12-08-2008, 09:32 AM

Quote: M. Arkenberg

Clarification of “Science Fantasy”

Where is the line (as far as BCS is concerned) between Science Fantasy and Science Fiction? How much “technology” is too much; alternatively, how much “magic” is too little?

That’s a great question–thanks for asking.

First, an aside: I personally don’t think “magic” is a necessity for adventure fantasy or a fantasy secondary-world. Lots of worlds have it, but I as a reader find just as much awe in fantastical animals or plants or landscapes or sentient beings. Any of those sorts of thing would make a setting seem fantasy to me.

As for technology, I don’t want anything that feels modern or contemporary or futuristic. Using historical eras of Earth’s past as a guide, I would draw a loose line at the end of the Victorian era or the start of the 20th century. Steam engines, clockwork devices, and early cartridge-based firearms are all present in stories that are forthcoming in BCS this winter. Halloween parties, household electricity, styrofoam cups, anti-aircraft guns, urologists, artificial wormholes, containment fields, blue blazers and brown slacks, movies, television, yuppies, American football, and VW Microbuses are all elements from stories that I’ve rejected in the last month for feeling more modern than I’m looking for.

I also think part of the feel of the technology in a story comes from the characters’ attitudes and vocabulary about it. I sometimes see stories where characters in a low-tech world act or talk like modern people in a high-tech world, making modern assumptions about how societies work when their society doesn’t work that way. So for me, it’s not just the actual technological elements but also the society that contains them and the characters the story is showing in that society.

Basically I’m looking for a pre-modern feel, regardless of the actual time period. I think that feel could exist in a post-apocalyptic Earth, if so much of our technology was destroyed that the societies left over didn’t have advanced tech and didn’t have modern attitudes about it. Dune feels mostly pre-tech to me because the Fremen have very little advanced tech and have non-modern attitudes about it. Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories have sorcerers flying from planet to planet, but they’re using magic instead of technology, and their attitudes and vocabulary are colored by magic and not by tech.

So that kind of low-tech future setting could give the pre-tech sort of feel I’m looking for. It’s just that the pre-tech feel is more commonly found in bygone eras, whether true historical ones or fantasy ones inspired by them.


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