So What Exactly is Fantasy?

Jan 31, 20:52 by Bluejack

It's always fun to define genres isn't it? Have at it!

(Cheryl Morgan's article is here.)
Feb 1, 04:52 by Tracy Bovee
Isnít the quality of the story rather more important than whether the characters are wielding ray guns or swords?


Thank you! I firmly think all the foolishness of the debate does boil down to this, and it rather baffles me that so much time and energy are uselessly spent debating the topic. Is the story of good quality? Yes or no, it's "'Nuff said!"

A good read, Cheryl, and thank you for it!

regardZ,
Tracy M.Bovee 8-)
Feb 1, 08:32 by Dawn Burnell
I love these examinations of definitions. I tend to think they are useful, when not taken to an extreme. Readers & publishers do like/need the genre defs, whereas authors should just write a good story and let others classify it.
Feb 2, 09:30 by Louise Marley
"authors should just write a good story and let others classify it"

To which I can only say Amen, and again, Amen!
Feb 2, 17:10 by Lois Tilton
Now this "Mundane SF" thing, is it not just what we used to call "hard SF"?

But I do rather agree with the proposition that excepting this very small class of works, it's all fantasy, one way or the other.
Feb 3, 03:37 by Andrew Ty
What we need is an academic with a breadth of vision.


I'm not sure if the people who have uploaded their lectures on this site count as such, but the lectures are very very much interesting and well worth the download time.

Thanks for the insightful piece!
Feb 3, 20:30 by Normand D. Paquin
One gets the impression that more than any other literary genre,the SF & Fantasy community feels the need of defining its identity / identities. Darko Sunin, Gary K. Wolfe, and Cheryl Morgan (in this issue of IROSF), present in turn useful insights. But such "identity crisis" questionning doesn't spare "main stream" literature. Half a century ago, Cuban writer and essayist Alejo Carpentier, in an effort to define his approach within the "social realist" literary family, coined the term "magic realism", which in turn triggered further debates, not unlike the ongoing one between SF and Fantasy.
Feb 5, 09:51 by twosheds
Somewhat related: I read maybe a year ago in Publishers Weekly that some chain bookstores were considering physically separating SF and fantasy books. The logic was that a fan of one does not want to wade through the other to find a book. In this case, some administrative head office person would define category. I don't think that idea ever took hold because we're still all one big happy family at B&N and Borders.
Feb 6, 21:27 by travitt hamilton
Now this "Mundane SF" thing, is it not just what we used to call "hard SF"?


I would say no, b/c hard SF would include something like Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity and From Outer Space, both of which include intelligent ETs, or even some cyberpunk stuff with the wetware/hardware interface. Not very mundane. On the other hand, the Mundane SF folks seem to be into the ETs-as-alien-bacteria kinda deal. I would put something like The Andromeda Strain into this category, although admittedly, I'm not, like, the Mundane SF expert or anything.
Mar 3, 12:06 by Allan Rosewarne
OK, just reading Cheryl's essay, found all points interesting, and I have the following points to make, which I hope add to the discussion.

1)I took a course last winter at a local community college, the course was survey of SF literature. Our instructor made very clear there was a definite dividing line between fantasy and SF, and the two were not to be mixed up.

2)For marketing (IOW, bookselling), and in some cases librarianship (or what could be termed archivist purposes), a distinction maybe needs to be made.

3)Cheryl's point regarding author popularity probably extend to Stephen King in addition to her example.

4)Concerning Cheryl's short discussion of Star Wars. FWIW, Lucas says he always intended SWs to considered as fantasy and not SF.

5)The previous comments in this forum regarding chain bookstore considering changing their shelving practice. Perhaps, this is a nod to the current bookselling environment, since Susan Clark's recent book has been not marketed as fantasy. So that potential customers of books similar to Johnathon Strange and Mr. Morrell would not wish to be seen browsing in the "geek" section.

6)Cheryl's definition by her own declaration is not even close, BUT this discussion does really require an accurate definition.

Going back to my first point, later in our course a local well known SF author was guest and he participated in a Q and A with our class. One of the classes questions concerned recent authors mixing fantasy and SF together, and the authors reply was in his opinion that had been going on since the earliest time of modern SF writng.

Hope these points add to the discussion.
Mar 10, 12:27 by David Bratman
As a practical matter, not many bookstores and virtually no libraries that I know of try to separate fantasy and sf. It's not that they aren't different, it's that there's too much of a grey zone.
Mar 23, 20:12 by Allan Rosewarne
Not to make a fine point but my local public library has one type of sticker on the spine of books for fantasy and another sticker for SF
Mar 23, 21:04 by Bluejack
I liken the taxonomy of genre subclassifications to sexual fetishes. Some people may spend lifetimes refining the rules of categorization, but if the guy who wants to read about spaceships gets his spaceships, then its science fiction to him.

(I think I made this point more eloquently last time, on some other random message board in cyberspace. It seemed more brilliant at the time. I wonder if it still exists out there, wherever it was.)
Apr 2, 19:15 by Normand D. Paquin
In the "comments" segment of the DVD version of DARK CITY,Alex Proyas (or perhaps is it one of his colleagues in a conversation with him about the film) shares his insight in a nutshell about SF and Fantasy: "To me (he says), SF is something that could be and Fantasy is something that could never be"
Apr 3, 09:32 by marsalis
Under my point of view,I think of sci fi not as a genre in itself, but as a way to deal with some topics that cant be easily dealt with otherwise. What kind of topics are these? Well, "serious" sci-fi works (i'm thinking mainly european sci-fi, not pulp american sci-fi)can be traced back to utopias (Thomas Moore, Swift...) These are the literary versions of political and philosophical thoughts and essays, seen under the light of things to come or possible futures.Many different variations have sprung off this central idea and become sub-genres. Anyway, the underlying theory is the need to rehearse ideas by means of fictional works. I would definitely include as the source for modern science fiction M. Shelley's 'Frankenstein or the modern Prometeus. I consider this book intermediate step joining classical sci-fi and nowaday's view of it.
Apr 3, 18:01 by Bluejack
In the "comments" segment of the DVD version of DARK CITY,Alex Proyas (or perhaps is it one of his colleagues in a conversation with him about the film) shares his insight in a nutshell about SF and Fantasy: "To me (he says), SF is something that could be and Fantasy is something that could never be"


It's an interesting point, but I'm not sure I agree: time travel -- sci fi or fantasy? Most physicists will argue that it could never be. Tolkien -- sci fi or fantasy? Who's to say that such a universe could never be, somewhere under the laws of physics. And "Dark City" itself: sci fi or fantasy? That's a film that walks the border, working for the most part as fantasy, but revealed as sci-fi in principle in the end. (If I remember correctly.)

This is why I tend to think the labels are more about the superficial trappings than any deep inherent essence. If it's got dragons and magic and swords it's fantasy, simply because that's what we call that stuff. If it's got rockets and blaster guns and the like, then it's sci-fi, regardless of whether or not it could be. And if it's got dragons AND rockets, then it's both!

(And why do we call alternate history sci fi? And why are some computer-centric virtual-reality stories sci fi, and some thriller? Who knows. A mystery of marketing.)
Apr 3, 18:12 by Bluejack
Well, "serious" sci-fi works (i'm thinking mainly european sci-fi, not pulp american sci-fi)can be traced back to utopias (Thomas Moore, Swift...) These are the literary versions of political and philosophical thoughts and essays, seen under the light of things to come or possible futures.


Speculative literature, sure. Sci-fi? I can't agree. In part because pre-modern utopian literature can be as readily connected to fantasy as to science-fiction. After all, the predecessors of fantasy actually existed back then (folk tails, fairy stories, fabulist fiction, whatever you would call Lewis Carol, etc.) while science fiction really cannot be said to have an identity at all before Jules Verne, or maybe Gernsback.

And I also disagree because I think that calling science fiction a "way to deal with some topics" runs into the muddy area when held up against contemporary fantasy: Mieville's quasi-distopian fantasies are very much attempting to tackle political and philosophical thoughts. Gene Wolfe's fantasies are serious literary efforts that tackle spiritual themes. And there's a long list of important stuff down that road.

And then there's the whole slipstream thing, which is more directly intended as "serious" literature that co-opts genre conventions to further literary purposes, and slipstream obviously isn't happy being lumped in either sci-fi or fantasy sub-genres.

Ultimately, it's all literature, and trying to find perfect definitions to subdivide this literature is going to run into trouble at the boundaries. (Not to mention, as soon as any such definition gets popular, ten dozen writers are going to try to blur the boundary anyway, just to be ornery.)

If there's any value in genre classifications, it has to be to help people find and buy the books they want to read, and I don't think a book's seriousness, or eventual literary merit, can effectively be factored into that marketing decision. Not often, and not with much success, anyway.
Apr 6, 22:27 by Normand D. Paquin
I'm adding your "dragons & rockets" metaphor (Bluejack - Apr 3, 19:01) to my list of favorite definitions of Fantasy and SF. Another one I just came accross through a weblink in Heidi Kneale's April 05 IROSF issue Essay on "SF & F and Literacy" is the following: " Science Fiction consists of improbable possibilities, Fantasy of plausible impossibilities" (attributed to Miriam Allen deFord by Aldiss and Wingrove, in treitel.org.)
Apr 28, 01:26 by Matthew Rees
2)For marketing (IOW, bookselling), and in some cases librarianship (or what could be termed archivist purposes), a distinction maybe needs to be made.


I've never seen a library that shelved its books according to genre, and most bookstores are content to lump most speculative works together under "Science Fiction" (I think the only places I've seen that have separate shelves for fantasy and sci-fi are Hollywood Video and maybe one or two used bookstores).

As far as the individual reader is concerned, I think the most useful approach is to attach any and all appropriate genre labels (see, for example, the IMDB or upcomingmovies.com). This works for library catalogs too.

IOW, genre should be inclusive, not exclusive. Rather than thinking of it as a bunch of boxes, it's more appropriate to think of it as a Venn diagram.
   

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