was given on purpose a positive attitude in contraposition to the cold war people in the US were living in. Yes, there were some huge continuity issues in the first series, but because it didn't matter that much back then. It was more about the concepts dealt within each of the episodes, rather than creating huge season-spanning story arcs. This style would start to change within Star Trek The Next Generation so they could keep up with other shows like Babylon 5 (which was a great space opera show, by the way).
    Also AldarionAldarion , be careful when using the feudalism concept. There was not just one feudalism, there were several that, although they could look similar, they would have their nuances. And what makes you think that some sort of feudal society would work better than a postscarcity pseudosocialist one to manage interestellar domains?

    A feudal domain is a highly centralized one, with the power resting in the hands of a feudal lord who, in turn, could also swear fealty to one or more kings. Imagine such sociopolitical organization trying to keep in check just a solar system with a couple of inhabitated planets and a good number of colonies on several moons or lesser planets. Not that easy with a feudal mindset, I presume. Now, since we don't really now for real how the Federation's economy and society really works (although I think there's at least one serious study about it) I won't say that a trekkie society would be better than the broadly imagined feudal one.
     
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  18. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Oh joy. So 40k discourse has invaded here too? I get enough of that over on Space Battles.

    Mm, well, writing forum. Nothing wrong with discussing established works, though I would hope that we're all inventive enough to come up with our own ideas instead of just beating a dead space horse.

    On topic, well, genre is a tool and nothing more. I really see no reason to limit your creativity as a writer by boxing yourself in with overly restrictive genres. Considering the number of edge cases already it seems even worse.
     
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  19. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    How is that worse than flying saucers propelled by glowing sausages? Besides, as I have explained, I was talking about the handling of human nature first and foremost.

    I know. But the point is, Star Trek has never tried to be realistic. It is idealistic, to the point of stupidity IMHO.

    1) I am aware of that, but fact still remains that Imperium of Man is a feudal society, regardless of the specifics.
    2) Postscarcity pseudosocialist society can never work - who would do any jobs that are necessary unless they have to? And especially so when it comes to interstellar empire, where people have to take risks in colonization and so on. If you tried to implement it, it would evolve into tyranny - I mean, why would people move off Earth if everything can be had here?

    I'm sorry, but the entire point of feudalism is decentralization, that due to lack of communications and administration centralized administration cannot exist. And when I was referring to feudal organization, I was talking about Imperium as a whole: individual worlds can have their own governments, which can range from republics to absolute monarchies, and economy and social order can be just as varied. Which is enabled by the feudal structure of Imperium, much like how feudal monarchies in real world often had republics within them. Overall, Imperium of Man as such is anything but tyrannical.

    In Defense of Imperium of Man
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
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  20. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    If you really want to discuss those things AldarionAldarion , I think it would be more proper to start a different thread, since it's completely off-topic in this one. But I'll say that you're very, very wrong, about Star Trek (and I'm no trekkie, mind you).
     
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