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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 1:48 pm 
Smeric
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Since my previous thread on fantasy got pruned without reaching a definite answer, I have decided to ask again. Previously we discussed a variety of possible dividing lines between fantasy and science fiction, whether thematically or in the mechanics of the setting. Some suggested differing moral outlooks and attitudes toward change and progress. Others focused on factors like temporal and cultural setting and the distinction between science and magic, essentially the concrete attributes. I think mindset or worldview might indeed provide the best dividing line, as it really gets to the root of what distinguishes the two genres.

Science fiction assumes a rational, impersonal world where everything operates according to natural law, eg what we might call the modern mindset. The sun makes heat and light because it consists of hydrogen under pressure, not because a god in its core is shovelling akasha into a great furnace. Plants grow because their cells absorb nutrients and make new cellular material, not because pixies breath life into them. Everything happens according to intrinsic and predictable laws that we can exploit reliably with enough research and skill.

Fantasy by contrast envisions a world full of unpredictable forces and especially persons flitting around, gods and spirits and so forth, all influencing reality as they see fit. As such supernatural whim frequently overrides or supplants natural law and we do not see scientific explanations so much as myths giving general guidelines. Essentially the fantasy genre follows the sort of pre-modern mindset that existed before we discovered conservation of energy, atomic theory, and cloud formation. No point in tracking the water cycle because everyone knows clouds come from the god Nephos smoking a giant pipe. On the other hand, if you offer him the right gifts he might send some clouds your way to break that drought plaguing your farm.

Sound like a reasonable hypothesis, or does someone have some devastating counterexamples?

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 1:58 pm 
Avisaru
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read a fucking book


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:01 pm 
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for viewers at home, eddy has never read any science fiction, he has read the first few chapters of Lord of the Rings but doesn't like it very much so far


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:40 pm 
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@Eddy: Sounds reasonable to me.

@Pthug: I call bullshit.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:45 pm 
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I have just asked Eddy on IRC to say something and correct me, his response was:
Quote:
<Eddy> I don't consider it relevant to this question. Attack the thesis, not the man, you know.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:45 pm 
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Short answer: the Solar Cycle, and the early/middle Pern books (yes, the series later went into solid SF territory, but when it began it was pure fantasy).

Long answer: we've had this thread, you've said these things, you've been given these counterexamples. Please, don't revert to the old cycle of Eddythreading.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:49 pm 
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Pthug wrote:
read a fucking book


Troll

-*****-

regarding the issue at hand: I don't buy the hypotheses. I'd say that Star Wars is fantasy, not sci-fi. Yet, save the force, the Star Wars universe is rather modern: no gods shoveling akasha into the furnace to fuel the sun, if you will. Even the force is explained in a relatively scientific (or pseudoscientific, depending on how anal you are about what 'scientific' means)way, as small lifeforms that live within your cells and that participate from some sort of energy field that we do not, or at least not directly but through them. One of the most succesfull works of fantasy, thus, is a counterexample to the "modern-premoder mindset" idea. I could think of a few others, I suppose.

according to phtag, Eddy wrote:
I don't consider it relevant to this question. Attack the thesis, not the man, you know.


I concurr. it's the idea that doesn't hold up.

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Last edited by Torco on Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:50 pm 
Smeric
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Quote:
regarding the issue at hand: I don't buy the hypotheses. I'd say that Star Wars is fantasy, not sci-fi.


Why do you regard it as fantasy rather than SF?

Quote:
Long answer: we've had this thread, you've said these things, you've been given these counterexamples. Please, don't revert to the old cycle of Eddythreading.


Well ok then. I don't remember many of them but I will take your word for it that we discussed it. Oh well, guess I will have to answer this question for myself and by my own efforts alone.

@Pthag: You are engaging in classic ad hominems, attempting to derail a question by attacking the credibility of its author. If you consider my theory bullshit, then fine, but explain why you consider it so with evidence rather than attacks.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 2:54 pm 
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It doesn't hold up because of the pattern of Eddy's behaviour observed over many years. There is a simple thing he could do -- in this case, actually read books -- but instead he prefers to agonise over terribly made abstractions. In this case, he considers genres to be a "tool" that would help him "solve his conworlding problems".

Quote:
<Eddy> Genres go beyond books alone, you know. You can have a whole elaborately developed conworld without any plans to write a book.


This is funny because not only is it Eddy's typical strategy of yearning to understand something (fiction) without actually doing anything about it (reading fiction), it's not even what he wants -- Eddy has made no secret about Wanting To Write An Book for years. Except when it was An Anime (but only japanese people can draw animes, this is unfair ;____;).

You wanna take a guess at what Eddy's "own efforts" to "answer this question for himself" are gonna involve?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:09 pm 
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Eddy wrote:
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regarding the issue at hand: I don't buy the hypotheses. I'd say that Star Wars is fantasy, not sci-fi.


Why do you regard it as fantasy rather than SF?


I just feel that it has more in common with classic fantasy than with classic SF. I mean, of course I can't support my claim on a definition, since that would be a rather circular. I could analize it... later I will, perhaps.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:19 pm 
Smeric
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Quote:
I just feel that it has more in common with classic fantasy than with classic SF. I mean, of course I can't support my claim on a definition, since that would be a rather circular. I could analize it... later I will, perhaps.


Just in the general feel or atmosphere you get from it, you mean? The way it handles plotting and characters and so forth seems like fantasy transposed into a futuristic setting rather than science fiction as such? Seems like reasonable view and one I have heard more than once. I have kind of assumed that SF and fantasy are defined partly or largely by setting, but this sort of impression seems a big part of it as well.

I suppose that idea does miss some important points about how writers approach the genres. Most fantasy writers, whatever their nostalgia for the past, are probably as firmly rooted in modernist thinking as most of us. Zompist even points this out somewhere, that they tend to approach magic as an alternate set of physical laws rather than something truly non-scientific. Even as they portray divinely appointed monarchs and elves hurling fireballs, they don't necessarily break out of modernist assumptions entirely.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:20 pm 
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notice how he like
hardly ever gives examples
and like
never ever ones from texts


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:45 pm 
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I have kind of assumed that SF and fantasy are defined partly or largely by setting, but this sort of impression seems a big part of it as well.

Both Dune and Star Wars are nominally Scifi, but look at the actual story, and theme. Both have a similar feel to sword-and-sorcery fantasy in many respects. They even have knights and wizards and evil kings, and some kind of magic (the Force vs. prescience). Both also have very scifi elements, like space-ships and space-travel, droids / Thinking Machines, and guns. But a lot of the sciencey tech stuff is totally unexplained (like shields, lazguns in Dune; lightsabers in Star Wars), or explained only in terms of assumptions already made (the Force).

I'm not making a great case here, but Star Wars and Dune feel more like fantasies than scifi works like A Mote in God's Eye (which also involves an Imperial government) or Star Trek.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 4:08 pm 
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TheGoatMan wrote:
Quote:
I have kind of assumed that SF and fantasy are defined partly or largely by setting, but this sort of impression seems a big part of it as well.

Both Dune and Star Wars are nominally Scifi, but look at the actual story, and theme. Both have a similar feel to sword-and-sorcery fantasy in many respects. They even have knights and wizards and evil kings, and some kind of magic (the Force vs. prescience). Both also have very scifi elements, like space-ships and space-travel, droids / Thinking Machines, and guns. But a lot of the sciencey tech stuff is totally unexplained (like shields, lazguns in Dune; lightsabers in Star Wars), or explained only in terms of assumptions already made (the Force).

I'm not making a great case here, but Star Wars and Dune feel more like fantasies than scifi works like A Mote in God's Eye (which also involves an Imperial government) or Star Trek.


Science Fiction seems to be more easily defined as an exploration of Science.

In this way, Star Trek may have some Sci-Fi elements, but except for the Original Series, it mostly turned into some sort of Soap Opera or something alike. Babylon 5 is the epitome of such Sci-Fi Soap.

Having technology X doesn't make a show sci-fi, it just gives it some particular tool that makes the plot advance in ways we aren't used to.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 4:20 pm 
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Eddy wrote:
Quote:
I just feel that it has more in common with classic fantasy than with classic SF. I mean, of course I can't support my claim on a definition, since that would be a rather circular. I could analize it... later I will, perhaps.


Just in the general feel or atmosphere you get from it, you mean? The way it handles plotting and characters and so forth seems like fantasy transposed into a futuristic setting rather than science fiction as such? Seems like reasonable view and one I have heard more than once. I have kind of assumed that SF and fantasy are defined partly or largely by setting, but this sort of impression seems a big part of it as well.

I suppose that idea does miss some important points about how writers approach the genres. Most fantasy writers, whatever their nostalgia for the past, are probably as firmly rooted in modernist thinking as most of us. Zompist even points this out somewhere, that they tend to approach magic as an alternate set of physical laws rather than something truly non-scientific. Even as they portray divinely appointed monarchs and elves hurling fireballs, they don't necessarily break out of modernist assumptions entirely.


yeah, that.

I don't think it's too useful a distinction, really, but I'd guess sci-fi is just fantasy that needs to back itself with science. As Carl Sagan once said: "I was willing to imagine being and civilizations far more advanced than we, but I wasn't willing to ignore the laws of physics". Science fiction is fiction whose themes revolve around something to do with science, and fantasy is fiction whose themes have something to do with magic... of course, sometimes even that definition collapses, when someone comes up with something like tech-magic, but still, that's what comes from the top of my head. also, fantasy invariably has fate. [I could be wrong about the invariably part].

Also, fantasy tends to have evil versus good themes, while scifi presents more elaborate conflicts.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 5:31 pm 
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Torco wrote:
Also, fantasy tends to have evil versus good themes, while scifi presents more elaborate conflicts.

Not necessarily. I've read a lot of sci-fi with clear good/evil distinctions.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 5:40 pm 
Smeric
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I had an additional thought, building on this notion of mindset as a part of what defines these genres. Granted it is looking a lot flimsier now, but I felt like presenting it in the form of a chart. The horizontal axis describes the underlying nature of the fictional reality, whether it follows scientific laws or magical ones. The vertical axis describes the perspective we see the setting through, whether modernistic and rational or premodern and mythical.

Code:
       Rational        Magical
Modern Science fiction Science fantasy?
Premod Magic realism   Fantasy


Looking at it this way, you get SF with a rational setting and fantasy with a magical one. But two hybrid genres are possible, depending on how you mix fantastic and rational elements. View an underlyingly rational world with magical thinking and you get magic realism. Scientifically examine a world with magic and you get, uh, not sure what to call it though science fantasy sounds like a possible answer.

Torco wrote:
Also, fantasy tends to have evil versus good themes, while scifi presents more elaborate conflicts.


True, and that may have something to do with the mindset issue I brought up. Premodern peoples typically had rather straightforward notions of morality compared to our multicultural, postmodern notions of pluralism. Though as Nortaneous points out, SF can have clear moral lines as well, though they may differ in where they find their basis. I suspect few SF works truck with the notion of inherently evil artifacts or devices that only the pure of heart can use.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 6:24 pm 
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do you feel any more able to write yet


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 6:37 pm 
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I don't buy the chart, man. And yeah, you've got it right on the relationship between morality and mindset. However, I think the main issue here is simpler; again, magic/fate versus science as the extraordinary thing that makes the setting unique. I'm more confident of that definition now.

Pthug wrote:
do you feel any more able to write yet


do you?

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 7:13 pm 
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What I have never understood, Eddy, is why you are so fixated upon genres. I think that it's probably more important that you find an answer to that and subject it to scrutiny than to pursue the thesis of the lead post.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 7:35 pm 
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Torco wrote:
do you?

naw, but then i'm not the one on an epic quest to do that


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 7:59 pm 
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Eddy wrote:
I suspect few SF works truck with the notion of inherently evil artifacts or devices that only the pure of heart can use.

This sounds right to me, although I'm sure I could find counterexamples if I spent enough time digging through my dad's massive library of shitty 60s SF.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:03 pm 
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but so what, eddy?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:25 pm 
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Pthug wrote:
read a fucking book


I really don’t see how reading The joy of sex is going to help him with his writing, unless you want him to read the first edition with the hairy hippies.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:29 pm 
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Pthug wrote:
Torco wrote:
do you?

naw, but then i'm not the one on an epic quest to do that

game, set and match

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